Queens Of The Stone Age Subvert The Clones

It only took two minutes, forty-three seconds for "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," the first track off the Queens of the Stone Age's (QOTSA) sophomore album, Rated R, to remind the world that rock's primary mission is, as WW II journalist Ernie Pyle said, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

With blitzkrieg-ing guitars buzzing like smoking machine guns, the mantra was chanted, screamed, belted through the pot smoke choked haze: "Nicotine! Valium! Vicodin! Marijuana! Ecstasy! And Alcohol!" punctuated by Judas Priest's Rob Halford growling "C-c-c-c-co-cocaaaiiine!" for the refrain.

It's as convincing a paean to reckless abandon as there is. It also says nothing and everything about the inanity of our society because nothing offensive is said yet it offends our sensibilities while neither condoning nor condemning the subject matter. Boy, the future looked bright.

That was in 2000, and in 2002, QOTSA released their most commercially successful album to date, "Songs For The Deaf," making good on the prophecy that QOTSA are as brilliant as they were hyped to be.

Joined by a host of their famous friends (a drum crushing Foo Fighter named, Dave Grohl, and former Screaming Tree, Mark Lanegan, among others) QOTSA have a bona fide hit on their hands with the single, "No One Knows."

"That was a cool first single," says bassist Nick Oliveri as he prepared for a show later that evening in San Antonio, Texas. "We didn't expect it to do as well as it did. I'm not saying that we didn't love the song. We love all the songs on the record. But, it could've been any of the songs on the record. I think the reason we went with 'No One Knows' is because it featured the drums, and it features a bass part, and the guitar part. It has all these different elements of what the band is. It illustrates that, 'Hey, we can jam too — not just play structured pop songs.' It also represents how much changes with this band as far as music is concerned. We're going to go into weird bass parts, and experiment with guitars."

The choice paid off in the form of a recent Grammy nomination in the Hard Rock Performance category for "No One Knows." They didn't win, but they were honored, nonetheless.

"We won by just receiving the nomination," admits Oliveri. "That's how I saw it. We would have never have even dreamt that it was in even possible when we started out.

"I was at home when Josh called me and said, 'Hey, man. Guess what?' Then I said, 'What?! No way.' I thought he was lyin' to me (Laughs). As it turns out it was for real. It was cool. I never even joked around about the Grammy's. I never once had said anything like, 'Yeah, see y'all at the Grammy's,' or anything. Obviously, I called my mom and told her about it.

That's certainly the type of thing that she's going to be more excited about than you are yourself."

He says, as one might expect, that news like this goes a long way with mom. "All is forgiven as well. Everything you did as a kid is erased. You're golden again — a total clean slate (Laughs)."

When they "started out" he and bandmate, Josh Homme, were in their mid-teens. Homme had already formed cult fav's, and stoner rock progenitor's, Kyuss, at the age of fourteen. Oliveri joined later before departing to join up with San Francisco punk band, The Dwarves. Kyuss called it quits in 1995, and Homme took a year off before taking a gig as a touring guitarist for The Screaming Trees, hence the association with Lanegan.

When Homme later formed QOTSA he ran into Oliveri at a club in Austin, Texas, during the annual South By Southwest Music Conference. Oliveri's ongoing project, Mondo Generator, was playing next door, Homme popped in, and the rest is history — Oliveri was the new bassist for QOTSA.

Since then the lineup has been in constant rotation with Homme and Oliveri remaining the only constants. But having Grohl sit behind the drum kit on "Songs For The Deaf" was a dream for the bass playing Oliveri. In fact, it could be said that the pairing of the two made for the most potently dangerous rhythm section on the planet.

"It was great," says Oliveri of having Grohl to bob and weave with. "If you are a bass player, it was everything you imagine it would be. He opens up room to do… For a drummer and a bass player it's a dream band, really, because it opens up a lot of room for jamming. I mean, our music is pretty flexible to that kind of stuff. And, the players that we have are open to go into a jam off the cuff."

This word "jam" keeps coming up. It's hard to think of QOTSA as anything "jam" oriented.

"Yeah, we go into some jams some times," admits Oliveri. "We'll probably go into some jams tonight. Josh's throat has closed up on him a little bit, which happens to a singer some times, so me and Mark are going to do most of the vocals tonight, and just do stuff to pick up the slack. It happened last night, and it worked out." Apparently, the band had had to fill in the blanks for Homme whose voice has been considerably shredded from being on the road so extensively. It should be fine soon though.

Grohl's commitments to his band the Foo Fighters have him on the road. And QOTSA has replaced him with Joey Castillo. But Lanegan is on the road with them full time.

"He's is doing well," Oliveri says. "He does probably, 7 songs a night.It's a casual thing where he comes out and does his songs, and I think it's great. I think the high point of the set is 'Song For The Dead.' All five of us are (singing) on the song. It's certainly the high point for me."

Oliveri says they have another single loaded into the chamber ready to be fired at any moment. "The new single we have, "Go With The Flow," is a straightforward rocker. We just did a video for it. It's animated, and we're playing chicken with another truck, and we kinda crash into one another, among other things. It's very interesting. I've never seen anything like it. Shynola did it."

Shynola is a British animation consortium that has also animated videos for DJ collective, U.N.K.L.E., among others.

Oliveri is genuinely nice. He's also a funny guy who is wildly obsessed with a vast array of music — Ramones to The Beatles. His and his band's sense of humor shows up throughout this album.

Fed up with radio formats that are nothing more than obsequious capitulation to what the labels are trying so desperately to push, QOTSA lampoon several of the typical stations found in the greater Los Angeles area on "Songs…."

The record starts off with someone in their car flipping around the dial eventually landing on a station where an announcer comes on saying, "KMLN:KLONE Radio. We play the songs that sound more like everyone else — more than anyone else. KLONE, Klone, klone…." This fades out to a deejay who comes on (in pitch perfect baritone) saying, "Hey, Kip Kasper, Klone Radio, LA's Innnfinnnite Repeat…"

It's a funny segue that leads into the first track, "You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire."

I inadvertently refer to Klone as KOMA Radio, and Oliveri immediately corrects me. We laugh about it and he stops and thinks about it for a moment and says, "Yeah, KOMA Radio. I like it. KOMA Radio: Where we're always passed out."