Troy Van Leeuwen
has a secret. It's a secret that he shares with fellow musician, Queens Of The Stone Age
main man Josh Homme
. Like Homme, Leeuwen refuses to reveal the formula that drives the tone of the Queens unique and groundbreaking sound. Yet behind Leeuwen's - and Homme's for that matter - veil of secrecy lays a simple and quite understandable motive.
Creating one's sound and developing it into something unique takes much trial and error as well as time and much patience. So why would any musician want to reveal to others the formula to their holy grail of tone after having spent their life trying to find it and perfecting it in the first place? I mean people would like to know the secret ingredient to Colonel Sanders
's friend chicken recipe. But stripping away the mystique from it all would take away the wonder behind it. Sometimes it's better to wonder than to have all the answers given to you.
It's the journey that matters after all. Isn't it better to be inspired to go on the same journey in finding your own unique musical voice? And mystery creates excitement anyway. So with this in mind, Joe Matera
recently caught up with Troy Van Leuween
to enquire about his musical career thus far.
Ultimate-Guitar: Within the framework of the Queens of the Stone Age, how does the songwriting process usually work between you and Josh Homme?
Troy Van Leuween:
There is no set way in the way we work. To be honest, we sort of go with what's happening. For this last record Era Vulgaris in particular, we both had parts and pieces and kind of constructed it from that and then experimented with it all while we were in the studio. Our motto is whatever works, works. There is no real right or wrong way of doing it.
When it came for the recording process for Era Vulgaris it was very long and laborious taking ten months to make, the longest it has ever taken you to make an actual album.
Yeah. We have never done it that way before. It has always been where we have had the songs pretty much close to finish and then we'd go into the studio and knock them out in a couple of weeks. But this time, we decided to try a different approach where we really wanted to get into the experimental process for making a record. But we still had fun at the same time.
The guitars on Era Vulgaris sound way crunchier and heavier than heard on previous Queens' albums. Was that due mainly to the experimental approach you took in the studio?
I guess so. The Queens have always had a sort of signature guitar sound. And this is just a different version of that. And it definitely has a little more bite and a little bit more heaviness. And we did muck around with a few different guitars this time around too. The previous album before that - Lullabies to Paralyze - we were doing a lot of stuff with hollow bodies while for this record, we kind of got into single coil, wire-y sort of sounds.
In regards to the guitar parts that both you and Josh play, how do you assign each other's parts as to who plays what and where?
It is a very natural process where we usually come up with own things. I would never tell him what to do and I think the same for when it comes to me. While there is a chemistry between us there for sure, we do try to one up each other every once in awhile so that we can keep it fresh and keep it kind of on edge.
What sort of gear are you currently using?
|"We have a kind of "veil of secrecy" when it comes to anything to do with our gear."|
I'll tell you what? I'll let you in on a couple things only.
Okay, so you're like Josh who also doesn't like to reveal any of his and the band's tone secrets?
Yes, we have a kind of veil of secrecy
when it comes to anything to do with our gear. So all I'm going to reveal is this. Mainly I'm using my signature model Yamaha SA503 TVL which I use quite a lot of live. And for the latest record, I also used a 1972 reissue Fender Telecaster which I call the 'Keith Richards' model. I also used a vintage 1952 Fender Jaguar as well as some Les Paul guitars for some of the lower tunings. So guitar wise, that is kind of covering all bases. And I actually still have a Yamaha AES1500 hollow-body as well that I use quite a bit too.
You play Seymour Duncan pickups exclusively. Why do you choose those pickups over other brands?
For some reason ever since I was a kid, they've always seemed to have a better tone. And of course over the years they've grown into doing all sorts of stuff where you pretty much can get any thing you want from them as far as a pickup goes. Everything from a pick-up with high gain to a pick-up that has low output with more of a vintage sound to it. So I've always stuck with them and they've always been really cool to me because I always use their stuff.
I agree as I use the Seymour Duncan JBs in my guitars as I think they're brilliant pickups.
Yeah I also use those same pickups in all my Les Paul guitars, those and the Seymour Duncan Customs. Seymour Duncan really seems to know what they're doing.
So what about the amps you're using?
I'm not going to tell you what amp I'm using except that it is an Ampeg combo of some sort. But also I've recently started using this Vox amp. It's like an AC-50 but is a newer head that the company is using. I'm using that for Lap Steel. I am kind of getting into their stuff a lot lately too. We did this salt mine gig in Germany where we played like half a mile under the surface of the earth and we didn't want to use any really loud amps, so I used an AC-15 for that gig and it sounded perfect. And because of that I started getting more into Vox. They also have this little Brian May amp that has a treble boost in it, that also is a great sounding amp. Recently I've also been using a lot of stuff from Dunlop too. I've really gotten into their new line of stuff. I use their Wah pedal and this great new analog delay called a Carbon Copy. Dunlop is another company that really makes a lot of stuff that is really well worth it and all sound great too.
Aside from the guitar you also play lap steel, keyboards and other instruments. How did you progress from guitars onto all these other instruments?
I suppose as a kid I started playing around with all sorts of instruments as I grew up with a piano and a family that could all play different instruments. Guitar though was mainly the instrument I really gravitated to the most. But over the years it is like sometimes you need other stuff to inspire you. You can learn other stuff from playing piano and then you bring that stuff to guitar and it inspires you in new ways and vise versa.
Is touring with the Queens of the Stone Age all what it is portrayed to be like in the media, a combination of sex, drugs and rock and roll?
|"Over the years it is like sometimes you need other stuff to inspire you."|
What it really is [pauses] is that it is a good balance of that put to the discipline of learning stuff figuring stuff out. It is true that this is a rock and roll band and we're not you know[pauses] well let me put it this way, it's not Sunday school. But at the same time, I think we all have a pretty good head on our shoulders to kind of like balance that all out with actually doing something that is important. That is the way I look at it. I believe it is not really healthy to do one thing to excess.
What is the current status of your band Enemy?
The status is I haven't had a chance to record any music. And I have a record's worth of stuff but I just need to be home for longer than just a couple days to do it. But yes I'm planning to make another record and I've got a couple of other projects that I've kind of produced and written for and played on too. There is a whole bunch of stuff I'm trying to get done.
Aside from the Queens you've played with A Perfect Circle. Obviously with each band it is a total different mind set you need to have so how do you go approaching that mind set for each respective band?
The approach to A Perfect Circle is a very subtle one. It is very delicate music and it is very intricate as well. While the Queens it is kind of performed with a little more angst or a little more with short bursts, is the best way I can describe it. With A Perfect Circle there are lots of hills and valleys and you have to pick your moments really well where you can either get louder or get angry. And each band has different characters and all these characters are strong. In A Perfect Circle you have Billy, you have Maynard and Josh Freese and each one of those characters are so great at what they do. And to play with them brings something different out of you all the time. While with the Queens, it is a bit of a powerhouse right now. The band is on fire and it is very intense.
Speaking of Billy Howerdel he has been working on some new music.
Yes, it's a new project called Ashes Divide and if you like A Perfect Circle you're going to like it. A Perfect Circle was really his music. I don't play on the album but I really like it and back it totally. We did get together a couple of times over the last couple of years but he really takes his time. And rather than force something to happen, we just decided to hang out. I listened to a bunch of his new music but it seemed he had it pretty much covered if you know what I mean. He likes to pick the parts and then divide amongst the musicians. He is such a well rounded player.
Interview by Joe Matera
Photo by Hali McGrath