Queens Of The Stone Age don’t overthink it

Queens of the Stone Age interview by Steve Barmash The guys talked with Northern Transmissions about In Times New Roman... , pizza, tattoos
Queens of the Stone Age photo by Andreas Neumann

Queens of the Stone Age are set to release their new record , In Times New Roman…, available June 16th via Matador Records. The LP is a goliath of an album, channeling innovation on their sound while being unmistakably QOTSA. They are set to embark on a 5-week tour spanning parts of Europe, the USA, and Canada this summer and fall. It’s safe to say Queens of the Stone Age are one of the coolest rock bands on the planet, and we had a chance to sit down with Dean Fertita and Mikey Shuman to talk about the new album, touring, tattoos, and pizza.

NT: I had a listen to the new record a couple times yesterday, it’s a ripper. Really great songs, and I can’t wait until you guys come back through Vancouver for the show in October.

Mikey: Thanks a lot.

Dean: Thank you, Cool, yeah those shows in Vancouver are always fun. One of the spots we always circle on the list. It’s gonna be a good one. I’m just out of practice (laughs), It’s been 5 years since our last tour.

NT: You guys opened for Soundgarden back in 2010, you had the stadium on their feet which was great.

Dean: Crazy. It’s so wild to think that Mikey and I joined on the same day, at the beginning of 2007. Weird to think back on all that, crazy you can kinda remember shows that happened 15 years ago.

NT: 16 years with the band, you’ve earned your stripes that’s for sure. The sound has changed so much from album to album, still some of that trademark Queens sound but you guys really add so much to the mix, we really enjoy watching you guys live as well.

Dean: I feel like this last one especially feels like the most effortless collaboration if that makes sense. I feel like everybody’s personality, their style, playing, filtered in the most perfect way, you hear it on the record, at least I do anyway.

NT: And self-produced this time as well, very cool. A bit different than working with Mark Ronson or James Lavelle? Take me a bit through that process of doing it yourselves in Josh’s studio.

Dean: Yeah, you know what was great about having Mark around is he kept us from straying off the path for too long. Whereas if you’re just doing it on your own, that’s the fight, to know when you’re done with something.

Mikey: I think coming off of the last record with Ronson, he was really the 6th member. It’s hard to have a producer when you have 5 guys with really strong opinions and a lot of ideas. We all know how to make records and are going to voice our opinions. So, you know, we’re not 16- year-old kids making their first record, so I don’t think it’s weird to not have a producer on a record like this. It felt very natural. I don’t know any more words…

Dean: You don’t know any more words?

Mikey: I know plenty of words!

Dean: Oh, I know you do! (Both Laugh) I was just saying what was nice having Mark involved was he kept us on track a bit which is always challenging in a self-produced scenario, to know where you are done. But just like Mikey was saying, we are all capable of approaching a record with a producer mindset, but the fact that we’ve been a band together for 16 years for me and Mikey, and Jon for 10, this lineup has been the same for a long time so I think we understand each other better than we ever have going into a record. That filtration process, whether something goes from us to Josh and back to us, or from Josh to us, it’s like this cyclical thing and I feel it was the most effortless of the 3 records I’ve been a part of.

NT: Continually wanting to keep working on it, updating and changing like George Lucas and Star Wars, wanting to go back and tinker with it?

Dean: Sometimes you just have to say we’re outta time, let’s go!

NT: Was that harder this time, being self-produced and being in Josh’s studio that you guys had to decide, this is the final version of the song?

Dean: Yeah, a little bit, I mean we police ourselves fairly well. I do think we needed the deadline though, because we would have probably kept going a bit longer, you know? And I think we may have moved that deadline a couple of times (laughs) during the course of it. It was such a weird record to make just in terms of what was going on in the world, personally, just so many things factoring in to what shouldn’t have been that difficult of a record to make. We’re just joking about it now, but it’s like but we always need some form of tragedy in our lives to make a record really. The harder it is to make the more people seem to like it, so what does that say?

NT: Often some of the greatest records came after some turmoil in the artists lives or something happening in the world that was a bit crazy. I think the pandemic would be up there, I think everyone has changed and it’s changed everything right?

