Queens Of The Stone Age

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Queens Of The Stone Age


As the heaving mosh pit swayed fiercely to the rhythms of those grinding rock staples and ardent fans lost their composure over each inexplicably unlawful groove, any sense of trepidation felt within the throng of frenzied devotees was replaced by a euphoric catharsis.

As the heaving mosh pit swayed fiercely to the rhythms of those grinding rock staples and ardent fans lost their composure over each inexplicably unlawful groove, any sense of trepidation felt within the throng of frenzied devotees was replaced by a euphoric catharsis. Indeed, after witnessing Queens Of The Stone Age live, there is no need for clarification as to why the Palm Desert alt-rock giants are the world’s quintessential live rock band.


While other bands opt for the flashy, bizarre or risky, QOTSA have continued to rely on the pursuit of perfecting one crucial element: utter command of the senses via an indomitable, visceral force. Although Troy Van Leeuwen’s profuse talents have resulted in various bands, recordings and side-projects, the amiable LA-bred musician feels most at home in his role as guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/co-songwriter of QOTSA. As it turns out, Van Leeuwen is as fond of tantalising listeners as he is of contemplating the evolutionary chain of magically flawed art.


When Josh Homme recruited Van Leeuwen (who was recording with A Perfect Circle at the time) in 2002, he was given three instruments (guitar, lap steel and electric piano), one week to learn 30 songs, and 20 months on the road with QOTSA. "As a player, you want to have challenges like that," states Van Leeuwen. "It puts you under a pressure that’s indescribable – I mean, you’re not only enjoying one of your favourite bands, but you’re playing three instruments and you gotta divide your brain up three different ways.


"But, you know… in my life, I think those are defining moments where either you put up or you get out."


Has he always possessed such a stringent work ethic or does it proliferate from an innate musical drive? "I think there is a drive… you can work hard but at the end of the day, music has to go through you and it’s not something that you can force, so it’s a very delicate kind of situation," he ponders.


"You have to pay attention to what you’re going through and you have to take from those experiences and combine that with whatever inspires you and try and make something out of it. It’s hard to put in words what I’m trying to say, what I’m trying to do… that’s one of the reasons why I play music."


Much to the delight of fans that have yet to attain a copy of QOTSA’s self-titled debut album, the seminal 1998 record will be re-released through Homme’s recently revived label, Rekords Rekords, and Liberator Music. While Van Leeuwen wasn’t in the band at the time of the album’s original release, it’s evident that very few people understand the record better than the multi-instrumentalist. "I listened to it – front to back, always – when it came out," Van Leeuwen recalls, fondly.

"And since being asked to join the band, they’re always some of my favourites to play live. That record means a lot to me, so playing the whole record live is gonna be, you know, pretty special. I mean, even if I wasn’t in the band, I’d be at that show," he chuckles.


The band will perform at the Soundwave Festival the day after their special headline show at The Palace Theatre, but only fortunate devotees attending that headline gig will witness their exceptional self-titled debut album in full ("They’re special," Van Leeuwen says of the debut album performances. "They’re for the real fans who really know that record and for them to see it up-close").


The breaks between recording and touring for QOTSA have been occupied by the band members’ other musical projects – Them Crooked Vultures (Homme), Sweethead (Van Leeuwen), Eagles Of Death Metal (Homme and drummer Joey Castillo), The Dead Weather (keyboardist/guitarist Dean Fertita) and Mini Mansions (bassist Michael Shuman). Sweethead toured with Them Crooked Vultures in Germany and the UK, but it was the recording and producing of Sweethead’s 2009 self-titled debut album that allowed Van Leeuwen to indulge in some revelatory self-discovery.


"I’ve never made records in my house (before Sweethead) and it sort of launched a whole other side of me that is still growing," he enthuses. "There’s Sweethead music being written right now and there’ll be more to come. I regret that we never made it down to Australia.


"I think that for everybody in Queens, it’s an important part of what we do – to take time away and appreciate what Queens Of The Stone Age is, and express some new ideas and have some new experiences, and then bring it all back to Queens and have that be a part of the evolution," he contemplates.


"I think everybody has that philosophy, but it definitely made us miss Queens and that’s why we’re still ready for another record. It’s so exciting – it’s gonna be a creative year."


All five members ended the schedules of their other projects last August to reconvene and discuss ideas for Queens’ sixth album while also playing festivals in Europe and the UK. "There’s a lot of ideas, but we’re just sifting through them right now," Van Leeuwen informs.


"The thing about being in Queens is that it’s always a challenge – we always challenge ourselves to not repeat what we’ve done already. And so each record is done completely differently and I think we’re still figuring out what it is we’re doing with this record. But the process so far is really exciting. I think there are certain things that we expressed on [2007 fifth album] Era Vulgaris that will translate even more on our new record.


