Josh Homme on what it's like to play with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl in Them Crooked Vultures
When explaining why there weren't too many rock and roll tunes on Them Crooked Vultures' self-titled debut, singer and guitarist Josh Homme says, "Let's just try to steamroll everybody with dark heavier music." With former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and ex-Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones also on board, it's pretty much guaranteed that things are going to heavy during live shows, as well.
In advance of Them Crooked Vultures' show at the Fillmore this Monday, April 19, we spoke with Homme between gigs about a variety of things, including what it was like the first time the threesome played together, what Jones added to the equation, how quickly the songs came, why Grohl didn't want to sing and what the Queens of the Stone age frontman learned from Jones.
Westword (Jon Solomon): When you, John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl first got together, how was that initial jam?
Josh Homme: It almost felt like a lot of dumb smiling, because everyone was really excited to see what would happen. And it started just becoming ways to sort of -- we'd be playing something, and one guy would try to flip it to the other side of the beat, and then we'd jump on that for a while. So it was mostly like "Oh, you know, you can do this to it" without talking, just by playing it out.
For me, honestly, I just felt like ... you know when people tell you, "I felt like I was above my body, watching myself?" That's basically what I felt like. We'd stop, and I was like, "Oh, was I playing, or did I stop? What was going on?" It wasn't really until the second time that we played that I felt like I was standing there a little bit.
WW: Have you ever felt that way when you've played with other musicians?
JH: It's almost like shades of a different color. It was a crazy experience, but it was the first time I was like, "What the hell am I doing? I'm not even paying attention. I'm just watching." I really respect Jones. I've known Dave for years, so I don't really care about that, since we've been friends forever and we love to play together, so it's more about, "Hell yeah, we like to play together." With Jones, I was excited to see what that ingredient into the mixture does.
WW: What did Jones add to the mix?
JH: It took me a second to just stop watching and start playing. It took me a second to stop listening to what was going on and sort of add more of my own ingredient to the mixture, because I think I was just curious. But frankly, for everything to work properly, everyone needs to step forward so that the three ingredients are really prominent. Otherwise it's just kind of a lopsided paste I suppose.
WW: How soon after the initial jam did you guys start working on material?
JH: There were things in that first jam and a lot of things in the second jam that became songs. Frankly, I always have music, and so that way, I never feel pressure, because I'm not really writing for a record in particular;I just always writing songs. But this was the first time in all the years that I've played that I didn't have anything. And so, that was a little bit of a shaky feeling, I guess, because it was like, "Hey, lets get started. Are you ready?" And that is a little bit funky, you know, but at the same time, you just sort of trust in the company you're with. And you trust you are a catalyst for something else and vice versa.
WW: I would imagine when you started working on material, it came pretty easily. Was that the case?
JH: It came really fast, musically. I would say almost of all of the music was done in the first ten days or two weeks basically. And there was more that we didn't quite pursue because we were arranging songs without having any vocals, with them looking at me saying, "Could you sing something there? Do you hear a thread of something that you could sing?"
So, I'd have to stop and literally stare into the air as if we're looking at the song and go, "Yeah, there's something here I can follow," in the hopes that you find something good to sing over that arrangement, which is actually the toughest and definitely the most challenging way to write music. I guess I've spent my entire career trying to avoid that exact situation. And then you find yourself in it with Jones and Dave, so that's good.
WW: Did Dave offer to sing at all?
JH: He basically didn't want to do it. I really wanted him to. I wanted the chance to sort of take the pressure off myself. And I also felt like, frankly, of the three guys, I'm the guy that's polarizing sometimes, or at least I feel that way, which I don't mind but it's just kind of feels like that's the way it. So I said, " I think people would want to hear you sing, man." And he was like, "Oh, really. You think so?" Then he was like, "Nope." But I think it also leaves the possibility for when another Vultures record happens, whenever that is, that I can say, "Guess what I'm not going to do a lot of?"
WW: I heard that you guys have things in the works for the next record?
JH: What we know is that it's fun and relatively easy to make music together. So, that's what we have. But we don't really have a plan for when that is. I think we have a lot of wishful thinking and a lot of excitement about what we just did.
WW: I think I heard Dave say in an interview that it's going to take another record to really figure out who you guys are.
JH: None of us has started a band for a long time. Once we really started to get going, the idea that this was a side project or some, like, fleeting thing disappeared. It felt like a band. It felt like discovering a big cave that you couldn't just go inside a little bit and say, "Yeah, I was there!" It felt like there was a lot of space to explore.
Picking which direction to go was really, well, it took a second, in a way, because you're kind of saying to everybody, not who you are, but who you're starting to be. I think it had to do more with the fact that there's not a lot of rock and roll out there. We have about five acoustic songs, and we chose not to use them, because we're like, "There really isn't that much rock and roll, frankly, so let's just try to steamroll everybody with dark heavier music."
WW: Have you been learning a lot from playing with Jones?
JH: Absolutely. I've said this a couple of times, but it's just the way it is. I always like to operate under ... creating a situation where everyone is playing at the maximum of their ability. And I do that for myself, and I try to do that for others, if they want to do it for themselves. I want someone to sort of push me along that way. but we never really reached Jones' ceiling for his ability.
So it was like pushing and pushing and pushing. It just felt good to watch that someone -- he is the multi-tool for being a musician. He's the Swiss Army player. I mean, Jones has always been on the cutting technology since Zeppelin, and so he's well versed in everything old school and everything modern. And that's when I realized what I could bring to the table is sheer stupidity, to remind people that it sounds great when it's dumb, too.
WW: I'd imagine it has to be tough playing with someone of Jones's stature.
JH: This was the hardest record I've ever made, but it was also so much fun. I kind of feel like I got set loose in the science lab. So I'm really thankful. It's been really cool. I really love music so much and being around Jones. He's such a kid in a candy store for music, too, and so is Dave. And then trying to make each other laugh with the things you know how to do -- that's a really great situation.
WW: Is Alain Johannes still playing with you guys on tour?
JH: Absolutely. One of the things that came up quickly was like, "We're not going to let the fact that there's three of us get in the way of what the songs have to do." We wanted to make songs and we didn't want to restrict anything. If the song's two minutes long, it's two minutes long. If it's seven minutes long, as long as it's not boring, it's seven minutes long. That was the goal.
The same for recording multiple parts and things like that, especially when you're writing in the studio. We needed somebody that was good, and that's Al. Al is a guy who blows Jones's mind. So when you have someone that, you kind of have free reign.
WW: You've worked with Alain for a long time, right?
JH: I've worked with Al on and off all the time. We're really close. We're like brothers. He's kind of part of our musical family. He's a major member and contributor, and frankly, he should be on the tip of everyone's tongue when they're talking about musicians that can do everything. In a couple words, he's a badass.
And watching someone rip leads while they're singing harmonies and kicking something on with their toe. It's a lot to take in. and when we started playing Vultures stuff live, we were like, "Oh man, this is not easy." It was all written in the studio. You know, you're playing all the stuff that's really contrary to each other while you're singing. It was a great relief to have Alain. I said to Alain, "Is this stuff really hard?" He said, "Yes, it is?" I said, "Thank God! I'm not the only one."
Fresh off a performance at Coachella this evening, followed by a quick gig in Vegas tomorrow night, Them Crooked Vultures play the Fillmore Auditorium on Monday, April 19. Tickets are $49.50 (plus service fees) and still available, near as we can tell.