Nick of Time

Between Mondo Generator and Queens of the Stone Age, Nick Oliveri has the schedule from hell -- and he loves making it worse.

Although Red Sun was fiery enough to win Kyuss a contract with Elektra/Asylum, Oliveri didn't stick around to reap the benefits -- and, oddly enough, his departure actually seems to have been inspired by that most cliched of rationales, creative differences. Homme and company were interested in stretching out musically (1994's Welcome to Sky Valley features a trio of suites), while Oliveri was feeling punky. The Dwarves were just the guys to scratch the bassist's itch, and his work on the aforementioned Young and Good Looking demonstrates how well-suited he was to the brand of sonic chaos in which main Dwarf, Blag Dahlia, specializes. The collaboration keeps going on Drug Problem. Dahlia shares writing credit with Oliveri on "F.Y. I'm Free" and "Girl's Like Christ"; he also receives an individual nod for "Like You Want" and is listed as a co-producer.

Homme re-entered the picture in 1997. Kyuss had run its course, and he wanted to reunite with Oliveri, a desire that led directly to the rise of a new Stone Age family. "Josh has known what he was going to do with Queens from the beginning," Oliveri says. "And everything he's said he's going to do, he's done."

Granted, world domination wasn't on the agenda. "He was just trying to set things up where we could stay on the road, stay busy, keep the thing rolling," Oliveri recalls. "We had no idea about anything else."

The power station: Dave Catching (from left), Nick 
Oliveri, Molly Maguire and Brant Bjork are Mondo 
Generator.
Deborah Viereck
The power station: Dave Catching (from left), Nick Oliveri, Molly Maguire and Brant Bjork are Mondo Generator.

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With Like Hell and Black Lamb, 9 p.m. Monday, December 1, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $12, 303-291-1007

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As was the case with Kyuss, Queens won the backing of a major label, Interscope, after unleashing a well-received platter, 1998's Queens of the Stone Age, with help from a smaller company (on this occasion, Loose Groove). Yet even before the appearance of 2000's Rated R, its much-loved Interscope bow, the band won a hefty following for its anything-goes stage shows. Oliveri, for instance, occasionally likes to shed his clothes -- a proclivity that led to his arrest at the 2001 Rock in Rio festival. Some notable rock stars were smitten by the Queens, too. Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan was a vigorous booster, back when that meant something, as was Nirvana-skinsman-turned-Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, whose affection eventually led to him taking the drum chair for Deaf.

"We've always been a band's band," Oliveri says. "You know, other bands would dig us. But we never had any kids who were into it before. We were always, like, a 21-and-over bar band. We could stay busy touring clubs forever, but we didn't get any attention from kids."

That changed with the unforeseen renown collected by the Deaf single "No One Knows." The witty, chugging melody, conceived by Homme and Mark Lanegan, the onetime frontman of Screaming Trees who's now a de facto Queen, had little in common with other ditties on hard-rock radio in 2002 -- which made the airplay orgy that greeted it all the more satisfying. Because Homme, Oliveri and guests such as Dahlia, Dean Ween and Marilyn Manson grad Twiggy Ramirez are such an eclectic bunch, the album as a whole is rather erratic, but there are several great tracks. Even so, the CD's reception was a shock to everyone, Oliveri included.

"We were really surprised," he says. "We weren't expecting anything. We were just, like, 'We want to make another record after this one. I don't know on what level, or what label, but we want to make another record.' It was just like it was with Rated R. We just wanted to make something we wanted to listen to ourselves but couldn't find in a store. And then everything else happened."

The Queens breakthrough would seem to leave little room for Mondo Generator, especially considering the haphazard circumstances surrounding Mondo's creation. Oliveri, Homme and Bjork completed a batch of tunes in 1997, but when Queens became priority one, the recordings were set aside. Several years later, Oliveri revisited the music and liked what he heard enough to issue it on Southern Lord Records with the Mondo Generator handle attached. Released in 2000 as Cocaine Rodeo, the disc earned strong notices, even as it presented Oliveri with new options for compositions that Homme didn't think were quite right for Queens or for the series of discs released under the umbrella term Desert Sessions. Ipecac put out the thoroughly enjoyable Desert Sessions 9 & 10, featuring a cameo by PJ Harvey, in September.

"A lot of times I'll play something for Josh and go, 'Hey, what do you think?'" Oliveri says. "And he'll be like, 'I like that song, but I don't know about that one.' I try to do the same thing for him, but the difference is, I tend to like more of what he does than he likes what I do."

The ensuing cascade of cackles implies that Oliveri takes Homme's judgment in stride, and he quickly offers confirmation. "I totally trust him, and I've known him for a long time. So it's easy for me to say, 'He doesn't like it? Whatever.' I don't get bummed. I know I can do it with Mondo -- and there's no ego or jealousies about that. And it's not like he's saying, 'Oh, man! You're going out on me!' There's no girl-type stuff going on, which is great, because Mondo's like the more uncensored version of me. There's nobody going, 'Geez, that song sucks. Don't put that out.' There's just me, going, 'I like it. Fuck it. I'm putting it out.'"

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