At first glance, Josh Homme looks like your bog-standard rocker with his black leather jacket and boots, 1950s quiff and impish grin. That’s to ignore, however, Homme’s stature, both physically (he’s 6ft 4in/1.95m tall) and as an innovator, and his almost pathological disregard for the common trappings of rock stardom.
In the first sphere, Homme spent the 1980s and ’90s blending quarts of Black Sabbath sludge and punk grit with generous splashes of droning psychedelia to create stoner rock – a form of hypnotically dark metal he developed with his first band, Kyuss, and then honed to diamond-hard sharpness with long-time project Queens Of The Stone Age. Indeed, QOTSA are among the most successful rock outfits of the current era – all but one of the band’s six studio albums have gone gold.
And yet Homme hates the rock-star lifestyle. Or, rather, he loathes the clichés and the accepted rules of the game. If the 44-year-old had his way, his fellow musicians would go and get their hands dirty in the fields every now and again and waste less time on Instagram. In this interview, he explains why that would actually do all of us some good.
THE RED BULLETIN: You live in Palm Springs, the famous retirement paradise in the Californian desert. It's not the kind of place you’d expect to find a rock star.
JOSH HOMME: That’s exactly why I live there – so that I don’t bump into some beat-up musician on every corner. If I want to see them, I can go to Los Angeles – it’s only two hours away. I have peace and quiet in Palm Springs and can spend time with my family.
Apparently there’s a Homme Street, named after your family.
It’s in the neighbouring town of Palm Desert. But, yes, it was named after my grandfather, Clancy Homme. He was one of the very first settlers to move there in the early 1940s. He bought hundreds of acres of sand dune and turned it into a farm with arable land.
Did you spend time on the farm when you were a kid?
Every spare second I had. My grandfather was my hero. I thought he was John Wayne up until I was nine because he looked like him and he was often on horseback. I worked on the farm regularly right up until we released the first Queens Of The Stone Age album, because I didn’t want to lose my grip on reality. I knew the world of rock music is one that it’s all too easy to get lost in, and one where you can turn into an arrogant, decadent asshole if you’re not careful.
So you’d recommend working in the fields to your fellow rock stars?
Hard work and a bit of humility never hurt anyone. In that sense, I think it would definitely do a lot of musicians some good!
It sounds as if you don’t have the highest opinion of other professionals in the industry.
At least not the ones who have to doll themselves up just to go to the supermarket, as if they were about to go on stage. There’s something clownish about them. Oddly, it’s a very common phenomenon, even in the world of hard rock and heavy metal. Something’s seriously wrong upstairs, if you ask me.
How do you manage to steer clear of all that?
I don’t make a whole show of my work. I don’t post online how everything’s going in the studio and how great the new album is going to be. Only people who haven’t got a lid on their ego do that sort of thing. I keep my music secret for as long as I can, as well as I can.
Even though fans now demand online interaction with their idols?
I don’t care about that. I don’t want people to hear my songs and maybe even pass judgment on them before they’re ready. Not because I’m paranoid, but because I want to be able to really go off the rails every now and again and come up with absolute crap.
The musician that punk icon Iggy Pop calls one of the most ingenious songwriters of our era can come up with crap? Seriously?
You’ve got to give yourself the freedom to make mistakes in life so that you can learn from them and get better. That’s why I find it helpful to work away from the public eye and not constantly put myself on display on social media.
How do you become a great concert pianist if you have to stop every couple of minutes to stare at your screen?
But isn’t feedback from others just as important to your advancement?
As a matter of principle, I only make my albums for myself because there’s no way I can force people to like them in any case. All I can do is write songs that I love myself and which keep my passions burning. And if some people say they think it’s shit, that’s fine.
You don’t mind if people say they hate your music?
If people hate you, it means you’re arousing emotions in them and they’re not indifferent to you. And that’s actually great! Any reaction is better than no reaction. Insofar as the hate is totally OK, I say bring it on.
OK, that’s easy to say when you’re a rock star who’s sold millions of albums. But were you so serene in the early days of your career?
I never wanted to be part of a scene because I never wanted to be part of a group of bands that all sounded the same. It’s always been important to me to come up with something of my own. The soundtrack to my life. And that’s got to be authentic, regardless what other people think of it.
What recommendations can you give to young people who want to forge a creative career for themselves?
Throw your smartphones away. Live in the here and now. Enjoy every moment to the fullest. How do you become a great concert pianist if you have to stop every couple of minutes to stare at your screen? My tip is: be creative instead of getting your phone out because you’re bored! I’m so happy I grew up in the desert, because it boosted my creativity. There was so little to do in your spare time that you had to come up with things yourself so as not to go crazy.
My solution was to create my first band, Kyuss [in 1987]. We were a group of kids who decided to make a racket because we were bored. And, believe me, in the long term that gives you a lot more than posting pictures of your breakfast on Instagram.