Nick Oliveri: 'The New QOTSA Record, I Can't Wait For People To Hear It'

artist: Nick Oliveri date: 02/18/2013 category: interviews
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Nick Oliveri: 'The New QOTSA Record, I Can't Wait For People To Hear It'
Nick Oliveri is best known as the bassist of and a vocalist for Queens Of The Stone Age at their peak, playing on "Songs For The Deaf" and "Rated R" while singing lead on songs like "Tension Head" and "Auto-Pilot". He's playing with the band formerly known as Kyuss Lives, Visa Chino, while still wiggling enough time to sing on the new Queens record and appear on Slash's solo album. We grabbed Nick before he set out on tour with the band he fronts Mondo Generator and talked about hanging out with Josh Homme and their irreplaceable bond, his run in with the law, how Dave Grohl makes a man practice, and just how bada-s hanging out with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin is. UG: What was your first instrument, and when, why, and how did you pick it up? Nick Oliveri: Well, my first instrument was a nylon string acoustic guitar my parents got me in Tijuana, Mexico, when we lived in Los Angeles. We went down there for a week or so, and I didn't know how to play; I just wanted a guitar. I liked KISS and Gene Simmons; he played bass, but I didn't really know that at the time. I just knew had an instrument in his hand, an axe, and so I got a guitar.

"I was always a loud kid; I drove my family pretty crazy. I was pretty hyper active going "ahh" singing along to Gods Of Thunder or something like that."

It wasn't until a year later or so, when I was maybe eleven, that I got a Cort, a real gem of a guitar, an actual good one. [Laughs] It was messed up because the neck was bowed, the neck was broken almost; the action was really taught, but I didn't know what I was doing anyway so it didn't really matter. I would strum and rock out in my room with the music on real loud. I didnt start playing until I got a Strat copy and really pursued guitar. The guys that I liked who were musicians and made me want to play music were guys like Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath and Randy Rhoads from Ozzy - which was totally complex and hard to figure out. Teaching myself to play, I couldn't figure that stuff out by scratching the needle back on the record over and over. I just could not figure it out. When I found The Ramones, I could figure out eventually from watching, "Wow, they're playing barre chords!" and then I figured out by ear how to play Ramones songs. On their first record, if you plug in one side, it's just bass and the other side is just guitar. It's mixed that way like they would be live, so I could unplug one side and play along with the instrument I wanted to. That's pretty much how I learned. I started playing bass because when my parents moved me out to the desert, everybody played guitar. Everybody and their mom was a guitar player and nobody played bass! They needed a bass player in a band, and I was a better bass player than I was a guitar player, and the rest is history. My first bass was Yamaha BP-200, one of the low end models; it's still a good bass, it taught me well. It sounded good, I put new pickups in it and it sounded good. Do you consider yourself more of a bassist or a guitarist? Definitely a bass player. I fumble around on guitar. I write songs on guitar, and then I write bass parts or drum parts to them. I try to make it different than the guitar part. But I write songs out of riffs or melodies in my head, but if it's a riff, it starts on guitar. I demo stuff and play everything on it and go from there, but I'm definitely a bass player when it comes to playing along. And co-writing with someone, I definitely play bass, because that's my strong point. I find it very challenging to do and I like it better than guitar, because to try to be a bass player that's interesting playing wise and singing like some of my heroes would do, singing opposing notes that have nothing to do with the bass line, is a challenge. Gene Simmons, he's very underrated as a bass player, I think; everybody thinks the fire and the tongue and stuff, but his bass playing keeps it moving and is all over the place. It's pretty great. It's really challenging and cool, you know. I always felt that way about Geddy Lee myself. Oh hell yeah! Totally, dude. His tone, too, is insane. "Moving Pictures" is probably, bass tone wise, the best album ever. I haven't listened to it in a long time, but I think it's one of the early Van Halen records they did live in the studio, and the bass and the drums hold it down and there's no guitar overdub; just rhythm section, they're holding it down just fine. Michael Anthony is a great player. I grew up listening to him, thinking he was underrated. Everybody comes out, "the bassist sucks", but I thought he was great, especially with those high harmonies, too.

"I started playing bass because when my parents moved me out to the desert, everybody played guitar. Everybody and their mom was a guitar player and nobody played bass!"

