Usually, a musician is someone restless who never truly takes a break. If their main musical preoccupation goes on hiatus, this is often seen as an opportunity to explore other musical directions. This happens to be the case for Queens Of The Stone Age
guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen
, whose new outfit Sweethead
plays material heavily influenced by David Bowie
's early seventies albums. Obviously, the female vocals of Serrina Sims
prevent the project's numbers from being mere pastiches of the man's classic cuts, Sweethead
showcasing their small yet growing repertoire live, supporting the likes of Eagles Of Death Metal
Named after a David Bowie
track ("Sweet Head
") originally penned for, but eventually left off of, 1972's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
", North American act Sweethead
formed in 2008. Sweethead
consists of: guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen
(Queens Of The Stone Age), vocalist Serrina Sims
, bassist Eddie Nappi
(Mark Lanegan Band / Handsome), and drummer Norm Block
(Mark Lanegan Band / Plexi).
July 2009 saw the release of debut EP "The Great Disruptors
", which was self-produced by Van Leeuwen
. Featuring a cover of The Kinks
' "Tired Of Waiting For You
", a black and white music video was filmed for the five-track EP's title number. The group's debut full length album, an eponymous affair, was issued in the United Kingdom on November 2nd through Strange Addiction Records. Beginning on October 10th at Stockholm, Sweden's Gta Kllare, Sweethead
embarked on a European tour, supporting Eagles Of Death Metal
One day prior to Sweethead
's Halloween concert at London's Battersea Power Station, Hit The Lights
' Robert Gray
telephoned guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen
to discuss the group's history thus far.
Troy Van Leeuwen:
UG: Hello. Can I speak to Troy please?
This is Troy.
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com. How are you?
Would it be alright if I began the interview?
How did Sweethead come to fruition?
We've all known each other for a long time, and Sweethead just came together within the last year. I'd played with Eddie and Norm with the Mark Lanegan Band a few years ago, so we already had a history. Serrina and I have been writing music off and on for the last couple of years, so really, Sweethead formed over the last year since I've had some time off from Queens Of The Stone Age. That's how Sweethead came together.
So you've been waiting for the right moment? To have time to record, tour, and everything?
Yeah. Queens Of The Stone Age has been really busy for the last, I don't know, eight years - since I've been in the band anyway. This is the first chance I had to really put something else together, and with enough support and time to really put effort behind it.
Sweethead is named after a David Bowie song ("Sweet Head"). Why did Sweethead opt to name itself after a David Bowie song?
"I don't think Sweethead really sounds like anyone else."
To be honest, I think band names are becoming sillier and sillier. That song just seemed to encapsulate what we thought of ourselves - there's not much more behind the idea.
Are there any plans to cover David Bowie's "Sweet Head"?
We've been talking about it, but no plans as yet. We haven't really had time to do any more recording, right now. But maybe one day, we'll record that song.
What are Sweethead's musical influences?
It's really vast. My influences change all the time, but for me, definitely Bowie is a big influence, and I know Serrina is a huge Bowie fan. I think we all come together with our different ideas, and put aside our real influences, and let the music speak for itself. That's usually the best way to make music. I don't think Sweethead really sounds like anyone else.
So you wouldn't describe Sweethead as "retro" then, and say that the group is influenced by older sounds?
I think I do like older music, but I try to listen to some new music nowadays too. Just whatever's good, you know? I get pleasure from MGMT for example, who aren't much of a rock band, but are definitely progressive.
How would you compare Sweethead to Enemy, your previous side project?
The characters involved usually shape the sound of the band. Sweethead has a different drummer, and then of course, Serrina. I think she's got a sensual, deep voice, which I guess resonates what I like musically.
Does Serrina's voice mean you can venture into different places, places which you haven't been before?
Yeah. I think that having a female singer makes you consider things differently a little bit. We all just want to make the best music.
What were the recording sessions for July 2009's 'The Great Disruptors' EP like?
Well, they were very much done in a home studio, so they were done at our leisure most of the time. The drums were recorded at our drummer Norm's house, and then we just finished everything else at my house, so it was very, very easy. There was no pressure at all, so at the same time, we were keeping it as live as possible. I thought I'd keep the guitar and bass tracks pretty simple. I think the EP, and the record that's about to come out, were really treated like a debut for a rock and roll band. There's not too many frills, even though there are a few here and there. It's pretty raw, and pretty true to the way the band sounds.
Were the songs cut in one to two takes?
Yeah. I try not to overthink things too much, especially with a debut record. We can get into progressive stuff later on, but yeah, we definitely try to keep it fresh.
