Making rock fun once again

By Sergio Ariza

Let's make it clear from the start, Josh Homme is rock royalty in his own right: with Kyuss he led one of the top 90s 'underground' bands, and as the frontman of Queens Of The Stone Age we may be talking about the most important figure the genre has had in the whole 21st century. This guy can lead a supergroup with the drummer of Nirvana and the bassist of Led Zeppelin, take to the desert to do 'jams' with stars of the magnitude of  Billy Gibbons or PJ Harvey, and produce the most important album in decades for Iggy Pop, without seemingly caring in the least about it. From his almost two meters of height and with the weirdest possible guitars, Homme has created his own sound, in which the forcefulness of heavy metal is mixed with the rawness of punk - and with which he has managed to make rock recover the fun of its beginnings.

Homme carries the desert in his veins, having been born on May 17, 1973 in the mythical location of Joshua Tree in California and growing up in Palm Springs, in the Coachella Valley. The bad thing about growing up in the desert, without many people around you, is that when you start playing music it's not because of dreams of girls and money, but because of pure boredom. Music became his escape route and true obsession; all the moments that marked his childhood have to do with it, like the day he saw Carl Perkins live or the time he bought his first guitar, an Ovation Ultra GP that would define his tastes forever.

At the age of 12 he had already been studying guitar for three years with a teacher who mainly liked polka, so when he joined his first band at that age, he already had his own style. But it wasn't until two years later that he formed, together with his schoolmates John Garcia and Brant Bjork, the band that would define the Stoner Rock or Desert Rock scene, mixing two influences that seemed to be opposed until that moment, punk and heavy, the definitive sum of the Iggy Pop Stooges and the heavy riffs of Tony Iommi’s Black Sabbath. Kyuss would build a mythical reputation in the area with improvised concerts in remote desert locations, where they managed to plug in their instruments thanks to gas generators.

Kyuss was the best kept secret of 90s rock, a kind of Velvet Underground of Stoner Rock, and all those who heard them became dedicated followers; the bad thing being that they were very few. However, among those who did hear them was the cream of the rock music at that time. In 1993 they opened for Metallica and, a year before, the drummer of the leading band of that time, Nirvana, threw flowers at them, publicly saying that the future of grunge music was being cooked up in the desert of Palm Springs, California. When the bewildered journalist to whom Dave Grohl made such a revelation asked him what the hell that band sounded like, Grohl replied that it was something like desert punk, made by guys who, he guessed, ate a lot of hallucinogenic mushrooms and smoked a lot of marijuana. In the future the two rockers’ paths would cross again and, if there was any doubt, Homme would reveal that their diet was much more complete in one of his most famous songs, "nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol... Co-co-co-co-cocaine!"

The fact is that, despite their fans and two huge albums such as Blues For The Red Sun and Welcome To The Sky Valley, the band ended up falling apart without having achieved any kind of commercial success. Their sound, however, would mark a whole new generation of rock bands. The cornerstone of that sound was Homme's three Ovation Ultra, tuned two tones lower, and passed through a bass amp. For those who want to hear a few distilled examples of that sound, listen to Green Machine, Gardenia or Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop, a song in which, beyond its dark and powerful new sound, Homme proves that he's no slouch when it comes to delivering brilliant solos either.

In 1996 Homme, without a fixed project, temporarily joined the Screaming Trees, where he would forge a great friendship with their singer Mark Lannegan. The following year he would make a much more important decision, taking a few friends from bands like Soundgarden, Monster Magnet and Kyuss itself to the Rancho de la Luna in the Joshua Tree Desert, handing out psychedelic mushrooms and starting to play non-stop for three days, while all the time recording the results. The Desert Sessions had been born, and Homme decided to take a step forward and assume the task of 'frontman' in addition to continuing to play guitar and songwriting. The Desert Sessions would become increasingly revered and people like PJ Harvey, Billy Gibbons and Mike Kerr from Royal Blood would from time to time drop by.

In 1998, Queens Of The Stone Age was born, a name given to Homme by a friend when he referred to Kyuss in this way, and which shows that Homme has a much greater sense of humour than his bully boy looks would suggest. On the first album he was accompanied by drummer Alfredo Hernandez, with Homme taking care of everything else; songs like Avon, Regular John and If Only show that QOTSA's approach was going to be much more direct and focused on the songs than Kyuss' heavy sound. On 'If Only', the riff of the Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog can be clearly discerned. Shortly after the album was released, bassist Nick Oliveri, an old acquaintance from Kyuss' early days, joined in, and soon after Hernandez got off the wagon.

In 2000, 'Rated R', the first of Homme’s three masterpieces appeared. In contrast to Kyuss' monolithic (Stone Age) rock, Homme was opening up to a wider range of styles and delivering increasingly better compositions. Starting out with Feel Good Hit of the Summer and The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret, Homme continued to use his Ovation, especially live, but his new favourite brand was the Australian Maton, specifically the BB1200, from which he would eventually get a Signature model. Homme's love for weird and unique guitars comes from his desire to separate himself from the typical choices of 90% of guitarists, making it difficult to see him with a Stratocaster or a Les Paul in his hands, and much more likely with a Guild, a 9-string Echpark or some Japanese rarity.

Rated R
was the first commercial success of Homme's career and led him to tour with huge groups as Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters, where Dave Grohl, now leading his own band, had the opportunity to get to know him. Nirvana’s former drummer and the former guitarist of Kyuss connected straight away and, in spite of being at the head of a much more successful band, Grohl decided to leave temporary the Foo Fighters and join the Queens Of The Stone Age as a drummer. Just at that time there was a new renaissance at the commercial level of rock, thanks to the appearance of the Strokes and Jack White’s White Stripes. With all the winds in Homme's favour, a monument was established that would mark an era. This was Songs For The Deaf, an album that sounded like if Tony Iommi grew up listening to Nirvana. The other element that made the album cohesive was Oliveri's idea of bringing it together through short extracts from fake radio promos, turning it in a kind of concept album about a car trip from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert. Perfect songs like No One Knows, Go With The Flow or First It Giveth completed one of the most important rock albums of the 21st century.

After an exhaustive tour, Grohl returned to the Foo Fighters and Oliveri was ejected from the band by Homme. Then came two notable albums - but one step below Songs For The Deaf – namely, Lullabies To Paralyze in 2005 and Era Vulgaris in 2007. In 2009 Homme joined up again with Grohl on drums but this time with another guest star, John Paul Jones, the bassist of Led Zeppelin. The trio would record an interesting album in 2009 as Them Crooked Vultures and leave the door open to new collaborations in the future.

But the true resurgence of Josh Homme came in 2013 with ...Like Clockwork, QOTSA's sixth album and their third masterpiece. The album came after a depression and a near-death experience, and is a dark and intense work that contains some of the best songs of Homme’s career such as If I Had A Tail, My God Is The Sun and Smooth Sailing, and shows that Homme is one of the leading rock musicians of the 21st century. This was corroborated with the remarkable Villains, a lighter album in which Homme seeks to rediscover the roots of rock and roll, from Elvis to Little Richard, from Jerry Lee Lewis to Chuck Berry, with one eye on the dance floor.

This ‘bad motherfucker’ exudes rock and roll from every pore of his gigantic body. Neil Young sang that rock & roll will never die, and Josh Homme is clear that this will never happen while he has a guitar in his hands.