INTERVIEW: QOTSA’s Josh Homme & Mini Mansions’ Michael Schuman

Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles Of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures – Josh Homme has always followed his creative muse in whichever direction it may lead him, and recently it led him back to Rekords Rekords, a label he founded in the mid ’90s but which had lain dormant for some time since. The first two releases on the label have been Spark by Alain Johannes and the self-titled psychedelic showcase by Mini Mansions (distributed here in Australia through Liberator Music).

“I have no idea when the label started,” Homme ponders. “I think it was around 1996 or so when I started putting out Desert Sessions records. It was basically a home for more esoteric stuff, and I didn’t want to have to ask if it was okay. You’re always fighting that fight when you want to release a record through someone else’s label. Early in 2010 I heard some records which were just so good and which I wanted to release, by Alain Johannes and Michael Shuman. I’d worked with them in Queens of the Stone Age (both Johannes and Shuman) and Them Crooked Vultures (Johannes) and I said to myself, “I want to be around this music.” They’re both just so good… so incredible! Both are great in spite of me! Queens Of The Stone Age is something we all do because we want to, and that’s a great reason, but secondarily, I want to be around my favourite musicians.”

Although much has changed throughout the industry in terms of distribution models, Homme says the revived label is not run any differently to how it functioned the first time around. “The business hasn’t changed for me at all, because it’s more about making sure that these albums are thrown into space and have a chance to ricochet and inspire and be out there. Also, it’s about collecting a consistency. I need that passion, and I need to be around that passion.”

In addition to the Johannes and Mini Mansions albums, Rekords Rekords is also re-releasing the self-titled debut Queens Of The Stone Age album from 1998. The album was originally released through Roadrunner Records and has been out of print for years. “I wanted to remaster it, but we didn’t really want to do too much to it,” Homme says. “It had that certain thing already. Some records really benefit from remastering, but this has this …dark thing. It’s not too huge compared to other records, but it’s as dense as heck. You hear everything. After the remaster it’s a little bit bigger, but not at the risk of anything.” QOTSA are celebrating the reissue by performing the album in its entirety live during their Soundwave Festival sideshows in Australia, and have also booked a tour in North America, UK and Europe to do the same. “We don’t have a new record out but we’ll be able to do this,” Homme says, “So get the word out, motherfucker!”

Unlike some artists who can’t bare to listen to their own music, Homme says he’s not averse to revisiting his back catalogue purely as a listener from time to time. “Ever since I started playing I’ve always been trying to play my favourite music that no-one else plays,” he says. “One of the weirdest things was being on tour with other bands and having them say, ‘You actually listen to your own stuff?’ And it sort of made us feel sorry for the other bands because I’m like, ‘I love our music. I listen to it all the time.’ It’s not like I’m on a steady diet of Queens, but nothing feels better than an iPod full of music that’s only the stuff you like. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have Queens, and I certainly wouldn’t have a label. The other thing that’s really important to me is using the label to recommend other stuff, not just stuff I made but anything cool. Things I don’t own but which I can recommend on the website so you can own it. It’s not about what I can sell to you. It’s about all the best stuff I’m aware of sharing that with the family.”

Johannes’ album Spark is a touching tribute to his partner Natasha Shneider, with whom he worked in the band Eleven as well as in various other collaborations, including Chris Cornell’s Euphoria Morning album, and who passed away in 2008. “When Natasha died our whole family was dumbstruck and kinda didn’t understand it,” Homme says quietly. “Whenever someone passes away you’re forced to think about the questions in life that are so huge that the weight of them crushes you. With Alain and the fact that he was faced with that ‘what do I do now’ moment, and the question of, ‘Why do I see you everywhere I go?’ …well, he came to me and said, ‘I made a record of what I’m going through,’ and it’s very hope-laden, captivating, a very inviting work. You’re sort of dwarfed by the size of it. And it just came out of him. He made it in like a week, and you can feel that vitality in it. It’s positive –  it wasn’t like misery loves company. It was like the sun coming up on the morning after. Like, ‘I know it’s not over.’ I said to Alain, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ That’s the only question that doesn’t get answered on that album!”

By contrast, the songwriting process for Mini Mansions was more collaborative. Shuman, who plays bass in Queens and is a multi-instrumentalist in Mini Mansions, explains: “We started the band in January of ’09, so I’d say maybe one or two of the songs were written right when we started the band, but it took about a year to write all the material. I wouldn’t say it was a hard record to write, but we definitely tried every possibility and every avenue for every song. We’d switch instruments until we found the right way to do each song. A song wasn’t really written in a week – it’d take about a month and a half for each song to be written, but we’d be rotating around.”

The Mini Mansions album was recorded at Homme’s studio (“Kind of a home away from home for Queens,” Schuman says) by Justin Smith, the engineer who has been involved in various Homme-related productions, including Them Crooked Vultures and Eagles Of Death Metal. “We spent three months doing it, but it wasn’t three months straight,” Schuman says. “We’d do a week here, tour, come back and do another week, tour, and do another week. It took a lot longer than I would have hoped but we didn’t actually spend that much time doing it. We kinda just went in there knowing what we were going to do. We recorded maybe half live, then went back and did the overdubs and any other weird instruments we wanted to add.” The colourful music is matched by equally colourful instrumentation, with Schuman and co dipping into an assembly of surprisingly simple elements. “My drum setup was a floor tom, a snare, a cymbal, a hi-hat and a tambourine,” he says. “We fell in love with the Fender Coronado bass, and we used a handful of pedals, then every keyboard you could imagine. A Rhodes, a Wutlitzer, a Vox organ, a little toy piano from Toys R Us… There’s great gear in that studio. But we didn’t use anything we couldn’t pull off live.”

Shuman says the strong psych edge of Mini Mansions comes from a more conceptual than musical place. “I wouldn’t say there’s a musical influence, a psych era that we’re basing our music off of, but definitely when you talk about cinematic elements I think a lot of the lyrical content comes from film, books and even television. I watch a lot of dramatic television, and I think a lot of the lyrical content creates a picture that you can see if you use your noggin. They’re really just well-crafted pop songs. A lot of our lyric content, there’s a story and there’s a basis behind each song, but there’s definitely a lot of fiction in there, which I personally prefer compared to, y’know, talking about what I did on Wednesday night.”

LINKS: Rekords Rekords, Soundwave Liberator Music

QOTSA SIDEWAVES:

WEDNESDAY 2 MARCH- SYDNEY, ENMORE THEATRE

THURSDAY 3 MARCH- MELBOURNE, PALACE THEATRE

REMAINING SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL DATES

FRIDAY 4 MARCH- MELBOURNE, MELBOURNE SHOWGROUNDS

SATURDAY 5 MARCH- ADELAIDE, BONYTHON PARK

MONDAY 7 MARCH- PERTH, CLAREMONT OVAL

 

This is an alternate edit of interviews that also appeared in Mixdown and The Brag. That’s right, there are three different versions of this interview out there, each with a slightly different focus. Collect them all!