Editor’s Note: Early this month, I considered commemorating the recent release of Zipper Down, the latest album by the Eagles of Death Metal, by posting this review and interview I wrote in 2006, soon after the release of their second album–and, for my money, still their best–Death by Sexy. Other posts took priority, however, and I never got around to doing it.
Then, last Friday, I was reminded of the EODM again in the most forceful and terrible way possible: when their concert at Le Bataclan became the largest of four targets in a coordinated terrorist attack on Paris, leaving 89 dead, including the band’s merchandise manager Nick Alexander. As I imagine was the case for most people familiar with the group’s music, it was a strange experience for me to see their name show up in such a horrifying context. No pop group “makes sense” as a victim of terror, of course, but EODM makes even less sense than most; in the best possible sense of the word, their music is deliberately brainless, good-time rock and roll, delivered with tongues firmly in cheek. The fact that their Paris show became a site for such ugly violence–that almost a hundred people who just wanted to go out and have a good time unwittingly became martyrs to extremism–isn’t the only tragedy associated with last week’s attacks, nor is it the most important. But as a music fan, it’s probably the one that hit closest to home for me.
I’m sharing these combined pieces about the Eagles of Death Metal now, not to try and exploit this terrible tragedy–anyone who’s seen my web traffic reports would know that I’m literally incapable of exploiting anything–but as my way of commemorating it; really, the only way that feels appropriate for me to do so in the context of this blog. I think it’s worth remembering just how silly and fun the EODM can be, and, by extension, just how senseless an attack on them and their fans really was. The band is now safe, but quite understandably shaken; yesterday they released a statement that their shows are “on hold until further notice,” and, as Ben Rayner of the Toronto Star pointed out, the future of the band itself may be in question. Personally, I think it’s a little premature to make that call. The attacks were less than a week ago, and the whole Western world is still reeling from them. The idea of a band like the Eagles of Death Metal just carrying on in the face of such trauma might seem unimaginable now, but it won’t forever; if there could be poetry after Auschwitz, then there can be good-time rock’n’roll after Paris. So, while the review and interview after the jump might seem wildly incongruous with today’s more somber mood–maybe even inappropriately so–I think the wit and good humor expressed by the band, whether a decade or a week ago, is a sign of just how valuable they continue to be. To paraphrase Charlie Hebdo, “They have guns. Fuck them, we have the Eagles of Death Metal.” – Z.H.
Of all the overused, overemphasized, overrated terms in modern indie music, “honesty” must be close to the top. An unfortunate outgrowth of the 1980s’ integrity-obsessed first wave of alternative rock (in the same way that gonorrhea can be an unfortunate outgrowth of sexual intercourse), “honesty” has served as many a wannabe critic’s highest standard of quality, its absence the cruelest and most demeaning of epithets. Take a perfectly good, kick-ass rock’n’roll band, who maybe just happen to like a little semi-ironic Spandex in their stage gear, and stack them against some mopey, half-competent, teeth-gnashingly earnest troubadour with a tousled coif–guess whose schtick is more “honest?” If you belong to the cult of authenticity, your answer is obvious: whichever one Pitchfork hated less. And that’s a damn shame, because if the New York Dolls (“indie rockers” long before such a term existed) taught us anything, it’s that good music can be taken seriously no matter how deep it plants its tongue in the cheek.
The Eagles of Death Metal are about as “honest” as the moustache sported by frontman Jesse “Boots Electric” Hughes–or the 1970s used car salesman to whom said ‘stache seems to belong. This a band that makes rock music with no pretensions to art, or even staid garage-chic sensibilities. There’s nary a song on their sophomore effort, Death by Sexy, that isn’t about dancing, fucking, or some combination of the two. Hell, even their album cover (see above) is a pastiche of the Rolling Stones‘ Sticky Fingers—and everybody knows that nine out of ten indie kids prefer Between the Buttons. But here’s the deal: “honest” or not, Death by Sexy happens to be one of the best straight-up rock albums of 2006 so far, and I can’t think of anything more honest–in the real sense of the word–than that.
In their most defining moments, Hughes and the Eagles (including Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Brody Dalle of erstwhile pop-punk act the Distillers) mine the best elements of classic radio rock with a genuine sense of pleasure. Cock-rock riffage (“Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a BANG!)“), rhythm section breakdowns (“I Like to Move in the Night“), even falsetto paeans to barely-legal conquests (“I Gotta Feelin (Just Nineteen)”–see video above); it’s all here. And most of the time, the loving sense of pastiche with which it’s executed–the wide-eyed, yet knowing desire to “rawk”–makes it sound better than it did in the arenas.
But for all their proficiency in the area, EODM aren’t just playing genre karaoke. The playful shake and stomp of “Solid Gold,” Hughes’ note-perfect Lux Interior impression on “Chase the Devil,” even an out-of-left-field stab at acoustic country-blues called “Bag o’ Miracles” all point to an impressively wide musical range and contribute to the album’s loose, fun, freewheeling atmosphere. And “fun” is the key word here: it’s the secret to the band’s artistic success, and the reason why almost everything on Death by Sexy works. If it’s fun, Hughes, Homme and company will do it, and chances are they’ll do it well.
