Queens Of The Stone Age Use Humour As A Coping Mechanism: ‘There's Been Some Darkness Surrounding Some Of Us’

2 November 2023 | 12:16 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

Following their recent 2024 Australian tour announcement, Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen ponders what makes them one of the most exciting live bands on the planet: “It's just our chemistry.”

Queens Of The Stone Age

Queens Of The Stone Age (Credit: Andreas Neumann)

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“I'm on the streets of Los Angeles trying to park my car,” Queens Of The Stone Age’s guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen – the one with the cool, vampiric white streak through his ebony hair – informs, before adding, “This is probably the easiest parking I've ever had, actually! Usually it's a pain in the arse, so I'm thanking my lucky stars.” When asked where he’s heading after our chat, he enlightens, “So there's a band that I've been working with over the last couple of years called The Armed. They're playing in Los Angeles tonight and I'm gonna jump up on stage with them. That's how I'm spending one of my days off.” Playing live is addictive, huh? “It is for me, yeah.”

On how he coped with the enforced absence of gigs in recent years, Van Leeuwen explains, “Well, I did a lot of recording music. It's not quite the same, you know, especially when we were locked down. I mean, I did work on one of [The Armed’s] records [2021’s ULTRAPOP] in the lockdown and I also did a record for my band Gone Is Gone [2020’s If Everything Happens For A Reason… Then Nothing Really Matters At All], but that was all files trading back and forth, or emails. So there was really not a lot of getting together and playing, and getting the energy, so I didn't really like it like that.”

Not quite the same as jamming in the same room as your bandmates, then? “Well, that’s definitely how this new Queens record [2023’s In Times New Roman…] was made; there was no way we could do it through those kinds of channels of file trading – that just doesn't sound like a rock’n’roll band like Queens – so we made provisions to get into a room and actually play live to a tape machine, you know? Like old-school.”

As part of our research, we stumbled upon an interview during which frontman Josh Homme (aka J.Ho/The Ginger Elvis) mentioned that while Queens Of The Stone Age perfected new songs in the living room of Van Leeuwen's house in the San Fernando Valley hills, his four dogs (two Maltese Shih Tzu mixes and two poodles) were “a great audience”. After we share Homme’s observation with Van Leeuwen, he wholeheartedly agrees, “Yeah, they are! They listen to everything I do; they don't have a choice.” So can Van Leeuwen tell when they particularly approve of a song? “Yeah, ‘cause their ears prick up – like what we call ‘dog ears’ – and then they twist their head, you know, like the RCA dog.” When asked whether he FaceTimes his furry fam while on tour, Van Leeuwen laughs before admitting, “Yes. I mean, they don't do the dog ears on FaceTime as much, but I try to stay in contact with my dogs as much as I can.”

The last time this scribe caught the menacing voodoo magic that is QOTSA live was at Festival Hall back in 2017. During that show, a snippet of Devil Inside was inserted into the relentless Feel Good Hit Of The Summer and we absolutely lost our shit! After we jog his memory, Van Leeuwen enthuses, “Oh my gosh, you're right! That's so funny, yeah.” May we please request Queens revisit this geographically relevant tribute when they tour our shores early next year? “Wow, I'll have to bring that up,” he ponders. “Yeah, I'd love to do that again. We haven't played that song live on this tour yet, so we'll have to bring it back. Sure.”

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We’re also hoping QOTSA will play Time & Place, our favourite track off their incredible latest set, as well. It's a somewhat disorientating listening experience – like someone’s spiked the party punch – which we love. “Well the funny thing is, that is a song that has been around for about ten years that we never finished until now,” Van Leeuwen reveals. “So it has some history. And it was something that was different for us, because it's a really syncopated polyrhythm of guitars and the groove is this pulse that feels like a trance, to me. And it was just a really fun, simple groove that took on a whole life. ‘Cause we tried to record it before, but when we did it this time it just kinda fell into place. And it feels like it was one of the first songs, I think, that we actually finished, top to bottom. Lyrics came quicker for that song.”

Something about Time And Place brings Battles, the experimental New York outfit, to mind. “I can hear what you're saying,” Van Leeuwen allows. “I like them, yeah. It's a different thing for us, I felt; there's a lot of twists and turns and we’re just having fun with it, you know? I'm glad you like that, because we love playing that one live, too.”

Another track on QOTSA’s eighth record is called Emotion Sickness – a nod to Silverchair, perhaps? (Since 1999’s Neon Ballroom contains a song sharing that title). “Called Emotion Sickness?” Van Leeuwen double-checks. “Oh, wow. I had no idea. Oh, we thought we were clever. Geez. I'll have to go listen to it. You know what? There's only so many words in the English language, you're gonna have to repeat yourself at some point.”

