No one knows they’re insane...
Queens of the Stone Age rock the cradle with fatalistic fablesYou know you have made the big time when warming up before the big show is the only way to get daily musical practice in, but for guitarist extraordinaire Troy Van Leeuwan, it’s his preferred mode of operation.
With bands such as A Perfect Circle, Enemy and Failure to his credit, Van Leeuwan takes the pressure and adulation that comes with being in Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) in stride. In fact, it was while on tour with Failure that Van Leeuwan initially made the acquaintance of QOTSA’s front man, space cowboy Josh Homme. At the time, Homme was playing for the Screaming Trees and the two made an instant connection, due in no small part to Van Leeuwan’s admiration for Kyuss, the groundbreaking stoner-rock giant formed by Homme and his longtime collaborator Nick Oliveri. Van Leeuwan’s past experiences put him in the enviable position of knowing what he was getting into when he signed a deal to team up with Homme for his next foray into rock ’n’ roll history.
"I’m just doing the music thing until I can launch my own accounting firm. That’s where the real money is," Van Leeuwan says, with dubious sincerity. "But seriously, being in A Perfect Circle and Failure was like polar opposites. Failure didn’t get its due. We were broke the whole time. And the whole process was driven by the sheer love of music. A Perfect Circle was something that Billy (Howerdel) had been working on for years. I was one of the last to join and was only there to record two songs at the end…. It just shows how much you can achieve when you know how to orchestrate art and commerce.
"This situation… is somewhere in the middle. It’s more chaotic, which in turn creates energy. It’s more intense."
Diagnostically speaking the departure of bassist Oliveri was a gaping wound in the Queen’s side and could be considered a mortal blow for a band who’s previous album, Songs For the Deaf, signalled a swift and steady rise to success. But Homme was not about to give up the ghost, and splitting with Oliveri afforded the hard rockers the freedom to take on fresh players and a new sense of style.
"It’s something that we grew into," says Van Leeuwan, who now shares bass duty with Homme and Alain Johannes. "It doesn’t feel like I’m replacing anyone. We’re still evolving as a band. We all write and we all like to stay busy. The last thing you want to do is to become stagnant. Because then you’re just treading water."
The addition of Natasha Shneider on keyboards brings a "space-country-rock-ambient kind of a thing" according to Van Leeuwan. "Not typically the way things were supposed to go," he says. "The one thing we discussed was making different colours and shades and dark and making space – something I’ve been known to do."
Indeed, at the time he was invited to play guitar and electric piano for the QOTSA, Van Leeuwan was already well reputed for his ability to create an instant sense of atmosphere in the studio on recordings for A Perfect Circle, Failure, Orgy and Deadsy. Van Leeuwan‘s talents made him the perfect fit for Homme’s re-banded circle of merry men.
"We were still finding out new things about each other while we were recording the last record (Lullabies to Paralyze)," he says. "When you do most of your playing in the studio, the intensity is at a much higher level. If something had a character or a vibe we liked, we would get to go off the page and explore it. You put pressure on yourself to do your best, but you have to be aware that you’re only competing with your own expectations. The temptation is to over analyze every song, because you’re so focused on it. If something requires more than five takes it’s not working. It’s like beating a dead horse."
Ex-Screaming Trees branch Mark Lanegan has also ventured across the bridge to bring his vocals along for the ride with the Queens on the new album and on tour. Bonding during the production of Lullabies to Paralyze, the album’s central story was modelled after a fairly twisted tale akin to the fatalistic fables penned by the Brothers Grimm.
"The theme of this album was our own dark fairy tale. Most of the old stories were really dark and now people are trying to clean them up for the kids. But that’s so wrong. Sometimes when you’re searching for something you wind up going into the dark and you have to do that in order to see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s not always a train that’s about to hit you."
by Christine Leonard
Originally published in FFWD April 2005