When Sweethead records, do you have the group's live sound in mind? So that you give listener's a representation of the group's live sound?
Yeah. The recording sessions definitely reflect what the band sounds like live, I think. That way, when people hear the record and like it, and go to see the band live, it should sound just as good, if not better, than the record. You try to capture the spirit of the band more than the actual sonic value - at least I do. At the end of the day, that's more important.
The music video for "The Great Disruptors" is a simple, black and white, performance type music video. Is there a reason why Sweethead opted in favour of a more simple, direct music video?
Yeah. That's what I said earlier, that this is a representation of a debut. It's simple, because I'm the only guitarist. I can't be making a bunch of overdubs to make the songs sound good live, so I try to keep it as simple as possible. That way, people get to hear Sweethead the way it is. From there, we can progress. We can grow.
On 'The Great Disruptors' EP, Sweethead covered The Kinks track "Tired Of Waiting For You". Obviously, plenty of songs exist that can be covered, so why did the group think that song would be particularly ideal to cover?
I just think that "Tired Of Waiting For You" is a great song, and to do it exactly the way they do it wouldn't be fair. You have to change the song a little bit, so we just took the Bowie 'Pin-Ups' approach, and sexed it up a little bit. Like I said, I'm not trying to paint a picture other than what the band sounds like live, so it's easier to make a record like that, just because of the time constraints. I really want to give this thing a chance before I make another record with Queens Of The Stone Age.
Sweethead's eponymous debut is released in early November. On a musical level, how does that expand upon 'The Great Disruptors' EP?
On a musical level, I would say that 'The Great Disruptors' EP had some of the first songs that we recorded, and then we added a Kinks song. Initially, 'The Great Disruptors' was going to be a four-song record, and then we had the idea to put out an EP instead of a single. Basically, 'The Great Disruptors' is a single with four B-sides - that's the way I look at it. The full length just has newer songs on it, material that we recorded within the last couple of months. It's really just a bridge from the single to the record, and sounds roughly the same sonically. It's really just an expression of the way the band is.
So Sweethead's chemistry has developed then? Obviously, the eponymous full length was recorded at a later date, so Sweethead had more experience by that time?
Yeah. I think the more that we get out and be on tour, like we are now, Sweethead obviously will progress and gel more. The second we're done touring, we'll probably do some more recording for the next record already. It moves that quickly with us, you know?
So 'Sweethead' isn't a one-off album then? There will be future albums from Sweethead?
Yeah. I think that's important, if you're going to put out a project or an idea. Sweethead should continue doing more stuff, even if I go back to Queens Of The Stone Age and get caught up doing another record and another tour. Someone like Serrina has such a great voice, so Sweethead should go on, and should progress. It's like taking a note from the Eagles Of Death Metal; they're touring on their third record, and Josh isn't even in the band anymore. The band is still on fire though, so I think that that can happen with this as well. When you have a character like Jesse, or a character like Serrina, there's just too much they have to offer to just do one project, and then start something else. Sweethead should go on, I think.
Will you always be involved in Sweethead then? It sounds as though you might step aside due to your commitment to Queens Of The Stone Age.
"The characters involved usually shape the sound of the band."
I think I'll always be involved in Sweethead, and I'll do my best to be involved as much as I can. But like I said, if things get too crazy with Queens Of The Stone Age, which they tend to do, it's totally understood that the idea should continue on, even if I move on to just doing the recording and the writing, and maybe not so much touring. It's really early to say. I love the band, and it's partly my baby, so I want to make sure that it's treated right.
What type of lyrical topics do Sweethead touch upon?
That's a good question. I would normally turn you over to Serrina, but she's not here right now. She writes all of the lyrics, which range from general misanthropic attitude to a very sensual, sexual experience. Anywhere in between those ideas, I think there's a lot to be expressed, and yeah, there's new ideas that are coming to light too I think. The opening track to the full length record ("The Sting") was a new idea for us, as we just had a super simple fun song to open up our record. Usually, she's pretty deep with her thoughts - that's the best way I can describe it. There's not one lyrical theme. I think there's lots of things that are expressed. "The Great Disruptors", for example, is about cutting loose, and stepping out of your environment to check out the world. There's all kinds of things.
On a lyrical level, does that female perspective change things up for you as well?
I think so. Serrina brings the lyrics more into a more human point of view, rather than a male or female point of view. The combination is really what we're talking about, I think. She's very feminine, and right now, she's in a van with four other guys (laughs), so I think she pretty much has a pretty good idea of what's going on.