Dean: We don’t really totally know what we’re walking into, you know? I got to go play a few shows with Beck last year, and it was wonderful. Just to be out in the world again and see where things left off. I think this is going to be a real fun experience touring again for this record

NT: It’s been 6 years since the last album so I’m sure you guys have had a lot of ideas and a lot has happened in the world since. I can hear some of the dancey vibe from the last one, yet the new one sounds so fresh and new. Maybe you feel you guys have taken what you’ve done with previous records and brought it forward on “In Times New Roman”?

Dean: We did have conversations about sonic treatments, but we didn’t overthink it. One aspect I really like is you can trace lines back to every phase of this band, there’s elements there but it gets pushed ahead to some new territory as well. I like that it feels familiar but new, justas a fan even and take myself out of it. If I was going to listen to record from Queens, It’s what I’d want to hear.

NT: I read that this is music the band wants to hear in one of the press releases. I can feel that. Paper Machete’ has a lot of the old school Queens vibe, yet ‘Made to Parade’ has some of the old and a lot of fresh stuff with some cool effects, like a graveyard boogie of sorts.

Mikey: Well, I think I appreciate, you know, the references back to older records and also the expectations fans may have on what they want to hear. You’re always going to hear things like it sounds like this or that, or it should sound more like another album. For me, and I think for all of us really, when we go in there, there’s no expectations. We’re not trying to make a certain record, or make it like a certain record so it does better with those fans, or it’s got to be like this so it’s more commercially viable.

We go in there with no expectations to make a piece of art that we all love, and can all somewhat agree we love every bit of it, and we can have something that’s real and it captures that moment. And that moment being a year and a half. For us it’s all brand new really. Inherently on this record you will get similarities to the last 2 records because the 5 of us have been on those. Clockwork being the first one, sounded a lot different to the previous records, because it’s us, and these last two have our fingerprints and stamp all over it.

NT: I noticed you both are credited with keys in credits, are you guys fighting over the keyboard, who decides who’s doing the cool electro sounds and all that fun stuff?

Mikey: I think Dean did most of that, I think I did something somewhere, I can’t remember what the fuck I did. With us, there’s no rules in the studio. Anyone has an idea, you go do it, there’s no ego in that regard right Dean?

Dean: Absolutely not. Yeah, if I don’t have to play something I’m happy for Mikey go do it! (laughs) I’m kidding. But, that’s true. The wonderful thing about this group of people is they are capable on many levels of song writing, and the best idea always wins. Nobody has a problem with that.

NT: There is a bit of an Italian theme here, with the name of the album being “In Times New Roman”, a track called ‘Sicily’ as well as the tour name, “The End Is Nero”. Were you guys chilling in Italy at all before this? I know how great it is there, was something on your mind from when it came to that?

Dean: I don’t think there is anything specifically, I mean, I am going to go Italy for a couple weeks after this tour.

Mikey: I’ve been to Italy before.

Dean: Maybe there is a subconscious thing going on there.

Mikey: I know It’s weird, there are these little references but it has nothing to do with anything. Maybe it’s a desire, maybe eventually we will be able chill in Italy. I did get this gift, a roman coin, before the record, there’s all these weird things that pop up. I also really love pizza.

NT: I had the best pizza in my life in Napoli, and what a cool fuckin’ city that is. I imagine it’s a bit like NY in the 70s with the amount of people, graffiti, crazy traffic, the life in the streets, really cool place.

Dean: After the tour I’m flying into there and going to Ischia.

Mikey: You don’t know but I’m actually coming on that vacation Dean.

Dean: Yeah man let’s do it! (laughs)

Mikey: One thing I’d like to do is some kind of Italian tour, right?

Dean: Yeah. Play Sicily, Crazy outdoor venue in Sicily would be amazing.

NT: Playing “Sicily” in Sicily, that would be cool.

Dean: We’re not going there on this run, are we?

Mikey: I don’t think so, but we have to.

NT: Please tell your fans about the great artists you have coming on tour with you; Viagra Boys, Phantogram, The Armed, and Jehnny Beth. Do you have hands in the hat to decide who’s coming with you?

Mikey: We don’t deal with label pressure, we choose. I think Viagra boys was a no brainer, our #1 choice right off the bat, they’re fun. We’ve seen and hung out with them a handful of times so they’re great, you want them on tour.