What did you make of Michael Anthony in Chickenfoot? I haven't heard Chickenfoot, to be honest. I have to check it out. I was never a big Van Halen with Sammy Hagar fan. It never broke through for me, I don't know why; I'm strictly a David Lee Roth guy. [Laughs] That's the American way, I understand. [Laughs] It's just hard to change the singer. You can't change the singer, dude! It's not Van Halen, it's Van Hagar to me. The only band to ever pull that off was AC/DC. Brian Johnson rocks, man. What's your bass rig like now? I've read you play both Fender Precision and Jazz basses. Well, I made the mistake of breaking the Jazz bass I had. I bought it off a friend who was like "Wanna buy this pawn shop ticket for twenty bucks?" and I was like "Really? That's your bass, dude!" It was $100 for a Fender remake, and I was like "Sure, why not!". So I went down and picked it up at the pawn shop for one hundred or a hundred and twenty bucks, I got this Cream White Fender Jazz. It was made in Indonesia or something like that, but it plays and tunes down to C and stayed in tune. It never went out of tune. I played as hard as I possibly could and it sounded good. I tried high end models to record with, and everybody I ended up playing with was like "play with the white one, it sounds better". And it did! The pickups and everything were a piece of junk. I thought of myself as a connoisseur of Fender basses, and being like "I can't play that thing," but it really sounded good. I spent months of trying different basses, trying to find the right one, until I found one. None of them have performed the same way. Then I tried switching, and was like "Enough with the Jazz, I'm a P bass man anyway". And I really regret doing that. I did a Queens record with that Jazz bass, and for a hundred and twenty bucks, it was amazing. [Laughs] Is there something you do to keep your bass working in Drop C? I think it's hard to get your bass tuned that low without fret buzz or some sort of problem. You don't have to, but for me, fat gauge strings. The thing about tuning down is you want it to get stuck in the mud. You want to keep some of the fullness and roundness of tone, but it seems to me you lose it all away if you use 105s for E tuning and 115s for drop D. I still do my own stuff, but if I had a tech, it'd be a pain in the ass. I tune the two high gauges from Ernie Ball Slinkies or Dean Markleys, and I can't find the lower strings in the heavy gauges; only one kind, the GHS Bass Boomers, have what I want. They have a 115 and a 95. But then when you go to the high strings, it goes 45 or 50 and 70 or something like that; Ernie Ball's like 55 and 80 or something. So I get the higher gauges from one brand and the lower from another. You probably have a lot of loose, random strings. I have a lot of Es and As from Ernie Ball and Ds and Gs from GHS. I should repackage them and try to return them. "These don't match!" [Laughs] We played with a lot of great players who dedicated all their money and life to the instrument. "It took me my whole life to get my drum set." So we would give away our drum heads and extra strings away to people in Queens, especially if we only used it only one time. But right now, I need all the free stuff I can get. Right now, I'm one of those players who has been playing a long time if anyone wants to me give me some stuff. "Mondo Generator: we need help!" [Laughs] Nah, I'm kidding. How did you learn to scream? I didn't really have to learn. I was always a loud kid; I drove my family pretty crazy. I was pretty hyper active going "ahh" singing along to Gods Of Thunder or something like that. Singing feels totally off to me to do. I keep trying because you can always get better or worse at something, depending on how you work at it. I hope I'm getting better at singing. Screaming was always my thing. I try not to sing every song that way in Mondo, because I'm the only singer. When I was playing in Queens, I wanted to scream, because Josh was covering the melodic stuff and Mark covered the low growl thing. It made sense for me to just be the "AHH" guy. "Millionaire" has been used in a bunch of different commercials. What goes through your head when a song you were a part of is on an advertising campaign? I heard about "Millionaire" being on a T-Mobile commercial. The song wasn't recorded or written with any of that in mind, and it's not my band to say anything about it. I definitely don't think that it's a bad thing. At the end of the day... if it's your job, it's not a bad thing. If you're writing music with "this is going to be a single, this is going to be in a cell phone commercial," I don't know how people do that. It got signed off by the higher up in the Queens Corporation to have some Christmas money, I guess. [Laughs] You could refuse that stuff when they ask for it, and flip burgers, too, and there's nothing wrong with that. But sometimes you have to swallow your pride and say "well, I got my rent paid," you know? When I was singing it in the studio, I definitely wasn't thinking "I can't wait for this to be on a commercial". I was thinking "this thing will never ever be played on radio or on TV". "My head hurts really bad. I just screamed everything I had. I don't think they'll ever play it, though." That sort of thing.

