Smooth Sailing: Queens Of The Stone Age

The troubled tale of their long-awaited return...
QOTSA

Being in a band is supposed to be fun. Take making an album: switching yourself off from the outside world, letting your creative juices flow and creating something which has never been heard before. To be honest, it all sounds like a right laugh.

However the creative process isn’t always as fluid, as lucid… or as fun. Queens Of The Stone Age took the decision to head back into the studio last year, ending a period of silence that stretched back to 2007. Fresh from numerous side projects, the band could perhaps be forgiven for assuming that the process would be fairly easy. “We ended up waiting for a while, waiting for the lightning to strike like it has in the past and that never really happened,” explains Troy Van Leeuwen. “So instead of waiting we just kind of jumped into the studio, just to work. And work is what we did. It was constant work for six months, hence the name of the record is pretty ironic because it was not like clockwork at all!”

Instead, the making process behind the new album resembles another kind of clockwork. Clocking in and clocking out, Queens Of The Stone Age bullied their creative muse into submission, carving out the new material from hours upon hours of blood and perspiration. “It’s not really staggered, it was pretty much every day. I mean we had days off here and there, sometimes the weekends or whatever,” the guitarist explains. “It was pretty much full on, everyday. When ideas are easily coming to you, and you’re used to that happening, sometimes you just have to put yourself to work. And what that means is just going into the studio and trying to write stuff.”

And write stuff they did. ‘…Like Clockwork’ perhaps reflects the creative process behind it – some aspects are forced, some feel unwieldy, some un-natural. Yet throughout there is an urge to move forward, to push past boundaries – it’s a record which might not win over their harshest critics, but for fans this is the sound of Queens Of The Stone Age re-discovering how to be Queens Of The Stone Age. Ironically, it took the introduction of outside voices – such as producer Mark Rankin – to make this happen.

“I think it was pretty key to have Mark there, yeah” says Van Leeuwen. “He went through the process with us, and now he’s like a brother. He was completely an outsider to what we were doing, and that was the one thing that we consciously decided. For this record we wanted to go out of our comfort zone, usually we’re around friends of ours. For this one, I think it was important to work with somebody who didn’t even know what some of our influences were. Someone completely out of the box for us, and I think he was key in making this record sound the way it does.”

Another equally out of the box choice for ‘…Like Clockwork’ was Elton John. The legendary piano player approached Queens Of The Stone Age about working together, and was immediately offered a spot in the studio. With his weight of experience and musicianship (there’s more to Elton than crazy glasses, y’know…) an unusual partnership was born. “It seemed like when Elton showed up and we did this track together things seemed to kinda click,” the guitarist muses. “Especially on that session. I mean, he didn’t know what he was walking into and we didn’t know what we were going to expect from him. He expected to come and play on a ballad, which we’d already recorded, because that’s what he does a lot of the time. But no, we threw him in the tracking room with us and made a rock ‘n’ roll song!’

Not that Elton John was without the odd diva moment. “He actually got mad at one point, because we didn’t really give him the easiest song – there were a lot of changes,” explains Van Leeuwen. “We were very impressed with how quick he learned all the changes. He got frustrated at one moment and that was kind of cool to see, because we were very frustrated all the time. There was definitely a triumphant high-fiving at the end of that day, and I think that was one of the good times.”

Another important addition was Dave Grohl. Queens Of The Stone Age parted company with drummer Joey Castillo during the sessions, with an emergency call being made to the Foo Fighters icon. A long time friend and compatriot of the band, his addition helped to push ‘…Like Clockwork’ forward. “I mean... who doesn’t like Dave Grohl?” asks the guitarist. “It’s a pleasure to play with him on drums. There’s no doubt about it, he’s a force to be reckoned with. You realize that he’s your friend, and he’s there for very good reasons. We have respect for one another. He loves our music and we love his” Van Leeuwen insists. “It was very gracious of him to show up the amount of times that he did. I mean he really helped us out.”

Grohl’s charitability aside, what the drummer adds is a feral sense of energy. A band that run on chemistry (natural or otherwise), Queens Of The Stone Age need to take each step carefully, making sure that their essential equilibrium is maintained. “It takes a great amount of trust to do that, and sometimes you just get feelings about people. We’re a very tight-knit group when it comes to the creative process. There’s us, and then the friends who we invite. For us to reach out of that close-knit friendship is scary sometimes. You don’t know how Elton John is going to be – but he’s wonderful. That’s a great feeling.”

Freed from the studio, Queens Of The Stone Age are ready to do what they do best. An incredible live experience, the band has lined up a summer calendar designed to take them as far away from the studio as possible. “We pride ourselves on being a live band,” the guitarist enthuses. “After six years, we now have new material so it’s all about the live experience. We’re gearing up to put on – not just a musical show – but something visual as well. It’s going to be an unprecedented thing which we’ve never really done. We’re trying to step up everything.”

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'...Like Clockwork' is set to be released on June 3rd.

Check out the ClashMusic review of '...Like Clockwork' HERE.

Photo Credit: Nora Lezano

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Catch Queens Of The Stone Age at this year's Benicassim (July 18th - 21st).

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