Queens of the Stone Age: Josh Homme on life, death, touring New Zealand, and how he would embrace the end of the world

Ahead of their 2024 New Zealand visit, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme sat down with Newshub to reflect on life, death, his music - and if it really is the end of the world. 

Josh Homme doesn't think he'll make it to 75 - and he's perfectly okay with that. 

As the Queens of the Stone Age rocker puts it, life is about quality over quantity. Taking a deep drag on his vape, the 50-year-old - one of the last frontmen standing from the heroin-laced hedonism of the 1990s alt-rock scene - admits he likes to live a life that's a little feral. He may have the Grammy nominations and platinum plaques, but where's the fun in being a successful rockstar if you can't enjoy a little debauchery? 

"I don't see the need to over-control something," he muses. "I always like my toes just over the edge.

"Some of our first gigs were in Seattle... it was underground. There was no one to regulate it and control it. I've always held on to that as the way it's supposed to be. I mean, obviously the threshold is no one should get hurt," he adds. 

"But then, anything other than that, it's totally fair game. I get in trouble for doing shit like that. But I also think, in a weird way, it's worth it to take the risk." 

You need only take one look at Homme to see he is cut from a different cloth to his up-and-comer counterparts. The heavily inked, silver-toothed, 6'5" musician radiates a certain rock'n'roll machismo that would have insecure men puffing their chests. This, for an anxiety-ridden 20-something woman, is equal parts compelling and terrifying. You can't look away, but the glint in his eyes makes holding eye contact (over Zoom, at least) an ongoing effort. 

Our conversation is anchored around Queens of the Stone Age's imminent return to Aotearoa for their acclaimed The End is Nero tour, in support of their latest album, In Times New Roman. But we also touch on a variety of topics - Homme's stream-of-consciousness commentary tends to lead to unplanned but welcome tangents - including his musings on life, death, and if it really is the end of the world. 

For the uninitiated, Homme is the founding and only continuous member of Queens of the Stone Age, an alternative rock outfit with its roots in the Palm Desert Scene of the early '90s. After the dissolution of his previous band, Kyuss, and a brief stint as the Screaming Trees' touring guitarist, Homme tuned into a new project. 

First known as Gamma Ray, Queens of the Stone Age was born in Seattle in 1996; about two years after the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain effectively ended the grunge movement, leaving alt-rock without its messiah. Soundgarden were on the brink of breaking up, Alice in Chains were mostly inactive due to the worsening heroin addiction of their lead singer, and Pearl Jam were attempting to distance themselves from early mainstream success. While the band originated from a different scene, it still embodied the Seattle sound's ethos; raw, guitar-driven, cross-genre, distorted, heavy music. 

Now, almost 30 years later, Queens' is a behemoth of modern rock, regularly hailed as one of the greatest live bands in existence. But the ascent hasn't been without its struggles. Homme has endured loss, rehab, health scares, divorce, and a bitter custody battle - and that's just off the stage. The band too, has endured its fair share of turbulence, from multiple lineup changes to internal conflicts. 

Queen Of The Stone Age at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2018.
Queen Of The Stone Age at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2018. Photo credit: Lionel FLUSIN / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

While Homme has avoided some occupational hazards - such as dying - he's embraced others, and unsanitised rock'n'roll remains the bedrock of his approach to life and music in his 50s. As he says, he just likes things "a little feral".

"In the few moments I've won things, I never really learned anything. I'm really thankful for the difficulties. I don't think I would change any of it actually, because I signed up for life head on - and that's the way it goes. I think I've always been obsessed with trying to live in the moment," he says. 

"I don't want things to be easy. I want them to be real." 

Among those difficulties were the recent losses of his close friends and associates, Foo Fighters' drummer Taylor Hawkins as well as former bandmate and Screaming Trees' frontman Mark Lanegan. He battled cancer, but as of 2023, is "all-clear". His bitter divorce from ex-wife Brody Dalle, meanwhile, has been peppered with restraining orders, accusations of domestic violence, and a custody battle over their three children. 

When asked if he often contemplates his own mortality in an industry so rife with tragedy, Homme responds: "You do this thing where you're like, man, I never thought I'd live this long. And then you're like, 'I've got so much more to do'. I say that about [Mark] Lanegan, for example. On the one hand, I can't believe he's gone. On the other hand, I was like, 'I cannot believe you lived that long'. 

"There's a statistic I read once which was like, touring musicians die on average 12 years younger than people that do not do this job. I think I've always accepted that; I'm 50 right now and there's probably no way I'll ever be 75 years old, but I'll take the quality over quantity."

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs on stage at The OVO Hydro on November 18, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs on stage at The OVO Hydro on November 18, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo credit: Roberto Ricciuti / Redferns via Getty Images

Many of us mere mortals have been told such blows, while winding, "are not the end of the world" - but for Homme, the end of the world is nigh upon us anyway. Clearly a metaphor for his recent battles, this apocalypticism is an undercurrent to the band's latest album; a project hailed as their darkest, knottiest material to date, with Homme lyrically at his most vulnerable. 

