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Fly Like an Eagle of Death Metal: An Interview with Jesse Hughes

on October 01, 2015, 1:00pm

At 43, Jesse Hughes hasn’t become an old man just yet. With the energy of a 16-year-old, he makes the most eccentric man in the world sound like a boozy liar.

The Eagles of Death Metal frontman has an opinion — often obscenity-filled — about everything. “But I’m not a bag of wind!” he insists. Around 30 minutes after our prearranged meeting time, before Eagles of Death Metal’s show in July, Hughes appears at his trendy hotel in the heart of Tel Aviv with two Israeli locals he just met at the falafel stand down the road. He’s dressed in typical Hughes attire: black-and-white-striped t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, suspenders, light jeans, and a neon green trucker cap with “Eagles of Death Metal” printed in Hebrew lettering.

A second after we meet, he’s chatting away on a tangent. Hughes is rarely off one. He sounds bluesy, even lusty when he talks, and when he gets especially riled up on a topic, he’ll bow his head, slap his knee, and speak like a southern debutant, referring to his fans as “the kids.” Hughes is as verbose as your archetypal reverend, hardly getting through his thoughts without breaching into song and then dissolving into giggles. Present him with a handshake or a voice recorder, and the truth serum starts to work.

He dishes it out today. During our conversation, he gets into the full specifics of being saved from addiction by bandmate Joshua Homme, how he’s already written half of EODM’s next album, and how he’s struggling to convince everyone he’s a devout Christian who gets high and uses the phrase “titty-wobbling.” He talks about his face being a nipple on his album cover as seriously as his faith. “I know what you’re thinking — my life’s a contradiction,” he admits.

It’s dark stuff, but Jesse “The Devil” Hughes has a wicked sense of humor — crushing, hypnotic, and frequently laugh-out-loud ridiculous. “My way of thinking is,” he shrugs, “it’s gonna be harder in hell for me than for y’all. I’m just not going to be the fool that doesn’t know why he’s there.”

One thing’s clear, though: Eagles of Death Metal, who release their fourth album, Zipper Downon October 2nd, are letting it all hang out.

You’ve been making music every year for the past 17 years and releasing albums for 12. What is thrilling about being onstage?

It never gets old for me. The one thing I really want people to know is I’m exactly the dude offstage you see onstage. I never find it difficult to talk — I always go hang out with the kids, and it’s part of the show. I’m not lazy. Talking to the kids gives me shit to talk about onstage. I’m there just as much to look at them as they are to look at me.

I saw you in Poland a few days ago. It was refreshing to see you turn to the crowd before one of the new tracks and say, “Guys, I’m gonna fuck this up, but stay with me.”

Thank you. That’s something I needed to acknowledge. Whenever my voice is fucked up, I’ll tell the kids. I genuinely like people. I’ve seen in my business people with a look that makes a whole room feel terror. God! Yeeeuch!

But that doesn’t fit the type of music you make — you make rock ‘n’ roll music.

I make dick-shaking, titty-wobbling, good-time, let’s-get-down, what’s-up-girl music. You see, girls didn’t have sex with me on purpose in high school, so when shit started to turn around for me, it was like, yes, let’s do this! When I’m up there, it feels like a million-dollar bill wrapped in a diamond-encrusted watch.

Apart from the live shows, how did you personally define success after Peace, Love, Death Metal?

That’s a really good question. Fortunately, I was already 34 years old and already had a child.

How old is your child now?

He’s 15.

Why is he not here?

Because he’s in a fucking rock ‘n’ roll camp put on by Golden Voice, learning how to mix a Midas Heritage 3000 mixing board. I raised him. I’m the only person I know that was married before we got pregnant. Nobody does that shit anymore.

So you were 34 when you first got into “the biz”?  

It’s more like being a werewolf your whole life and not being aware of it, then seeing your first full moon when you’re 34.

Were you out of control from the get-go? I know you’ve spoken about your drug use openly before, but did you ever think you were legitimately going to die?

