Formed after the dissolution of Homme's previous band, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age developed a style of riff-oriented, heavy rock music. Their sound has since evolved to incorporate a variety of different styles and influences, including working with Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, and Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan who has been a steady contributor to the band.
After the breakup of his previous band, Kyuss, in 1995, Josh Homme briefly joined Screaming Trees as a touring guitarist, before deciding to form a new band, Gamma Ray. In 1996 they released the eponymous Gamma Ray EP, featuring "Born to Hula" and "If Only Everything" (which would later appear on their self-titled debut as 'If Only'). The EP featured Matt Cameron of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, Van Conner from Screaming Trees, and percussionist Victor Indrizzo.
Gamma Ray changed their name in 1997 after the German power metal band Gamma Ray threatened to sue. The name "Queens of the Stone Age" came from a nickname given to Kyuss by their producer Chris Goss. Homme said of the name: "Kings would be too macho. The Kings of the Stone Age wear armor and have axes and wrestle. The Queens of the Stone Age hang out with the Kings of the Stone Age's girlfriends when they wrestle ... Rock should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the girls. That way everyone's happy and it's more of a party. Kings of the Stone Age is too lopsided."
The first release under the Queens of the Stone Age name was the song "18 A.D.," released on the compilation album Burn One Up! Music for Stoners which featured members of the Dutch stoner rock band Beaver. The band's first live appearance was on November 20, 1997, at OK Hotel in Seattle, Washington, with Cameron on drums, Mike Johnson of Dinosaur Jr. on bass and John McBain of Monster Magnet on guitar. In December that year, the band released a split EP, Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age, which featured three tracks from the Gamma Ray sessions as well as three Kyuss tracks recorded in 1995 prior to their breakup.
Soon after the recording sessions were finished for the album, former Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri joined the group, and touring commenced with a band consisting entirely of ex-Kyuss members. Guitarist Dave Catching joined shortly after. From this point forward, the band's line-up would change frequently; by the time their second album was being recorded, Hernández had left the group to play in other bands.
The album garnered positive reviews and received a lot more attention than their debut, despite the fact that the lyrics to "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" were deemed by mega-retailer Wal-Mart to promote drug use, almost causing the record to get pulled from store shelves. The success of the record also earned the band notable opening slots with The Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Hole, and a place at Ozzfest 2000. It was during this time that Homme stated:
There's a robotic element to our albums, like the repetition of riffs. We also wanted to do a record that had a lot of dynamic range. We wanted to set it up in this band so we could play anything. We don't want to get roped in by our own music. If anyone has a good song (regardless of style) we should be able to play it.
During the 2001 Rock in Rio show, bassist Nick Oliveri was arrested after performing on stage naked, with only his bass guitar covering his genitals. Oliveri apologized to officials, saying that he did not know it was a crime in Brazil.
Following his work on Rated R, former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan joined the band as a full-time member, a position he held until early 2005.
Towards the end of the Rated R tour, the band's performance at the 2001 Rock am Ring festival in Germany was, according to Homme, "the worst show we've ever played and it was in front of 40,000 people." The band decided to tattoo themselves with the starting time of the performance, "Freitag 4:15." As Oliveri explained:
Me, Mark [Lanegan], Josh [Homme] and Hutch, our soundman, have the same tattoo, it's from Rock am Ring festival. The time we had to play was 4:15 in the afternoon and it was just a terrible show. It sucked, it was horrible. That's why I tattooed it on my ribs, where it would hurt, so I'd never forget.
— Oliveri, interview with Daredevil Magazine (2005)
Songs for the Deaf, mainstream exposure and Oliveri's departure (2001–2004)
This record was supposed to sound bizarre—like lightning in a bottle. We also were extremely fucked up. It even sounds that way to me, like a crazy person. The radio interludes are supposed to be like the drive from L.A. to Joshua Tree, a drive that makes you feel like you’re letting go—more David Lynch with every mile.
Songs for the Deaf was a critical hit and was certified gold in 2003, with sales of over 900,000. The singles "No One Knows" and "Go with the Flow" became hits on radio and MTV, with the former just outside the Billboard Top 40. "No One Knows" and "Go with the Flow" were also featured on the first iterations of the popular video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band (respectively). The song "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire" was featured as the theme song in Naughty Dog's "Jak X: Combat Racing" in 2005 along with "A Song For The Dead".
