A little over a month has passed since an Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris was the target of a deadly terrorist attack. Since then, frontman Jesse Hughes has been in awe of the outpourings of support his fellow musicians have shown him. "If I get emotional, I apologize," he says, as tears well in his eyes and his voice deepens with emotion. "It's not in a bad way. I really am very touched by the true sense of community that I've experienced in rock & roll."
The day after the November 13th assault, in which ISIS terrorists took the lives of 89 concertgoers and one of the band's crew members at Bataclan, help from fellow rockers came immediately. "Bono called me to check in on me and was praying with me on the phone," Hughes says. And then, three days later, Duran Duran spoke up. Eagles of Death Metal had covered the New Wave group's haunting and now prescient 1982 single "Save a Prayer" on this year's Zipper Down. Now Duran Duran singer Simon LeBon was telling the world they'd donate all earnings from the cover to charity. "[We are] considering options that are useful, peaceful and uniting," LeBon tweeted. When Hughes and Eagles cofounder Josh Homme heard this, they were moved by the band's selflessness and decided to create their own charitable campaign, Play It Forward, for which they asked other bands to cover their catchy, feel-good Zipper Down track "I Love You All the Time."
"We took a cue from Duran Duran, which is a really cool sentence for me to say," says Homme, who doubles his time in Queens of the Stone Age and is speaking on a break from rehearsal. "I got to talking with Jesse, like, 'How can we echo this same thing?'"
"My first idea was that everyone should cover 'Save a Prayer' for charity," Hughes says. "But 'I Love You All the Time' was the next song on the set list in Paris, which made it even more symbolic."
On December 18th, Eagles of Death Metal launched their Play It Forward website, which features 13 cover versions of "I Love You All the Time" by bands as diverse as Imagine Dragons and Savages, as well as Florence and the Machine and My Morning Jacket. For each song, the band provided links to iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and its own Play It Forward store in an effort to make it as easy as possible for fans to listen to the songs and, by proxy, send the band's royalties to the Sweet Stuff Foundation, an organization that regularly assists musicians in need and is currently allocating all donations to give to victims of the Paris attack. Pearl Jam also recorded a version of Eagles of Death Metal's "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)" live in Rio de Janeiro, which they put out as a single benefiting Play It Forward. What has astounded Hughes and Homme is the breadth of artists who submitted songs.
"The Kings of Leon one, on a personal note, really captured what I'd wanted to accomplish myself on the song," Hughes says. "It just really nails the Gerry Rafferty–Seventies sensibility, which is directly where I was drawing from on that particular song."
"Within the first two hours of me emailing people I knew in bands with the Play It Forward idea, my friend of over 20 years, Dean Ween, was done with his," Homme says. "It's like Bobby McFerrin versus Ween; it's mostly his voice, and it's bizarre and peculiar and it was the perfect embodiment of saying, 'Do whatever you want with it.'
"It's funny how everyone takes something from the song and made it their own," he continues. "Florence and the Machine's version with the Maccabees has a Celtic [feel] to it, too. And then [Pearl Jam and Soundgarden drummer] Matt Cameron did an almost electronic, 'nightscape,' futuristic version of it. And then, honestly, Ed Harcourt's version is a tearjerker. It's so stunning and beautiful."
"I had no idea how eager and how sincere the response would be," Hughes says. "As someone who really, really needed this shit personally, I couldn't feel more accomplished in our goal. There's a lot of emotion behind this stuff for us, and I think it's an emotion that's bigger than words."
For Homme, who was not on tour with Eagles of Death Metal at the time of the attack, the incident awakened a sense of purpose in him that he didn't know he had. "I generally don't carry the flag for anything," he says bluntly. "I'm usually on my own exploration that's often dark, mysterious and perverse. But I find myself and my bandmates — and Jesse — in this situation where we're magnetically drawn to this moment to shine a light on a part of ourselves that is ready to help, ready to move, ready to go."
He also has a metaphor for Play It Forward. "Roses grow in shit, and this is a shitty situation," he says. "It's funny how things this terrible, when you're close to them, how they stop your life in its tracks. … This is where I realize the importance of the arts and music to be able to move quickly to unite people. It's a rare moment when these elements are conjoined."
Ultimately, he also wants Play It Forward to serve as a reminder of what happened. "You don't need to hold on to something negative, but it would be a shame to act like it will never happen again," he says.
"Bad guys, when they do bad stuff, it's awful, and I've never had any misconception about such things," Hughes says. "I wish I didn't see some of the things I saw. I wish I didn't smell some of the things. Those are regrets. But I always have had faith, based on the way I was raised. God allows something beautiful to come from a moment of ugliness, like how a forest fire will cause new buds to grow."
