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The Other Eagles

Eagles of Death Metal's Jesse Hughes on music, meth and who really brought sexy back.

Eagles of Death Metal lead singer Jesse Hughes is sitting in an L.A.-area dentist's office, waiting "to get my head worked on." But there's more to the story than that. A lot more.

"They're going to do some prep for some major dental work that's going down, and I need it, because three years of concentrated meth use can be really hard on your teeth," he announces, the words flying from his mouth like a fusillade of arrows in a Braveheart battle scene. "For scientific background, meth use causes dry mouth, and it softens the teeth because it eliminates the calcium -- and you get this jaw-grinding thing when you're on speed a lot. So, because you're chewing on soft teeth and it's dry, the enamel breaks off.

"But that's not the main procedure today," Hughes continues. "We were in Austria three weeks ago, playing at this festival in front of 30,000 people, and I hadn't eaten for three days beforehand because we'd just been in Portugal -- and between you and I, Portuguese food sucks. Well, I'd taken five aspirin on an empty stomach about six hours before the show, and it made my stomach bleed. So I'm on stage, and all of a sudden I threw up blood all over the drum kit and the floor. That scared the shit out of me, and when I went to walk off stage, I slipped on the blood and broke my top front tooth in half and shattered the bottom teeth. I need to have those repaired, too. But before I fell flat on my ass, it looked fucking cool -- like fucking Gene Simmons. I pulled it off, man, I ain't gonna lie to you."

Eagles of Death Metal's Jesse Hughes lives life in the 
fast lane.
Chapman Baehler
Eagles of Death Metal's Jesse Hughes lives life in the fast lane.

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This is hardly Hughes's only example of truth-telling. Figuratively speaking, he's an open book, and a damned enjoyable one, as Death by Sexy..., his band's latest CD, makes abundantly clear. The disc, which was produced by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who also serves as the Eagles' drummer, is filled with crazed, good-humored cock rock that pairs pumped-up riffology with charmingly lascivious lyrics. In "Solid Gold," for instance, Hughes declares, "You see us comin' and we'll make you scream/We are the stars of your real teen dream."

Sure, it's silly, but it's also infectious. Hughes, Homme and company are clearly having a pedal-to-the-metal good time, and they're happy to take anyone along for the ride -- even Justin Timberlake, who claimed to have brought "sexy" back months after EODM's Sexy landed in stores. It's difficult for Hughes to work up righteous indignation over the possibility that Timberlake hijacked his concept, "because he did date Britney Spears, so I've got to hand him that. I just want him to cop to what he did -- and if we gotta have a dance-off in the streets over it, well, I'm challenging him to one right now." As for the differences between Justin's take on sexy and his, Hughes says, "I wrote my version all alone instead of hiring a team of producers to come help me. I mean, I didn't have a stylist go buy sexy for me."

At the same time, Hughes doesn't claim to have reached his current status in the entertainment universe unassisted. "Let's face it: Nobody would've given a shit about Eagles of Death Metal if it weren't for the fact that the famous lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age was the drummer," he says. "That's the reality of the beginning of this band. But my job as Joshua's good friend is to make sure that I deserve it and to be worthy of the position that I have."

The path that led Hughes to rock and roll was a mighty circuitous one. As an elementary-schooler, he moved from Greenville, South Carolina, to Palm Desert, California, a scorching community that Homme called home. The two became close in high school, but rather than cast his lot with music, Hughes decided that journalism was his calling and pursued a degree in the field at Clemson University. After graduation, he wound up in Palm Springs, near his old stamping grounds, as a political reporter at the Desert Sun, a local daily. This assignment meant covering Sonny Bono, the musician-turned-mayor who ran for Congress in 1994. Before long, Hughes, a proud conservative, could no longer feign objectivity. "Rather than doing what most journalists do for Democratic candidates and pretend that they're impartially reporting about them even though they're backing them all the way, I went, 'Yeah, I'm on this dude's team,'" he recalls. "I did canvassing and volunteer work and shit like that, because I wanted Sonny to win."

Bono did, but his political career was cut short in January 1998, when he died on a California ski slope. His death was ruled accidental, but Hughes isn't buying it. "Sonny was the only one -- the only one -- who wanted to investigate what the real reasons for Waco were," he says, referring to the 1993 government raid on a Branch Davidian compound in which eighty or so people died. "And then he disappears behind a bunch of trees and gets his head bashed in. Come on! That sounds suspicious to me."

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