Beware of Band 

Queens of the Stone Age play robot rock, not stoner rock. You’ve been warned.

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Think CDs should come with warnings? How about bands? Don’t add alcohol. Keep away from naked chicks. Beware of band. Queens of the Stone Age—so named to piss off homophobic heshers—fits all, but none more snugly than the latter. As they’re fond of saying, shit just kinda happens around them. Like the time they left bassist-vocalist Nick Oliveri’s girlfriend behind at a rest stop with a reporter from Blender in tow. The resultant feature, an exercise in license versus exaggeration, ends with Oliveri freaking out, hoping she’s on the other bus but discovering she is not. Ostensibly, she’s on the roadside somewhere pondering whether to show leg for a ride.

“Yeah, dude … I don’t know why that’s written, that we didn’t find her,” Oliveri laughs. “But that was a scary moment. I was like, ‘No … this isn’t good!’ But it all worked out. Apparently, our bus took off and she had to jump on the other one.”

Despite that innocuous instance, QOTSA does tend to require a caveat. They tend to explode, be it on record, on stage or on the street. Since forming in 1998 (ex-Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme laid the groundwork; Oliveri, himself a Kyuss alumnus, joined soon after), it’s all happened fast and ferociously.

Their self-titled debut (on Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s Loosegroove Records) began a buzz, which Interscope Records intercepted, releasing album No. 2, Rated R in 2000. The breakthrough disc featured a third member, ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, and the almighty rockers “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret.” QOTSA became critics’ darlings, scored a film (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) and spent a summer on the traveling metal medicine show, Ozzfest. Further, they caught loud props from prominent peers, namely one Mr. Dave Grohl. The Foo Fighters frontman (and drummer for that other band) likes QOTSA so much, he mans the kit for the band’s freshest and bestest, Songs For the Deaf. And get this: not as a guest, but as a member, as Foo’s schedule permits.

“Dave’s a monster, man,” says Oliveri. “He’s one of best rock drummers in the world. He belongs playin’ drums. He has his band and has to [play guitar], but he’s made to play drums. There are not that many drummers that have a signature beat, like on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ that skip-beat? Anybody who has that now is bitin’ on his trip.”

And, as if further approval was necessary, venerable British music mag NME calls them “2002’s Greatest Living Rock Band,” and Rolling Stone weighs in with “One of 10 Most Important Hard and Heavy Bands Right Now.” Not quite four years after forming, Queens of the Stone Age have emerged as certifiable rock stars for the new millennium.

The crazy thing is, they’ve no classifiable sound, which is foursquare against current industry design. However, like Kyuss before them, QOTSA is often lumped into the catchall category of metal with a ’70s fuzz pedal: stoner rock. They venomously reject the term—preferring “Robot Rock”—and buck it on Songs For the Deaf. The tunes are constructed on the basic riff-rock recipe, but dosed with garage punk, grunge, British Invasion pop smarts, jazz … a veritable plenitude of sonic wizardry. And with Homme, Oliveri and Lanegan all writing and trading off vocals, the attack is many-headed and riddled with twists.

“We’re just makin’ cool music that you can’t buy in stores,” states Oliveri. “And it’s as much for ourselves as anyone. You can’t force songs out and we don’t try. Whatever’s comin’ out at the time is what we write.”

The spontaneity extends to life in general in the QOTSA camp. Abandoned girlfriends, the story exaggerated though it was, are just a surface scratch. QOTSA lives quickly, dangerously, passionately and at random, with a “Fear and Loathing” consumption ethic. Let your guard down, get too comfy, you’re riskin’ a rude surprise. Oliveri, in particular, is one to watch. His rap sheet includes getting kicked out of The Dwarves (“I thought I could do anything I wanted when I joined the Dwarves,” he laughs, “which just goes to show you those guys aren’t as badass as they seem”), several naked performances (one saw him arrested in Brazil) and impromptu fire spitting (on, not into, the crowd).

So when QOTSA show up in Salt Lake City, there’s no telling what might happen. What provokes a nude performance? It oughta go over well here.

“Yeah, you know,” he begins to explain. “I don’t plan that shit. Stuff like that just kinda happens, bro. It’s just like, ‘Oh, I’m drunk. It’s hot in here. I’m not goin’ on with clothes.’”

Nevertheless, he will reveal a partial agenda: “I’m gonna drink a lotta, lotta, lotta 2-point beer to make up for what’s missing. And have a lotta sidecars, too, since you can’t really order a double in Utah. I don’t understand [the liquor laws] myself, but hey … I don’t need to.”

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More by Randy Harward

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