By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Wild Don Lewis
It’s never enough for some people.
I’ve explained to Jesse “the Devil” Hughes, singer of the Palm Desert/Los Angeles rock & roll band Eagles of Death Metal, that I’ve seen his group perform not once, not twice, but three times in just the last six months. This sort of attendance record might suggest a certain amount of enthusiasm for the band. But Jesse (calling him “Hughes” would be like calling Ozzy “Osbourne”) has got to know.
“Hey, why didn’t you go to the Henry Fonda show?” he asks. He looks at me with searching, sensitive eyes, like he’s been reluctant to ask but now, pride be damned, he’s decided that he really needs an answer. Like many great stage performers, Jesse is genuinely insecure. “I don’t get stage fright anymore,” he says, “but I get scared if people don’t love me.”
What’s not to love, one wonders. Witnessing the Eagles of Death Metal live is like encountering an embodiment of all that once made early rock & roll so wonderful: There’s a simple beat, you can sing along to it, and the singer is bizarrely charismatic. Jesse is a rock star as imagined by John Waters: greased-back hair, glasses, what he calls a “soft wonderful boomerang of love” mustache, gloves, tattoos, tight jeans, a Fender Telecaster and (sometimes) a rayon cape, delivering up the best Chuck Berry/Little Richard/Canned Heat–inspired rock & roll to leak out of America in some time.
He might also be insecure because Eagles of Death Metal owes its unlikely existence (and profile) to its drummer: Joshua Homme, an old high school friend moonlighting from his day job as leader of marijuana-rock powerhouses Queens of the Stone Age. (EODM’s other guitarist is Tim VanHamel of the Belgian band Millionaire.) But it’s Jesse who writes — and sings — the songs about midnight creepers and speaking in tongues, about voodoo dances and kissing the devil’s tongue and wanting to be your monkey.
I talked with him recently on the eve of an Eagles of Death Metal video shoot in Burbank.L.A. WEEKLY: Where did the songs on Peace Love Death Metal come from?
JESSE: I wrote basically all of the album in a month. It was intentional. I was going through a divorce, and I wanted to feel sexy and I wanted to feel clever. You use music to deal with things. That’s what music is: You don’t feel sexy, you wanna feel sexy? Sing in front of a mirror in a high-pitched voice. And that helps. Now I get to do it in front of thousands of people who adore me.
What does the name mean?
There’s a lot of conjecture about that, but basically Josh and I and some friends were at the Beerhunter out in Palm Desert years ago, and they were playing Poison, but it wasn’t just any Poison song, I think it was “Every Rose Has a Thorn,” the softest and most wussy of their tunes, and this nitwit in the midst of a drunken gleeful moment was dancing around the bar going, “Dude, this is fuckin’ metal, man.” And Josh or someone responded, “This isn’t metal.” He goes, “Dude, this is! This is fuckin’ death metal, man.” And I said, “This is the Eagles of death metal.” Cut to two hours of smoke and haze later, and we were in the back of our friends’ VW, discussing what would the Eagles of death metal sound like. Josh came over the next day, and he got on my drum kit and configured it in a very bizarre manner and started doing a Zombies/Turtles beat, I laid a Piedmont/hillbilly guitar line on it, and he goes, that’s Eagles of Death Metal. And I said, Yessir. And he commanded me to become brilliant and to become the entity that I am.
But you didn’t make a record for years . . .
The band stayed alive because people asked Josh about it for years. The whole time he’s been asking me to make records, and I’m like, “With you?” I had been married and pursuing a more conservative lifestyle. And a much heavier lifestyle. I was 199 pounds. Now I weigh 148. I’ve literally been transformed by destiny and by the call to be the most amazing mustache in the history of rock & roll.
You’re really into your mustache.
I’ve always carried the mark of the mustache. It’s always been inside. It’s been a Cosmo layout waiting to happen, ’78, Burt Reynolds, you know what I’m saying. A mustache is a kind of tongue-in-cheek way to say, “It’s fun to be a dude — it’s even better to be a man.” And women are much happier when I rock it real.
Have you always had one?
I think I’d grown it out some, and somebody goes, “Dude, Freddie Mercury.” And I thought, Oh, okay fine, it’ll be really Freddie Mercury — and I’ll fuck your girlfriend.