Yeah, I’ve been shot before. Look. [shows scar on armpit] It made a canal through one of my muscles. I’ll tell you how it went down: I was going through a really ugly divorce, and I’m a devout Christian, so divorce isn’t a concept to me. I went through a very typical, clichéd “I served you my whole life, and this is what I get” anger. I weighed about 250 pounds, I was a big ol’ redneck boy. I was managing this privately owned chain of video stores and part-time freelancing for the Republican Party and speech writing and shit like that. The most awful thing I could think of immediately was to start taking speed. I lost 80 pounds, got really depressed. My mother called Joshua [Homme] because she felt he was one of the only dudes I listened to. She was worried I was going to commit suicide. I have a lot of guns; I’m a big gun owner. Joshua had just gotten back from Australia after Songs for the Deaf went platinum. There was a knock on my door, and he pushed me aside and started putting all my guns in a pillowcase and went, “What’s going on dude?”

Surely experience like this goes into your writing, because it seems like it’s easy for you to write.

For me? Yeah! I know a lot of my friends hate me because of that. It’s my attitude. It’s my opinion. You can make the world math, and then you can change the variables. Nobody has ever written a song that hasn’t been written before, so if I’m going to be inspired by shit, I might as well be inspired by mine. I tend to think that people enjoy a basic sex manual beat: “in-out-in-out” and then a complicated “jing-aling-ding-ding-jing,” then you’re done.

It’s an equation for having a good time. Speaking of sex, tell me where the song “The Deuce” comes from. I hope you’re not referring to shitting.

It’s a girl called The Deuce. You can look her up. When she was asked how she got this rad pompadour, she said, “You can’t just use one hairpiece. You gotta go for the deuce.” I fell in love with her. When I’m writing, I write a lot of songs for my friends. Like “Sweat”, that song was written for Joshua as a theme for Queens. Some songs I write so I can stand in front of the mirror and fucking Billy Idol it for two hours. I’m fucking ridiculous. My tattoo right here? [pulls his t-shirt up to below his bellybutton] That’s a monkey holding two coconuts that says “don’t monkey with my nuts.” It’s ridiculous.

I’ve had an artist tell me that writing songs was more of a masturbatory event than anything.

I’d rather fuck. Check this out: My dad was in a band that became The Marshall Tucker Band. They started out as a band called The Fabulous Weapons, and my father was the bass player. He was a serious rock ‘n’ roller, and he used to say something to me when I was a kid. “There’s two types of rock ‘n’ roll bands: the kind that comes out and jacks off for everyone to see, and the rock ‘n’ roll band that comes out and fucks everybody in the room.” It sounds corny, but I’m trying to fuck everybody in the room.

And the new family you have up onstage with you — your band? It’s electric watching you all play together.

Thank you for saying that. I’m so proud of them. My drummer is Jeff Friedl from Devo! Then there’s Matt McJunkins from Perfect Circle.

Does Davie always walk to the front of the stage and wait for the crowd to cheer?

Yeah, he’s the lead guitarist, so that’s his thing. Democracy seems like it would work in a band, but it doesn’t. A benevolent dictatorship works, and in order to have that, you have to have musketeers. I write certain songs so that Davie has a fucking mean solo. You gotta do the boogie dance to bring the devil.

Did you even realize it took you seven years to put out a record?

Yeah, and it’s 2015, and there’s no EDM — we’re EODM!

God, that’s precious. Weren’t you still busy with your solo project during that time?

Thank you for pointing out my solo album.

I might be incorrect, but don’t you have songs from your solo album on this record? I know Complexity”, “Oh Girl”, and “I Love You All the Time aren’t entirely the same (there’s much more keyboard on songs like “Complexity”), and Josh produced this one. Did you think you’d get any flak for doing them again?

When you get to produce something in a Joshua Homme session, it’s like winning an award. And no, I felt like those songs were hits, but this is another one for my book. The reason why that album didn’t see the light of day was because of one of the most low-down, stinking-ass clichéd management sleazebags. Basically, my management put me in rehab so that he could take advantage of a legal loophole, which states that if you’re institutionalized, you’re technically incapacitated. So my manager sees it and signs me to the worst label deal in history. When I came out of rehab, I didn’t give a fuck. I’m not a pussy — I went for his ass.

When was this? Four years ago?

Yeah. So he instinctively tried to make the album go away.

Those tracks found a better home. They work perfectly. Do you wish Joshua were touring with you now?

Yeah, but I’m a vain motherfucker. When he’s there, it’s like somebody jumped out of a cake, but they have really awesome tits. Joshua really is my best friend.

Do you write all the songs together?

Oh, yeah. He says that I show up with a big bunch of toys, dump them on the table, and go, “Which one do you like?”

