Eagles of Death Metal works on the buddy system
Editor’s note: On Friday, Nov. 13, attacks in Paris were reported at or around an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theater. For the latest updates: Attacks in Paris: Dozens dead; hostages taken
On a stage loaded with guitars, drums and a wall of amplifiers, Jesse Hughes looks anxious and ecstatic in front of a cheering hometown crowd. It’s Monday night at the Teragram Ballroom with his band Eagles of Death Metal, and for a moment he just stands there taking it all in, a grin spreading wide beneath a thick ginger mustache.
“I’m so nervous right now. I hope you understand,” he says, standing in red suspenders and a black T-shirt, hair slicked back. “I’m shaking in my boots.”
He puts his guitar down and begins to dance and shake to the song “Complexity,” a bouncy track on the band’s new album, “Zipper Down.” On drums is his chief collaborator and lifelong friend, Joshua Homme, leader of Queens of the Stone Age.
For Homme, the Eagles of Death Metal is an ongoing special project and a labor of love with one of his closest friends. (The band returns with quick riffs and songs of playful sexual innuendo to the Teragram on Friday.)
“I think it’s critical to have more than one thing going,” says Homme, in an interview ahead of the band’s current West Coast tour, which also lands at the Beach Goth 4 Festival in Santa Ana this weekend.
“Eagles is really important to me. It’s as important as Queens is,” he explains. “This scratches a really wonderful itch for me. I’m literally sitting down behind another lead singer, but a singer that I feel like is a one of a kind. My support is totally warranted.
“If there were more bands trying to be like Eagles, rock ‘n’ roll would be way better and healthier.”
Weeks earlier at the Hollywood offices of the band’s management, Hughes is distracted by an arcade game, as Homme sits waiting for an interview to begin. “Watch, you ask me questions and he’ll stop,” Homme says with a smile. It’s just a small moment of the usual back and forth that he likens to Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from “The Honeymooners.”
“I’m the straight man in our duo usually,” he says, “but it’s on purpose.”
It’s been seven years since the last Eagles of Death Metal album, 2008’s “Heart On.” The new album was recorded last year at Homme’s Pink Duck studio in Burbank.
“Sorry about that,” Homme says, looking to Hughes. “It took a long time for the next Queens record too.”
The band was still active on the road during those years, and Hughes released a solo album as Boots Electric called “Honky Kong” in 2011. A couple of songs from that album described by Homme as “criminally under-heard” were re-recorded for “Zipper Down,” including the dance floor swing of “Complexity.”
“I defy someone to dislike that song, if you like rock music,” he says.
The album also includes “Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M.),” describing the reaction of a local hipster barred from entry into an after-hours bar, with Hughes wailing the chorus of “Don’t you know who I am?” like a moment of tragic opera. A heavy take on Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” was among the first songs completed for the album.
“I want Eagles to be like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – they’re dead, but you can still go see their circus,” says Hughes, then adds of the century-old company, “It’s called Circus Xtreme now. I mean, come on...”
Homme adds, “That means you can put sour cream on it.”
Typically Homme and Hughes work alone in the studio. “Making a record is his and my scheduled time to hang out,” says Homme. “If things get busy, it’s the best way for us to spend all this time together.”
Like the last two Eagles of Death Metal albums, “Zipper Down” landed on the Billboard Top 200, though the band is often still seen as an underground entity. Even so, songs from its catalog have frequently been licensed to commercials for the likes of Nike, Acura and Microsoft, an unexpected thrill for Hughes.
“When I was a kid, I loved commercials,” says Hughes. “There was a Shasta commercial: ‘I want to rock and rolla, I wanna Shasta, I want a taste pizzaz!’ I remember those jingles.”
As a news reporter for the Desert Sun, prior to his days as a rocker, Hughes met local hero and onetime advertisment songwriter Barry Manilow, who bestowed some advice. “He told me all pop music is just a jingle,” he says. “That was the first lesson I was given.”
Most of his subsequent lessons came from Homme, a touring rock musician since beginning as a teenager in the Palm Desert stoner-rock act Kyuss. With QOTSA, he’s been a major platinum-selling force in modern rock, but bringing Hughes into a career of rock ‘n’ roll was a delicate process.
“When we took that first drive to L.A. in my mom’s car to make my first record, you were like, ‘OK, dude,’ and he gave my this crash course of number one rules for the first year,” Hughes recalls. “I followed it like the bible because I trusted him implicitly.”
After the first album was done in 2004, Homme brought his partner on the road for five Queens of the Stone Age shows and blasted the songs backstage on a boombox while Hughes danced. It was raw, lo-fi and made for the dancefloor.
“The first record, that music is so ... contagious,” says Homme. “People would say, ‘What is this’? And he would go, ‘Hi, I’m Jesse! I’m happy to be here!’ It was so like a Japanese exchange student. People were like, ‘Who is this dude with the mustache?’ It started an underground swell.”
For Hughes, the career and friendship are inseparable. “I’m not a rebel, but I don’t really care much what anyone thinks about how I live my life,” he says. “I trust Joshua completely, and I find that to be a rare thing.”
Eagles of Death Metal
Where: Teragram Ballroom, 1234 W. 7th St., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
California band Eagles of Death Metal played at Bataclan in Paris night of attack
Paris attacks: At least 35 dead, around 100 hostages held at concert
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