Wordplay, puns and humour abound throughout In Times New Roman… – even the album’s title is an example of the band’s keen sense of humour, which suggests this band has way too much fun in the studio. “Well, we definitely have the same sense of humour and it's borderline silly,” Van Leeuwen acknowledges. “We try to make each other laugh all the time and that's how you get through two years of touring: you've gotta get along, you've gotta be able to laugh at yourself and have fun with each other and, you know, make silly jokes with each other. I mean, that's really the thing that keeps us going is our sense of humour. It's definitely a fuel that we eat up.”

Opener Obscenery’s title itself is witty, but the following lyrics literally made us involuntarily spray a mouthful of latte all over the computer screen: “Voyeurism-jism may cause blurry visions…”

Van Leeuwen chuckles, “Yeah, you can imagine the smiles and laughter and giggles when that was sung, along with many other things. I'm trying to think – there's so many that I almost get lost with all the play on words and, for us, it's fun. And I think, lyrically – you know, there's been some darkness surrounding some of us personally and, to get through that kind of pain and suffering, it's best to try and find something humorous about it.

“I mean, we love comedy. We went to go and see Dave Chappelle in Omaha and it was, I would say, probably one of the best performances I've seen anyone ever do. So we all love comedy, you know, we watch stand-up, we watch shows together, we're always kinda watching the same stuff. So humour’s definitely a part of what we do.”

Strings take a leading role during some In Times New Roman… songs, which we’re certainly not mad about. “On every record we do have horns or strings,” Van Leeuwen points out, “and sometimes they're just kinda tucked in there. But we really wanted to have them almost take over the mix at certain points – like, take over the band – and I thought that that was an interesting idea: to make it really stand out. It's fun to take your music and orchestrate it; it does a whole different thing. So I think we would like to do more of that.”

Van Leeuwen joined Queens Of The Stone Age in 2002, which makes him the second-longest-serving member behind the band’s founder, Homme. We’re curious to find out how Van Leeuwen was recruited into the fold. “Well, back when Kyuss were playing there was a soundman named Hutch that did their sound,” Van Leeuwen shares. “And then after Kyuss split I was playing in this band called Failure, and we took Hutch because of the way he made Kyuss sound live: there's some incredible low end, and it was beefy and heavy. So Hutch was our sound guy for a little bit. Josh was playing with Screaming Trees and Mark Lanegan, so Hutch would go with them and then he’d come back to us. So we kinda shared Hutch and that's how we met and where the connection between Josh and I started back in ‘96, I think.

“And back then Hutch was playing demos – or not demos, actually, some of the first [QOTSA] record. But it was called ‘Josh Homme Demo’ [laughs]. So in the van we would listen to Avon and Born To Hula and The Bronze, and all these songs from the first record. And then, finally, when Queens Of The Stone Age came out I was then playing with A Perfect Circle, so we would always cross paths on the road. I literally was on a break from A Perfect Circle and Josh called and said he needed someone to step in to play for – initially it was just gonna be maybe one or two tours, and that was with Dave Grohl for Songs For The Deaf – and so, yeah! I mean, the first time I played with them, with the band, I was on the road with them a week later so it was pretty hectic. I basically got thrown into the deep end and learned how to swim very fast on three instruments. So it was a challenge for me, and I like challenges like that. So 22 years later, here we are!”

Every time QOTSA hits the stage, their synergy is undeniable; it almost feels like they share a pulse or something. So what’s their secret? “I just think we have a bond. You know, this version of the band has been together for about ten years now and there's just, yeah! I think you hit it on the head: we all share a similar pulse and we all kinda move at the same frequency. And then, also, everyone's such an individual that that amoeba sorta spreads in a way that has an ebb and flow. It's just our chemistry. It's who we are and how we relate to each other and our histories. And we all shoot for the same goal – which is to push the envelope, push ourselves, push the audience, push new ideas – and I think we're all on the same page.”

In signing off, we’d be remiss not to remind Van Leeuwen about pitching Devil Inside to Homme and co. “Thanks for reminding me of that. I'm gonna put that in my mental hard drive right now,” he promises. If it happens, you’re welcome.



Sat 10th Feb 2024 - Red Hill Auditorium, Perth*
Tues 13th Feb 2024 - The Drive, Adelaide*
Fri 16th Feb 2024 - Mona Lawns, Hobart*
Sun 18th Feb 2024 – Lookout, Torquay Common, Torquay^
Mon 19th Feb 2024 - Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne*
Wed 21st Feb 2024 - Hordern Pavilion, Sydney*
Sat 24th Feb 2024 - Lookout, Broadwater Parklands, Gold Coast^
Sun 25th Feb 2024 - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane*
Mon 26th Feb 2024 - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane*


*Pond & Gut Health
^The Chats, Spiderbait, Pond, Gut Health & Lola Scott