Just when it seemed that rock 'n' roll was destined to be overrun by mall rats and emo-chic haircuts, Eagles of Death Metal have returned with no pretense and nothing to pretend. From the sexy-as-fuck swagger that swings through the '70s-inspired rock 'n' roll sound of new release Death By Sexy, to the sexier-than-thou mustache that frontman Jesse Hughes sports as a proud vestige of his manhood, it's all part of a much bigger picture: “This ain't no Bible study, it's rock 'n' roll. I came here to shake my dick and have a good time,” boasts Hughes, who started EODM with his best friend, Queens of the Stone Age frontman and EODM drummer Josh Homme. Sitting backstage at the Coachella Valley Music Festival, an annual musical mecca held not far from the frontman's Palm Springs home in the Southern California desert, Hughes juggles our discussion amongst a seemingly endless sea of friends, fans and family, and amidst the din of the dissident sounds of bands as varied as reggae throwback Damien Marley, hip-hop heavyweight Kanye West, DJs Carl Cox and Daft Punk, and more emotive indie-scenesters Sigur Ros. But even in such cluttered musical confines, the unadulterated power of rock 'n' roll lives, and the sexy-machismo of Eagles of Death Metal thrives. It's all about the rock, baby, and no one rocks harder than Eagles of Death Metal...
MAXIMIM INK: How do you approach a festival like Coachella, where you're playing after Damien Marley, as opposed to a band you might be a better match with and on tour with?
JESSE HUGHES: Well, I've never played a U.S. festival in my life, so this is a big deal for me. European festivals are a completely different trip. It's usually where they get to see bands on a regular basis, as opposed to here. But this is my hometown and this is my first major gig in front of everyone I went to high school with, and everyone who was ever mean to me. It's a wonderfully anxious situation right now.
MI: You've played the Palm Springs area before, though.
JH: Yeah, but small pubs.
MI: A lot of bands who play shows like Coachella might have problems because they're not playing in front of “their” crowd. Does that bother you at all?
JH: No, you've got to play in front of new crowds, and you've got to play in front of people that have never seen you before. Something new is always a little bit of a push to get anyone to go for it. If people didn't know how to deal with someone not liking them, they'd have a very miserable life all the time!
MI: What's the story behind the name? You're obviously not a death metal band.
JH: We were in a car with our friend, and he loved death metal and was always trying to get us to play death metal and listen to it. So we were getting stoned in a van one night, a VW van with a license plate that said 'doomed,' and he was playing death metal band after death metal band, and he would go, “Dude, this is awesome, check this out…” And we would go, “No, dude, this is weak, put on some really tough metal…” So he put on the band Vader, and either me or Josh said, “That's not death metal, that's like the Eagles of death metal…” Then, all of a sudden, the name wanted to be a band.
MI: You guys had been playing around as friends, at that point?
JH: I had never played music before, and the very first song we did was for Desert Sessions. The Eagles of Death Metal has actually been around for longer than Queens of the Stone Age. The first time I ever played a guitar I used an open tuning, and it stuck. I could no-brain look at the dots on the fret board, and if it's already tuned to a chord, then voila! I got married, had a kid, kind of lived as a square, got divorced, lost sixty pounds, and got laid for the first time outside of a marriage…
MI: All because of…
JH: Rock 'n ' roll! All because of this mustache, this amazing, beautiful, soft boomerang of love I've got here!
MI: You're a natural onstage, and the unquestioned focal point, yet the bulk of attention is paid to Josh.
JH: Well, of course it started out and Josh is a bona fide rock star. I rode in on his coattails, and they were the most wonderful, long-lasting, easiest coattails to ride, let me tell you that right now, honey! Being in a band with the dude from Queens of the Stone Age doesn't suck, and the fact that it's my best friend in the whole wide world is awesome.
MI: You had always been involved with Josh, from Desert Sessions on…
JH: One way or the other, if not as a fan or peer watching, then as a participant.
MI: Was there ever any question about the direction the band would head in? It's very '70s rock, and there's not a ton of that around.
JH: The direction is… I direct it, it's my trip, so to speak. But it's my and Josh's gang, it's a reflection of who we are. The only thing I know how to do is have a good time, and rock 'n' roll isn't supposed to exclude, it's really not. It's supposed to say, “If you want to belong, leave all the bullshit at the door.” Really. And it's about baby girls, and sweethearts, and honey babies, and little sugar bears. It's really about making chicks laugh and want to get down and boogie. If you come honestly and are playing stuff that's honest, people will know that. If you're not, people will know that, too.
MI: You've made some big television appearances lately. That's where having Josh in the band is also very helpful, because you don't need to sell a million records before Conan O'Brien will take notice.
JH: We've played Conan before, and my job really is, no matter what they come in wanting, the only thing they remember when we leave is this mustache, baby! That's my job! This ain't no Bible study, it's rock 'n' roll. I came here to shake my dick and have a good time.
MI: This isn't a Josh Homme side project, watching you onstage it's obvious that everything we see is real.
JH: No, it's a full band, and it's true and honest. Everything I say from the stage I mean. When the crowd loves me, I love them back harder. I just go up there and do what I do, and mostly it's about having a good time with my band. We're up there, it's what we do: We're rock 'n' rollers, ladies, please!
MI: You recently finished a tour with the Strokes, and now are touring as headliners. What was it like touring with the Strokes?
JH: It was wonderful. Every day, going to show up and see them was wonderful, because they're sweethearts. They're an amazing rock band, and live they're an amazing rock band. And, their audience was open to us. They didn't know what the fuck when we walked on stage, but they're good natured enough where, ten minutes after we walked on stage, they're like, “Okay, we get this…”
MI: They even loved you in Hollywood, and that's one of the toughest crowds to impress.
JH: I think Hollywood is just super-skeptical, and the extreme in skepticism. If you come correct, so to speak, generally they'll respond to it.
MI: On your headline tour, are you bringing out any particular bands?
JH: We're going on tour with the Giraffes. They're bad-ass, they're mustache rockers.
MI: It's all about the mustache?
JH: That's right, honey, that's what it's all about!
MI: What was it like going from the “square” thing, to this? Did you always know that you'd be the singer in a band?
JH: I never in a million years… I'll tell you the truth, it's like rock 'n' roll fantasy camp. Literally, my best friend - who happened to be a rock star - showed up and said, “Let's make a record.” I wrote the first album in a week and showed up.
MI: And the lyrics? They seem to be an extension of your personality.
JH: Yeah, really, man. It's just shit that happens in my life. When you're going through a divorce, you don't feel very sexy. I wanted to feel sexy, so I escaped into rock 'n' roll to feel sexy… And if you live a little freaky, you'll have some freaky stuff to write about. And, normally I'm honestly trying to express something out loud, for people to see.
MI: There's a definite sense of humor there.
JH: Oh, if you're me, you've gotta laugh! You know what I mean?
MI: Do you care how it's interpreted?
JH: Not really, because it's pretty-much there, there's nothing hiding. What I'm getting across is, “Let's have a good time.” If you just discovered the Clash yesterday, it doesn't matter that you haven't been into them since 1981, you can wear the shirt: If you bought it at Hot Topic, good for you…
MI: Just buy one of your shirts next…
JH: Yes! Now buy my shirt at Hop Topic!
Eagles of Death Metal perform June 1 in Chicago at Logan Square Auditorium, June 2 in Milwaukee at The Rave, and June 3 in Minneapolis at The Quest.