We spoke to Josh Homme about Queens Of The Stone Age‘s In Times New Roman… in the Uncut dated August 2023 – here’s the full, unedited interview, in which Josh goes deep into the new record, tells us what working with Iggy taught him and explains why he’d like to make a record that destroys stereos.
Pick up a copy of Uncut here at the Kelsey shop.
There’s no messing about on In Times New Roman… – there are no guests, you produced it, it’s just straight in.
Yes, that’s true. You know, I think you make records in your own time, and then you wonder if they’ll fit into their time that they’re released in. And somehow, this record seems very of its time. It’s very brutal, tonally brutal. And, I think you said it better than I will, there’s no mucking about, it’s wilful stupidity, right off the drop.
You’re always experimenting, but on the previous two albums, there was a definite element of trying out a lot of different things. And this one feels like you’ve learned from that, and you’ve taken some of the more successful new ideas on. It feels comfortable, but exciting at the same time.
Well, don’t even make me happy by saying that we’ve learned from that because that’s exactly… You know, I guess I always look for cycles of three – I knew the first record was part of something more, I already had this Rated R kind of concept when the first record was going down. The first record is stamping your ground for where you’re starting from, the second one is the experiment and the third is encapsulating all that you’ve learned in a way. And I think so many people have gone through so much in the last four years, and I too have have gone through so much. The music was recorded about two years ago, I just wasn’t ready to sing it – the guys pushed me a lot to get it to the finish. But I needed to be whole to finish, and it just took me a while to do that. It understands itself. So by the time I finally came to sing it and finish it with with Mark Rankin, and Mikey Shoes, it was one of those moments where you’re like, ‘no, no, I know who I are right now.’
Like you said, you have been through a lot – so the lyrics are very personal, but at the same time, they’re some of your funniest. There’s a pun every other line.
I mean, I suppose a pun is a word for making up a word, right? Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everyone else is taken.’ And looking around and hearing everyone tell you there’s so many rules – can’t do this, don’t do this, don’t touch that, be afraid of this, don’t look at this – I just thought, ‘Oh, fuck all this, it’s a bunch of bullshit, it’s not true. In fact, I can make up whatever words I like, I can do whatever I like.’ For example, on something like Them Crooked Vultures, everything was an animal, and I tend to do that for a record, pick a thing. After all, life is very spherical – if you think someone’s above you, all you have to do is turn the sphere and you realise there’s no above or below anybody. I also think that this [album] is right for its time, because I know everyone else sees the same obscenery I see. ‘Hellscape, party of two?’ I don’t mind that actually. I don’t look at it as negative. I think failing to be honest about identifying what you see is the negative. Understanding when something is right can only happen if you are willing to admit when something’s wrong, for you or in general. So, I think accepting reality for what it is, is what takes you from pessimism to realism.
Do you see this as the final part of a trilogy, then?
I do. I think [2005’s] Lullabies To Paralyze and [2007’s] Era Vulgaris were sort of like trying to find the open doorway or open window, if you will, to try to enter the next phase, and it felt [2013’s] …Like Clockwork was [that next phase]. I mean, when I look at this now, I think, ‘In Times New Roman the Villains come Like Clockwork’, that’s what I see. I feel that this album is the brutal truth of them all. I think that means you can start The Wizard Of Oz right now, and they should match up.
I guess they’re also linked by the lineup, which has been so stable – most of the guys have been around since Era Vulgaris.
[Artist] Frank Kozik, who just passed away, he was the guy that came up with the idea of [desert sessions]. I didn’t have a band at the time, and he was like, ‘You should take people out to the desert and just record, call it the ‘desert sessions’.’ It was his idea. You know, and then once I was out there, I thought, ‘I should make a band out of this.’ I guess [it’s like] orbital movement, like, as the Earth rotates the idea should be able to rotate and change without losing your sense of gravity to what you’re doing, so that was the notion of making a band that could modify and change. Much like the band Ween could play anything it wanted to whenever it wanted to, all you have to do is believe – you know, Ween put out a country record, and it’s an amazing country record. They believe they can do it. So I think Queens has always been like, ‘How do we keep changing, constantly, and risk losing people, but retain a sense of self?’ And I think before that had a lot to do with interchanging members and now it has a lot to do with keeping those members and taking these grand leaps together.
It’s experimenting with stability.
Ha, the disrupting of stability – exactly. There’s enough disruption [around now] that a little stability actually has become beneficial in a way. Yeah, because the experiments are now dealing with sonic brutality, so the words are supposed to say something real. But the sonic side of it should also speak to something, it should suggest a direction too. I think on the Iggy record [2016’s Post Pop Depression], I learned that… there’s a song called “In The Lobby”, and when he screams it drowns out the music, because I was like, ‘Why can’t he just drown it? Why can’t he bury it? Why can’t the dynamic be so wide that you’re like, ‘Oh’?’ And then that gave way to Villains, you know, the beginning of that record is so quiet on purpose that you crank it up and then when it goes you go ‘holy…’. Why can’t I play a dirty trick on people I love? Why can’t a record grab you by the shirt collar and kiss you on the cheek and scream ‘I love you’ in your ear? Like, it can, it can do that. And I think the brutality of even the first song “Obscenery”, it’s so brutal that when this orchestra just collides with the music, at least you know it’s on purpose, it’s some kind of counterbalance, something fragile and beautiful to destroy.
The end of “Carnavoyeur” is crazy – that compression!
It’s the most you can do without digital static. And I said, why can’t we go further? I’ve been thinking this since the end of the first record, but what if you put on a record, and at the end it destroyed your stereo? That would be… that would be unforgettable. It would be impossibly dangerous art forever, right. You know, the thing was, [people say] ‘I don’t want to be associated with that.’ It’s like, well, why not? I do. I would do that.
It’s a situationist kind of prank. That’s great.
Well, a real statement. I think it’s beyond a prank there buddy, because if you make records as real as you can, what does that mean? Because real is very broad term… as honest and vulnerable, and as legitimately close to the centre of who you are, as you can. And if you make something that you actually love, then someone else has a great chance of loving it, too. It may only be 300 people, but it’s enough. What if 300 people fucking loved what you did, it was their favourite thing? I mean, how many would be enough? Wouldn’t two people be enough? I think that that’s actually what our job is, is to make something that someone else could love, too.
Well, there’s a bit more than two people for you.
That’s just gravy, I guess, because that’s more than anyone deserves maybe. I’m always waiting for, someday, someone to ring my doorbell and say, ‘Joshua, nobody likes your music anymore. So we’re coming in, we’re gonna just take all this stuff.’ And I always think I’m waiting for that day. And I’ll be like, ‘That was a long time, though. Pretty good. [I did] pretty well.’
The album’s only just done, but I bet you have plans for what comes after the trilogy…
Now why would I do something like that?! I think if you don’t make plans, you’re part of someone else’s. And I think it’s important to make the music from a very real place, but I’ve come to enjoy the wonder and the surprise of leaping out of the darkness and doing business on our fans, like, I love to shock and surprise and leave breadcrumbs and I like to participate in their excitement and their joy. It’s my job to make pleasure and joy and it’s a pleasure and joy to do so. I like to figure out how to do something that makes people that are into our music take one deep breath in and get excited, so I would never give that away. But oh, I got plans. They don’t all work, but that’s not the point either.