Once in a while, of course, their more half-baked ideas will fall a little flat. “The Ballad of Queen Bee and Baby Duck,” a goofy attempt at self-mythology about romantic couple Homme and Dalle, wears thin after just a few listens, while “Eagles Goth” leans too far toward parody: all muffled vocals and fuzzed-out guitar, with little substance to back it up. But minor setbacks like these can’t keep the EODM from blowing away the competition when it comes to pure, simple, party-ready rock. And if a description like that will make the “honesty” Nazis turn up their noses, just tell ’em not to let the door hit their ass on the way out.
Because my pop culture writing back in 2006 actually came with the occasional perk, I also had the chance to interview the EODM’s frontman, Jesse Hughes, at the beginning of the band’s spring 2006 tour with the Strokes. Below is the full transcript of the interview.
So you’re on tour with the Strokes right now. How’s that going?
Yeah, we just started–our first show is tonight at the Hammerstein Ballroom. So right now we’re on top of a luxury hotel, surrounded by bikini girls.
Is that the kind of thing you guys are used to?
The Eagles of Death Metal love beautiful ladies and ladies of all sorts. And because we give so much time and energy to them, sometimes they give us time and energy in return. It doesn’t suck, I’ll tell you that.
It seems like early in EODM’s career, you were perceived strictly as a side project of Queens of the Stone Age because of Josh Homme’s involvement. Now you really look to be coming into your own as a separate band.
Yeah, when the first record came out there was a perception that it was a side project, but it was never intended that way. Still, to be in a side project of Queens of the Stone Age doesn’t suck. I mean, the whole scene out here [Palm Desert, California] spawned from Joshua’s great mind–and he’s my best friend in the whole world, so I don’t mind at all. I love being part of this scene.
So it didn’t bother you at all getting pigeonholed like that?
That hurt a little bit, yeah. But after a while it just became a joke. Honey, there’s nothing on the side about us. We’re all up front.
It’s interesting, though, because we actually did sort of start out as a side thing; the first thing we ever did was on the Desert Sessions. And that was a joke – we had a death metal vocalist for real!
So that’s where the name came from?
Well, the name came from Joshua and myself, and a friend of ours. We were in the back of the friend’s VW, smoking… something. And he was a death metal fanatic, so he was really, really trying hard to convince us to listen to all this stuff. He’d keep putting on stuff by these different bands, and we’d just be like, “That sucks. That’s crap. That’s pussy shit.” Then he put on this one band, and Josh said, “That’s not death metal! That’s like… the Eagles of death metal!” And I’ll never forget, because I was eating a graham cracker and when he said that I spat it out, crumbs went all over the place. Our friend was like, “Who the fuck is eating pie in my car?”
A few weeks later, though, I was talking to Josh and he said, “You know, I’ve actually sort of been thinking about what the Eagles of death metal would sound like.” And I’d been thinking the same thing. So we brought in our friend who was the death metal guy [Loo Balls] to sing death metal vocals, and that was the first thing we ever recorded. Now, though, Eagles of Death Metal is truly a movement and a phenomenon unto itself.
Let’s talk about your new album, Death by Sexy. I read that [debut album] Peace Love Death Metal only took three days to record; this one took twelve. Would you say that taking your time and really crafting the sound was more of a priority for this record?
The songs I wrote for Death by Sexy were a little more challenging, so we sort of needed to take our time on it. But also, we wanted to beef it up a little. The only way the first album was not going to sound like a fluke was if we went forward, and we went forward. We recorded Peace Love Death Metal at a friend’s house; this one we did at Sound City in Los Angeles!
How was it, working in a professional studio?
Oh, it was a dream–I mean this wasn’t just any professional studio, it was Sound City! Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours there. I actually set up vocals in the same spot as Rick Springfield did “Jessie’s Girl” … I was like, “Aw, hell yeah!” And we paid for this shit ourselves, so it’d better be good, you know?
Well, I got the chance to hear Death by Sexy, and I think it’s great. It’s refreshing to hear more bands nowadays who aren’t afraid to rock and be silly and actually put on a show… I feel like the self-conscious sort of indie stuff might be on its way back out.
God, I hope so. The false humility, cliquish bullshit that has infected rock’n’roll has got to go. And you know what else has to go, is bands that are a boy party–a big fuckin’ boy party, no girls allowed. Listen, if you’re a smart man in rock’n’roll, you should be doing what you’re meant to be doing: making little girls dance. Seriously, if the little girls are dancing and happy, then everybody’s happy. But instead everyone’s trying to be the first and only one to be into something. It’s like if you wear a Clash T-shirt you have to have been into the Clash since 1981–fuck you, dude, I’ll do what I want. I feel like, if you’ve just discovered the Stones, you deserve a handshake and a welcome to the rock’n’roll parade. It’s supposed to be fun!
That’s a philosophy you guys definitely seem to be living. Are you happy with the new record, as compared to the first one?
I’m very happy with the new record. I don’t know if it’s better than the first, but I had the best time recording it–just everything about it. Even if the songs suck, it was a complete and total joy to record. All my friends were there…every little element has made it such a wonderful experience.
Great–but it looks like we’re running out of time. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
We live to make Little Richard proud. And if it looks like an Indian and smells like an Indian, then it ain’t fuckin’ John Wayne. That’s what we live by.