Queens of the Stone Age's Michael Shuman talks Josh Homme, Elton John, '...Like Clockwork' and more
From the outside, Queens of the Stone Age may seem like an autocracy befitting their name, with formidable frontman Josh Homme wielding one of modern metal’s mightiest axes and most forceful personalities.
But that’s not the case, says bassist Michael Shuman.
Well, okay — it is and it isn’t.
“Josh is our leader and the captain of the ship, and there’s no question about that,” said Shuman, calling from his home in Los Angeles. “But the kind of man he is is someone that likes collaboration, bringing the best parts of people and mixing them together to create something better than one individual.”
QOTSA’s six albums of intense, pummelling sludge-rock are loaded with all-star cameos, ranging from Dave Grohl and Trent Reznor to Elton John, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Garbage’s Shirley Manson. Homme also has a penchant for side bands (Kyuss, Eagles of Death Metal), supergroups (Them Crooked Vultures, alongside Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones) and cross-media cameos (Tosh.0, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations). At last Sunday’s Grammy Awards, the twice-nominated QOTSA closed out the ceremony with a blockbuster performance alongside Grohl, Nine Inch Nails and Lindsay Buckingham.
And then there’s Queens of the Stone Age themselves, who will perform at St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater on Tuesday (click here for details). Formed in the late ’90s in Palm Desert, Calif., the band’s lineup has evolved and revolved around Homme, with guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, who joined in 2002, the longest-tenured current member. Still, Shuman said, Homme’s egalitarian spirit extends to his bandmates — whoever they may be.
“He’s extremely support of making sure our voices are heard, and come across,” Shuman said. “He’s super open to ideas; you’ve just gotta be okay with the process. It’s unlike any other band, having a leader but being able to share your visions. I really appreciate that.”
QOTSA’s latest, ...Like Clockwork, was the band’s first new LP since Shuman joined in 2007. It was a potentially daunting gig for any incoming bassist — the band’s deep sound relies on a heavy low end, and Homme had a nasty, public falling out with former bassist Nick Oliveri, who played on the band’s two breakthrough albums, Rated R (2000) and Songs for the Deaf (2002), which featured the modern rock hit No One Knows.
“It was only intimidating in that I was a 21-year-old fan of the band,” Shuman said. “I kind of knew that I would fit in, but you never know. You join something that’s someone else’s machine, someone else’s ship, and you’re just jumping onto the ride. That’s kind of how it was for the first year — it was just riding on a great record that those dudes did, and appreciating it and having fun.”
In the six years that followed, QOTSA toured a bit, and Homme recorded and toured with Them Crooked Vultures. But in 2010, the hard-living singer suffered a knee injury that required hospitalization; during surgery he experienced life-threatening complications and contracted the staph infection MRSA.
Homme has said the harrowing experience informed his songwriting for the operatic ...Like Clockwork, which blended QOTSA’s trademark menace with delicate piano interludes; sweeping, Bowie-like theatricality; and proggish, Gothic undertones.
“The band is willing to take risks even if they might fail,” Shuman said. That included inviting Elton John, of all people, to play piano on the song Fairweather Friends. (John later told the Daily Star it was “one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done,” adding: “I think it’s probably the best rock album by any band in about five or six years.”)
“Elton John was incredible to watch,” Shuman said. “We talked about music, talked about Madonna, talked about his beautiful socks that were bejeweled. He’s just like another dude.”
Queens of the Stone Age’s current stage show is “a different production, much grander, than the band has ever done,” Shuman said, adding that “it feels like a new start for the band.” They’ve even dived back into their catalog to re-work certain songs, such as Rated R’s grungy In the Fade, so they better fit in alongside the sweeping tracks from ...Like Clockwork.
“Musically, the band’s at a different level, and it’s exploring new territories for Queens, and I think this lineup really lends itself to the music that the band is looking to make,” Shuman said. “This record did feel very collaborative. We were there every day, every step of the way, working on it together. And every one of us put our heart and soul and time and everything into that record. So if you ask Josh, it’s as much ours as it is his.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*