After taking a well-earned break, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age tells Scott Kara they finally nailed their long-awaited new album with a little help from their friends.
Josh Homme is a master at coming up with grand, slightly corny statements about his life and music.
"It felt like we were walking over hot coals and, once you're on them, you realise someone has just laid out 35 more yards of hot coals," he chuckles about the making of the new Queens of the Stone Age album, ... Like Clockwork.
And this is him confirming just how hard the long-awaited album was to make. "For every victory we had, it's like, 'Yay, we won. But I lost an arm so how much did we win?'," he laughs again.
Yes, Homme has always had a touch of the drama queen about him but he's outdoing himself this time round. Maybe it's the influence of Elton John, who is one of the many guests on the album, along with Dave Grohl (who played drums on it as he did on 2002's Songs For the Deaf), former bandmate Nick Oliveri, and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, among many others.
But more on Elton soon because, put aside the hot coals and losing an arm (not literally, of course), and the bottom line is it's been six long years since the last album, Era Vulgaris. So, points out TimeOut: "It's about bloody time. But ... Like Clockwork is worth the wait."
"Thanks for the pressure, but thanks for letting the pressure out of the balloon at the end there," says Homme with a snigger.
He's in Los Angeles with his friend Alain Johannes, also a Queens' collaborator and guitarist in Homme's supergroup, Them Crooked Vultures. "It's Alain's birthday. So we're a little tipsy, so if this goes off the rails, apologies in advance."
The reason ... Like Clockwork - the Queens' sixth album - took longer than usual was because Homme needed a break. He says he should have taken a break even before Them Crooked Vultures started up in 2009, but was loath to give up the opportunity of playing with his mate Grohl and idol John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.
"But, by the time the Vultures was over, although I had an amazing time, I was physically and emotionally out of it. But I'm not complaining," he laughs.
Not surprising then that the new album is a stark contrast to Era Vulgaris, which was about the freaks and weirdos Homme came across during the recording of the album in Los Angeles. Clockwork is poignant, serious and introspective, and though not as dancey, you can still boogie-woogie to quite a bit of it.
"For Era Vulgaris I think I was sort of leaning forward, my teeth were bared, and I was ready to jump out and pounce on somebody. But for this one I took my first break in 15 years and when I stopped, because I had to stop, sometimes when you work so long without stopping you pick your head up and go, 'Where the hell am I?' And it takes a second to figure out, and so stopping is a bit discombobulating. So this record comes from trying to get out and trying to make it out."
So did you make it out?
"I'm out," he laughs. "For me, as the years go on I feel how much more these records are a document of where you are at with your life. I think before I just inherently knew that, I didn't really consider it, and I just went for it. And you know, by the time you've made your sixth record you've gone through ups and downs and all-arounds that you could not have gone through on your first record, or your third record."
Album opener Keep Your Eyes Peeled is beautiful, exotic and dark, with a deathly pummelling bass and Homme's high, serenading vocals, and If I Had a Tail (Homme's favourite on the album) is a twisted, tough Gary Numan-meets-epic rock opera style track typical of the innovative rock 'n' roll he's been coming up with in Queens for 15 years. But then there's Fairweather Friends, the song with Elton, and a host of other guests like Reznor, Oliveri, long-time Queens' collaborator Mark Lanegan, and Homme's wife, Brody Dalle.
Homme is a big fan of Elton's 1970 self-titled album and 1973's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: "The production value on those records is incredible and the lyrics are incredible, which he didn't write, but he had to take poems and meld them into theatre."
But he never expected to get a call from the man himself.
"He called me. I just got a phone call at my house and it was Elton John. I didn't believe it was him at first because why the hell would I?" he hoots. "I'm just a kid from the desert so I don't expect to get phone calls from Elton John. But by the time he had told me that the only thing missing from my band was an actual queen, and I told him, 'Honey, you have no idea', I knew we were going to get along."
You can tell he loves telling that story - and when it came time to record, Homme wasn't going to use Elton to do a soppy, simpering ballad either. "When he came in we had a rock 'n' roll song for him - and away we went."
Who: Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age
The band: Troy van Leeuwen (guitar), Dean Fertita (multi-instrumentalist), Michael Shuman (bass), and Jon Theodore (drums, formerly of Mars Volta)
New album: ... Like Clockwork, out tomorrow
Past albums: Queens of the Stone Age (1998); Rated R (2000); Songs for the Deaf (2002); Lullabies to Paralyze (2005); Era Vulgaris (2007)