Paris Attack Survivors Eagles of Death Metal: Our Vintage Jesse Hughes Profile

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris were senseless in innumerable ways, big and small — among them the fact that gunmen killed more than 80 people at a Bataclan theater show headlined by Eagles of Death Metal, a band that's all about fun, not global politics.

The group's name appeared to unsettle numerous newscasters covering the story in the early hours after the deadly assaults, with some referring to the group generically as "an American band" rather than speak it aloud and CNN's Wolf Blitzer once calling the combo "the Eagles of Dream Metal."

During the attack, lead singer Jesse Hughes and the band's members were able to escape with their lives. But their merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, was among the fatalities, as were dozens upon dozens of fans who went to the Bataclan that night with simple goals: to have a great time and see an enjoyably crazy rock band with a wonderful sense of humor.

Evidence of the latter can be found in my 2006 interview with Hughes — one that's stuck in my mind for years, and not only because he conducted it from his dentist's office, where he was scheduled to have work done on teeth ravaged by years of meth use. Hughes came across as an absolute original: hilarious, ribald, refreshingly honest and absolutely dedicated to music.

The piece captures a moment long before the tragedies of the past few days, when Hughes (he co-founded EODM with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who didn't play the Bataclan gig) could joke and laugh and put smiles on faces with his words and music. I hope he'll be able to do so again someday soon.

Here's our original profile.

"The Other Eagles"
By Michael Roberts
October 26, 2006

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."

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."

[Here's "I Want You So Hard," the first single off the album Death by Sexy.]

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."

During this period, Hughes had troubles of his own. "I was married with a kid, and my ex-wife had an affair, which really fucked me up," he says. Homme came to the rescue, asking Hughes to help him on several tracks they assembled under the Eagles of Death Metal umbrella; the tunes can be found on two volumes of Homme's Desert Sessions series. The experience was transformative for Hughes: "I weighed 210 pounds. Then I lost a lot of weight. I discovered meth and tattoos. And then my obsession with listening to music turned into an obsession for expressing it."

Cut to 2003, when Homme committed to an Eagles full-length titled Peace Love Death Metal. (It was released the next year by AntAcidAudio in conjunction with Homme's own label, Rekords/Rekords.) Burners such as "Flames Go Higher" and "Whorehoppin (Shit, Goddamn)" soon grabbed the attention of Downtown Records, an indie that often works in conjunction with a major label, Atlantic. As proof of its enthusiasm for the project, Downtown followed up Death by Sexy... with DVD by Sexy, a just-released video package assembled by Liam Lynch, director of the forthcoming epic Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny. ' The DVD offers a consistently hilarious look at the eight days of studio sessions that resulted in Sexy, but it's not exactly a standard documentary. At various points, Hughes and Homme interact with computer-generated characters, including a foul-mouthed rabbit named Warren and a six-foot-tall anthropomorphic banana.

If these sequences seem drug-induced, there's a reason: They were. "Recording that album put me in rehab," notes Hughes, who signed up for a thirty-day stint at Promises, a residential addiction treatment center, shortly after Sexy was completed. He says he's been clean since completing the program, and for the most part, he's happy about that. But for him, the pros of sobriety are accompanied by some significant cons.

"I'm not one of those dudes who'll tell you that I regret a single moment of being high," he declares. "In fact, I even started to like the comedown, man. Feeling like a vampire in the middle of the night with cat-like eyes? I mean, the whole trip was fucking awesome. But drugs fuck your head up and can completely ruin you, so you just have to be realistic. When something starts to suck, you need to stop. That's my attitude, and that's what I did. I went to Promises and it worked — but it worked in a couple of different ways. It worked in the sense that I'm not a speed freak anymore, and I've got a lot of skills that I couldn't use when I was. But it also worked in making me feel really bad about taking a drug I loved."

Of course, the dentist's office presents the opportunity to sample some other medical wonders. Hughes, however, limits himself to "just a little nitrous, to take away the sensitivity. See, rehab gave me a lot of new philosophies. I'm really into experiencing and being aware of what's happening to me. So I don't mind a little discomfort."

That's good to know. Now open wide, and get ready for the drill.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts