Eagles Of Death Metal

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The sad truth about friendship is that it is one of the most often-abused endeavors in human nature. Even sadder still, most folks only discover what a true friend is in the face of hardship—so goes the old saying that “A friend is somebody that helps you move, a good friend is someone that helps you move a body.” Does this mean that not every friend in your cell phone’s Top Five is of the fair-weather variety? Maybe, maybe not—but typically speaking, you tend to find out who your true friends are when the chips are down. Take the story of Henry McCarty for example; McCarty—a.k.a. William H. Bonney, a.k.a. Billy The Kid—and Pat Garrett were (according to many accounts) good friends for a while but, when the proverbial push came to shove and he was put to the task, a deputized Garrett shot Billy The Kid to death on July 18, 1881 and happily collected the bounty on the gunslinger’s head. You don’t get more ‘fair-weather' than that.

In many ways, working in the entertainment industry can be an even more cut-throat than being a gunslinger, but Jesse Hughes—singer and guitarist for Eagles Of Death Metal—knows he’s lucky to have a best friend like Queens Of The Stone Age front man Josh Homme, and it didn’t take an attempt made on his life to show him. Homme and Hughes first met when Hughes’ family moved to Palm Desert, California in 1979 and the duo became fast friends that bonded over a mutual love of soccer and music. While eventually their paths would deviate (Hughes attended the University Of South Carolina and became a journalist, Homme first formed Kyuss and then Queens Of The Stone Age), their friendship endured and when their paths crossed again, Homme convinced Hughes to start playing music and they formed Eagles Of Death Metal. The band would contribute a couple of tracks to Homme’s ongoing Desert Sessions releases, but when Queens Of The Stone Age took off on the strength of albums including their 1998 self-titled record, 2000’s R and 2002’s Songs For The Deaf, Eagles Of Death Metal was understandably put on hold while QOTSA rode the waves of popular appeal to a ‘household name’ status. With that popularity under him, Homme remembered his friend and decided that it would be the perfect time to re-launch EODM. “Eagles Of Death Metal is about two best friends having the time of their lives but when you have a full-time working band like Queens Of The Stone Age—which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest bands that we have in the world today—you’re going to be busy,” beams Hughes from the comfy seat in the back of his tour bus. “The whole plan from the get-go was that I would ride in on his coattails—extra comfy—and then jump off and get my own coat. And that’s exactly what I’ve done and my coat’s made by Versace and it’s very nice [chuckling].

“Really, Eagles Of Death Metal is a success story of the way it should be,” continues the singer, suddenly quieting himself into very serious tones. “Josh has been there for me every step of the way and believe me when I say that you get to know who your friends are when everything sucks.

“Joshua is the captain of our gang and as the captain of our ship you could ask for a no finer man. This is an armada now baby—the special forces of rock—and I’ve got my own fuckin’ ship. And how lucky am I that I get to have the captain of the gang play drums? If ever anyone says that, at some point, I start complaining about this job or I start acting mean to people, you have my permission to come and kick me in the balls immediately because, really, everyone should be so lucky as to have such problems.”

As Hughes suggests, he is now completely on his own at the helm of Eagles Of Death Metal. After Homme successfully helped the singer get the band off the ground and moving with a pair of balls-out releases, Peace, Love And Death Metal and Death By Sexy, he has stepped back to let Hughes shine and, while he did play on Heart On, Josh Homme isn’t touring behind the record.

There is an obvious difference between Heart On and EODM’s previous releases too. Instantly noticeable in the opening power-riff warm-up of “Anything ‘Cept The Truth” is that the colors of Seventies Detroit guitar rock royalty—including Ted Nugent, Glen Buxton and the Ashton brothers—are splattered on every wall with a touch of glitter rock (a la T. Rex) mixed in for that little dash of sparkle and, unlike the band‘s previous releases, none of it seems to be ironically intended. With a chorus of female vocal backing, Hughes floors listeners with surprisingly straight-faced classic rock vamps and gets it on (without banging a gong) because he knows he’s got something to prove; Josh Homme’s name made this band and with his presence here at a minimum, the star power is at an ebb. To counteract this, Hughes has risen to the challenge and offered his best game in an effort to keep the whole thing from flopping miserably. It works too; with better songwriting and a more cocksure delivery than the band has been able to muster before, Heart On blasts forth with what no one had a clue Eagles Of Death Metal was capable of.

