MUSIC IS NEVER WRONG
A visit with Them Crooked Vultures’ Josh Homme and John Paul Jones
Interview by Jay Babcock
Posted: October 15, 2009
Them Crooked Vultures is a new band comprised of guitarist-vocalist Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss), bassist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), drummer Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) and guitarist Alain Johannes (Eleven), with Jones and Johannes also playing other instruments. These guys really don’t need an introduction so you won’t be getting one here. What’s interesting is what they’re doing: Vultures have spent much of this year together, writing and recording music in a Los Angeles studio, and are now touring without having officially released a note of the music they’ve recorded. No album, no single, no YouTube video, no leak, no official photos, no nothing: the only way to hear Them Crooked Vultures, really, is to see them live.
In some ways, it’s an echo of the Eric Clapton-Steve Winwood-Ginger Baker supergroup Blind Faith, who did a similar thing in 1969, touring ahead of their album’s release, selling out tours on the strength of their collective pedigree. But unlike Blind Faith, who hedged their bets by including renditions of songs from their old bands, Vultures are performing 80 or so minutes of new Vultures music every night: no Zeppelin covers, no Queens jams, no standards. As Homme says onstage on the night I first see them play, it’s a “social experiment” as much as a musical one, and to the audience’s credit, there was not a single shouted request that I could hear for something other than what the band was playing: Vultures’ blind faith is being rewarded.
Perhaps this is down to a collective solidarity with the idea of the independent musician, or a real interest in simply unfamiliar music by trusted faves—or maybe it’s because most of the songs presented on Monday night were strong on first listen, and if listener’s fatigue inevitably set in at some point due to the continued ear-pummeling, then you could just stand there and behold the wonder of 63-year-old John Paul Jones, shoulders bobbing, at the helm of his instrument, smiling with pleasure at Dave Grohl as yet another propulsive, post-“Immigrant’ Song” (or “Achilles’ Last Stand,” or…) bassline locked in with Grohl’s powerhouse thumping and a distinctively Homme guitar riff. Interestingly, Grohl’s drumkit was not on the riser usually associated with big-time rock bands, which I’m sure disappointed some Foo Fighters fans, but it had the crucial benefit of placing the musicians nearer each other, allowing them to create a more cohesive sound in the midst of so much volume; as John Paul Jones said after the show, “I can feel Dave’s kick-drum that way,” and from his smile, you know that’s as much for his benefit as the audience’s.
Smiles. The amount of smiling between the Vultures onstage, as well as the sheer caliber of playing, reminded me of Shakti, the Indian-Western supergroup led by English master guitarist John McLaughlin and Indian tabla genius Zakir Hussain that fuses classical Indian music with Western jazz. I’m not talking about laughs between songs, or witty stage banter, although with Josh Homme at the microphone you’re always going to get that, but the smiles that occur in the midst of the music: the joy that emerges spontaneously in the midst of collective creativity, usually marking some new discovery or progress, or a new threshold being crossed, or something just feeling fundamentally good. In the last two decades of loud guitar music, this kind of uncontrived on-stage joy has been far too rare—outside of Ween shows, of course, and gee wasn’t that the Deaner himself backstage with the champagne on Monday night? Anyways. Josh, who I’ve interviewed before, and who headlined the second night of ArthurBall in 2006 as half of The 5:15ers (a duo he has with longtime collaborator Chris Goss), invited me to talk with him and John Paul Jones in the band’s dressing room just prior to their set at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory on October 12, 2009. Here’s how the conversation went…
Download: “King Richard TLH” — Masters of Reality (mp3)
Here’s the opening salvo off Pine/Cross Dover, the new studio album out later this month from Chris Goss’s MASTERS OF REALITY, via the Mascot Records label in Europe—pre-order info here. The band willbe touring in Europe, check their dates and more at the October tour in Europe, more: official Masters of Reality page on myface.
Chris Goss: beloved Masters of Reality mainman for twenty-plus years—a storied New York City band whose debut album was produced by Rick Rubin and released on American Records, which was followed by a move to California and some time on the record label that brought us Tone-Loc. For two years, three tours and a studio album, Masters of Reality’s drummer was legendary fierce redhead Ginger Baker of Cream. Pine/Cross Dover is the band’s first studio effort in five years, and finds longtime drummer John Leamy once again on skins, joined by Brian O’Connor on bass, and Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal, Earthlings, QOTSA, etc) and Mark Christian on guitars.
Goss is also known as: Kyuss producer, occasional Queens of the Stone Age/Desert Sessions member/collaborator, UNKLE contributor, and, with Twiggy Ramirez and Zach Hill, one-third of Goon Moon. As one-half of the pictured-below The 5:15ers (QOTSAer Josh Homme was the other half), he headlined the second night of ArthurBall in Los Angeles in spring 2006.
And, of course, Goss is the author of arguably the best piece of neighborhood/cooking writing to appear so far in the pages of Arthur: check out his super-porkout Immigrant’s Sauce recipe/reminisence from the Brian Eno cover ish of Arthur (No. 17, July 2005—still available, collectors!).
Bonus dish: Here’s a profile on Goss that I wrote for the LAWeekly from August 2004…