Interview with Jesse Hughes
Eagles of Death Metal want to make you sweat. In fact, the word ‘sweat’ is repeated throughout “Solid Gold,” a track from their super fun Death by Sexy. Bullz-Eye caught up with lead singer Jesse Hughes to shoot the breeze about the current music scene, the origin of the Hives, and how Little Richard is the first death metal artist.
Bullz-Eye: Okay, first thing’s first: I have to tell you that Eagles of Death Metal is the best band name I’ve heard in years.
Jesse Hughes: Aw, thanks, man, that’s so sweet.
BE: What was the origin of it?
JH: Well, my friends and I, Joshua (Homme, leader of Queens of the Stone Age and drummer for EoDM) included, we were in the back of a VW van, smoking pot and eating graham crackers, which is the most insane combination in the world. You might as well smoke pot and eat sand at the same time. Our friend, who was a huge death metal fanatic, was really trying to get us to love death metal. So he put on band after band, like, “Dude, check this one out! Okay, you don’t like that one, okay, check this one out!” And he put on a band, I think it was Vader, and I had this big mouth full of graham crackers, and I’m like, “That’s not death metal.” And Joshua goes, “That’s like the Eagles of death metal.” And I spit graham crackers everywhere, because everyone started laughing. So that’s the origin of the band name.
BE: How would you describe the band to someone who hadn’t heard you before, because the name is somewhat misleading.
JH: It is, but it’s so honest at the same time. It’s the completion of the goal to make Little Richard proud. It’s dance rock, man; it’s sex rock. It’d be more like, if Little Richard raped the Rolling Stones in prison, and then they had a child, who was then again raped by the Sonics, and T. Rex in prison 20 years later.
BE: Is there a band that you’ve seen yourselves compared to that drives you nuts?
JH: (pauses) No!
BE: Okay. What I’ve learned in talking to bands is that they’ll inevitably be compared to someone they can’t stand.
JH: My attitude is, you’re going to have to sound like somebody. You can’t be different unless you can be the same. So for me, unless it’s someone who would morally offend me like, say, the Backstreet Boys or something…
BE: Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.
JH: Yeah. (laughs) I hope not.
BE: I can’t imagine. So you’re about to tour with the Strokes.
JH: Aw, man, I feel so lucky, yes, we are.
BE: How did that come about?
JH: They called us up and asked us if we wanted to go on tour. It was the coolest fucking thing in the world.
BE: Wow, just that simple, huh?
JH: Right now, it feels like there’s a fucking great renaissance in rock and roll. There’s camaraderie right now amongst the bands, and I hope it lasts. No one’s really trying to screw each other as much as they used to. Sometimes, you can just call someone up and say, “Will you come down and be on my record?” and Jack Black will show up, you know? All the shows we’ve been playing the past few years, we all hang out with the bands, and I’m friends with all these guys. Everyone has the same goal, which is to make the best music they can make. It’s what it’s supposed to be anyway, right? You’re supposed to be doing the best you can do, and providing the best that you can to the people who give a fuck about it and pay for it. My daddy used to say, “If someone came across the street to piss on me if I was on fire, I’d look up and say, ‘Thanks.’” That’s the attitude you need to have with rock and roll. I feel very fortunate about that. And for the Strokes to call us up and go, “Hey man, do you wanna rock?” Yeah!
BE: On the surface, it seemed like an odd pairing to me, that the fans of the Strokes and the fans of Eagles of Death Metal would be rival gangs, like “West Side Story.”
JH: It’s ironic that you would say that, because we included a little tribute (to “West Side Story”) in our new video (for “I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)”).
BE: Your comment about camaraderie is interesting because I was wondering: does it seem as though rock bands aren’t allowed to have fun anymore?
JH: Yeah, they all look like they’re about to shit a brick when they’re onstage. They all have this look on their faces like, “You are the luckiest person in the world to behold me and my performance.” Give me a fucking break. And it’s a clique attitude, it’s like, “No one can belong, you can’t possibly understand me.” Dude, get the fuck out of town.
BE: Good, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
JH: Naw, man, and honestly, when I write the songs, I actually have a goal in my head, that’s like, “Fuck those guys.” Everyone belongs to (Eagles of Death Metal). Everyone should be able to dance and have a good time.
BE: It seems to me that anytime a band that just wants to let it all hang out, they get tagged as ‘gimmicky,’ whereas Poison made a career out of it.
JH: Yes. Gimmicks, I don’t think, are a bad thing, if they’re done with good intentions and if they’re done sincerely and completely. And what’s our gimmick? Our gimmick is, we dance. Come on, that’s not a bad gimmick. I mean, if I’m blowing fire, or if I’m sacrificing babies onstage, now that’s a gimmick that…I don’t know. But we just want to see smiles on little girls’ faces. And big girls. All kinds of girls. When you’ve got beautiful girls everywhere in a room, smiling, you’ve got a good fucking time.
BE: I’ll buy that. Okay, quick, random music questions: what’s the one album that you think everyone should own?
JH: Here Come the Sonics (by the Sonics).
BE: Here Come the Sonics? Doggone it, you stumped me.
JH: Oh, dude, you gotta go get the Sonics! First off, you’re gonna see exactly where the Hives’ Vini Vidi Vicious was directly ripped off from. But you’re going to get it at the source. It’s basically the dudes that inspired the Stooges. From ’64 to about ’69, they put out two great records, Here Come the Sonics, and Sonics Boom…it’s actually a toss-up between them…probably Sonics Boom (is the better one), because it’s got “Shot Down” on it. But it’s white dudes obsessed with Little Richard, and they create something called punk rock. Eagles of Death Metal really only live to make Little Richard proud.