Is Joshua always satisfied with how it pans out?

Oh, always. We love each other very dearly, and we’ve been through a lot of really heavy shit together, but we’ve walked through the fire and come out bronzed. I’m glad to say my mom was awesome, so I’m not ashamed of who I am. She’s such a sweet person; we have a song called “Shit, Goddamn”, and whenever she comes to the show, she leaves before we play it. Then she comes back.

eagles of death metal zipper down

Your face is on your latest album cover. Did you ever think your face would be a nipple?

I’ve always wanted to be a human nipple, always. It’s fucking hilarious. There needs to be a documentary for when Joshua and I get together in the studio.

You’ve known each other since elementary school, right?

I got picked on a lot, but I would get you back [laughs evilly]. This dude named Travis Eagleson had fucked with me, and I got him back. There’s no glory if you don’t show the world. Joshua was my guy for that. I showed him this dude Travis, and Joshua told me I’m the goddamn devil.

I believe you’re a reverend, too.

I take my faith very seriously.

Forgive me, father, but it’s a bizarre dichotomy.

I know this is a hard concept; it’s a contradiction, I know. F. Scott Fitzgerald talked about this concept of serving two masters.

How did becoming a reverend affect your other master — the way you made music?

It’s made it more honest. My way of thinking is that it’s gonna be harder in hell for me than for y’all. I’m just not going to be the fool that doesn’t know why he’s there. Sometimes it would be a lot more convenient for me to swallow the shit I believe.

Would you be able to do that?

I’ve lost a lot of jobs because of my politics. The number of commercials I haven’t done is huge.

You don’t regret that?

No fucking way. My son looks at me and respects me — you can’t buy that. You want to see how fucked up the world is? Have you ever seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas? The opening sequence is a camera pan that starts from the sky so you see all the houses, then it zooms into a Christmas party, then you see a bowl passed in front of the camera, and keys are going into the bowl. It’s a wife-swap party, and it’s a key reference in a fucking family film! Makes me not too disillusioned as to why we’ve got kiddy porn on the rise. If there wasn’t internet, there wouldn’t be homes in Minnesota watching kiddie porn.

eodm Fly Like an Eagle of Death Metal: An Interview with Jesse Hughes

Do you have a vendetta against the internet?

The internet is the fucking worst thing in the world. It’s the destroyer of all things.

What about it being a direct connection to your fans?

That’s why I pay assistants, sin-eaters. I don’t want my hands on that. That’s the truth. If we’re going to sit here and be honest, that’s what rock ‘n’ rollers do: They use their assistants to throw the girl out backstage after she’s sucked your dick.

Surely that candidness might be difficult for some people to, uh, swallow.

I’m going to be married. I have a fiancée, but that doesn’t mean my dick starts dying. This ain’t a fucking bible study … it’s rock ‘n’ roll, girl. It’s dark shit. Before she was my fiancée, she was the number one hustler of the week. I’m literally living the cliché rock and roll dream: My girl is a porn star who is also an angel.

That makes me think of the Robert Palmer “Addicted to Love” cover you did on Death by Sexy.

Yeah, that’s my son playing drums. He was fucking six years old! And my mom is singing backup with me.

Your latest cover of Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” is beyond remarkable. Is that you singing? You can’t bark that song; you’ve got to sing it.

I loved the song and did like 18 versions of it. Covers are about the writers. I am one of the biggest Britney Spears fans, and people judge her incorrectly. If you go onto YouTube and watch the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards performance that we did with Dave Grohl, you’ll see a girl in a bizarre black wig, and it’s Britney. Want to know why she shaved her head? She was avoiding a hair follicle drug test and was in a custody battle. I respect that. Before Amy Winehouse died, I covered one of her songs, “You Know I’m No Good”. Davie and I recorded it, and it might go on another Eagles album. I was a friend of hers; I took care of her for a couple days in a row. First time when I bonded with her, she wasn’t even supposed to be there. She was stumbling backstage with crusted blood between her toes from shooting up all night.

Lastly, a song like “Got a Woman” sounds like you’re giving advice. Take the floor – what is your advice to men?

My grandma gave me the best fucking advice. She told me two things: If you bang a girl and don’t tell anyone, you’ll get to do it again, and you catch more fish with a net than with a line. A line is something you say to a girl, but a net is an attitude that you say to a whole fucking room.

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