Jokester band gets serious
'Eagles' show maturity with latest album
Jesse Hughes tries to learn a bit of the local language wherever he is. The charismatic frontman for garage act The Eagles of Death Metal said addressing someone in their own language - even if just to tell them you don't speak it - is always much appreciated.
"There's something about tongues, when they're licking you in your own language," he said. "It's just so much sweeter."
Hughes may sound like a joker, and on the surface, his band seems like a joke too: The misleading name, the cock-rock aesthetic, the punny album titles. An American version of The Darkness with a touch of The Rolling Stones. It's true that the band was born from a joke - a kind of late-night thought experiment. What would a band with that name sound like, anyway? But behind it all, the group is serious about their craft, and Hughes is too. Life-or-death serious.
Hughes was struggling with a divorce in 2003 and was quickly spiraling into addiction. His mother, fearing for his life, called Hughes' long-time friend and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme. His friend, remembering the years-old joke, asked Hughes to write some songs as The Eagles of Death Metal. Out of his mind on drugs, Hughes treated the request as a joke.
"It sounds lame, but you can really put yourself into a headspace when you're going through trauma, that however pretentious, will still feel real," Hughes said. "I felt that everything was a joke. That dominated my life for the first two albums, so that's how I wrote all the songs."
The original idea - hillbilly blues over stripper beats - still comes through on this fall's "Heart On." The humor is there, too. But there is something new on the band's third release, a sense that Hughes and Homme are reaching for new heights musically, experimenting with some different styles. Hughes calls the album their most deliberate to date.
"This was the first time that I felt that I was able to give Joshua weapons he could really fire," he said. "When you're able to watch the best of the best, working with Joshua Homme, you learn something."
The radio-safe "Wannabe In LA" is the album's single, a fuzzy two-minute memoir from a rocker that turned over his ethics for success. But the final song, "I'm Your Torpedo," is the record's true treasure. Detroit garage rock guitar floods a thick drum beat, and Homme and Hughes share a duet. The drummer-frontman harmony on this track is more illustrative of the band than the single's moody, world-weary narrator.
Hughes is quick to decry bands where ego trumps the music. He has first-hand experience. The Eagles of Death Metal had a run-in with Axl Rose, who dropped them from a Guns N' Roses tour after one show in 2006. Rose called the band the "Pigeons of Shit Metal."
"In this business, people will fucking turn on you and it's almost expected and accepted," Hughes said. "We've never had that. There's plenty of time for ego anyway - that's what the live show is for. Dick shaking, pet-me-I'm-a-kitty-cat kind of moves."
If there is ego in the Eagles of Death Metal, it's not coming from Homme. Already a frontman for his own band, he's content to sit behind the kit and let Hughes - a self-described mustachioed, freaky hillbilly - lead the band. The pair handles the songwriting duties on albums but is joined by a backing band for tours. And then, Hughes has only one mission.
"I got my ass kicked, my lunch money taken away and girls did not have sex with me on purpose every day when I went to school," he said. "That's what Eagles of Death Metal ultimately is all about. Me getting back at the bullies and finally getting laid."
The Eagles of Death Metal perform a late show Tuesday at the 9:30 club with openers The Duke Spirit. Doors are at 10 p.m., and tickets are $15.
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