"The recording part for us is a capturing of a live moment," Van Leeuwen emphasises. "We enjoy what we do and we try to make our favourite music in our band. At the end of the day, we’re a live band and our records should express that. We like it when there are flaws in a live performance – there’s magic there, I think. And in order to have a great live performance captured, you have to have the song ready to go, so we’re kind of in between those two processes; making sure that the songs are just solid.


"We do plan on having a record out sometime this year, but it’s good for us to do these shows for the first record, too – that’s going to keep us on our toes and it’s just all part of the process."


When discussing the wide-spread perception of QOTSA as essentially a peerless live rock ‘n’ roll band, Van Leeuwen elaborates further on the magic of musical catharsis: "It’s one of those things that you want to say… that you’re in the best live band. It’s not something that I just want to blurt out, but it is a goal for all of us. We don’t want to be in the biggest band; we want to be in the best band.


"And it’s a delicate balance to be on your toes the whole time and be ready for any kind of situation to express yourself through… it’s not perfect what we do and we actually enjoy flaws… you know, we’re human beings, and to us, dealing with a flaw is almost magical; it’s like a magic trick… you’re like ‘wow, how did I get to that to get to where I’m going now?’

"And sometimes it spawns creativity as well… those are the things that I’ve learned in the Queens and what makes it what it is. And if people think that Queens are one of the greatest live bands, I’m really proud of that. None of us lean on that; none of us rest on that laurel… it’s just something that we are constantly practising, I guess."


Even with their stoner-rock, metal and hard-rock affiliations, QOTSA have always stood out as a distinctive musical force and Van Leeuwen wants to keep it that way. "We’re playing with Slayer and Iron Maiden (at Soundwave) and we don’t see ourselves as that kind of band, but we’re willing to do it, because there are people in that audience that buy our records and they want to see us. So for us, it’s about dipping into different genres and not pigeonholing ourselves or saying that we’re a metal band or a punk band. We like it all – we like to play our favourite music, and listen to everything from Cab Calloway to The Ramones and Johnny Cash."


While a multitude of old-school fans are still bemoaning the departure of former bassist/co-songwriter Nick Oliveri, there’s no denying that Queens have honoured the need to "humble [themselves] at the altar of music", as Homme pertinently emphasised. With Homme being the sole permanent member of the band, QOTSA have – across their numerous line-up changes and contributors – continued to deliver ravaging assaults on rock ‘n’ roll in the 21 st century. The songs remain devilishly intoxicating and seductively brutal; elaborately constructed and ruthlessly proficient.


As Era Vulgaris drew much of its lyrical inspiration from Homme’s drives through Hollywood, it captured the depravity of modern times – the mechanistic society-bred, soul-destroying vacuum of conformism and hedonistic perversion – while simultaneously revelling in the thrills and scars of our unavoidable imperfections. For QOTSA, it remains both a challenge and motivation to combine those seemingly contradictory notions of beauty and depravity.


"I think for us, we tend to pay attention to what our idea of art is and I’m not a snooty artist type, but I know what it is," Van Leeuwen avows. "And it’s something that evokes emotions, and that’s what we’re trying to do.


"’Cause humans aren’t perfect and our emotions definitely reflect that, so if you can evoke different emotions from the same pieces of art, that’s a goal. And Era Vulgaris was an experiment in trying to figure out what it is," he conveys. "We’re going to take that experience and think of it as part of our evolutionary chain of what our art is. That’s why it’s an exciting time for us to figure out what we’re doing next, ’cause we’re still a little unsure… and that’s exciting."


QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE headline SOUNDWAVE 2011 at the Melbourne Showgrounds on Friday March 4 (it’s sold out). They’ll be joined by Iron Maiden, Slayer, One Day As A Lion, Primus, Slash, 30 Seconds To Mars, Stone Sour, Bullet For My Valentine, Murderdolls, Rob Zombie, Social Distortion, Millencolin, Gang Of Four, New Found Glory, Pennywise, Bring Me The Horizon, Sum 41, Anberlin, Dimmu Borgir, The Gaslight Anthem, Coheed And Cambria, Third Eye Blind, Devildriver, Sevendust, Less Than Jake, The Bronx, The Amity Affliction, Monster Magnet, Silverstein, Terror, Mxpx, Protest The Hero, Melvins, 36 Crazyfists, Ill Nino, The Ataris, Fucked Up, Bayside, Feeder, The Starting Line, H2O, Mad Caddies, The Sword, The Rocket Summer, The Blackout, Polar Bear Club, All That Remains, High On Fire, Dommin, We The Kings, This Town Needs Guns, Veara and even more. Seriously. Goddammit. There’s even more . Head to soundwavefestival.com for all event info and to revel in the brain-melting ridiculousness of this lineup.

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE also play a SIDEWAVE at The Palace Theatre on Thursday March 3 – which is also sold out.

Their excellent self-titled debut from 1998 has just been re-released – remastered and with three bonus tracks – by Liberation.