"I think Josh adds a lot of great stuff to my songs. Perhaps, we'll collaborate again someday; maybe not on Queens, maybe on something new."

What's the song writing process like for Kyuss versus Mondo Generator versus Queens of the Stone Age? The thing that's different with Mondo is I'm the main songwriter. I have a really great guitar player, Mike Pygmie, who is a ripping guitar player. My regular guitar player is Ian Flannon, I've known him since the Kyuss days. He's a great songwriter, and I'm trying to incorporate him more, he sings a song live in our set. The difference between Mondo and Queens or Kyuss or Dwarves is I'm a collaborator in those bands, while in Mondo, I'm the main guy. I think a great song are the ones that are Osborne, Butler, Iommi, and Ward, or Planet, Page, Jones, and Bonham. Those are the songs that are best, where everybody shines and it mixes. A good marinara is not just tomatoes, it has spices and meatballs and whatever. You can do it yourself and just have tomato paste, or you can have your friends come in and have a good sauce. If you like the ideas of the people you work with and you should if you're working with them then the song would be better with their input. I think one of the better songs on Dead Planet, Mondo's third record, is "Lie Detector" because it's three different people's writing. It isn't just me sailing it out. What was it like working with Slash on "Chains and Shackles"? That was pretty scary. [Laughs] I listened to Guns n Roses when it came out, and I was like "wow, this band is dangerous and that's so needed right now". I was kind of star struck in a way, because I was like "Whoa, this is Slash". It was surreal. I didn't play as good as I wanted to. It was weird. You're going to play and jam with somebody, and Josh Freese is on drums, and he's a friend of mine, so I felt comfortable with him. But I'm up on a riser! The drums should've been, but I was there with a light on me. I could see them, too, but I had a spotlight. I wanted to go into the dark and rock out. I didn't want the spotlight. It was intense. I looked over Slash, and he's rocking, and I'm saying "I'm playing bass next to Slash and Josh Freese. This is weird." Never expected that in a million years, let alone to be recording a rocking tune on it. I worked with the producer, Eric Valentine, before. I was comfortable with everybody. Slash was the nicest guy, totally cool. The song turned out great. It's unfortunate not it didn't make it on the record; the song is killer. Eric really produced my singing; not just screaming but actual singing parts. He was getting me to do some things that I hadn't done before that he thought I could do. I didn't know if it was something I would like. I think it turned out great. He seem so unconfident in your melodic singing. If that's the case, then why did you sing lead on "Auto-Pilot"? I don't necessarily like my voice when I'm singing as much when I'm screaming. I do well when it's raw and hard. It isn't that I'm not confident, but it's more like... well, I guess I am a little unsure sometimes. I don't know if it's how I want to represent myself, but it's sometimes the only way the song could be delivered. If I screamed on "Auto-Pilot", people would be like "whoa, calm down. Why are you trying to be so macho?" It would've been weird. Sometimes, you have to take the subtle approach. I can be stand off with that, though. Did you ever listen to the Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age records you were not a part of? Yes, I have for sure. We did the Kyuss Lives! Tour; I think Welcome To Sky Valley is a great record. I never dissected ... And the Circus Leaves Town. I didn't have bad blood, but it's sometimes hard to see a band you were in do better when you're no longer in it. I was still stoked for them, but it's a hard pill to swallow. "Oh, Kyuss is going with Metallica to Australia. What a bummer." [Laughs] You know? It's just easy to get a little butt-hurt when you see a band doing better without you there. "They didn't need me? What?" [Laughs] I think it would bother any band member in any band. I think anybody would get butt-hurt over that. I love that you said butt-hurt twice. Well, I was butt-hurt about it! [Laughs] Scott's a great bass player, I saw him play when I was in ninth grade. He had a bad from across the river; I didn't know who they were or what they were doing, but I ditched school with this girl to drink or do some stupid stuff, and the band was setup with an electric line. I guess they asked the principle or something, and so I didn't leave, and Scott played in that band, and Alfredo Hernandez played drums and later played in Kyuss. They were really good. Scott was the same way then he is today. Left handed, playing an upside down right handed Rickenbacker. The strings were still strung up for a righty so it's upside down. I'd watch his playing and be like "That's upside down!?" But he was ripping! Learning his parts was hard for me. He was ripping, but he didn't know what he was doing when he taught himself. I didn't know what I was doing and I still don't; I play with a pick because I didn't know what I was doing, I was a guitar player playing bass because they needed a bass player and I just didn't know. I imagine he was just a lefty and just flipped one over, and he just didn't know. It's crazy. He's doing all these crazy, Geezer Butler style fills; they're still in the box a lot of the time, but it's hard to do upside down. So dissecting And the Circus leaves town took me longer because I was like "OK. Pretend he's playing right hand. Upside down. It's not impossible." And then I could do it. But at first it was just too weird. He's an amazing bass player. I was quite concerned when he filled in on some Canadian dates that I couldn't be there, because I thought I wouldn't come back. That happened when I was a kid, and I sat there like "why did I just fire myself? I invited Scott back in, why did I do that?" But this time it didn't happen to me. Maybe they felt bad for when I was a kid." [Laughs] What originally caused the supposed falling out between you and Josh Homme? Well, I think it's more like we played five years and did everything together. We did side projects. We were on tour. We were in studios together. Whether it was Mondo Generator or Dessert Sessions, or we toured as Masters Of Reality. We took time off of recording our records to play with a friend in Masters. We did that for five years straight with no breaks and losing wives and girlfriends or whatever. Which is fine, I prefer music to everything myself... but we did everything too much, you know? We had a great time, and I wouldn't change a thing. There are a lot of great bands that come from Queens or Kyuss, and I think it's important that we don't always play in the same bands. A lot of cool things happen because we're not a part of them. Different bands, different players and different influences come in, and it makes you a better songwriter, working with new people. I think Josh adds a lot of great stuff to my songs. Perhaps, we'll collaborate again someday; maybe not on Queens, maybe on something new. Maybe not. I went to a sing a new song in the studio with them, and it was great. I've only heard the one song, but it's pretty epic. It's a great tune, and it was a lot of fun.

