Interview © Magnetmagazine.com
von Mattew Fritch 2001
The Desert Sessions
As reported in MAGNET #52, Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme recently put the lid on another pair of Desert Sessions, the name given to the furtive recording efforts with his musician pals at Rancho De La Luna, a studio in California‘s Joshua Tree National Park.
Homme began the Desert Sessions in 1997 (post-Kyuss and pre-Queens); the early volumes were reieased on the now-defunct Man‘s Ruin label, and the latest installment (seven and eight) provided the impetus for Homme to start his own label, Rekords Rekords. The new volumes are all you‘d expect from a funny proto-metal gathering; Queens fans shouldn‘t pass it up. Among the participants for the latest rounds are Mark Lanegan (now a full-time member of the Queens), Samantha Maloney (Hole), Chris Goss (Masters Of Reality), Brendon McNichol (Queens), Nick El Dorado (Like Hell), Fred Drake (Earthlings?), Natasha Schneider and Alain Johannes (both of Eleven and Chris Cornell‘s band).
MAGNET phoned Homme and Lanegan at Bearfoot Studios in Hollywood, where the two were recording the new Queens Of The Stone Age album, due in the spring. Despite being “on the clock“ in terms of spending Fred Durst‘s money on studio time, both men were relaxed and eager to discuss the simpler, madcap days of the Desert Sessions six months ago.
MAGNET: When did you start doing the Desert Sessions and why?
Homme: lt started in ‘97, before the Queens started, and it was kind of the reason why the Queens ended up the way they are, as a floating thing. lt just seemed like l didn‘t have a band, and I always wanted to get together with a bunch of folks and switch instruments and go out to the middle of the desert and ask, “Do you remember why you started playing?“
There‘s no managers and no record-industry types. There‘s barely even condiments for sandwiches. And just go out there and improvise and say, “I got a part in this key, we can transpose it and change the tempo and fit it with your part and here we go.“ lt‘s like a genreless, long-running mixed tape.
Is there anyone who‘s kind of in charge of all this?
I rope it all together, but I would hardly say that qualifies me as being in charge.
You‘re more like a coordinator.
Yeah, l‘m like a party coordinator. A scientific caterer. And I think it‘s good that way because I woke up and walked down the road from the place I was staying to Rancho De La Luna, which is where the studio is [in Joshua Tree} and this guy Alain Johannes had recorded a song in its entirety and had done five tracks by noon. He really understood it weil. He was left to his own devices. lf we‘re there, we work together; if not, you work alone. But it‘s not really work. lt‘s just get it all out.
Are there time limits for the sessions?
lt‘s usually five to seven days. You get people out for three or four days, they leave and you bring in one more. I finally understand it better this time around - less people is better. It takes a day or two for everyone to be around new folks and decompress and get out of the city and be like, “Hey, how ya dom‘ this morning?“ Everyone should have nametags: “Hi, my name‘s Mark.“
lt‘s like a relaxation spa.
lt‘s totally new age. lt‘s a totally relaxing, therapeutic massage on the brain.
What‘s just coming out is sessions 7 and 8; do you separate them into sessions so you can put them out on vinyl? I know Man‘s Ruin put the volumes five and six out on 10-inches.
Yeah, the new one‘s on a double-gatefold 1O-inch. I think l‘m gonna do that for all the subsequent releases. lt‘s just a little less fiimsy, it‘s a solid, cool kind of collector‘s piece. Vinyl has gotten to the point where lt‘s exclusively tor the collector, I guess. So lt might as weil be a really cool piece.
A lot of people are operating under pseudonyms for these sessions. Is there anyone hiding behind them we should know about?
No. When doing the credits, I get bored, and after everyone gets listed once you just start fucking with their names. The people who are there aren‘t assholes who need to get their egos retined, so why not just break lt all down to make lt as egoless as possible? Just call each other names and get lt to where lt‘s fluid - lt doesn‘t matter who‘s there. I think tor seven and eight, lt was the most sharing, most caring of all them. There‘s so much interaction between Chris Goss and Alain and Mark and Natasha Snyder and Brendon and Fred and Sam Maloney.