The Songs for the Deaf tour culminated in a string of headline dates in Australia in January 2004. Grohl returned to his other projects and was replaced on the European leg of the tour by former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo, who joined the band full-time. After the tour, Homme fired Oliveri, as he was convinced that Oliveri had been physically abusive to his girlfriend: "A couple years ago, I spoke to Nick about a rumor I heard. I said, 'If I ever find out that this is true, I can't know you, man.'" Homme considered breaking up the band after firing Oliveri, but found a new determination to continue. Oliveri countered in the press that the band had been "poisoned by hunger for power" and that without him, they were "Queens Lite." He later softened his opinion and said: "My relationship with Josh is good. The new Queens record kicks ass." The two reportedly are still friends and as of October 2006, Oliveri was interested in rejoining the band. Oliveri later contributed to a Queens of the Stone Age for the first time in nine years, contributing backing vocals to the band's sixth album, ...Like Clockwork.
In late 2004, Homme, along with Eleven multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes and remaining band members Van Leeuwen and Castillo recorded the Queens' fourth studio album, Lullabies to Paralyze, a title taken from a lyric in "Mosquito Song" from their previous album. The album featured guests including ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons. Despite Lanegan reportedly turning down an invitation to remain with the band, he recorded vocals on new tracks (notably the solo vocalist on the opening track "This Lullaby") and appeared on the supporting tour as scheduling and his health permitted.
Lullabies to Paralyze was leaked onto the internet in February 2005 and was aired by Triple J radio in Australia on March 3, 2005 as an unsubstantiated 'World Premiere'. It was then officially released on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 in the US, debuting in the number 5 slot on the Billboard Music Chart, the greatest debut of any Queens record until ...Like Clockwork debuted at number 1 in June 2013.
On May 14, 2005, the group was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Will Ferrell. One of Ferrell's popular Saturday Night Live characters, fictional Blue Öyster Cult cowbellist Gene Frenkle, made a re-appearance on the show, playing with the Queens on their first song of the night, "Little Sister." Frenkle played the song's wood block part using a cowbell along with the band.
Another onstage guest for the December 20 performance was Homme's former Kyuss bandmate John Garcia, the first time that Homme and Garcia had played together since 1997. As a special encore they performed three Kyuss songs: "Thumb," "Hurricane" and "Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop." Homme stated that the band's lowest point was during the Lullabies era, but that the record "took the lead jacket off" the band following the firing of Oliveri in 2004.
On Valentine's Day 2007, the band's official website announced the new album would be titled Era Vulgaris, and would be released in June. Later in February, teaser videos surfaced showing Homme, Castillo, Van Leeuwen and Johannes in studio. Several sites reported that the album would include many guest vocalists, including Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, Mark Lanegan, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and deceased humorist Erma Bombeck. Death from Above 1979 bassist Jesse F. Keeler had been expected to play bass on the studio recording of the album, but not to tour; however, due to schedule conflicts, he stated he would not be appearing on the album.
Era Vulgaris was completed in early April 2007 and released June 12, 2007 in the US. The tracks "Sick, Sick, Sick" and "3's & 7's" were released as singles in early June. Homme has described the record as "dark, hard, and electrical, sort of like a construction worker." When asked about the vocals on the record, specifically the different style of singing that Homme used, he replied:
I wanted to try some shit that was downright embarrassing at first. This record is a grower, not about what isn’t there, but what is.
The band began a North American Tour in 2007, which they named the "Duluth Tour" because they were going to many small towns and cities they had never played before, such as Duluth, Minnesota. The tour was extended to other areas, such as the United Kingdom, where the band played more shows than on any of their previous UK tours. The band toured in Australia in late March to early April 2008, on the V festival tour, including a string of side shows. Throughout the beginning of May 2008, the band completed the Canadian leg of its touring.
In November 2007, Queens of the Stone Age performed a semi-acoustic set in an underground salt mine in Germany, performing a selection of hits, rarities, covers and an unreleased song named "Cathedral City." A DVD of the concert was planned but aside from a trailer promoting the DVD and a number of photographs, no footage of the concert has been released.