The Play It Forward campaign and the support of Eagles of Death Metal's peers and inspirations have not just created a way for the group to raise money for those affected by the attacks, Hughes says they've been "critical" in inspiring him to perform live again. The group that perhaps has been most encouraging in that regard has been U2, who were in Paris at the time of the attack and, even before that, had been longtime friends of the band and shown what Hughes describes as a "mutual love."
"The very next day [after the attack], a courier came with a phone that had a note that said, 'This is from Bono. Make sure you call your mom.' I thought that was awesome." – Jesse Hughes
"Bono knows that I'm a Christian, and he also knows I'm a mama's boy," the singer says, holding back his emotion. "The very next day [after the attack], a courier came with a phone that had a note that said, 'This is from Bono. Make sure you call your mom.' I thought that was awesome. It was the first time that I really got to talk to my mom without being in a police station, and that meant the whole world to me at that moment.
"Then Bono called because I needed advice," Hughes continues. "I felt like the best person to ask for advice on how to deal with this is someone who's rubbed elbows with world leaders. And he just prayed with me on the phone. He kept my head off of things, and then U2 visited the memorial site and delivered lyrics of ours that he thought were appropriate. And that particularly was important to me because I really wanted to be out there. I didn't want to be in some safe house. I take personal pride in being really close to my fans. I knew a lot of the people personally that didn't make it, and that little detail, just on a personal note, is something that nobody else would ever know that it mattered, but it mattered to me. I didn't know how I was ever going to get back onstage again."
Eagles of Death Metal's next live appearance took place in Paris less than a month after the attack — at a U2 concert. "They were robbed of their stage, so we would like to offer them ours," Bono told 10s of thousands of fans at the AccorHotels Arena on December 7th. Each of the Eagles, sans Homme, then came out and stood next to their instrumental counterparts in U2 and performed Patti Smith's "People Have the Power." Hughes dressed head-to-toe in white.
When the tune ended, U2 left the stage and Eagles of Death Metal took the opportunity to play an ebullient rendition of "I Love You All the Time" as the final song of the night. As it wound down, Hughes walked to center stage with his right arm in the air, like a preacher reborn. "We love you so good," he told the crowd. "We hope you know this. Thank you, Paris. We will never give up rocking & rolling." Then, the five members joined arms and bowed.
He didn't show it that night, but Hughes admits now that he was afraid to go back. When it was done, he was glad he did. "U2 were trying to make sure we didn't have something in us killed," he says through tears. "They would have accomplished their goal if they had just performed the song with us. They didn't have to give us the stage for the last song. And they did. They took care of us completely. They were genuine and sincere, and they were very proud of our accomplishments after the fact. That was such a beautiful way to put training wheels on for performing."
Homme agrees. "I think for those boys that were in Paris to go back and play right away was really important," he says. "If you're going to let something build, it should be that confidence to go right back up there. I know that must have been difficult to do, and I was proud to watch those guys do that. It was really … " He stops. "Sometimes there's not words made yet to describe how you feel about something, and watching them, I wish I knew what letters to put together to explain how I felt. Can you imagine how tough that was?"
That show on U2's stage, Hughes says, instilled a sense of responsibility in him. "I know this sounds corny, but I feel bound to France forever now," he says. "The reaction of the country in general was wonderful to me, and so U2 gave me the opportunity to come back and go through my mourning process a little more naturally instead of feeling like I left my heart there."
It also gave the group the motivation it needed to tour again. On February 13th, they will kick off what they've dubbed their Nos Amis tour in Stockholm. Three days later, they will once again play Paris, this time at the Olympia, and they will continue to tour Europe through the first week of March. They've even planned a return trek to the continent in August. They will play the U.S. and, as Homme says, tour for the life of the record over the next couple of years.
Homme hopes to make appearances at as many Eagles of Death Metal gigs as his schedule allows. "There's certainly a renewed sense of urgency, that feeling of 'I need to be there.' At the end of the day, Eagles of Death Metal is two guys, me and Jesse, two guys who went to high school together. It was always my plan to show up as much as possible; now it's a plan with an exclamation mark instead of a period."
"I'm really proud of Play It Forward because it has no motivation except to help heal." – Josh Homme
For now, though, Homme's chief concern is Play It Forward. "I'm really proud of it because it has no motivation except to help heal," he says. "I'm happy we teamed with Sweet Stuff Foundation because with some charities, you give them a dollar and they keep 60 cents to keep the lights on. This one is trying to give 99 cents away. It became a relief that we could be sure all the money would go to the right place."
"It is not in my nature to let the bad guys win," Hughes says. "I don't like bullies, and I love my people, and I love rock & rollers, so I can't really wait to get back on tour." Then he lets his quirky sense of humor shine through. "The fact is that a beautiful side effect of all of this is that I have an even bigger dick than I ever had before, which means I am going to go out there and try to swing it as hard as I fucking can, I assure you."