Nick Oliveri has been hammering out bass lines since he was a teenager in the late ’80s. He started out with the bands Kyuss and the Dwarves, but he is perhaps most recognized for his stint with Josh Homme’s post-Kyuss band Queens of the Stone Age, where he contributed songwriting, bass, and vocals on numerous songs like “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” from 2002’s Songs for the Deaf. After a bitter split from Homme and the Queens camp in 2004, Oliveri focused on his own band Mondo Generator as well as solo, acoustic material.
In recent years, Oliveri gained a reputation for anger issues. In 2011, a fight with his girlfriend turned into a five-hour standoff with the Los Angeles S.W.A.T. He was arrested on charges of felony domestic violence and drug possession, but avoided jail time by accepting a plea for possession and taking anger management classes. From that incident, Oliveri crafted the song “The Robot Man”, referring to the automaton sent to break down his front door. Along with “The Robot Man”, Oliveri’s latest solo album, Leave Me Alone, is filled with punk-metal songs stemming from his struggles, triumphs, and tragedies. The album is fire and brimstone, rage and frustration, and far more in line with Oliveri’s work with other bands than his previous solo material.
Catching up with Oliveri proved to be a pleasant experience. He cracked jokes left and right, and his carefree demeanor betrayed any image of the rage-filled wild man he may have been seen as a few years ago.
You’ve released two solo acoustic albums, 2004’s Demolition Day and Death Acoustic in 2009. Leave Me Alone is your first foray into the electric realm. What prompted the new approach?
I just thought it would be better to go out and play the songs with a band. My band Mondo Generator was having babies and stuff like that. They were taking a little time off, not a whole lot, just enough time where I just wanted to finish writing the tunes and record them myself. I wanted to try to play drums and was giving it my best shot.
How’d that turn out for you?
It turned out good, but I’m used to playing with some really good drummers. I’ve been lucky on that level. Not good enough is what I’m saying.
You self-produced this album, and not including a handful of guest guitarists, you played every instrument.
I did, but I had some help with production from the guys that recorded it at Thunder Underground, Harper Hug, and Trevor Whatever. They were pretty hands-on as well.
Let’s talk about the name Uncontrollable. You’ve used this name in a few settings, like acoustic sets with Blag Dahlia of the Dwarves, and this project is called Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable. You’ve indicated that it came from your childhood. What is Uncontrollable?
When I was a kid, in sixth grade or something, I used to draw bands on my Pee Chee folder. If somebody asked me, I’d be like, “Yeah, the band’s called Uncontrollable.” I didn’t have a band. I was just talking shit. I wanted to have a band, and I really believed that I would have this band one day. So far it hasn’t happened. For now, it’s a one-man band, though I had some really great guitar soloists that made the songs better.
Are you going to tour this album on your own or with a band?
With a band. In fact, I’m actually in the desert right now. We’re going to rehearse today.
Who’s lined up for your band?
It’s Mike Pygmie on guitar, Jeff Bowman, who’s an old drummer from this band Unsound, and Stephen Haas, who plays in the Moistboyz as well, on second guitar.
You’ve said that you take a different approach than the traditional singer-songwriter and like to do songs that freak people out, even yourself. When you say “freak people out,” are you talking lyrically, musically, or both?
Honestly, I would love to freak people out with music. I don’t know if I’ve ever accomplished that. I like what I do. The people that I play with, I like the music that they bring in. I don’t know if my songs make you say, “Whoa,” but I’ve definitely written with some weird time [signatures]. Maybe my timing is just off. Somebody said, “Yeah, you do weird times,” and I was like, “I don’t know how to count.”
What is something that personally freaks you out?
I am not afraid of a lot of things, but I don’t really like spiders. I wouldn’t hold a tarantula and say, “It’s cool.” They probably are pretty cool, probably a great pet to have, but I just don’t like ’em. It’s not that I want to step on it or anything. I just don’t want anything to do with it. I don’t have a spider tattooed on me because that would be pretty fake. I wouldn’t want one on me.