You self-produced Sweethead's debut album. Does this mean you want to keep a certain level of control over Sweethead's recorded output?
Not necessarily. It was out of pure necessity that I had to produce the record myself. Plus, I had the gear and the vision to pull this together. I'm not interested in being in total control of things, though. I like the input of others, and if the right producer came along for Sweethead, I would be glad to work with somebody who can engineer better than me (laughs). I had to do it all with the help of my drummer Norm, and that's really it. It's a lot of work to do all those things, such as playing guitar right, engineering, producing, and mixing. It got overwhelming at some points for me, so I'd like to delegate a little bit.
Considering all the different duties you handled, didn't you feel exhausted at all?
I only got exhausted in the mastering stage - that's when I thought "I can't hear the music anymore" (laughs). The mixing was another new experience for me, as I had never really mixed songs all by myself. For me, making 'Sweethead' was a very long process, rather than the actual tracking. I'm bound by limitations, but I just figured "I'm gonna try to do this". I really would prefer to have help with the next record though.
So when you mixed Sweethead's self-titled debut, that was the first time you had mixed by yourself?
Yeah. That was really the first time I had mixed a full record, though I've done remixes and so on, and I've helped other people out with their demos. I haven't mixed a full length record though.
At the moment, are there any plans for future music videos from Sweethead?
Actually, yeah. We had some guys come out to shoot us in Graz, Austria, and they shot a video for a song called "Traumatized and Dumb". There's no plans to really do anything with it, but it turned out pretty cool, so we're probably going to do something with that. I'm not sure exactly, but I just saw an edit of it, and it looks really good. Beyond that, we're just gonna try to get through this tour, and then decide what the next single will be, and we'll probably figure out a video for that.
How have Sweethead's dates with Eagles Of Death Metal been progressing?
It's going fabulously. I love playing with them; not only are they some of my best friends, but their audience is perfect for us - a rock 'n' roll audience, who love to have a good time. Yeah, I couldn't ask for a better band to tour with.
So Sweethead's music has received a good reception in the United Kingdom then?
Certainly, yeah, and in Germany as well. Every place that we've played has been very good for us, yeah.
Since Sweethead is a newer group, and doesn't have much recorded output besides the group's debut, what's Sweethead's set list?
We play a lot of material off of the record, and a couple of songs off of the EP, like "Hardspun", "Traumatized and Dumb", and of course, "The Great Disruptors". Most of the set list is comprised of the full length record that's coming out. We get bored easily (laughs). We'd already really like to make another record, and the debut full length isn't even out yet.
Is anything written for Sweethead's second full length, or are there just discussions happening at the moment?
There's discussions and there's musical ideas, but nothing fully realized yet.
And it's probably too early to reveal information about these musical ideas, I'm assuming?
"I think I'll always be involved in Sweethead, and I'll do my best to be involved as much as I can."
Yeah. I'd like to start things off for the next record in maybe a different environment, and I'd like to rethink how we do music, to bridge the gap from where we are now to where we're going. I think that there should be a natural progression of the way things are, as they're changing, with the way music's being distributed and so on these days. We can make songs, and then release them sooner, sooner and sooner. The album is going by the wayside, I think. You're constantly growing. Also, you're announcing to whoever's listening that this is what's going on. So, who knows? In six months, there might be another EP, depending on how recording goes. Next time we record, there could be another record. Who knows (laughs)?
At present, what are your plans with Queens Of The Stone Age?
Like I said, we're on a break. Of course, Josh (Homme, vocals) is doing Them Crooked Vultures, and Joey (Castillo) is drumming with Eagles Of Death Metal, and Dean (Fertita), our keyboard / guitar player, is doing The Dead Weather. We're taking this time to really branch out, and to learn some things. Probably sometime in the summer, we'll then get back together, and do another record, taking what we've learnt, and bringing it all back.
You mentioned the summer of 2010, so are there actually plans afoot for Queens Of The Stone Age to record a new album at that time?
Probably in the summer, yeah.
Ok. And what do you feel the future holds for Sweethead?
Well, I know we're gonna be on the road a lot promoting this record, and doing the live thing. The more we get out there to play, I think the more we're gonna add to the show. Like I said, we're always recording, and we're always capturing the progression of what's happening, so we'll see.
Ok. Thanks for the interview Troy.
All the best with Sweethead, and everything.
Thank you so much. Where are you from?
You're from Wales? Ok. I don't know if we're gonna make it to Wales soon, but hopefully.
Yeah, and we'll share a pint or something.
Ok man. Sounds good.
All the best anyway Troy.
Alright - you too. Thank you.
Interview by Robert Gray