On July 2, 2008, Queens of the Stone Age's former keyboardist Natasha Shneider died of lung cancer at the age of 52. The news broke with a message posted on the MySpace page of the band Sweethead, of which Natasha's close friend and former bandmate Troy Van Leeuwen is a member. qotsa.com was updated with a memorial message by Homme replacing the normal front page. The band performed a concert in celebration of Natasha Shneider's life at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on August 16, 2008. They were joined on stage by Shneider's husband Alain Johannes, Jack Black and Kyle Gass, Matt Cameron, Brody Dalle, Jesse Hughes, Chris Goss and PJ Harvey, playing a variety of QOTSA and non-QOTSA songs, including covers of songs from bands such as Cream and The Doors. Tenacious D and PJ Harvey also performed acoustic sets at the show. Proceeds from the concert went to defray the costs associated with Natasha’s illness.
On August 22 and 23 2008, Queens of the Stone Age performed the last shows of their Era Vulgaris tour at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in the UK, and Josh Homme announced in an interview with the BBC and during the show that he would be returning to the studio to work on the next album.
Homme's health issues, debut re-release and promotional tour (2009–2011)
During 2009 and 2010, band members worked on side projects during the down time. Troy Van Leeuwen started up a new band, Sweethead. Joey Castillo played for Eagles of Death Metal on their Heart On tour. Bassist Michael Shuman continued his work as drummer and vocalist with Mini Mansions, while Dean Fertita became the guitarist/keyboardist for Jack White's newest group, The Dead Weather. Josh Homme formed supergroupThem Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. After Them Crooked Vultures finished touring in June, the band toured and released a two-CD deluxe edition of Rated R on August 3, 2010. This edition featured the original CD along with six B-sides and live recordings from the band's Reading performance in 2000.
In 2010, Homme suffered from complications during a botched knee surgery, during which his heart stopped for a short time due to asphyxiation; doctors had to use a defibrillator to revive him. Following this, he was bedridden for four months and plunged into a deep depression, during which he considered giving up his music career altogether. He elaborated on this experience further in an interview on Marc Maron's WTF podcast, explaining that he had contracted a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection which his immune system could not fight due to stress. Homme has since said that the experience contributed greatly to the writing and recording of ...Like Clockwork.
After Homme recovered, Queens of the Stone Age released a remastered version of their self-titled debut album in early 2011, and performed the album in its entirety in a promotional tour. The band performed on Conan on April 14, and later played at the Australian music festival Soundwave. Throughout the summer of 2011, the band appeared at various European festivals, including the Glastonbury Festival, in Somerset, UK. They also played at Pearl Jam's 20th Anniversary Festival at Alpine Valley in East Troy, WI on September 3 and 4, 2011, which would be their last with drummer Joey Castillo.
Plans to record a follow-up to Era Vulgaris had been mentioned since 2008, but recording would not begin until August 2012. In March 2011, Homme stated, "Doing the rehearsals for the first record is really defining the new one. It's been turning the new record into something else. What we were doing was bluesy, and now it's turned into this trancey, broken thing. The robots are coming home!" According to Homme, the album would be finished by the end of 2012. He explained to BBC Radio 1, "We're going to take our one last break that we would get for a month, come back and do Glastonbury, then immediately jump in the studio. Our record will be done by the end of the year. We have enough songs."
In November 2011, frequent collaborator Alain Johannes stated in regard to his studio work with the band: "We had a late night with Queens of the Stone Age again. [...] Just putting in days, super top secret, but it’s going to be amazing. I’m really excited about it. [...] Once we start the process, it goes to completion. So I can’t say exactly when, but it’s a really good start."
On August 20, 2012, the band stated via a Facebook status update that they were "recording" their new album.
In September 2012, it was revealed that Homme and producer Dave Sardy co-wrote and recorded a song entitled "Nobody To Love," which is featured during the end credits of the film End of Watch.
In November 2012, Homme informed BBC's Zane Lowe that Joey Castillo had left the band and that drums on the new album would be performed by Dave Grohl, who also performed on Songs for the Deaf. Homme also confirmed with Lowe that the album would be released prior to their performance at the Download Festival in June 2013. In addition to Grohl, other former members contributing to the album include former bassists Nick Oliveri and Johannes, and vocalist Mark Lanegan.
In early 2013, Homme and fellow Queens contributors including Alain Johannes and Chris Goss recorded for the soundtrack of Dave Grohl's Sound City: Real to Reel. Goss, Johannes and Homme were on three tracks each. Josh's notably included a collaboration with Grohl and Trent Reznor called Mantra, and he was also featured in the film in an interview segment. Goss and Johannes were both featured members in the Sound City Players, playing Masters of Reality, Eleven, and Desert Sessions songs, as well as their penned tunes from the soundtrack. Former Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder also contributed to the soundtrack.
In March 2013, Queens of the Stone Age announced that the new album, entitled ...Like Clockwork, would be released in June 2013 on Matador Records. A press release, issued by Matador at 9:00am EST on March 26, 2013, revealed further details of the album, including further guest appearances: Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and UNKLE's James Lavelle. In addition to Grohl's contribution, the record also features performances by former drummer Castillo, as well as tracks by new drummer Jon Theodore (ex-The Mars Volta, One Day as a Lion). Queens Of The Stone Age premiered a new song "My God Is The Sun" at Lollapalooza Brasil on March 30, 2013, a performance in which Theodore made his live debut. The studio version of the song premiered on Lowe's BBC Radio 1 program on April 8, 2013.
...Like Clockwork was released on June 3, 2013 on Matador Records in the UK and on June 4 in the United States. Self-produced by the band, it is the first Queens of the Stone Age album to feature full contributions from bassist Michael Shuman and keyboardist and guitarist Dean Fertita. The album debuted in the number one position in the US and is the first QOTSA album to achieve this ranking.
Following a performance by QOTSA at the Jay Z-owned Made In America Festival in the summer of 2013, Homme made comments about the rap star during a radio interview with CBC Radio 2's Strombo Show. Homme explained that his band was frisked by the event's security team prior to the performance and referred to Jay Z's personal interaction with the band as a marketing stunt. Homme stated:
He has his security frisking the bands on the way in. I just told them if you open up my bag I'm not playing so I guess it's up to you whether we are playing or not ... The idea they frisked all my guys, means you're in some different place, no-one has ever done that [to me] ... He also gave us some champagne and wanted us to take a photo with it. And I thought, "That's not a gift, that is a marketing tool." So I destroyed it. Because I thought it was rude overall. And you shouldn't frisk my guys, you should fuck off.
The ...Like Clockwork tour culminated with a Halloween party at The Forum in Los Angeles, featuring guests such as The Kills, JD McPherson and Nick Oliveri's band Uncontrollable. The band's performance featured an appearance from Oliveri who played songs with them during the encore set, including songs such as "Auto Pilot" and "Quick and to the Pointless" which had not been performed in a decade.
In January 2014, Homme told Rolling Stone magazine the band would start recording a new album when they finished their tour for ...Like Clockwork. In June 2014, Homme performed a solo acoustic show at James Lavelle's Meltdown festival, featuring guest performances from Troy Van Leeuwen and Mark Lanegan. During this gig, Homme played a new song called "Villains of Circumstance," which was performed again at another acoustic set in 2016. The band indicated in February 2015, when it was announced they are to play Rock in Rio 2015 in Rio de Janeiro in September, that they were about to record a new album. Despite this, in March 2016, Michael Shuman revealed that the band were on a break.
During this period, the members of the band worked on various other projects. Josh Homme and Dean Fertita contributed to Iggy Pop's 2016 album Post Pop Depression and subsequent tour, while Troy van Leeuwen joined the rock supergroup Gone Is Gone with plans to release an EP and a studio album. In May 2016, Van Leeuwen announced plans to record Queens of the Stone Age's seventh studio album "sometime this year."
In January 2017, Troy Sanders from Mastodon and Gone Is Gone said Queens of the Stone Age will release a new album later in the year. Following this, the band posted several photos on social media featuring their studio and announced that they would be performing at the Fuji Rock Festival in July, their first performance in Japan since 2003. The band updated their social media accounts with a new logo and the words "Coming Twentyfive" on April 6, 2017, and announced a tour of Australia and New Zealand to begin in July.
On June 14, 2017, Queens of the Stone Age announced their new album Villains which was released on August 25, 2017. The teaser trailer took the form of a comedy skit featuring the band performing a polygraph test with Liam Lynch along with an appearance of the album's producer Mark Ronson, and featured a snippet of the song "Feet Don't Fail Me." The first single, "The Way You Used to Do," was released the following day along with the announcement of a world tour. The second advance single from the album, “The Evil Has Landed,” was released August 10, 2017.
On December 9th, 2017, while on stage during the KROQ Acoustic Christmas concert in Inglewood, California, Josh Homme kicked a photographer's camera into her face, sending her to the ER. Homme, who was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident, later apologized through an Instagram video, saying "I hope you’re OK, and I’m truly sorry. And I understand you have to do whatever you have to do. I just want you to know that I’m sorry. Goodnight, godspeed.”