You’d be swatting at it the entire time.
It’d be a bummer.
You’ve alluded in the past that you don’t like to write or make stuff up that you haven’t experienced. This album is no exception. “Human Cannonball Explodes” is about your car accident. “The Robot Man” comes out of the S.W.A.T. incident. Both of these incidents could have also ended far more tragically for you. Is escaping from situations like these what led you to lyrics like “It seems death is shadowing me” on “Death Leads the Way” or writing a song like “The Void”?
I kind of felt I needed to write the S.W.A.T. team thing because I wanted to drop the song off with the police. I am. I’m going to go down and give them one and say, “Hey, this song here is for the S.W.A.T. team.” I guess they were cool about it. They could have killed me, you know. The S.W.A.T. team would have killed me in a second if I’d had my gun.
You said the “wild guy” rep came out of being in Queens of the Stone Age. Were you mellower when playing in Kyuss or the Dwarves? I have a hard time believing anyone associated with the Dwarves wouldn’t be wild and crazy.
I think all the guys in the band to a certain level liked to have a good time. Maybe I would get a little wild, but everybody kind of did. I just always was the one getting caught. Also, to be honest, it was kind of a plan. I remember Josh going, “You’re going to do a lot of interviews and be crazy, and I’m going to be the silent one.” That was the plan; that’s what we talked about. And we saw it through. Josh is pretty good about that. He knows what he wants to do as far as approaching certain things. And the timing being right for some things. I’ve been asking him to let me come onstage and sing a song or something for like 10 years.
You got to play with him, finally, in April.
Yeah, it was great. It was super fun, man.
How emotional was that for you?
It was cool; it was great. It was comfortable. The only thing uncomfortable about it was that I was just holding a microphone and singing and not playing the bass or guitar. I never really know what to do without an instrument in my hand. I feel awkward. It was an awkward thing, actually. But it felt really great. Everything else was comfortable about it. I like getting up and jamming with the guys. They do in-ears now [inner-ear monitors], and it was a screaming song, a “whaaa!” song, so I kind of just went for it, and I think it turned out. I didn’t have any monitors, but for a song like that, I don’t think you need them; you kind of just go for it.
Was it a spontaneous thing?
It was. Josh had the Moistboyz open up, and I was playing with the Moistboyz, which is Mickey from Ween and Guy Heller. They’re a great band, one of my favorites. They kill it. So I got to tour with them when Mickey came back. Mickey is one of Josh’s favorite guitar players, and I invited him down to an LA show. He came down, and we were over at my house later that night, and everybody was just hanging and then someone said, “We should open for you guys.” And [Josh] made it happen. He took care of everybody and flew us all up, and we played, and it was a super good time.
Did that Portland gig lead to the Halloween gig? I see that you’re playing the same bill with Queens on Halloween.
I think it did, but honestly, I don’t know. Whenever I talk to Josh, every now and again, we kind of rap out. I’ve got a new record, and it’s really cool that it helps me big time. It’s going to be a great first show for the band. I couldn’t tell you how excited I am about it. It’s a big deal for me, just to be able to get up and play at the Forum. I don’t know if it’s a first for him, but definitely is for me with one of my own bands. I know Queens played the Forum with Rage Against the Machine, but Queens is a different band than Uncontrollable. We’re doing our first practice in a couple of hours, actually. We’re gonna kill it, dude, I’m tellin’ ya.
Since it’s Halloween, are you going to dress up in costume by just wearing a shirt?
Yeah, I’m just going to be wearing extra clothes. Actually, I’m having clothes airbrushed on me nude, German style, like Rudy Schenker. I love it. I love the Scorpions, man. I saw that dude play one time, and I was like, “He’s all buff now and tattooed and shit.” He turned and his shirt wrinkled, and I thought, what if I get a costume like that? It’d be great. No, it wouldn’t be. I know what I’m going to dress up as, but I don’t know if I should tell you because then it would just kill it.