"Singing feels totally off to me to do. I keep trying because you can always get better or worse at something, depending on how you work at it. I hope I'm getting better at singing. Screaming was always my thing."

It was one of your screaming songs or are you doing more melodic vocals? He had a vocal part in mind that I went in and did; I'm not singing the lead vocal on it. He had me do a whisper track and a screaming track, and layered them on top of each other. It was very interesting and very cool. It turned out great. As a Mondo and a Queens of the Stone Age fan, I'm pumped. He played lead guitar on one of the Mondo songs and said "I hear this background vocal part!" and I was like "do it, dude!" It turned out really good. He was great to work with again. It seems you guys are long time friends, which is why it seemed so strange when you guys were at odds. But obviously you're personal friends and I'm just a guy who reads journalism gone wrong. Yeah. In five years, we had maybe one falling out. But it was a big enough falling out, and it was my fault. I have to say that. It happened, and what are you gonna do? Life goes on, my friend. I'd just be happy that it's over. Yeah. We don't have to play music together. We're still bros. We still hang out. But there's nothing saying we have to do this, which makes it that much more interesting when we do stuff. It's all good, you know? I actually put in a request with Josh. I heard Dave was playing on the record, and I was like "dude! I wanna play bass on it!". I'd be a fool not to ask. If Dave Grohl was playing drums, then I want in, dude. He's an amazing drummer. I never had a better time in my life than when Dave was in the band. He's great at drums. He's just really, really good. Sometimes, you forgot to take your bass home and practice in between a tour or something. But playing with Dave, I took my bass home. Playing off the plane, in the hotel. You can't take time off when Dave's playing drums. He's a front man playing on drums. It's an amazing thing. What did you think of Them Crooked Vultures? I think John Paul Jones is a bada-s motherf--ker. [Laughs] JPJ is amazing. Being a bass player, he is rock and roll. That guy's bad, dude. I was really excited and stoked for Josh, you know? A funny story about them. While Josh was in the studio, he called me and was like "Get down here!" He didn't tell me John Paul Jones was there, but he said "Dave's playing drums", so I put my bass in the car. I was like "he must be asking me to come down there and play, but I'm not gonna let them hand me some weird bass," so I brought my own bass. I left it in the car, of course, and then I go inside, and Josh and Dave are playing. They're jamming. They're recording. They stop, and it's like "hey dude, what's up?" and Dave points around and is like "hey, you know John, right?" And I'm just blown away. "You're John Paul Jones!" "Yeah, I know." It was weird. An erection went soft real fast. I'm glad I left my bass in the car. Otherwise I'd have been there like "Hey guys! I'm ready!" and made a fool of myself. At the same time, I was like "You're John Paul Jones! Oh my god!" I hope they do another record. I should give it another listen, but I was a little butt-hurt. I love Josh's songwriting, and as a producer he's taken it to another level. Production wise, his new record is night and day. It's good to see your friends get better at what they do. Is Mondo Generator your creative focus now? Yeah, for sure. It's my first band, but I'm also back with Vista Chino (formerly Kyuss Lives!) now. I wasn't going to play on their record, but they called me, and I put my bass in my car again. [Laughs] I was listening to it, and I was like "These songs! They sound like Kyuss. This is really great!" and they were like "...wanna play on it?" and so I got my bass. I listened to each one, wrote a bass line to it, and we recorded it. It turned out really, really good. It's an interesting