NT: I read that the singer Sebastian, the only American in the Swedish act, is also a tattoo artist, are you going to get some tattoos from him on the tour?

Mikey: Not me.

Dean: Mikey’s gonna get a pizza. Right on the neck.

Mikey: With cheese dripping. That’s what I want.
(Both laugh)

Mikey: Yeah man.

NT: A friend and I had an idea that it would be cool to get a slice of pizza smoking a cigarette as a tattoo.

(Both laugh)

Mikey: That’s my dream now.

Dean: Mikey, we got you bud.

NT: We were talking about before about creativity. You guys always seem one step ahead, always refreshing rock n roll, always something new. And there’s so much out there, right, especially with rock and people keep saying rock music is not where it was. But this is becoming a summer of rock n roll, lots of great records coming out, and there’s a lot of younger kids that seem to be getting into rock n roll, wanting to play guitar and rock out.

Dean: Isn’t that great? I feel like we’ve been having this conversation like my god, there’s so few of us left, recently, and now it feels like maybe it’s been gone just long enough people are starting to find it exciting again. New energy around it.

NT: So how do you keep inspired, being one of the coolest rock bands out there, you guys come out on top so often, what’s the driving force behind keeping going when the landscape looks so bleak?

Dean: I think for me I feel inspired by everybody in the band constantly. There’s this self- motivation, like everyone has a discipline when we’re not together, to work on music and have these new perspectives to bring back when we make records, it’s exciting to be around. Even since I was a teenager, to be most inspired by the people I’m closest to. That hasn’t gone away, so regardless on what’s going on in the bigger picture, in our world, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Mikey: Yeah, agreed.

NT: Anything to add to that Mikey, or you agree wholeheartedly?

Mikey: I do, unfortunately.

Dean: Did you say unfortunately?

Mikey: I did, yeah (both laugh). I don’t really think about, like once you’re in that hole, in the studio, you’ve got blinders on, and you’re there to do something…we don’t really put on records and think hey, let’s do something like that. It really is by each other like Dean was saying. I don’t really think about where we fit in the landscape, and in the world, I think that’s other people’s jobs to do once we make the record and art we want to make. Our label and management didn’t hear anything until we were done. In my mind it’s just like, let’s just make the best thing we can make, for us. And hopefully our fans,  love it too, and actually get out alive.

Dean: Or die together. Getting pizza tattoos. (Laughing)

NT: The song Sicily, did you bring strings into that or did you add that, and wanted to ask about the gear you used for this record, some great bass and swirling panning effects, neat tricks like that.

Dean: You talk about a song like Sicily, I’m trying to remember, some of that came directly from a demo we made at Josh’s house. We stacked a bunch of key sounds together to get that riff, the main riff, and I don’t remember what those were. We were looking for the weirdest sounds we could find, and we weren’t thinking it was going to stay. So in addition to these staples with Queens that are identifiably consistent through a lot of records, One thing we always do is look for that outsider element, quirkier thing… the thing that no one wants to put on a record and that’s what we’ll do.

NT: It’s been a while since the last album, fans are very thirsty for new material – can we expect any B- sides for this one?

Dean: I don’t know if there will be, there’s material that’s still there but we’ve shifted to tour mode, I don’t know if we’ll be back in the studio for a bit now. It’s been a while since we put out a record, I don’t remember that process other than that was our initiation into Queens, we recorded 3 or 4 B-sides for Era. I think there was a bigger demand for that exclusivity, I don’t know if it is as much now.

Mikey: We didn’t do B-sides for clockwork, villains?

Dean: No.

Mikey: I think we’re sort of like; these are the songs; this is the record. There was, of course, other songs we worked on that didn’t get finished. If you look at Straitjacket Fitting or Time and Place, those are two songs we started recording during “…Like Clockwork”. Those could have been B-sides, I guess, but they didn’t get finished and we didn’t find the right puzzle piece until this record.

NT: Straight Jacket Fitting is like 9 minutes long…

Mikey: Is it? Wow.

NT: It’s got a great acoustic bookend to finish the album, and a great song with so many parts to it. I guess from your response you didn’t set out to write a 9-minute song?

Mikey: Nope.

Dean: Nope. What was I saying earlier about knowing when to stop?
(both laughing)

Order In Times New Roman… by Queens of the Stone Age HERE


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