The revolving-door music collective Queens of the Stone Age, based around singer-songwriter and guitarist Josh Homme, was one of the most interesting and critically acclaimed hard rock bands of the 2000s. The band's eclectic approach to rock produced arty, blues-based albums that wandered stylistically from gentle acoustic songs and Delta blues stomps to Black Sabbath-like metal and the thick, sludgy garage rock characteristic of early-Nineties grunge bands.
When pioneering stoner-rock band Kyuss broke up after its 1995 album ...And the Circus Leaves Town, Homme moved to Seattle to be the Screaming Trees' touring guitarist. Within a year Homme formed the grunge-metal supergroup Gamma Ray along with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, Screaming Trees bassist Van Conner and Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain. He changed the band's name to Queens of the Stone Age when a German metal band of the same name threatened to sue. For Queens' 1998 self-titled debut album, Homme recruited his old Kyuss band mate, drummer Alfredo Hernández, as well as Kyuss producer and Masters of Reality singer/guitarist Chris Goss and guitarist Dave Catching. The album didn't attract much mainstream attention but led to a deal with Interscope Records.
Within the same post-Kyuss period Homme also initiated the Desert Sessions, a conceptual far-ranging music project featuring a changing cast of musicians spontaneously recording at a ranch in the Palm Desert area of California. The Desert Sessions would include musicians from Kyuss and Bjork to PJ Harvey and Dean Ween. Using the Sessions' revolving-door model for Queens' second album, 2000's R, Homme brought in a new group of musicians including Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri, who had been playing with the punk band the Dwarves. Oliveri and Homme co-wrote most of the album's tracks. Homme also tapped two hard rock notables —Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees and Rob Halford of Judas Priest — as guest vocalists. The album kicked off with the stoner anthem "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," a driving punk-metal song in which Homme reels off a laundry list of drugs, from alcohol to marijuana to ecstasy. R, which featured the single "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" (Number 36 Mondern Rock) solidified Queens' reputation as one of the more adventurous acts in hard rock and won the band a slot on the 2000 Ozzfest tour.
In 2002 ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl joined Queens for Songs for the Deaf and the subsequent tour. The album reached Number 17 and produced two charting singles, "No One Knows" (Number One Modern Rock) and "Go with the Flow" (Number Seven Modern Rock). As with R, Homme and Oliveri co-wrote most of the songs.
That year brought turmoil the group's core, however: in July, Oliveri was fired from the group under a cloud of controversy. Initially, Homme stated that Oliveri's partying and drug use had hampered his ability to perform with the band, but in an interview with BBC Radio 1, he revised his story, claiming that Oliveri was fired because Homme had confirmed rumors that Oliveri had physically abused his girlfriend. Oliveri shot back at Homme on the website for his group Mondo Generator, stating that he felt Queens was "poisoned by a hunger for power and control issues." Oliveri took many of the tracks he'd written for the Queens' next album and used them for a new Mondo Generator record called Dead Planet.
With Oliveri out of the band, Homme assumed full control of Queens. The group's 2005 album, Lullabies to Paralyze, was their most ambitious to date, as Homme began collaborating more with former A Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and ex-Danzig drummer Joey Castillo. Homme also brought in Distillers singer Brody Dalle — former wife of Rancid's Tim Armstrong and future wife of Homme — as well as Garbage singer Shirley Manson and ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons for the project. Occasional Queens member Mark Lanegan contributed vocals to several tracks. The album shot to Number 5 and the single "Little Sister" went to Number Two on thee Modern Rock Chart. The group supported the album with a tour the following year, including dates in the fall supporting Nine Inch Nails. A live album from this period, called Over the Years and Through the Woods, was released in November of that year.
The band's 2007 album, Era Vulgaris (the title comes from famed occultist Aleister Crowley) was another critical success, though it dipped in sales compared with the previous two studio releases, reaching Number 14 on the Top 200. Still, both of its singles, "3's & 7's" and "Sick, Sick, Sick" made the Modern Rock Chart. Though the albums was rumored to have a series of guest vocalists, only Mark Lanegan and the Strokes' Julian Casablancas made the final cut. Though the core of the band remained Homme, VanLeeuwen and Castillo, keyboardist Dean Fertita and bassist Mike Shuman were brought aboard for the subsequent tour, which culminated with a performance in August with PJ Harvey, Brody Dalle and others at a memorial concert for Russian musician Natasha Shneider, who had toured with the band in 2005.
In 2009, Homme undertook yet another side project — this arguably his highest-profile to date — forming Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. The group debuted with a performance at the Metro in Chicago as part of a Lollapalooza after-party. The group made a series of festival appearances that summer before releasing their first album to generally positive reviews and strong sales (Number 12 on the Billboard Top 200) in November of that year.
Oliveri kept busy as well. In addition to writing and recording with Mondo Generator, in 2010, he released a stripped-down solo album called Death Acoustic, and followed its release with a number of small shows. In an interview with the site "Ultimate Guitar," he commented briefly on his impression of his former bandmate, stating "it seems like there are a lot of yes men around Josh [these days]."
Early 2010 brought rumors of a new Queens record by following summer.
J. Edward Keyes contributed to this article.