bunch of songs. They take you on journeys. They're not just one way all the way through; the songs really move and breathe like Kyuss did. It was an honor and really cool, for sure. I can't wait for people to hear it. The newest Mondo, I want people to hear it. The new Queens record, I can't wait for people to hear it. And Vista Chino, I can't wait for people to hear it. I'm stoked, for sure. What is your favorite record from Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, and Mondo Generator? I'd say my favorite Queens record is probably Rated R. It was probably the funnest. Everyone's input went into the record, Chris, Josh and myself. We really worked on every tune, you know. We gave every song the same treatment, like "I hear a piano part!" "I hear a kazoo!" If you heard a part in your head, you'd just try it. I'd love to hear a version with all the different tracks we didn't use. You don't have to use all twenty four tracks, you know. We didn't, but we came close. That was my favorite Queens record. My favorite Kyuss record... I love Blues For The Red Sun, but I think Welcome To Sky Valley has some really great songs on it even if I don't play on it. The way it's grouped together is like a story in chapters rather than just songs in a track listing on a CD. Track one is like four songs. It's a great jukebox record, you get four for one. I love Blues for the Red Sun and Sky Valley. As far as Mondo Generator is concerned, I'd say the new one. I love Dead Planet, too, and I like them all, but Hell Comes To Your Heart, for sure.

"Well, my first instrument was a nylon string acoustic guitar my parents got me in Tijuana, Mexico... I just wanted a guitar."

What is your side of the story with the run in with the law back in July 2011? Well, I don't know, man. [sighs] It's such a long story. I got in trouble. I can't talk about it too much, but I can say this: I had the cops out front. I didn't answer my door. Something you had to do. I didn't want to. I guess three or so hours later, an actual robot opened my door. A Robocop kind of thing. They smashed through my door window and it caught me by surprise. At least you got a Robocop story out of it. It's real, man! Some manly thing with tank tractor wheels crushed into our house. I was actually sleeping, to be honest. And I woke up going "Whoa!" [Laughs] What's a day in the life of Nick Oliveri like now? Well, other than fixing my girlfriends break pads, there's so much stuff. I got a lot going on. I'm getting ready to do a tour with Mondo Generator. Playing on a lot of different records, and a lot of personal stuff. It's a lot of personal stuff, too, so I'm here like "we're supposed to leave tomorrow?". [Laughs] Normally we take Christmas off, but we'll be driving to New Orleans on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve we're driving to DC to play. We're super psyched to play with Clutch. Mondo doesn't always get those kind of offers coming in, so we're excited and pumped about it. Besides, I need to get out and play more. I need to get out there and do it. Do you know what you plan on doing when the Mondo tour ends? We're supposed to do Australia in February with Vista Chino and March, South by Southwest with Mondo. We're planning for some European stuff. What I'm trying to plan is a year long tour cycle with Chino, and then the in between time with Mondo and that new record. I'm basically going to just, go to work. Try to get these records out there. There's no real record stores to get your record out to anymore, and no real labels pushing these records, so we have to take it the people. They ain't gonna come to you. We gotta go to them. So that's what we're gonna do. Interview by Daniel Bogosian Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2013
More Nick Oliveri interviews:
+ Nick Oliveri: 'Each Song Took A Part In My Childhood And Inspired Me To Play' Interviews 01/16/2010
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