Dancing with the the Devil: A Conversation with Jesse Hughes

Dancing with the the Devil: A Conversation with Jesse Hughes

Music critics have a longstanding habit of worrying about the state and well-being of rock and roll.

But take one look at Eagles of Death Metal and such fears can be washed away in one fell swoop.

Eagles of Death Metal is the story of the rock and roll friendship between Jesse “The Devil” Hughes and Josh Homme.

After moving to Palm Desert, CA with is mom at age 7, Hughes and Hommes (best know as frontman of preeminent hard rock band Queens of the Stone Age, as well as stoner rock outfit Kyuss) met in high school – with the two becoming life-long friends after Homme stopped a bully from harassing Hughes.

The mischievous partners in crime formed Eagles of Death Metal back in 1998, though they wouldn’t release their proper debut – Peace, Love, Death Metal – until 2004, due to Homme’s other band commitments. Hughes also releases solo material under the moniker Boots Electric.

Though critics have pegged the band as a side project in the shadow of Homme’s more visible projects, each of EODM’s subsequent albums have been ever-more successful, and their song catalog has been used in a scary number of films, TV shows, advertisements and video games.

On their fourth and best album yet, Hughes and Homme prove Eagles of Death Metal is far more than just a side project. Zipper Down epitomizes lewd, sexy and irreverent rock and roll at its very best. It’s also our Album of the Week.

As the de facto EODM frontman, Hughes is the embodiment of rock and roll, and all of it’s inherent contradictions.

Silly and serious, intelligent and idiotic, liberal and conservative, generous and narcissistic – the 43-year-old foul-mouthed, sex-breathing rocker known as “The Devil” is also an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. And as contradictory as these qualities seem in concept, they add up to one even-keeled if eccentric rock and roll frontman. Said in another way, Hughes is simultaneously the prophetic wise man on the mountain and your classic schoolroom wise-ass.

We got the chance to have a thoughtful and highly-entertaining conversation with the incomparable Jesse Hughes.

*   *   *

Hey Jesse! Thanks for talking to me.

What’s up dude! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me!

How are you?

I’m about to smoke a giant block right now – it’s awesome!

You been touring a lot this summer, but at the moment you have some time off, right?

Yeah, like two weeks, but I didn’t get into this business because I didn’t want to tour. I sometimes get really irritated listening to rockers complain about how wonderful our life is, you know? Like, “Oh my God, I got to go on tour!”

This is the best job that anyone can fucking have in the world! This is a job that a lot people really want to have, and I feel like if you get to do it, you have no right to be an asshole to anybody. You should have nothing but an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation. I really believe that.

I don’t want to be some bold asshole who isn’t able to like people when I get older. I don’t want to be some dude who has such a sense of entitlement that I’m ugly to everyone I meet. That’s the one thing I’m afraid of. A sense of entitlement is what ruins everything.

Tell me about ‘Zipper Down’. Where does it fit in with the Eagles of Death Metal story?

It fits perfectly! The cover art is actually the flip side of Death By Sexy, if you know what I mean. Because on Death By Sexy we have the girl’s ass, and on this one we have artistic breasts. We’re not trying to do anything different, we’re just trying to do it better.

Can you talk about your creative dynamic with Josh? Has it changed over the years?

Absolutely! I write everything, and then I bring it to Josh, and then he picks out the ones he likes. And that is actually as simple as it starts.

Can we talk about a few of the songs specifically, starting with “Complexity”?

The thing about “Complexity” is that in Hollywood – especially in show business – you have people running around you being overly complex for no reason. They make shit much harder than it needs to be. And Joshua and I have always lived by a simple rule, when it comes to making music: Let the music tell you what it wants and just don’t do anything else. And it’s really easy!

How did you also come to re-record “Oh Girl” and “I Love You All The Time” after previously releasing them under Boots Electric?

That was Josh’s idea, because he loved those songs. And I think he was always jealous of the fact that I put them on my solo album and not on the Eagles album. And actually when I was recording it, Joshua was like, “Dude, these should be Eagles songs, man!” And you know, he’s my best friend and I refuse him nothing.

You recently said “The Deuce” is one of your favorite songs on the new album. Can you elaborate on why?

Well, I’m vain and I got to produce that song, and it’s also one of my best guitar solos. And it is also about a very special girl to me and a good friend of mine.

When Eagles Of Death Metal opened for The Cramps a couple of years ago,  the other band we played with was called the Gore Gore Girls. And the bass player of the Gore Gore Girls was named The Deuce. And I fell in love and I wrote a song about her!

You cover Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” on the album? How did that come about, and are you yourselves big fans of Duran Duran?

I fucking love Duran Duran! Have you ever seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon, where somebody makes a pie and the odor of the pie becomes a hand and picks Bugs Bunny up by the nose? Well I’ve seen that song do that to girls. And that’s why I picked that song!

Tell me about the Vice documentary about you, The Redemption of the Devil. How did that come about?

I’ve been working with Vice on a show called On The Road. And in the process of that we had decided to do a documentary on desert music. And in the middle of the meeting for that documentary Vice just said, “We’d rather do it about you.” And I’m vain so I was like, “About little old me? Excellent!”

You’re a man of ostensive dualities: rocker and minister, righteous man and sinner. How do you mediate these traits into one complete person?

I really love that question man! No human has the power to mediate such things. The only supernatural mediator that can come and mediate supernatural matters is God. And therefore he does it for me, and I just sit back and enjoy the set.

As a man of the cloth, have you ever considered celibacy?

No! [laughs] You know what, I’ll consider it tonight!

Can you talk about the intimate relationship between sex and rock ‘n’ roll?

Rock ‘n’ roll literally means sex, dude! It’s an in inexplicable relationship. Let me ask you this: If you fuck for money you’re a whore right? So if you fuck for money in front of a camera, are you really an actress or are you still a whore? You cannot separate sex from rock ‘n’ roll.

That’s the great thing about rock ‘n’ roll!

That’s right, buddy!

Your songs have been used in a striking number of films, ads and other media. What do you think it is about your sound that is so appealing for this kind of use?

This is the God-earnest of truth. When I was a kid I went to a community college, before I went to major university, and one of the foundation members of the college was Barry Manilow. And Barry Manilow told me that the secret to making good pop music is understanding that they are all just jingles for a commercial. Barry Manilow wrote [sings] “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…“ He wrote every major jingle of the ’60s.

I don’t think corporations are bad – I think people are bad – and I don’t think selling your songs to a commercial is selling out. I really like money, and I really like to do things, that I like to do. So I’ve intentionally written almost every song that has ever been on an Eagles of Death Metal record in the hope that it will eventually be fortunate enough to end up as a commercial.

If you could choose for your music to be used to sell anything, what would it be?

It will sell everybody on the reality that supposedly the United States was born in fucking Kenya.

I’m gonna see your show here in Copenhagen in November. What can the Danish fans expect?

Denmark is very special to my heart, because my first girlfriend was from Denmark. My very first girlfriend was an exchange student named Christina from Copenhagen… So there are two types of rock bands. There’s the kind that comes out and jacks off for everyone to see, and then there’s the rock band that comes out and fucks everyone in the room. The Danish fans can expect rock band number two.

So we need to take birth control pills beforehand?

[laughs] Yeah, better get that pill, boy! You don’t want to get pregnant, but maybe the Eagles Of Death Metal have the happy V.D., like the kind of shit you want to get. I’m looking forward to see you, when I’m in Denmark, man!

[Photos by Chapman Baehler]

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