When it was announced back in June that, following six self-produced records, Queens of the Stone Age would be enlisting brass-loving Uptown Funker Mark Ronson for their seventh, it was, let’s not beat around the bush, a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. Turns out, however, that no-one was as worried about the super producer pulling a clanger as Mark himself. “I have friends who are fans of the band who were like, ‘Yeah we’re really excited that you got this gig but you better not fuck it up or we’ll never talk to you again’,” he recalls, speaking down the phone from LA during a break from his current studio sessions with Diplo (no biggie). “There’s five incredibly talented musicians and one musical fucking monster in Josh Homme, so there’s no way that one bad production job is gonna be able to fuck that up. But at the same time you wanna be worthy of that lineage and legacy that you’re getting into. I was very overly self-conscious of that, for sure.”
Having enlisted Homme to play guitar on Lady Gaga’s recent Ronson-produced LP ‘Joanne’, the unlikely pair had started to realise that they had more in common than the surface might suggest. “He wrote back [to the original email] saying that his kids requested nothing other than ‘Uptown Funk’ in the car on the way to school and he said, ‘Thank god you made such a fucking good record, because otherwise I would have had to kill myself or kill you’,” laughs the producer. “So I thought OK, maybe there’s something about my music that he likes. His favourite rap album is by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and his favourite pop song of the last 20 years is ‘Toxic’ and I was like, ‘Oh, did you ever hear the cover of ‘Toxic’ I did with Ol’ Dirty Bastard?’ and I think that blew his mind. Things like that just kept coming up.”
On Queens’ side, the group already had all the material that would form ‘Villains’ and, a couple of months prior to the sessions, decided to make the call. “We wanted to just be the band for once,” explains guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, calling in from a hotel room bed in Detroit. “Josh knew [Mark] had the right vibe from the Gaga sessions and he helped steer things in the direction it was naturally going in. He’s a fan and he knows all of our records, so he understood the arc of where they were going and what we were trying to do with this one.”
"Nobody can ever keep up with Josh – his legs weigh like, 60 lbs."
— Mark Ronson
What they were trying to do with this one (spoiler alert: it worked) was to amp up the band’s natural swagger and make it “a groove-heavier record”. Endearingly, despite having forged a career doing exactly that, Mark still claims he was “200%” nervous going into the studio. “It was kind of like working with Paul McCartney [casual – Namedropping Ed]. You have a day to get over your nerves because everybody gets that you’re a fan. But then after a day, if you don’t start firing off some great ideas and adding something to the musical conversation, then that’s when you need to be worried,” he explains. “But then I’d throw in something - this funny thing of spitting back an idea to the band that have probably taught me to have that idea in the first place - and they’d be like ‘Oh man, you’re in the jacuzzi’, which means like, ‘You can get in the club with us’.”
“‘Era Vulgaris’ [Queens’ fifth album] – a record like that is not technically a good record,” explains Troy. “We’d plug the wires in backwards and make some of it just sound wrong, which is what we wanted, but that’s not what this record is. Every moment on this record is meticulously thought out.” He continues: “[Mark] works in the same way as us where, when you’re working, you do that idea until it’s done. It’s very ‘heads down’. He took this beautiful bouquet and put the frosting on top."
"Mark took this beautiful bouquet and put the frosting on top.”
— Troy Van Leeuwen
If a strict work ethic and sensible regime doesn’t sound like the legendarily booze-soaked band we know and love, however, then rest assured: the new compadres certainly caught up on lost time at the band’s secret Reading & Leeds sets this summer. “My behaviour [there] was so unhinged that it probably made up for the entire rest of the recording process. I just remember at the end, Josh being like, ‘Man I am just so glad to have somebody else who’s the fucking animal [here]’ and I was like, ‘Hey man, if that’s what it takes to – quote unquote - “protect you guys and your rep” then I’m happy to be the fall guy,’” jokes Mark. “Nobody can ever keep up with Josh – you just can’t, ‘cos his legs weigh like, 60 lbs - but you can try and it can be fun...”
With an album full of swagger and a bar full of shots, Mark and the band’s bromance is an unexpected one for the ages, that both parties attest could still yield further fruit in the future. “Anybody who’s made something that I’ve ever listened to and thought, fuck that’s good – that means that they hold magic,” says Mark. “[The people I work with] just all happen to be the most talented people in their lanes. I’m just lucky.”
Taken from the November 2017 issue of DIY, out now. Read online or subscribe below.