Heart On is a defining record for EODM because it doesn’t try to crutch on any famous names or past successes or rest on any laurels. The record is gratifying too because it ignores all fashion (including the one that the band tried to establish themselves with Death By Sexy) and revives the idea that sometimes rocking out can be its’ own best reward. To hear that kind of talk repeated back to him, is Hughes surprised or even phased by such comparisons? Bravely, the singer is not stunned in the slightest; there is a method to his madness, and that listeners can pick up on the little similarities between these songs and aspects of the classic rock that has come before actually tells him that he’s doing something right. “I try to write songs that I know people will like, so what I do is go and look through the hit books of the past, take the best ones and just change the words,” explains Hughes with an only partially sarcastic laugh. “It’s an ingenious formula [laughing].

“My daddy used to say that there’s nothing new under the sun, so if you’ve gotta be like anybody, be like the best,” Hughes continues. “I’m not here to try and reinvent the wheel or even pretend like I made any of this shit up, I’m just here to be the same as Little Richard or Angus Young or Chuck Berry. I would think that if you’re faithful to that and try to make music that would make your heroes proud—or at least not totally ashamed that you’re claiming them as influences—you‘re on the right track.

“When I read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, it changed my life because there’s a quote in it that says, “If you want to be like your heroes, you have to suffer what they suffered, you have to eat what they ate, you have to experience what they experienced and you have to become possessed by their possessions. So it’s not about being like Mick Jagger—because what did Mick Jagger do when you think about it? He ripped off Tina Turner move-for-move—it’s about getting what he’s got because it looks pretty fuckin’ rad.

At this juncture, Holmes suddenly becomes very philosophical as he ruminates, “But is that a rip-off or simply being possessed by the same devil? I mean, you can see Mick Jagger and you can see Keith Richards in what I’m trying to do, but look at the overall influence that the Rolling Stones have had. They’ve inspired far more than they get credit for; they’ve inspired whole attitudes, they inspired an ugly boy’s mentality to rock n’ roll that’s good natured but totally dirty. With a wink and a nod, Mick Jagger got away with suckin’ dudes’ dicks AND fucking Geri Hall. Nobody does that without ruining their career. Nobody does that and still sells tickets to redneck meatheads like me in South Carolina. I mean, The Dixie Chicks talked shit about George Bush and it ruined their career but Mick Jagger sucks a dick and it doesn’t kill him in and of itself? That’s fuckin’ voodoo magic.

In that statement, Hughes betrays precisely where he wants to take Eagles Of Death Metal: to the top—and, with Heart On, he makes it plain that he plans on doing it the old fashioned way, like his opulent forebears including The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who. “Before we even started making this record,” begins Hughes as he explains the guiding principle behind Heart On, “We decided that we were going to take advantage of our childhood fantasies and our lifestyle that we have right now and sort of live the dream. You know, do the Led Zeppelin thing; record on the road, take some time with the songs, hammer them out and make something to be proud of.

“It worked out really, really well; we did something incredible with this record,” continues the singer. “Maybe too incredible—because now I’m scared to death of these songs! There was some depth to the first two Eagles records at times where I’d show that I got hurt a little bit, but these songs are more important to me because I love them more; I spent more time on them. This album took a year and a half to record as opposed to the three weeks it took to make the first two combined. I don’t want to sound pretentious or anything, but they are. With the other songs, I was so experiencing the joy of a single chord that it wasn’t really a challenge, but with these songs there’s a little more thought going on. Not only that, I don’t have Josh to fall back on this time [laughing]! He really wanted to come on this tour, but at the last minute he got asked to produce the new Arctic Monkeys album and he couldn’t turn it down. He’s not around so I’ve really got to bring my best game and prove that I can make this work without him—which I’ve never had to do before—even when we did the split Queens Of The Stone Age/Eagles Of Death Metal bill a couple of years ago to show people the difference.

“This is the record where I have to prove it all to everyone that I can do this without Josh necessarily behind me. The first two albums, I was just learning what the fuck to do, you know? I was in ‘Shake-my-dick’ mode and that’s it. But with this album, I was actually trying to write songs and that’s different; when you’re actually trying to do something, you get a little more secure in it because let’s face it—I didn’t come here for people not to like me, I want people to think I’m amazing.”


"Wannabe in L.A." – [mp3]

Heart On is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

Related Articles:
Heart On – [Album]
The Hives & Eagles of Death Metal – [Live]

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