All right, I’ll tell ya. I was going to be a prisoner or a S.W.A.T team officer. I think the S.W.A.T. team would be great, don’t you? Pretty good, huh? The prisoner one is pretty good too because my band could be the cops. It sheds a little humor on things. But people don’t like that sense of humor. Most people wouldn’t find it funny, actually. But that’s what’s great about it, and that’s what’s great about Halloween. You’re supposed to scare people and make them go, “Ugh” or “Man, that’s a great costume” or “I hate that costume. I just hate it.” But I think the S.W.A.T. team thing would be great.
You could be the robot.
That’s it, dude. I can go in and try to break doors down.
When you played with the Dwarves, you went by the moniker Rex Everything. Why didn’t you use your real name?
Blag nicknamed me Rex. “You gotta be Rex, man.” Everybody in the band had a nickname. I was over at the original bass player’s house with the band, and we were trying to figure out what my name should be. I got up and I broke something, a vase or something, on accident, and he said, “Rex Everything.” Something shattered, and it immediately came out: “Rex Everything.”
Did you carry that name over in the beginning days of Mondo?
I did. True story. I did.
But then you switched it back?
Sometimes I still use it. I did a new Dwarves record just now. We just made a new one, and I don’t know what he put me in there as. I haven’t looked at the credits.
It was recorded in ’97, and we never did anything with it. The band didn’t want to do anything with it. And then I just started doing other stuff.
You’ll often play songs from a lot of the groups you’ve been fortunate to be a part of. You did a Death Acoustic performance this summer with songs by Uncontrollable, Kyuss, Mondo, Queens … nothing seemed off limits. Are there some songs you just would never entertain doing, either out of respect or spite?
I like to try and butcher people’s songs and I think I do a damn good job at it. I leave mine out of it; I don’t want to ruin my stuff. Mine are already bad. I always end up saying that at the end of an acoustic set that I should have stopped five songs ago. Everybody is fine and done with the show, but there’s always one person saying, “Play ‘Turbonegro’!” or something. They want me to play a song and I’m like, what? I segue and I play and I play, and sometimes it gets really bad. But sometimes it gets really good. That’s the important thing. The times that it is good is when I stick to a setlist and I say that these are the songs that people want to hear and I can pull off halfway good acoustic or whatever I call it: my screaming version of acoustic. It’s a nice version of acoustic, the one that everyone just loves.
You’ve commented before how you prefer screaming over actual singing. Was that the case because you often weren’t the only singer in the band or because you don’t like your singing?
I like my singing. I’ve been trying more and more to not scream every single thing. Sometimes I like that, though. There’s not a lot of people that do that and maybe for good reason. It’s a hard thing to give, and it isn’t easy to do every night. It was easier with the Queens ’cause it was something that was accepted. There’s like three, four songs of screaming. It’s not, “That guy’s yelling at me for 45 minutes.” Some people just don’t like that. That’s OK. I don’t expect people to like it. I like what I do because it’s what I can do, and I better like what I can do.
No doubt. You’ve been doing it a long time.
I’m not limited to it, but it’s what I’m best at. I try to sing some stuff. That “Get Lost with Me” song on the new record … I did it originally with me really singing softly. I went back in to do the vocals on it because they sounded too fluffy. There was too much unnecessary fluff in it. That’s what it sounded like to me. Maybe I was wrong, but I had nobody else to go, “Dude, it’s rad” or “I hate it” or “Yeah, you should change it.” I had to listen to it a bunch, and then I was, “I gotta re-do this.”
Was there any particular inspiration for the acoustic sets? You’re exposing yourself a little bit more on an acoustic set, aren’t you?
The acoustic stuff is because I am not busy and I need to try and make rent sometimes, and acoustic is a way that I can do that. It’s a job. It’s work and I like to work. I call it that because with a band, I guess you can call that work if you want, but with a band, it’s great fun. I’m not saying the acoustic thing isn’t fun, but it’s hard sometimes. It’s shaky. I’ll drink far too much because I’m nervous. It’s nerve-racking to go up onstage by yourself.
