He’s been a Vulture, an Eagle, and through it all, king of the Queens. For 30 of his 44 years, Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist Josh Homme has played music, starting in high school with Sons of Kyuss, who morphed into the beloved stoner rock cult heroes Kyuss. Growing up the California desert—where he still lives with his musician-wife Brody Dalle and their three kids—Homme was a smart skate/stoner kid with a dry humor and distinct melodic sensibility that permeates every sonic landscape he traverses. And Homme covers a lot of miles. Whether he’s singing (Queens), drumming (Eagles of Death Metal) or collaborating/supporting (Iggy Pop, Mark Lanegan, Chris Goss), the mystical Homme influence is clear.
On the eve of the seventh QOTSA album, Villains, due out August 25, we decided to take a deeper dive into Homme’s extensive career. Excluding work with Queens, his current primary band, here are the best of the rest involving Homme.
Though he may be a ringer for uber-talented ginger-haired English actor Damian Lewis, Homme hasn’t lit up the big screen in any major way—except aurally. In 2002, he contributed the instrumental “Atomic Trinity” and several other songs to the The Dangerous lives of Altar Boys soundtrack, which was otherwise mostly composed by Marco Beltrami. In a more controlled take on his Desert Sessions jamming, Homme wrote and composed these crisper tighter (and more traditionally cinematic) songs specifically for the film, performing them with ex-Kyuss/QOTSA bassist Nick Oliveri and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk. A power trio if there ever was one, it’s unfortunately unlikely this threesome with reunite, as Oliveri was released from his QOTSA duties in 2004, though he remains very musical active in numerous lineups.
The musical collective who jams, heavy and heady, on the numerous volumes of The Desert Sessions are indeed a cool bunch. Founded by Josh Homme in 1997, the first two Sessions tracks are (allegedly!) psychedelic-drug-fueled, heavily instrumental outings reminiscent of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Over the last two decades, however, musicians including ex-Kyuss/Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork, PJ Harvey, Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan, Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd, Chris Goss, Alain Johannes, A Perfect Circle’s Troy Van Leeuwen, have played music together just for the sake of it.
Recorded at Rancho De La Luna in 1997, first two volumes of The Desert Sessions are trippy, drippy and hippy. The first session, titled Instrumental Driving Music for Felons, pretty much sums up the musical journey. It was later re-released in 1998 with Volume 2: Status: Ships Commander Butchered as Volumes 1 & 2.
So far, the Sessions stretch out to 10, and “Crawl Home” is a key track that appears as part of that last collection. Although Homme, Johannes and their talented Desert denizens provide stellar backing, sexy-voiced chanteuse Polly Jean Harvey stars in “Crawl Home.” In the video, the incredibly charismatic faux couple Harvey and Homme have a tiff/heated argument in a classic car, while playing out the push-pull narrative of the song—“No more, it’s done, crawl home, get gone, your love is evil.”
Singer/guitarist Chris Goss of the seminal California-based hypnotic stoner/droner band Masters of Reality was an early fan of and influence on Homme, going back to his red-headed musical progeny’s teen years with Sons of Kyuss. Goss, who left L.A. for the spiritual sonic vibe of Joshua Tree, is a kingpin of the desert rock genre. Like Homme, Goss is possessed of a mellifluous, magical vocal tone and melodic sense and stony vibe. When the pair collaborate on record or a live setting, Goss songs like “Third Man on the Moon” (from Masters second live album, 2003’s Flak ‘n’ Flight) are heady and hypnotic.
If Rancho De La Luna is the go-to studio for rock bands seeking that mystical spirit of what’s been created there, then Van Nuys, California’s Sound City is its natural predecessor. The studio, which was ground zero for key albums by Neil Young, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash and System of a Down, is lionized in a 2013 documentary film directed by Dave Grohl (who, of course, recorded Nevermind at Sound City with Nirvana). Kyuss recorded here, ditto Nine Inch Nails, and the ad-hoc trio of Homme, Grohl and Trent Reznor created “Mantra,” a nearly eight-minute gem with Grohl on vocals, for the Sound City: Reel to Reel soundtrack.
Each musician brings his own signature sound—on guitar, drums and keys, respectively—into a cohesive, nuanced whole, especially evident on the instrumental version. While the obvious Grammy went to “”Cut Me Some Slack (aka a “Nirvana reunion” with Paul McCartney), “Mantra” is a beast worth exploring, as are the two other cuts featuring Homme, “”Centipede and “A Trick With No Sleeve.”
When Tool covers your song, you’ve probably done something right. And weird. Kyuss’s “Demon Cleaner” was covered in concert by fellow Californians following the song’s June 1994 release on Kyuss’s third album, Welcome to Sky Valley. Homme’s voice is less up-front and instantly recognizable than it became in his work with Queens, but the trippy guitar solos and song itself is mesmerizing. Kyuss wanted the album to be heard in its entirety, trying to force to issue by initially releasing the CD with the record’s 10 songs contained in three tracks, making it harder to “skip” songs. “Listen without distraction,” instructed the liner notes, good advice even in that pre-Internet-possessed time.
Iggy Pop’s ‘70s-in-Berlin collaborations with David Bowie (The Idiot, Lust For Life) are genius and among the best of Pop’s career. So when someone floated the previously-unthought-of, inspired duo of Iggy with Josh Homme, expectations were high. Post Pop Depression resulted in a classy, classically Iggy album with the unerring Homme influence. Plus, the accompanying tour found Pop, Homme and co. at once suave and punk on timeless gems like “Lust for Life,” which paired perfectly with new material like “Break Into Your Heart” (the latter of which was recorded at Homme’s musical home, Desert Rock headquarters Rancho De La Luna, a now-legendary recording studio in Joshua Tree). The photo of Homme and Iggy tightly holding hands is iconic, emblematic and just plain adorable.
Propulsive, punk, and staccato, Eagles of Death Metal’s “I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)” is the first single from the Palm Desert band’s second studio album, 2006’s Death By Sexy. The parenthetical chorus “the boy’s bad news” is as drily quirky as Homme himself, who initially was the group’s drummer, behind oddball singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes. The music vid for “I Want You So Hard” features Jack Black, Homme and Dave Grohl (all in wigs) making guest appearances, cementing the group’s humorous, A-list mien. EDOM unfortunately shot into the headlines in November 2015, when he group’s show at Le Bataclan in Paris was the location of a terrorist attack where 129 people were killed, though Homme wasn’t performing with the group at the time.
Supergroups are rarely as great as the sum of their parts would indicate. Not so for Them Crooked Vultures, with its short-lived, lightning-in-a-bottle lineup of Homme, Led Zeppelin’s bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, Nirvana/Foo Fightin’ everyman Dave Grohl and secret guitar weapon Alain Johannes (who has played with Eleven and Chris Cornell). In October 2009, “New Fang” struck a sweet spot, the collective strengths and coolness of each member shining in the swingy, powerhouse grooves of a song that earned a well-deserved Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. The band’s few live performances were incendiary, as raw, loud and new as the band itself, rendered and tempered with the polish and passion of its seasoned players.