"Dark and knotty, that sums up my life," he deadpans. "At the end of the day, I write about what I understand - and from that place, I ask [myself] questions about what I don't understand, you know." 

Take the track 'What the Peephole Say' - Homme sings, "I don't care what the people know / The world's gonna end in a month or so", prompting the question: What does one do with the time you've got left? 

"I've always operated like it's just around the corner. I think there's something sort of comforting about that," he ponders. 

"Like, if the world is going to end in a month or two, I'm like, 'Well, cool - what do you want to do?' Things that drive me into 'now' sort of make me happy. If in three months and four days the world was ending, I would be like, 'Alright, we'd better get started'. Whatever gets you up out of bed is probably a good thing - even if it's the end of the world." 

Queens of the stone Age perform at IDAYS FESTIVAL, Milano, Italy, on June 24 2018.
Queens of the stone Age perform at IDAYS FESTIVAL, Milano, Italy, on June 24 2018. Photo credit: Mairo Cinquetti / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Impending doom aside, Homme at least has some things to look forward to - like riding motorbikes on Auckland's rugged west coast. The band has several "traditions" when in our end of the world, including visiting Piha, dining at a favourite restaurant ("that will remain nameless") and exploring cities that aren't Auckland. He's also excited to show New Zealand what they've got; middle-aged they may be (aside from bassist Michael Shuman), yet Homme declares their touring "has never been better".   

"Things have never been more joyous for us in terms of going on the road. It's not that I didn't appreciate it before. I just know that I'm appreciating it so much now because it's so complicated out there."

He also has fond memories from previous trips Down Under - like the power cutting out during Queens' performance at the 2003 Big Day Out. Despite dogged attempts to keep playing, the frustrated band eventually admitted defeat - before being rescheduled to play another set on the fourth stage at 11pm.   

"The power went off, but we refused to not play, so they allowed us to play for 30 minutes, wedged in between two things, you know - I thought it was amazing because it was completely word of mouth," he recalls.  

"People were walking through the festival going, 'Queens are gonna play for 30 minutes in 45 minutes'. I like rogue things like that." 

Another noteworthy experience? Their gear breaking as they jammed to a frenzied Auckland crowd that usurped the stage and rocked alongside their idols. 

"I'm like, well, you paid [to be here]. If a set list doesn't feel right, I'd just be like, 'Why don't you just tell us what to play?' I'm here to do what you want. I feel a bit slutty that way, but it just feels more natural to, like, pass control around," he grins.  

While he often travels with his children - whom he affectionately refers to as "the short people that live in my house" - Homme won't have the vertically challenged in tow this time. 

"My friend Rio, who is no longer with us anymore, he was always like, 'Take your kids with you everywhere'. So, I just do. It's quite common for me to take them to Australia, New Zealand. It's a shame that they're not coming with me this time." 

Herein lies the paradox of Homme. Tough, freewheeling rockstar he may be, but he is also a dad, a friend, a survivor. He's a walking analogy for the music he creates; heavy, but melodic. Raw, but poetic. Rock, sure - but also too many genres to count. In Times New Roman is, in his words, a brutal record "T-boned" by an "alternate universe where an orchestra is playing the sweet version". It's a sonically complex piece of work, but it may take several attempts to understand its breadth.

"I'm trying to make something that you can listen to 60 times and not be bored, and I think it requires that. [I want to] make the music more 3D and complex. You try to take your place amongst the music where you think you belong," he says.  

"I'd like to make something that's like an ice sculpture. It won't be here forever. It's delicate, and it's brutal at the same time, you know? I just like shit like that." 

Queens of the Stone Age.
Queens of the Stone Age. Photo credit: Supplied

As we conclude our chat (which has run 10 minutes overtime), I ask how Queens of the Stone Age continues to draw fans and sold-out crowds in a landscape so markedly different to its beginnings. It's certainly not down to their social media presence ("I was on Instagram for a second, but I just don't care") - but then again, appealing to TikTok tastemakers isn't their concern. They identify with the misfits, after all. They know their fanbase, regardless of the changing tides, will follow them to the ends of the earth - hopefully picking up a few stragglers along the way. 

"I hope the reason we're still doing so well is because it's honest and we mean it. It's real. That doesn't mean it's something everyone will like. Our fans have been with us for 26 years, and I'm like, 'Why are they still with us?' I just hope it's because they know that when it comes to our relationship with them, it's reliable," he responds. 

"We're an outsider's outsider. We were never designed to fit in." 

Queens of the Stone Age will play Auckland (February 29), Wellington (March 1) and Christchurch (March 3) with support from Pond and Earth Tongue.