No great band is born without a struggle and no great records are born in a vacuum. For every artist whose ideas makes your wig spin there are a huge pile of influences – from specks of colour to swathes of sound – that delivered them to that point. And this where The Roots Of… comes in. Each week we’ll take a band, pull apart the threads that make them who they are and build a Spotify playlist from those influences…
This week: Queens Of The Stone Age
Palm Desert, California is situated deep within the Coachella valley and like its more famous neighbor Palm Springs it’s a favoured retreat of the moneyed Hollywood elite. With an average age pushing 50, if you’re growing up there you’d better either want to spend your life at polite pool parties or be able to create your own entertainment – Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri chose the latter. Josh got his first guitar aged 10 and was in a band with Nick by the time they were both teenagers. At first the band was known as Katzenjammer, they played backyards and spent two years rehearsing in each other’s bedrooms. As Kyuss they moved into the desert around Joshua Tree and would play sand storming, psychedelic stoner-rock shows at an abandoned nudist colony. In 1995 they split after four albums and Homme put together the Queens Of The Stone Age, bringing back in Oliveri who’d left Kyuss to join Dwarves in 1992. Tired of the burgeoning bloke-centric scene he’d been working in, Homme was determined this new band would be open to melody and harmony – Queens would make hard music with a pop-sensibility. “Tough enough for the guys,” Homme explained, “sweet enough for the chicks. That’s what The Stooges were!” But what music got them to that point in the first place?
IN THE BEGINNING: So, Homme’s love of The Stooges is well known – he considers their 1973 album ‘Raw Power’ “the craziest record ever”, while Iggy’s 1977 solo album ‘Lust For Life’ was so overwhelming it actually made him quit Kyuss. Texas’ ZZ Top nailed the heat-stricken dust-bowl boogie back in 1973 with ‘Precious And Grace’, a track Queens would cover in 2006 after working with ZZ’s Billy Gibbons on a new song, ‘Burn The Witch’.
PUNK DRUNK: It was always assumed that sludge-happy Homme was a big Black Sabbath fan, but he was always much more of a punk. At school he and Oliveri would play The Ramones and The Damned and as Kyuss began gigging he was much more likely to be listening to “heavy, fast and raw” second-wave Brit-punks like Discharge and G.B.H. American punk bands like Seattle’s The Lewd (formerly known as, ahem, The Knobs) and Cerritos, California’s Channel 3 both came in later, but it was The Descendants and Black Flag that drove Homme’s furious search for originality – he insists the latter’s ‘My War’ neatly summarized his own take on punk.
“When we started,” Homme explains, “I wanted to be in a band that could play anything – Can meets The Stooges meets Tom Waits….” For Homme, Nirvana “set the bar so high” he had to make a totally different kind of noise, which is just what Kyuss and contemporaries like Nebula and Fu Manchu all did. But listen closely and you can hear the fabulously blurry noise of Dinosaur Jr (who Kyuss toured with) and Screaming Trees – who Homme briefly joined after splitting Kyuss on his way to making his experimental punk rock art.
THE WHOLE WIDER WORLD
“To be honest,” Homme once declared, “I don’t really give two shits about punk rock.” So, how about the quintessential early 70s sensitive singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, a “beautiful curse” he picked up from his folkie dad, or Bjork whose 1997 album ‘Homogenic ‘was a huge inspiration. “Genres mean nothing, [Bjork] really made us push ourselves in Queens,” he said in 2003. Then there’s Can, the Kraut overlords, who were, “so straight and so groovy” and, of course, Ween whose “arrogant, eclectic, schizoid songwriting” would startle Homme, but also endlessly inspire him. Indeed, Dean Ween, aka Mickey Melchiondo, appeared on the band’s 2002 album, ‘Songs For The Deaf’ and now both Homme and Oliveri are part of his new band. What goes around, comes around.
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