BE: On the flipside of that, if you could eliminate one band’s music from ever existing, who would it be?
JH: (without hesitation) Boston.
BE: My answer is Styx, but it looks like we’re in the same ballpark.
JH: That’d be a close second for me, man.
BE: What’s the one musician you would want covering your back in a bar fight?
JH: Other than Joshua Homme?
JH: Um, Joey Castillo, the drummer from Queens of the Stone Age. Let me tell you right now, honey, that is a hunk of man that I would never want to mess with. Either that or Keith Richards.
BE: I probably would have said Lemmy (Kilmister, from Motorhead), myself, but that’s because I don’t know Joshua that well.
JH: Let me just tell you from experience, honey: I would only want Joshua Homme. He is the best friend I’ve ever had in my life. So to have your best friend at your side would be a badass thing. But he’s a 6’5” monstrous animal of good looks and incredible strength.
BE: What band do you think has criminally been denied entrance into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
JH: Huh. (pause) They just let in the Sex Pistols...
BE: For me, I can’t understand how the Hollies aren’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
JH: Yeah! Dude, there you go! The Hollies aren’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
BE: No, they’re not. Can you believe that?
JH: That’s out of control!
BE: I agree.
JH: “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.” That’s a quintessential rock song. “Bus Stop”? I mean, come on. Dude, that is ridiculous. That is absurd.
BE: Well, I don’t want to give you an answer to this. Is there anyone else you’d pick?
JH: The Damned. The Damned are the very first punk band literally to be called punk. Their first album, Damned Damned Damned, which has got a Stooges cover on it (“I Feel Alright”), is probably the most influential punk album that no one ever talks about. It’s got “New Rose” on it, “See Her Tonight,” “Stab Your Back,” really, Eagles of Death Metal take directly from the Damned.
BE: Being a Damned fan, did it seem weird to you when Captain Sensible went off and did that synth pop stuff?
JH: No, that’s makes sense, man, because actually, there should never be a rule in your head where you say, “I can’t do this,” or “I can’t do that.” When your goal is just to make really good music that moves, and rocks…so it’s almost a natural progression to go from intense, highly aggressive, angst-driven punk rock – which is really just a byproduct of white kids being obsessed with Little Richard anyway – (to) getting to a point where you just want to slow down and groove. After a while, getting laid and shooting off in like five minutes is cool, but after a while you want to take your time and slow it down and get to know the girl.
BE: There’s something to that whole punk rock aesthetic, the ‘be true to your roots’ thing.
JH: You know SST, the label that put out Black Flag, the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, all those bands? They really kind of poisoned a lot of shit. It’s also some of the greatest music in the world, but because they had record covers during the Reagan era that had nuns giving blowjobs and shit like that, they got banned. And so the attitude kind of began to permeate in rock and roll in general, which is, “You can’t be legitimate unless you’re getting fucked over by a label, and you certainly can’t make any money off what you’re doing, because that would be selling out.” And I think that’s a poisonous attitude. To me, I didn’t come here to save whales. This ain’t no fucking Bible study. I wanna make some money, get laid, and rock.
BE: Selling (out) doesn’t seem to have quite the negative stigma that it used to.
JH: No, it’s doesn’t, especially not to bands like us, who happily sell their songs to any commercial that makes the world better.
BE: I saw on your web site that Wendy’s bought one of your songs.
JH: Wendy’s, Nissan, Payless, Budweiser, (they’re) under our belt right now. We just want to make the consumer world a little bit fun and a little bit happier. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to make things better.
BE: Last question: the bartender’s saying it’s last call. What are you ordering?
JH: Ooh. A highball, or a kamikaze. Or a Coca Cola, it depends on what’s going down.
BE: It depends on whether you and Joshua are about to get in a bar fight?
JH: Yeah! No, if there’s a little sweet baby that I need to drive home, I don’t want to be too shit faced, and I also want to perform when comes time to stage call, you know what I mean?
BE: Well, I’m tapped on questions. I can’t wait to transcribe this. I can’t believe there’s so much love for Little Richard, but I don’t know how I missed that (when listening to the album).
JH: I’m obsessed with Little Richard, man. But think about it: that dude is death metal. When he hit the scene, he was wearing fucking pink silk, with a cheesy little moustache, and he scared the world so bad, they burned his records. That’s fucking death metal, dude. That’s rock and roll.
BE: He scared himself, didn’t he?
JH: Yeah, he had demons runnin’ all through him.
BE: Then there was the plane crash in Australia.
JH: Yeah. Then he became a preacher. I was a patron of one of his sermons with my grandmother and my mother. I’ve seen Little Richard preach, I’ve seen Al Green preach, which was amazing. And I’ve also been to a church in Toccoa, Georgia with James Brown. Here’s my mythology: my mother was born the very same night two blocks from where James Brown performed his first concert. I’d like to think a little bit of that voodoo magic infiltrated into my mother’s freshly born spirit, and made its way to me. And manifested itself perfectly in my moustache.
BE: Okay, that’s my out line. I don’t think we can top that.
Writer’s note: I have since downloaded the Sonics’ Boom. Hughes is dead right about the Hives and Little Richard comparisons.