In 2010, Josh Homme died on the operating table, his blood turned toxic by a stray respiratory tube. He survived; his canyon rock mojo didn’t. But with the help of a weird and wild array of friends and collaborators, including Dave Grohl, Alex Turner, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and, oh yes, Elton John – he’s back from the brink with …Like Clockwork, the best QOTSA album in a decade. Meet the stoner-rock Lazarus…
So …Like Clockwork went anything but?
I had surgery on my leg and I got really sick. I died on the operating room table, and when I woke up I didn’t give a sh*t about music. Sometimes things happen and you almost feel silly playing music – it’s like, “What the hell is all this superfluous madness?” I was in bed for four months and wasn’t allowed out, and when you’ve read every book within arm’s reach and watched every television show, and it’s been six weeks and you have two-and-a-half months left, you start to feel sorry for yourself [laughs]. And you don’t give a sh*t about your guitar. I’d always liked to think I was invincible – but I always knew that was wrong – you realise you just like to say you’re invincible so you can believe it for three or four seconds.
How did you end up working with Jake Shears and Elton?
Jake is my TV-watching buddy, we have dinner at my house and watch Game Of Thrones. He’s also talented as hell. Nothing strengthens a friendship like putting your artistic faith in your friend’s hands and saying, “Don’t make me look bad.” Elton actually called me at my house on a Sunday and said, “Josh, it’s Elton,” and I said, “No,” and he said, “It’s Elton John,” and I said “Yeah, I know.” We just clicked on the phone right away.
Early reaction to …Like Clockwork suggests it’s the best QOTSA album since 2002’s Songs For The Deaf – is that down to the Grohl effect?
Dave has been there at these pivotal moments, but since he didn’t write the music, I guess if someone thought it was just because of Dave I’d be like, “Oh God, ouch!” Dave plays an amazing role of a wonderful friend. It was a tough record to make. So tough, in fact, that I had to let Joey [Castillo, drummer] go, who I had been playing with for 10 years. I was a bit lost when we started making this record, and in order to make it I asked the other guys to walk into the fog with me. And five guys walked in and four guys walked out. So I needed to call my friend Dave and say, “Dude I need your help.” We needed the guests because they’re our friends. This record’s a f*cking bitch to make, so what’s better than saying, “Alex [Turner], come over for five hours, drink some tequila and maybe sing a vocal.”
Grohl comes across as a joker…
That’s one of the things we have in common; when things are really awful they are at their funniest.
What do you get up to together when you’re not making music?
We ride motorcycles, have lunch and talk about how we’re gonna make music.
You worked with Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on the Them Crooked Vultures supergroup – will there be another record?
There’s gotta be, right? Why wouldn’t you do that again?
You’re famous for recording in the desert. Do you ever get sick of being out there?
I own a studio in Los Angeles [too], and that’s where I did this record. But I love the desert, I was born there, it’s all I know. I use it to re-charge my batteries and empty my head on the floor, and stamp out the bad fires and stoke the good ones. Cellphones still don’t work out there. The maddest stuff is the stuff that makes you feel like you’re in a David Lynch movie, and no one will yell ‘cut’. Like, there’s a horse and a pack mule blocking the entrance to the supermarket, and just as you see the guy move them they both sh*t in front of the door.
You’ve been producing the new Arctic Monkeys album. What are they like to work and hang out with?
They’re fantastic. People have this incorrect assumption that I had some heavy impact on them, but as a producer I prefer to be more transparent, like a transparent cake dish put over the top of bands to protect them from outsiders, so they can be themselves. That was the record they needed to make – they wanted to get weird.
Finally, are you as obsessed as everyone else with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky? Will that song change the world?
I don’t know, but it certainly changed my household. It’s awesome. I love dance music and I love to dance. I’m dancing now talking to you.
…Like Clockwork is released on 3 June