You’d be hard pushed to find a more prolific modern artist than Josh Homme. Since founding doom-rock avatars Kyuss in 1987, the Californian has been the guiding force of stoner kings Queens Of The Stone Age, experimental collective The Desert Sessions, garage-trash outfit Eagles Of Death Metal and a member of supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. Not to mention any number of other projects with such luminaries as Trent Reznor, Foo Fighters, Masters Of Reality, Primal Scream, Mastodon, Iggy Pop and Mondo Generator.
If there’s one defining factor that links all of these restless wanderings, it’s Homme’s curiosity for uncovering new sounds and textures. One minute he’s lashing a punk riff to a greasy funk groove, the next he’s building towering slabs of metal noise, only to shower it with psychedelia and watch it dissolve into an acid fug of alt.rock weirdness. He also knows when to move on. When Homme suddenly called time on Kyuss in 1995, he said: “It’s better to blow it up while it’s going good than watch it start to sink.”
Kyuss first caused a stir when they began hosting nocturnal “generator parties”, whereby Homme and guests would head into a remote corner of Palm Desert, hook up to a generator and jam until the sun came up. Their second album, 1992’s Blues For The Red Sun, recorded when Homme was just 19, became a key text in the stoner-rock bible, marked by his shuddering guitar lines.
Two albums later, they were gone. Homme joined Screaming Trees as a touring guitarist, after which he headed to the Mojave, where he began The Desert Sessions, a series of impromptu jams with various members of Monster Magnet, Soundgarden and Kyuss, tripping on mushrooms for days at a time.
In 1996 he formed Queens Of The Stone Age. A killer debut was followed in 2000 with the blistering Rated R.
Five more QOTSA albums down the line is due in May – alongside releases as Eagles Of Death Metal and an ebullient debut with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones as Them Crooked Vultures, Homme shows no signs of letting up. A new QOTSA album, In Times New Roman..., is due this year. Word is that it’s going to be special, even by Homme’s standards.
“Music is never wrong,” he once said. “You might not like it, but it’s never wrong. It’s such a great way of explaining stuff.”
Billed as “a fresh bong-load of potent, sticky and hairy musical salvation”, Kyuss’s second album was a landmark in stoner-rock. The quaking sound is driven by both the thunderous rhythm section of Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork, and the rumble of Homme’s down-tuned guitar, with songs like Green Machine and Mondo Generator owing as much to the unruly noise of Black Flag and Bad Brains as to Black Sabbath or Blue Cheer. The lyrics may be secondary or just daft.
The sales figures for Blues For The Red Sun didn’t amount to a hill of beans, but the album’s influence on post-grunge metal is immeasurable.
As if to underscore Homme’s more-the-merrier approach to music-making, chums Mark Lanegan, Dave Grohl and Lux Interior are among those lending weight to this concept piece that traces a journey through the Californian wilderness, interrupted by mock broadcasts from small-town radio stations.
Ironically, it proved to be QOTSA’s lift-off album, cracking both the UK Top 10 and the US Top 20. Grohl’s muscular drumming propels the whole thing forward, with No One Knows and Go With The Flow near-perfect marriages of raw melody and granite-hard rock.
This follow-up to Blues For The Red Sun signalled both a new line-up and a major label. There was also a new tack, with Homme playing up to the band’s space-rock schtick by divvying up the tunes into three ‘movements’ that contained titles like Asteroid, Space Cadet and Odyssey.
The latter served as a one-stop shop for the Kyuss sound: desert-blasted guitars, pummelling rhythms, odd psychedelic passages and sidelong melodies. With drummer Brant Bjork quitting soon after its release, this was effectively the last great hurrah from Kyuss.
Issued on the label run by Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, QOTSA’s debut was oddly termed “robot rock” by Homme. In reality, it’s more an exercise in stripping back the expansive stonerisms of Kyuss to focus on tight, hard riffs, churning fuzz guitars and a fair dusting of desert ambience.
Homme shows he’s a songwriter of real merit with Regular John and the poppy You Would Know. He dishes out the metal on Walkin’ On The Sidewalks, while You Can’t Quit Me Baby is a superior jam distorted by impressionistic vocals and freewheeling rhythms.
The second QOTSA album was a breakthrough of sorts, with a couple of minor hits in The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret and the irresistible Feel Good Hit Of The Summer. The latter, with Rob Halford on backing vocals, was written in the aftermath of a three-day bender and is essentially a list of legal and illicit drugs.
It had more than a touch of Screaming Trees’ psychedelia, heightened by the appearance of former Trees Mark Lanegan and Barrett Martin, but the overriding sound was a collision between the metallic surge of Kyuss and Homme’s warmer, more melodic approach to experimentation.
Just when everyone thought the supergroup was dead, along came Them Crooked Vultures. Bringing together Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones, what could easily have lapsed into an indulgent vanity project instead worked much better than anyone dared imagine.
With Homme taking vocals and guitar, it’s a scintillating album that throbs with familiar echoes of QOTSA, Foo Fighters and clavinet-heavy Led Zeppelin, alongside those of 60s psychedelia, a grooved-up James Brown and even Berlin-era Bowie.
The pick of 10 volumes recorded under the banner The Desert Sessions from 1997-2003, Gypsy Marches gave full expression to Homme’s idea of collective improv, gathering a like-minded cabal of chums at his Joshua Tree ranch and creating a set of songs rich in Eastern exotica and all manner of frontier weirdness.
Singer Mark Lanegan lends his spooked-out gravitas to Hanging Tree. Other gems include The Idiot’s Guide and campfire wig-out Don’t Drink Poison. The whole thing feels like a garage band tripping under the moonlight.
Homme’s collaborative offshoot with old Palm Desert school friend Jesse Hughes served as an excuse to indulge a shared love of sleazoid rock. The second and best of their three albums thus far found the pair doling out lusty tunes about trashy women and even trashier morals. Homme’s missus Brody Dalle ramps up the body heat with a string of vocal cameos.
Other guests include Jack Black, Mark Lanegan, director Liam Lynch and QOTSA alumni Joey Castillo and Troy van Leeuwen. The real stayers are the suitably lubricious I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News) and the faux-Elvis lunacy of Chase The Devil.
The murky tones of 2005’s Lullabies To Paralyze, the first QOTSA release since the sacking of Nick Oliveri, felt like a slightly woozy postscript to what Homme called the lowest point in the band’s career. In contrast, Era Vulgaris was bold, bullish and kicking with fresh invention.
Malignant grooves are chained to pumping rhythms on a set of primal songs that lash furious guitar licks to a previously untapped well of tough-edged electronica. Usual cohort Mark Lanegan is on hand for a record that Homme, in his own elliptical Josh-speak, dubbed “dark, hard and electrical, sort of like a construction worker”.
...and one to avoid
After a promising eight-song EP billed as Sons Of Kyuss, the band’s debut proper hinted at great things but ultimately fell some way short. Even standout tunes like Son Of A Bitch and The Law are let down by thin production that makes Homme’s ominous guitar sound merely scratchy, while Nick Oliveri’s bass is often just plain inaudible. Moreover, Wretch fails to capture the corrosive intensity and sheer volume of Kyuss at full tilt.
There are other Homme recordings that don’t quite work too, not least Kyuss’s final studio album …And The Circus Leaves Town, which proved to be a mostly damp, lacklustre end to an otherwise dazzling career.