There are fewer places to hide.
Yeah. But sometimes it can be really, really cool. Honestly, it can be a really great time. I don’t mean to talk bad about it; I’m just saying that I see it as a job because I have to work really hard at it to make it interesting. Maybe it’s not to some people, and I understand that. Regular acoustic, to me, isn’t very interesting. I’m one of those people that, unless it’s Led Zeppelin or something, I really don’t vibe on all-acoustic stuff. I’m just doing something different because I like to play.
One perk out of it is that you said you’ve noticed more dedicated listeners in your audience.
On this last tour, I did 20 dates in a row in England. That was hard. It was great fun, but it was hard. I had a couple of days where my throat was like “ahhh,” so I’d drink tequila and keep it going. I started back up again in Europe after a Bl’ast tour over there. I did a bunch of acoustic stuff. Some of the shows are dogs, man. I ain’t gonna lie. Some places were great when I expected there to not be anybody there. I’m just saying that if anybody shows up to an acoustic show, I am stoked, man. I’m going in with acoustic. I don’t have any guests or anything like that. I’m not bringing anybody with me.
The best thing about acoustic shows is you meet a ton of people. You meet everybody that comes to the show, basically. And you really get to talk to people, and that can be great on tour. It’s definitely a time killer when you’re sitting around smoking the last 20 cigarettes in a row outside. Time can go pretty slow on tour. I got to meet a lot of people, and I had sex with every one of them, actually. Each and every one of them. (laughs) Nah.
Trust me, I would much rather do a band, but I do like to do the acoustic thing. I think the way I’m going to do it now is on days off on tour with the band. If it’s in a good place or city, it might make sense to do it then.
You’re a great interview. You’re so relaxed and friendly. It’s not the way the likes of TMZ present you. Is your music a way for you to diffuse the way the media portrays you?
I don’t really know. I know how the media portrays me. I can’t be in denial about anything. I can be an angry person. It takes a lot of work to stay calm. And also it’s a lot of work to get angry sometimes. It’s not a weak thing, but it’s a weakness, because at the end of the day you end up getting yourself in some deep shit. Anger is a weird thing. I understand a bit more about it. I used to embrace it more. Now I try to run from it. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t argue and fight. It’s not in my cards.
After your father died in a car accident, Kyuss’ next record was dedicated to him. You left the band shortly thereafter. Was there a connection? Was it the loss, or was your leaving totally independent?
I had a hard time when my dad died. I’m not gonna lie and say that we got along totally great, either. I had a hard time with it, and I still do, but I really had a hard time back then. Maybe I wasn’t doing what was best for the band; I don’t really know. Maybe I was just messing up. I was pretty young, and maybe it got the best of me. I was going in a different direction anyways with how I was feeling and what I was doing to myself. The Dwarves was a good avenue for me to go. I didn’t want to leave the band, but at the same time it was something that had to happen. What was I going to do? I know I can weigh on people after a while. I’m good for a couple years. Though I’m starting to get more mellow as I get older.
You mentioned once that playing with Dave Grohl was some of the most fun you ever had. What is it about playing with him?
It was great fun. I felt I was in a band and every single person in the band was just killing it. Everybody just kind of rose to the occasion. Everybody involved was not just a great name, but a great friend and a great musician. Nobody could do what those guys do. It was great playing with him. It makes you go home and practice. That’s a great thing. You don’t want to be the weak link.
Any plans for another Mondo record?
I would love to do one. I’ve actually been writing some stuff right now for a Bl’ast record, believe it or not. Mike Neider was, “Hey dude, write some Bl’ast stuff.” I’ll try.
A blast from the past, no pun intended.
Yeah, no doubt. It’s good fun, but it’s hard work, that band. But I like the challenge.
It keeps you out of trouble.
It certainly does.