The hardest part about trying to explain Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) to someone who doesn’t know much about them is attempting to describe the type of music they play. It would be too simple to label the band as a stoner rock group, although that is where the public seems to enjoy placing them. In 1997, after his band Kyuss broke up, Joshua Homme set out to form a new group. It was originally called Gamma Ray, but after a German metal band with the same name threatened to sue Josh over it, he changed the name to Queens of the Stone Age. Why such a seemingly odd name? Former QOTSA bassist Nick Oliveri gave the following answer in 2000. “When we were making a record in 1992, under the band Kyuss, our producer Chris Goss, he would joke and say ‘You guys are like the Queens of the Stone Age’”. Also in 2000, Josh Homme explained why they are not the Kings of the Stone Age. “Kings would be too macho. The Kings of the Stone Age wear armor and have axes and wrestle. The Queens of the Stone Age hang out with the Kings of the Stone Age’s girlfriends, when they wrestle. And also, it was also just a name given to us by Chris Goss. He gave us the name Queens of the Stone Age. Rock should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls. That way, everyone is happy and it’s more of a party. Kings of the Stone Age, is too lopsided.”
The first studio album, released in 1998, featured Josh Homme and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, along with several other collaborators. The self-titled release did not gain much mainstream success, but established the new band’s unique sound and is the favorite QOTSA album of many of the band’s biggest fans. Soon after the album was recorded (but before its release), bassist Nick Oliveri joined the band and in 2000 the group returned to the studio to write their second album, Rated R. Again, QOTSA saw only minor commercial success with this album, although it received very positive reviews from music critics around the world. Rated R also saw the first appearance by vocalist Mark Lanegan, who remained a fixture in the band for several years.
2003 was the year everything changed for QOTSA. Dave Grohl, formerly of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters joined the band as their drummer and together with Homme, Oliveri and Lanegan they produced the album which placed the Queens on the mainstream map. Songs for the Deaf was released in the Fall of 2002 and within months it was one of the most popular rock albums in the world. “No One Knows” was the groups first massive hit single and was soon followed by “Go With the Flow”, which also became very successful on the radio and MTV. Grohl toured with the band to support the album, but soon went back to continue working with the Foo Fighters.
After over a year of touring in support of Songs for the Deaf, Nick Oliveri was shockingly fired from the band by Homme in 2004. Josh explained his rationale for the firing in 2005, when he stated he had learned of convincing evidence that Nick had physically abused his girlfriend. Josh clarified on BBC radio that “A couple years ago, I spoke to Nick about a rumor I heard. I said, ‘If I ever find out that this is true, I can’t know you, man.’”
With Nick gone, Josh and his band mates (now Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar and Joey Castillo on drums) started work on the group’s 4th studio album. Bassist Alain Johannes was brought in and Mark Lanegan again lent his amazing voice to the project. The album, titled Lullabies to Paralyze, (from a lyric in “Mosquito Song” from Songs for the Deaf) was released in 2005 and while singles such as “Little Sister”, “Burn the Witch” and “In My Head” became radio hits, it never reached the same level as their previous release. Mark stopped working with the band after this album, but there is a good chance he will return to give his talents to the group again in the future. In the Fall of 2005 the band released the live CD and DVD Over the Years and Through the Woods. It features an amazing concert the group gave in London earlier that year and also contains many rare bonus video clips of performances from the past several years. QOTSA has since recorded their 5th album, titled Era Vulgaris, which was released on June 12th, 2007.
The most unique aspect about Queens of the Stone Age is that Josh Homme is the only member who has remained in the group during its entire 10 year history. While some believe this to be a weakness, I do not feel this is the case. Josh is a fabulous guitarist, singer and songwriter, but the wide variety of guests and musicians who have recorded and toured with QOTSA take the band to a whole other level. There are grumblings Nick will rejoin the band at some point in the future, but I am not holding my breath. Regardless, Josh Homme is immensely talented and knows how to surround himself with terrific musicians with whom he can make unique, energetic and passionate music. Neither Josh nor the rest of the band takes themselves too seriously and the resulting melodies and concerts are exceptionally enjoyable. QOTSA’s sound changes often, usually from track to track. Nevertheless, whether they are playing a crazy hard rock song like “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” or a softer ballad like “Long Slow Goodbye”, I enjoy all the noises Josh and company create and hope they continue to make them for many years to come.