There is a nasty rumor going around about Queens of the Stone Age: People say they’re into drugs. This might be because their second record opens with a song whose complete lyrics are “nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol,” finishing with a spirited “c-c-c-c-c-cocaine.” Or because their second most famous ex-member is a bald, frequently naked, goblin-like creature who was kicked out of the band for being a human tornado. Or because they are from the California desert, a place that, frankly, breeds a certain type of person.
But drummer Joey Castillo wants everyone to know this is not true, no way, uh uh, forget about it.
Well, actually, maybe it is. A little.
“It’s rock’n’roll, basically. It all goes hand-in-hand,” Castillo says. “Obviously, for some it’s more extreme, for others it’s just a feel-good thing. But I think to solely connect the band to drugs, that wouldn’t be accurate. They obviously play a part in a lot of people’s lives, including some of ours, but it’s not like the band is inoperable without drugs. I would hate to think that.”
Of course, Castillo is probably being just a wee bit coy. It’s hard to listen to Queens’ now five-album discography and not think they’re making music exclusively for heshers, even excepting the aforementioned “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.” Monstrous fuzztone guitars, soaring bits of open Palm Desert sky psychedelia, hallucinatory imagery — these are the sounds blacklights and beanbag chairs were invented for. But you can’t blame Castillo. After all, he is the new guy. Relatively, anyway.
Castillo joined Queens between the release of their 2002 mainstream breakthrough Songs for the Deaf and its follow-up, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze. The band’s revolving door membership policy had completed yet another rotation, this time sending former Nirvana skinman Dave Grohl, who played drums on Deaf, back to his full-time job as lead Foo Fighter and leaving some rather large shoes open for filling. Another drummer had already been hired for a round of touring, but Castillo — a fixture on the Los Angeles punk scene and a longtime fan of Queens singer-guitarist-mastermind Josh Homme’s previous outfit, stoner metal behemoths Kyuss — got called in for a jam session the day before the band was supposed to hit the road.
Midway through “Avon,” from Queens’ self-titled debut, Homme stopped the song and left the room. When he returned, he announced he had just fired the other guy, and told Castillo to return in two hours for a formal rehearsal — their first show together was the following day. “It’s something we both would never suggest to anybody.”
So after finishing up one dream gig — an eight-year tenure backing up Misfits icon Glenn Danzig — Castillo leapt into another, and from there it has been a whirlwind of shows (the tour they embarked upon lasted into 2004), recordings (the half earth-shaking, half disappointing Lullabies), inter-band drama (surrounding the expulsion of said goblin-esque human tornado, bassist Nick Oliveri) and collaborations with the likes of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Trent Reznor and, perhaps most prestigious of all, Will Ferrell. (“He’s a hell of a cowbell player.”)
Which brings us to Era Vulgaris.
The album, dropping June 12, is a return to form for the group, who went into the studio last time still reeling from Oliveri’s booting. Maintaining the same core lineup from the Lullabies sessions — Castillo, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes and, of course, Homme — the band convened for demoing in Joshua Tree (“a magical place,” Castillo says), with Homme’s knack for sonic experimentation taking over yet again (the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas plays a Casio digital guitar on one track, for crying out loud). Unlike Lullabies, 80 percent of which was written on the road according to Castillo, the majority of Era Vulgaris came together in the studio.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel different,” Castillo says of the process of making his second record with the band. “All of us have been through so much together as a band … It’s kind of built us into the people we are today. You hate to actually believe it sometimes when people go, ‘Oh, it shows in the music,’ but I can’t see where that wouldn’t be true.”
Early reviews have been positive. Rolling Stone gave it four stars, while Britain’s famed NME, after hearing a preview at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, said the record finds the band “going yet further into Hansel and Gretelish strangeness.” Now what could that possibly mean? Castillo has an idea: “Those who enjoy psychedelics will have a field day with this record.”