At this moment, Queens of the Stone Age is the best rock 'n' roll band on the planet.
A bold statement, sure. However, while there exist other artists with similar relevance and artistic integrity, no group so deeply embodies the spirit of the genre's past while fighting to make fresh statements in the present, and none has developed a sound so immediately identifiable and unique as that honed by Josh Homme and his ever-evolving cast of kindred rockers.
Though the band has enjoyed serious fans' undying adoration since forming from the ashes of Homme's previous group, Kyuss, in the late '90s, Queens of the Stone Age's most recent release, 2013's ...Like Clockwork, has catapulted the band to a level of truly universal praise and respect that has eclipsed even the success of the group's mega-selling 2002 album, Songs for the Deaf.
In preparation for the band's long-awaited return to South Florida, we spoke with lead guitarist and Homme's chosen foil, Troy Van Leeuwen, about the band's growth, rock greatness, and the trick of being successful without selling out.
New Times: In a time when most music that makes its way to the mainstream is extremely processed and approachable, Queens of the Stone Age continue to make music that is challenging, organic, and human while retaining a certain mainstream appeal. Do you think there's a key to that success?
Troy Van Leeuwen: All I know is that when we make our records, they're really a labor of love. There's not really a process that we lean on. Every record that I've made with the band has been completely different. It really just starts from within, and usually our records in the past, we've been able to knock them out pretty quickly. This record was a tough one, and we're not used to that. So we did the most questioning of ourselves on this record, and I think that kind of vulnerability came through, and I'm just feeling like a lot of people identity with that. So yeah, the process that we go through is an internal one and it's checked by each one of us, and everyone has got to be cool with every single note on every single song before we move on with it.
Even six albums deep with a revolving-door lineup, each record works as its own cohesive statement that sounds distinctly like Queens of the Stone Age but sounds completely unique within the discography.
Yeah, I mean, every filter that we go through is our own. We just want to play our favorite music, and we're trying to slowly grow in the process. At the end of the day, we sound like who we sound like, and we can't really change what that is!
...Like Clockwork is definitely the band's most mature-sounding album. Did the struggle of making the album yield that kind of growth?
I think it made the band tighter, yeah. We know each other better, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses better. You got to have a lot of trust with each other to go through that and come out with what we came out with. Now that there are Grammy nods, it's a nice kind of reminder that we did the right thing.
Beyond the Grammy nods, every serious rock 'n' roll fan I come into contact with — even classicist types — seems to accept that Queens of the Stone Age truly carry the torch for relevant rock music in the millennial era. From my perspective, the band is poised to be one of the only rock bands in the past 20 years to truly join the club, so to speak. Is that something the band is aware of?
Yeah, we're definitely the hardest on ourselves, and I think that when you say that, it's not taken for granted — it's something we're constantly trying to earn. I think that comes from our need to constantly better ourselves, especially in the live situation. I think it all stems from that experience, because getting the audience on your side and having a moment together, that's the biggest challenge I think right there.
That's the true human element of it all.
All of my favorite rock 'n' roll bands and artists, they can all reach out to their audience and pull some magic off. From Tom Waits to Bowie to even Zeppelin, it's like a magic trick, like mind control. They've got the audience and I'm in it, you know what I mean? So I think we all have sort of a keen understanding of what that means and how to kind of grasp that sort of magic out of the air.
Over the years, you've recognized players such as Mick Ronson, Marc Ribot, Daniel Ash, and other incredible guitar sidemen as major influences. When you started, were you always focused on developing yourself as a foil and musical partner?
I've always been about the song. I like to work with people on music. I rarely make music on my own and say, "This is me. Check it out." I've always been into collaborating. I just set out to be the best musician I possibly can, and sometimes that means not playing guitar, and it gives me an appreciation for it. If I'm doing percussion or keys or even lap steel, that's different enough to where I can come back to guitar and really get into it.
As a guitarist, you've gained quite a bit of respect and press from the more mainstream end of the guitar community. You're on your second signature model guitar, and I have to assume that would be a trip for any player.
It's definitely a trip! It's dorky too, because I'm a guitar dork as well, I really am. My signature model came out this week for Fender. It's a Jazzmaster, and I play it live. It's made in Mexico, and I'm not like superprecious about it. It works for me, it's what I like, and I'm not just slapping my name on something — I was involved with what it is. As a kid, you're like, "You don't get guitars named after you." But I guess you do in my case!
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Will we ever see a signature pair of boots?
That's next, yeah! [Laughs] For sure! Suits and boots, man, that's what I'm talking about! That's my next venture!
Nick Cave once said he wears a suit to work like any other professional.
He and Tom Waits are the reasons I wear a suit. I like to get down to business as well.