In the middle of the last song, “Piano Bench Breaks,“ I think we can guess what happens to make everybody start Iaughing. But how did the bench break and who was sitting on it?
I was sitting on it with Chris Goss, who‘s a big guy. And l‘m 6‘5“, 210. So there‘s two big guys sitting on this old piano bench and naturally, as lt‘s starting to crack, he pushed down on my shoulder to stand up so he sent me ass-first, feet up in the air almost behind my ears. Maybe something as tunny has happened to me before, but under those sort ot mind-altering chemicals and everything, to have that happen ... I literally laid on the floor tor 15 minutes. lt‘s one of those things that must be included. Hey, can you hold on a second? I hear a beeping.
Is that your other line?
Nah, the shark-tank man is here to clean the shark tank.
Um, you have a shark tank?
No, lt‘s the studio‘s.
Oh, right – I forgot where you were.
Yeah, where are we?
Let‘s taik about Rekords Rekords. Did you start it to specifically release the latest Desert Sessions, or was it something you‘ve been thinking about?
I don‘t want to start a label, actually, but Man‘s Ruin was going under and they were having some trouble doing what they‘d always stood for. No one else would be able to put it out that l‘m aware of and make sure all the musicians get paid and do everything fair and accurate. I know there are some labels that put out music for art‘s sake, but I don‘t know which ones.
lt would probably take just as much time and effort to find those labels as lt would to do lt yourself.
Exactly. I think part ot what happens is that small labels want to get bigger. And bigger is not better. l‘m just going to put out three or tour releases a year and make lt so that lt you like the Desert Sessions, then you‘ll definitely like everything else. lt‘s all this good lt this is your taste.
I heard you‘re putting out an album by Fatso Jetson.
Yeah, the next release is Fatso Jetson, which is a band that, in my mmd, has always been about two years ahead of its time. lt‘s almost like jazz, SST-heavy, Minutemen mixed with Black Flag and Captain Beefheart. They did a couple releases on Man‘s Ruin as weil. So the thing is to put out music tor music‘s sake. Oh, and the other thing is to try and get a major label to offer a million dollars tor the label and then just go, “No.“ And that‘s lt.
Speaking of major labels, how are things going with Interscope?
They‘re airight. I think we came to the label because of their ability to push bands like Primus, which isn‘t a band I necessarily like, but they‘re really bizarre. All we‘re really trying to do is reach people who really dig our shit, and the hard part is finding those people. lt just seems like lnterscope used to be really good at pushing bands that were bizarre or weren’t following this fake ruiebook. And 110W they‘re not as good at it anymore, but that‘s cool.
You know they just signed ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.
That would be good. I would be glad to see that. interscope merged with A&M and Geffen and Gut all the bands exceptthe ones that sold over a million copies, you know? So all they have are these monoliths like Smashmouth and U2 and whatever - Limp Bizkit. Holy shit, man.
Do you have a working title for the new Queens record?
lt‘s called Songs For The Deaf.
What would be the movie rating on this one?
This one will be rated B for Bizarre. This is the most all-over-the-place one. lt‘s kind of like the trancey element of the first onie and the musical diversity of the second one - except even further. The last record we kind of wrote about ourselves and things that we‘d done, and this one, we were on tour for so long that it‘s not like, “l‘m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride,“ it’s about what we saw. Translating other people‘s stories from Engiish into French and back into English.
That‘s a better perspective, I think, for listeners.
Weil, when you‘re just living your life and not watching anyone else‘s, you write about your thing and hopefully it‘s something people can latch onto. But when you start writing about what you see, it‘s certainly much more universal. There‘s a lot of bands right now that are like [singing], “Me and I and I was doing stuff.“
Nobody wants to hear musicians singing about drinking Cristal and dating
And it‘s just like, “Holy shit, let me buy you a journal. That‘s what it‘s for. Stop telling me about you, ‘cause l‘m tired of hearing about it.“ I think it runs away from this confessional [singing], “l‘m all alone, l‘m scared and this is never gonna happen to me again, goddamn.“ And it‘s just like, “What? Get out of here, man. You are ruining this whole party.“ Should I pass you on to Mark? Hold on a second, I think he went to buy more non-filter smokes. Oh, here he is.