Jesse Hughes on Josh Homme: “I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it wasn’t for Josh allowing me to do my own thing under the Eagles of Death Metal name. No one else in their right mind would sign up to be a marquee duo with me and let me take all the glory. He’s too kind of a man for this filthy business.” Photo by Chapman Baehler
Plenty of bands have been thrown together solely to get girls. Others for fame and fortune. But Eagles of Death Metal formed as more of a joke or dare.
Granted, guitarist/vocalist Jesse Hughes did play guitar alongside his longtime best friend Josh Homme on the Queens of the Stone Age frontman’s 1998 Desert Sessions compilation Volumes 3 & 4. But he confides, “I just did it to hang out with my friend and make music—I never had any intention, belief, delusion, vision, or pretense about becoming a rock ’n’ roll musician.” When the sessions were over, Hughes moved on with family life, working nine to five as a journalist, speechwriter, and even an ordained deacon. But then the bottom fell out.
“Around 2003, I was going through the ugliest divorce and custody battle you could imagine,” he recalls. “The only thing on my mind was to show love to my son, so I started entertaining him with really basic songs. Josh came over one day to check up on me, and he overheard ‘I Only Want You’ [later on EODM’s 2004 debut, Peace, Love, Death Metal]. He asked me if I could do more songs like that. I laughed and sneered, ‘I could write an album in a week.’” A few days later, Hughes delivered and Eagles of Death Metal was born.
The two friends—who’ve known each other since elementary school (“We instantly hit it off,” laughs Hughes, “I think because we were the only two gingers in the desert”)—play all the instruments, though over the course of four studio albums they’ve also welcomed friends like QOTSA collaborators Troy Van Leeuwen, Alain Johannes, Dave Catching, and drummer Joey Castillo both in the studio and on the road. Eleven years later—after a ripping debut and two albums full of greasy perv-rock with hypnotic grooves and the occasional vulnerable ballad—Hughes and Homme are back with Zipper Down, their most versatile record to date.
“I’ve always wanted to do a more complex demonstration of a deeper emotion and prove my understanding of proper songwriting structure,” says Hughes of his musical evolution. “With any band, you come out and you’re raw and powerful at first, but then you begin to understand dynamics and how sometimes less is more. That said, we concocted Eagles of Death Metal to be like a rock ’n’ roll combination of the Special Forces and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.”
So just how versatile—how “Ringling Bros.”—is Zipper Down? Well, for starters, there’s an eerie, buzzy, slapback-treated cover of Duran Duran’s melancholy 1982 synth ballad “Save a Prayer.” But we’ll let ringleader Hughes elucidate further. When we caught up with him before the band’s U.S. tour, he talked about everything from how Parliament-Funkadelic and flamboyant fitness ambassador Richard Simmons sparked his swagger, to why he’d rather be a wizard than a magician, and why he chose not to use big amps in the studio and eschews pedals onstage.
Guitarist/frontman Jesse Hughes basks in the glory of the afternoon crowd at Riot Fest 2015 in Chicago's Douglas Park. Photo by Chris Kies
What is the creative process between you and Josh?
I typically write every lyric and riff in Eagles of Death Metal. I’ll then record shitty little demos. Josh described it like this: I brought in a bunch of toys in a box, dumped them on the table, and asked him what we should play with first. He’ll contend that his role is to keep the character and vibe of my original thoughts in tact, but he’d be lying. I mean, in my opinion, he’s one of the best musicians out there right now, and it’d be a disservice to me and the fans if I didn’t borrow a little of his awesomeness for our material.
Since he primarily plays drums in this band, do you have to really push him to contribute guitar parts and vocal melodies?
He defers—almost to a fault—to me and my guitar playing. Side bands don’t make you money. They don’t give you fame. And I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it wasn’t for Josh allowing me to do my own thing under the Eagles of Death Metal name. No one else in their right mind would sign up to be a marquee duo with me and let me take all the glory. When it comes to guitar, he’ll encourage me to figure out the part and do it myself—it’s like he has a chip on his shoulder over my guitar-playing abilities. It’s beautiful [laughs].
Does he give you specific advice or push you in certain directions?
Oh god, no. Josh is not that type of dude. But what I will do is show him how I learn and absorb his subtle teachings and suggestions. When we go on tour after a few months off, I get all excited to show him how I can play slide a certain way or use hammer-ons more efficiently. I’m a goal-orientated person, and I’ve found that it’s more fulfilling and holistic to achieve goals for others rather than just doing it to make yourself look better.
I’m completely comfortable with what I’m good at—my trick is to play stupid-simple solos that sound rad enough that you forget that I’m only playing a few notes and just hanging on for the ride. The greatest thing I can tell anyone that works with someone that is clearly superior and more talented than they are is to make yourself available to their direction. Your ego might take a hit, but your songs, music, or whatever you’re doing in life will be better because of it.
So did Josh contribute any guitar parts on Zipper Down?
Well, I wish it was a lot more, but he plays these really tricky solo runs that go through the bridge in “Skin Tight Boogie” that are fucking mind blowing. And his slide intro to “I Love You All the Time” is something we wouldn’t have done on previous albums because most of our previous slide playing is faster, abrasive. This is more melodic, soulful, and emotive—it’s just like Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.”
Check out the Rig Rundown we did with the band: