Random Rules: Jesse Hughes of Eagles Of Death Metal
The shuffler: Jesse "Boots Electric" Hughes, who stomps out grimy boogie-rock in his band, Eagles Of Death Metal. The mustachioed singer and his good-time gang are touring the States into December behind the just-released Heart On, recorded with Hughes' in-studio bandmate, Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age. Having forgotten each of his four hot-pink iPods at home, Hughes offered to put his "brain on shuffle" instead: "I'll deny it if it's ever asked of me, but because I love you already, I am going to do drugs live on this interview." Hence our first Random Rules selection is a bit out of the ordinary.
Pharma-grade meth, "full-tilt boogie"
Jesse Hughes: I'm excited about this. I spent the better part of six hours yesterday tracking this UCLA chemistry student down—no shit—and he has built a laboratory in his parents' house in Pasadena where he makes pharmaceutical-grade methamphetamine. It's full-tilt boogie. It costs more than cocaine. And it's quite an expérience. I'm about to snort up two fingers of crank right now, and we're going to get down. Listen to this, boy, here we go. Hope you can hear the snorking.
"Talkin' Meth" by Jesse Hughes
Bob & Earl, "Harlem Shuffle"
JH: [Audibly snorts twice.] Oh wow! Oh shit! Oh wow, dude! Oh fuck. Oh my God. [Long pause.] So "Harlem Shuffle" is one of the first great soul songs which demonstrates you can make a track that'll never be forgotten, but you can have a band that will be, almost immediately. You've never heard of Bob & Earl, but you hear part of this song all the time: the horn section at the beginning of House Of Pain's "Jump Around." My girl and I—although I'd like to, I can't tell you her name, because it would be a bit sensational; let's just say her name is Coco Bubbles—every time Coco and I put on this song, we do the nasty. [Pause.] Man, that shit that I got I'm telling you right now, it's so good, it's crazy.
The A.V. Club: This is your first time trying this guy's stuff?
JH: It's like my third. I went to rehab a while ago, 'cause everybody was convinced that I had a problem with drugs, but I was like, "I have no problem. I love them." I went to Promises [Treatment Center] and I learned something: There is no disease with drugs or alcohol; there are simply people who whine too much and people who don't. Watching someone who sold their child to a crack dealer feel sorry for themselves because it was a "disease" makes me want to beat their fucking head in. I've learned that if something sucks, I stop. I've never not been able to pay the bills, and I'll tell you right now: I don't know what any of what I just said means, but what I'm doing right now makes me want to pay everybody's bills.
Gerry Rafferty, "Right Down The Line"
JH: Rafferty is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. He's one of the greatest enigmas of Hollywood, because he used to be in the band Stealers Wheel, where he wrote "Stuck In The Middle With You." Then he wrote [soft-rock mainstay] "Baker Street," you know, with that sax line in the beginning? [Sings.] "Bum-bah-bum-bu-na-na-na." Listen to that song and you'll hear an artist who deeply influenced Dave Grohl's songwriting; Foo Fighters actually covered "Baker Street." But "Right Down The Line" is one of the sweetest love songs of the '70s. And listening to it as someone who makes music, it has amazing production value, too. This dude set out to make truly beautiful music.
AVC: Considering the "shuffle" factor, we're bound to run into a guilty pleasure
JH: Let me hit the "shuffle" button in my brain again.
Britney Spears, "Piece Of Me"
JH: I'll go on record with this: I love Britney Spears. I think she's great. I really do. I don't think anyone has the right to look down on her. She's accomplished more shit simply as a performer than most people will accomplish in their actual lives. Hold on a second, dude, my mother's on the other line. Let me just tell her to stop calling. [One minute passes.] Hello? Dude, my mom's so rad. She's like, "You're doing an interview with The Onion? Awesome!" See, we love The Onion.
AVC: That's great, but what about Britney?
JH: I have every Britney Spears album ever made, and I ain't ashamed of that. She gets the best producers and songwriters money can buy, and puts them to work on her albums. That sounds like a pretty good production effort to me. And she's got hot tits and a wonderful ass and she likes to make herself beautiful, just for me. If somebody puts on Britney Spears and you ain't dancing, it's probably because you're Stephen Hawking.
AVC: Do you aspire to that level of fame and power, to hire the best of the best and sit back as they do your musical bidding?
JH: I don't have to aspire to that, because I have the best of the best producing my records already.
AVC: Should we go to song number four now?
JH: Do you know what time it is right now?
AVC: It's about elev—
JH: It's 4:20, baby! It's 4:20. Since I can't "puff-puff-pass," I'm just going to puff-puff the magic dragon.
Queens Of The Stone Age, "I Never Came"
JH: Lullabies To Paralyze is one of the greatest records ever made, and it's just sad that nobody knew that. [Sounds of a rolling paper being licked.] "I Never Came" is one of those songs that can immediately break your heart, and I use music to make me feel shit—so I can feel it when I want to, not when the feeling wants me to have it. For instance, if I know I'm about to feel sad or have a heartbreak, I want to take the punch right away. Songs like "I Never Came" help me immediately push the issue so I can make it come to a head.
AVC: Would you follow that up with something more upbeat to get going again?
JH: Absolutely. I always follow it with Jungle Brothers' "Straight Out The Jungle."
AVC: Well fancy that, it just popped up in the iPod.
Jungle Brothers, "Straight Out The Jungle"
JH: This song is from that weird, early era of hip-hop when it was trying to be pop-radio-friendly, but also stay black. I like Jungle Brothers especially because their whole trip is making the beats really middy—they put 'em in the "mids"—and making it thump. I actually like to follow this song up with Audio Two's "Top Billin'," one of the first rap songs of any sort. It's just a drumbeat and MC Lyte's brother, Milk Dee, rapping. You listen to that, and you're literally hearing the foundation of almost every rap song that came after. It's a rare thing when you can hear so much of the source in itself. "Top Billin'" starts right up: "MC am I, people call me Milk / when I'm busting up a party, I feel no guilt." I mean, what a fucking great way to start a song!
AVC: Is the "Daisy Age" period—i.e. Jungle Brothers or A Tribe Called Quest—your favorite rap era?
JH: A Tribe Called Quest is one of my favorite fucking bands, period. You can't fuck with Midnight Marauders. If you put that record on and there's a girl within a hundred feet of you, you're getting laid. But I'm a real person who believes good music transcends time. Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" is just as good as The Roots' "Web," or just as good as something by Erykah Badu. I do typically think there was a greater selection of better rap a long time ago, but that's just the nature of all things.
AVC: That's music in general; there's so much available now that the best stuff is obscured.
JH: All time is happening at once. I think we've finally gotten to that point.
AVC: Especially if you're using that UCLA kid's stuff, evidently.
JH: I just levitated my phone across the room.
AVC: And, miraculously, your voice stayed with the phone the entire time.
JH: That's the Bluetooth, my friend.
The Carter Family, "Carter's Blues"
JH: I'm from Greenville, South Carolina. I'm a hillbilly. My roots in music are gospel, which I heard in church, and country—"hillbilly music" is what I call it. And when Joshua [Homme] and I were first putting together Eagles Of Death Metal, figuring out what it would be, I always felt like it was hillbilly music. I don't think that it's a very wise decision to ever get too far from the source.
AVC: What do you like about this song in particular?
JH: It's one of the first songs I can remember hearing and liking, and there's great pain and suffering behind the words. It's the sort of stuff that makes you obsess about what could have gone on to make that song happen, and it's that kind of curiosity that can lead you to a place where you can write a song of your own.
KISS, "King Of The Night Time World"
JH: I listen to KISS a lot. I should qualify that. I listen to early KISS quite a bit, for many reasons. First of all, the very first concert I went to was KISS' Destroyer tour with my dad at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in 1977. It changed my life. I remember Ted Nugent opened for them, and that he blew KISS away.
AVC: You said it was 1977? That means you were—
JH: Five years old. My daddy was in a rock band called The Marshall Tucker Band, so I got to go to a lot of rock shows. I love KISS, and I based a lot of my songwriting formula on those guys, but when a dude like Ted Nugent can come out with nothing but a codpiece on and use the power of rock itself to accomplish what KISS needed makeup and pyrotechnics to do Well, that's a powerful lesson, my friend, even at age 5. Since, of course, Gene Simmons has grown into the biggest cocksucker the world has ever known. I have a copy of his interview with Terry Gross from NPR. If you had even a slightly decent mother raising you, you want to beat this motherfucker's ass five minutes into it just for disrespecting a lady so much. It's vulgar and outrageous, and there's nothing attractive about it, and he doesn't even realize that, and that's sad.
Eagles Of Death Metal, "Speaking In Tongues"
JH: I listen to this song all the time to remind myself that it's good to make music that doesn't suck. That song is my voodoo magic song, man; that song made me. It's played now in sporting events along with "We Will Rock You." That's fucking magic. I believe in God and I believe in the devil, and you know rock 'n' roll ain't no Bible study, so who is the god of Hollywood? It sure as shit ain't the Lord himself. The quickening process that took place when I was making my first album was very bizarre. I was walking home from a bar one night, and I had smoked some weed. And, I don't know how else to describe it, dude, I went into a trance while walking. I remember snapping out of it when I got back to my apartment and I had the words and the music, in total, for "Speaking In Tongues." I sat down at my computer and I improvised it right there in one take. I listen to "Speaking In Tongues" to remind me that the devil ain't far behind me, and he's nipping at my heels.