Queens Of The Stone Age talk making new album Villains...
It’s most unusual for a band’s sixth album to be their most successful, especially if it comes out a cool 17 years after they got together, but that’s exactly what happened to Queens Of The Stone Age.
2013’s ...Like Clockwork took them from big theatres and early evening festival slots into arenas and up to headliners at the summer’s biggest festivals, setting things up nicely for new album Villains.
For their new LP they’ve hooked up with Mark Ronson, he of ‘Uptown Funk’ and Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, stripped back the production and come back with a tight, groove-led rock record, coming in at a snappy nine tracks.
As the album hits shelves, we spoke to guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and bassist Michael Shuman about why this is the band’s most settled line-up to date, why this is a happier album and why they were happy with just the nine tracks…
How did making this album compare to making ...Like Clockwork?
Troy: “It was completely different. For that album, we had some songs, but a lot of it was done in the studio, a lot of the creativity came off the cuff and it took a lot longer to get right. For this one, we were a little more prepared.”
Mikey: “The last record was a difficult record, it took us a while, as it always does when you write in the studio, but it was an emotional album to make.”
Troy: “We were a little unsure of ourselves and that came through in the record, a real vulnerability, this record was more fun, more like a band.”
You’ve had the same line-up for the last four years now, did that make a difference in how this album came together?
Troy: “Yes it did. The last record had three different drummers (Dave Grohl, former drummer Joey Castillo and current drummer Jon Theodore, once of The Mars Volta) and this time we just had Jon, who is such a natural fit for this band. Doing all that touring really brought us together as a band, this album was a lot of fun.”
Mikey: “Two years of touring has made us a real unit, we were feeling great and we knew this was the best band has ever been and we wanted to take that feeling into the studio to make this record.”
When did Mark Ronson get involved? This is the first time you’ve had an outside producer for well over a decade?
Troy: “Right before we started playing the songs together. We’ve talked about getting a producer for a long time, we just never have, we’ve always done it ourselves. So in the spirit of wanting to be more like a band, we wanted someone else to be the ears and the eyes. Mark’s a musician, he’s got really great taste, he’s got great hair and we got along with him really well.”
Mikey: “He was there the whole time, he was in the rehearsal space, he helped us figure out everything. We had the songs, but they were very fleshed out with him.”
Troy: “He’s a big fan of the band and he knew all about our history. He reminded us of who we were, but he also allowed us to change and go outside the lines, to create something new.”
Did it take some time to get used to having a producer in the room?
Troy: “Not really. Joshua had worked with him before on the Lady Gaga record, so he knew how he worked. We’re not a band who will hear a record and say ‘That’s our guy’, it takes a little more vetting so that Gaga record did that. Sometimes you just know.”
Mikey: “He really became a sixth member of the band. He allowed us to be ourselves and we quickly realised he was a big fan. I could tell on the first day how nervous he was, but he ended up being one of us, he’s a great producer and a fan, we were totally on the same page.”
One of the features of Queens Of The Stone Age records in the past has been the guests you’ve had. Last time you had Elton John, Alex Turner, Trent Reznor and more, but this time there aren’t any. Was that a conscious choice?
Troy: “We really wanted to focus on it being our band. I love everybody who has contributed over the years. But it was time for it to be our space and our thing. It wasn’t conscious, but I do like that we did it all on our own.”
It’s a nine-track record, which is pretty unusual, why did you decide on that?
Troy: “There’s something about that number we love.”
Mikey: “We wanted to do it last time.”
Troy: “Clockwork was supposed to be nine too. But there always seems to be a song that shows up at the end, last time it was ‘...Like Clockwork’. We just like that number, it’s nice, it’s concise, we know people have short attention spans. No one wants to leave people wanting less.”
What kind of record is it lyrically? We know that’s Josh’s department, but what sense do you get?
Troy: “There’s a lot of wordplay, which is what he’s great at. He’s brilliant at leaving room for interpretation.”
Mikey: “It’s somewhat abstract and surreal as well as totally normal. There are very intimate, vulnerable songs, talking about his family, which is something new for him. He’s not done much of that before, so he’s tapping something new.”
Troy: “That vulnerability is new for us, but it’s there. That’s a carry over from the last record, it opened things up.”
Mikey: “People connect to us, maybe that’s why it was our most successful, it connected with people.”
When did you settle on the title?
Troy: “We’ve had it for a while.”
Mikey: “It was almost the title last time.”
Troy: “It’s a cool looking word, it suits the record and I’ve also noticed that the V and the two I’s give you the Roman numeral for seven, so that’s a cool thing.”
In terms of what you’ll do live, you’ve got seven records now, how will the setlist shake down?
Troy: “We’re going to keep all the songs in our back pocket. Playing live is like riding a bicycle for us, it’s muscle memory, we can play any song from any record, we can as easily throw in something from the first record as we can from Villains.”
Mikey: “We’re going to focus on the new record. A lot of bands at this point in their career you go to see them and you expect a ‘Greatest Hits’. I think with the success of Clockwork and hopefully, this new one we’ve got license to focus on the new one. We’d love to play the whole new record if we could.”
Is this the most settled line-up the band has had?
Troy: “For sure. We all understand chaos, that’s always part of Queens, we always welcome danger. But things are somewhat steady now. It’s a good time.”