Queens' rough rider

Times Staff Writer

IF you really want to hear about it, Josh Homme, creative mastermind behind the heavy metal group Queens of the Stone Age, will tell you about his temper -- about the three separate court-ordered sessions of anger management classes he had to take and their effect on his life. "I learned nothing through anger management," Homme said flatly, seated earlier this month in a tequila bottle-strewn North Hollywood rehearsal studio that reeked of stale marijuana.

With a little prodding, Homme (rhymes with "mommy") will admit he is still on probation after pleading no contest to two counts of battery against Blag Dahlia, the lead singer of a punk outfit called the Dwarves. It happened at the Dragonfly club in Hollywood three years ago; an incident Homme regrets not one iota. "I went there to attack and humiliate him," he said. "That's what I did."

Among other dicey talking points the QOTSA lead singer and songwriter does not shy away from: how he arrived at a mental and physical collapse while on tour with Nine Inch Nails in 2005 and his problem with prescription medication -- specifically, how around that time he was taking "enough Vicodin to kill a small child."

But what Homme, 34, who has the imposing physique of a longshoreman, standing nearly 6-foot-7 in his motorcycle boots, really wants to talk about is his new hobby. "Sewing is the best thing!" he exclaimed. "I can feel my heart rate going down when I do it. I forget everything else. It's great when you're on the tour bus."

A few days shy of the release of Queens' meticulously crafted fifth album, "Era Vulgaris" (it came out June 12), the singer was in an ebullient mood. Early reviews had been overwhelmingly positive. Better yet, later that afternoon, he was scheduled to meet up with his wife, Brody Dalle of the on-hiatus Aussie punk band the Distillers, to splash in the pool of their Toluca Lake home with their 18-month-old daughter, Camille. "Best music I ever made," Homme said of fatherhood.

It's been a long, strange path out of Palm Desert and onto the arena stage for Homme, who remains QOTSA's guiding force and lone original member since he ejected hard-partying bassist Nick Oliveri from the group in 2004. (At the time, Homme explained the move by alleging that Oliveri had been physically abusive to Oliveri's girlfriend, although these days Homme declines to discuss it. In a statement, Oliveri denied the allegation.) The stoner quartet emerged from the Palm Springs alterna-rock scene 11 years ago after the breakup of Homme and Oliveri's earlier group, the grunge-psych-garage-punk band Kyuss.

Although Queens' roster has continuously and deliberately revolved over the years to include the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl on drums and former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan on vocals, Homme scuttles the notion that the group is some elaborately wrought solo project a la Trent Reznor's stewardship of Nine Inch Nails. Instead, credit is given QOTSA's current studio lineup, which includes drummer Joey Castillo and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, through an extended metaphor.

"This is a pirate ship," Homme said. "People have a misconception that the pirate captain is the most important thing. But the captain is really no more important than a rigger. He fails, we die.

"The pirate captain is elected by the crew. It's the best example of democracy," he said. "Better than the one we have now!"

Homme's old friend, Jessie "the Devil" Hughes -- more familiar as the lead singer and guitarist of Homme's cultishly popular side project, Eagles of Death Metal -- plopped down on a leather sofa. He summed up his band mate with evangelical zeal. "He's the golden child in a lot of ways," Hughes said. "He comes here and he believes in the ethic that you're supposed to do the best job that you can. Everything with Joshua has this magic. There is a buzz about the man himself. Because he's a giant!"

Since 1996, Queens has sold 1.7 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan, earning international acclaim, multiple Grammy nominations (in 2003, 2004 and 2005 for hard rock performance) and status as a Critical Darling -- not to mention the undying affection of as disparate a fan base as you are likely to find in modern music. Among the Queens faithful: heshers, hipsters, red-state rock nerds, art-school poseurs and indie kids. But after the group's breakthrough 2002 album "Songs for the Deaf" -- which has sold nearly 1 million copies in the U.S. and spawned the modern-rock radio staples "Go With the Flow" and "No One Knows" -- came its only misfire: 2005's "Lullabies to Paralyze."

"I knew I wasn't going to make '[Songs for the] Deaf Two,' but I definitely got it loud and clear that that would be the right thing to do," he recalled. "Then I fired Nick. And it was so public, I couldn't get it out of the way. It got very me-centric. I wasn't clearing my head at all."

Homme doesn't like to recall the nine months he was on tour with Nine Inch Nails in 2005 but admits to having been "mentally sick," suffering through bronchitis, knee surgery (hence the Vicodin) and a bout of exhaustion that led to a collapse onstage in Germany. "I'm always an accidental masochist, so that's bound to catch up with me at some point," he said.

As for the run-in with Dahlia, a longtime friend of Oliveri's, Homme said: "I wasn't there to hurt. He got stitches, but that's just because of positive friction."

He refused to be pinned down on the specifics of what caused the attack -- or even mention Dahlia by name, instead calling him "someone who doesn't deserve any press." But Homme outlined some of what led to two counts of misdemeanor battery to which he pleaded no contest, resulting in 60 days of residential rehab, anger management and three years of probation.

"I was there alone [but] all his people were there. I said, 'Does anyone have anything they'd like to say before I get started?' It was totally quiet. So I was like, 'OK, I'll get started,' " Homme said. "Everyone in this world deserves to be slapped -- not too hard -- and I hope they are because it's a great teaching tool."

Dahlia, who has known Homme since the QOTSA frontman was 21, recalled the incident differently. He said Homme became enraged after hearing his 2004 song "Massacre," in which Dahlia sings: "This one goes out to Queens of the Trust Fund / You slept on my floor / And now I'm sleeping through your ... records."

"I was seated with my back to him," Dahlia said. "He poured a beer over my head. When I got up, he hit me over the head with a bottle. Then he was hustled out of there and ran down the street."

He added: "He became a horrible person ... somebody that none of us recognized or liked very much. I threw a good-natured but pointed barb his way, and he just couldn't take it."

Buckling down

COUNTERINTUITIVELY, the road to recovery started with more work: Homme produced a second Eagles of Death Metal album, followed by a tour with that band, for which he plays drums and sometimes sings. Then he returned to the studio with Castillo and Van Leeuwen to begin cutting "Era" shortly after Eagles performed at the 2006 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Set to embark on the Duluth Tour next month, Queens will hit a number of "second tier" towns (including California dates at Costa Mesa's Pacific Amphitheatre on July 22, Bakersfield on July 23 and Chico on July 24) rather than the usual big-city rock 'n' roll whistle stops.

Asked about his current chemical intake, Homme -- whose ecstatic 1999 single "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," after all, boasts the repeating stanza: "Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol / C-c-c-c-cocaine!" -- said he was abstaining from the high life. "I have to take a drug test for an insurance policy," Homme explained.

Just then, a roadie wandered through the rehearsal space and shook a bottle of prescription pills he spotted atop an amplifier. "What are these?" he asked Homme, mockingly.

"I'm into reality," Homme said. "The music has always been a great escape for me."

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chris.lee@latimes.com

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