Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth LP, …Like Clockwork,was one of the most anticipated releases of 2013 and the Californian desert rockers certainly didn’t falter under pressure. Packed full of their trademark stomping blues, intertwined with sultry grooves and even some melancholic balladry, the record roused almost unanimous praise from fans and critics. …Like Clockwork is notable for being the first QOTSA record to feature bass player Michael Shuman and guitarist Dean Fertita, both of whom have been touring with the band since shortly after the release of Era Vulgaris in 2007. Ahead of their Australian co-headline tour with Nine Inch Nails, Shuman explains how participating in the songwriting and recording process solidified his personal attachment to the band.
“As much as you give yourself to these old songs and the live show, that’s only one half of it. The other half is creating and recording,” he says. “It brought a new light to the band for me. I’d been wanting to write some songs with the band since I started, so to actually finally do it really meant a lot. And it means a lot to me now.”
Josh Homme formed Queens of the Stone Age in the late 1990s and since then the band has gone through a giant cast of contributing personnel. The semi-regularity of lineup changes over the years suggests Homme is a dangerously volatile taskmaster. Contrary to this, Shuman reports the band dynamic is far from hierarchical.
“We were super close but we got even closer during the making of this record and learned a lot more about each other than I thought we could, because I thought we were already tight bros. Everybody was going through personal stuff while making the record, and then supporting each other to get through the making of the record. Everyone showed their true colours and it showed that we have supported each other through tough times and didn’t just bail when shit got rough.”
The six-year gap between Queens of the Stone Age albums was enough to stir fears that the band had reached its expiry date. Due to the extended interval, when the album eventually arrived it was touted as a comeback release. However, Shuman says there was no internal shutdown. “To us it wasn’t a comeback record. We toured on Era and then we took a year off, then went and did another tour on the first record for a year [celebrating the tenth anniversary of 1998’s self-titled LP]. Maybe it was six years away from putting out records, but not from being a band.”
Nevertheless, the band members didn’t exactly keep to themselves in the intervening years. Homme recorded and toured with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones as Them Crooked Vultures, Fertita teamed up with Jack White and Alison Mosshart for multiple Dead Weather albums and multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen released a record with his new band Sweethead. Shuman hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs either, setting the bass aside to front LA-based baroque-pop outfit Mini Mansions, who’ll release their second album later this year.
“Some people like a vacation when they get home, to take some time off and put their feet up. Most of us are not like that,” he says. “Most of us go home and work on other musical projects. That’s what I do non-stop when I’m not with Queens.”
There definitely hasn’t been much time to consider putting the feet up in the last 12 months. The band (completed by newest addition, drummer Jon Theodore) actually started touring shortly before …Like Clockwork came out. “It all went so fast because we finished the record and immediately went on the road. We actually were choosing the master as we were on an airplane to go on tour and then the record was out a month later, so it was crazy,” says Shuman.
The rapturous reception given to the record means the touring program hasn’t let up. The aberrant nature of tour life is wont to drain musicians and splinter relationships, but Shuman says QOTSA don’t struggle staying sane. “We just hang out together and do whatever we do and have laughs and drinks. That kind of gets us through – just being together, not hating each other.”
Ongoing praise for …Like Clockwork has also helped to keep spirits high. The album debuted at number one in both Australia and the US, picked up three Grammy nominations, and consequently the shows have been bigger than ever. “It was surprising how well received it was, so we were super excited,” Shuman exudes. “The ride really hasn’t stopped and we haven’t slowed down, and it’s been awesome and really gratifying to know that our fans are into what we made.”
QOTSA’s considerable Australian fan base will finally have its hunger sated when the quintet’s tour with good buddies Nine Inch Nails sweeps the country next month. Schuman looks forward to his third trip Down Under with the band.
“It’s not like any other place – like the middle of the US and you’ve seen it a million times. This is something special; it’s not just a tour, [it’s] also part vacation – a part of the world where we can actually enjoy going out and go out in the sun and just be active.”
Like Clockwork out now through Matador/Remote Control.