Josh Homme's Rotating Supergroup The Desert Sessions Returns For 'Vols. 11 & 12'

Nov 6, 2019
Originally published on November 5, 2019 11:53 pm

It almost sounds like a twisted science experiment: Invite a dozen rock and roll warriors to spend a week at a ranch in the California desert, encourage them to write songs and play together, then capture the results.

The Desert Sessions Vols. 11 & 12 is the result of one of Josh Homme's experiments. The Queens of the Stone Age frontman has been hosting these retreats since 1997, inviting a different group of musicians to each one. Earlier this year, he convened another one, with guests including Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Les Claypool of Primus, and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint.

Homme has been making records for a long time and says his favorite method of cultivating a recording vibe involves getting strangers together in the desert. The remote location encourages musicians to shed their professional armor and try things they wouldn't under "normal" circumstances, i.e. playing for fun, in the garage, like when they're first starting out. Even a longtime arena-dwelling professional like Billy Gibbons, who's approaching age 70, gets it.

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The credits offer clues about what goes on at Rancho de la Luna. In addition to drums on album-opener "Move Together," Carla Azar plays "hand boop boop synth." Meanwhile, Stella Mozgawa plays stand-up chimes and room-service trays. In other words, stakes are low. Nobody gets blamed if a song flames out — they just go outside, watch the sunset and then try something else.

Homme says he thinks about intangibles, like chemistry, when he's putting together the crew of well-known and unknown musicians. He sees himself less as a conductor than a facilitator, and describes the interaction as "borrowing friction from each other." You can hear that in his vocal on a track like "Noses in Roses, Forever."

Previous Desert Sessions went heavy on prog-rock jams, but this one is more focused on songs, so the group chemistry changes from track to track. Nothing feels overworked or overthought — the musicians sound like they're discovering the songs as they go along. They're not trying too hard to make magic happen. And that's precisely why magic happens.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's a delightfully twisted music experiment. Get a bunch of rock 'n' roll warriors to spend a week at a ranch in the desert in California. Encourage them to write songs and play together. Capture the results.

(SOUNDBITE OF DESERT SESSIONS' "FAR EAST FOR THE TREES")

KELLY: Josh Homme, the frontman of Queens Of The Stone Age, has been hosting these retreats since 1997. Among the guests this time - Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Les Claypool of Primus and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint. The highlights have been released as "Desert Sessions Vols. 11 & 12." Tom Moon has our review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Josh Homme has been making records for a long time, and he's tried just about everything to cultivate a vibe in the recording studio. He says his favorite method involves getting strangers together in the middle of the desert. The remote location encourages musicians to shed their professional armor and try things they wouldn't under normal circumstances.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVE TOGETHER")

BILLY GIBBONS: (Singing) She don't like to answer the phone. And I don't like her to ever leave me alone.

MOON: Playing for fun, like in the garage when you're first starting out - even a longtime arena-dwelling professional like Billy Gibbons, who's approaching age 70, gets it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVE TOGETHER")

GIBBONS: (Singing) We like the way we move together.

MOON: The credits offer clues about what goes on at Rancho de la Luna. In addition to drums on that track, Carla Azar plays, quote-unquote, "hand boop boop synth" (ph). Meanwhile, Stella Mozgawa plays stand-up chimes and room-service trays. In other words, stakes are low. Nobody gets blamed if a song flames out. They just go outside, watch the sunset and then try something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF YOU RUN")

LIBBY GRACE: (Singing) New age, burning of a page, a brand-new dream to sell. Ain't far from who you really are, and it's just as well. You lie for the honey. You lie for the wealth. You lie to each other. Ain't gonna lie to myself.

MOON: And that leads to something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRUCIFIRE")

MIKE KERR: (Singing) Feeling high and tight. That's how I'm wired. Caught in the light. Crucifire.

JAKE SHEAR: (Singing) Fire. Fire. Fire. Crucifire.

KERR: (Singing) Oh, put me out.

MOON: Josh Homme says he thinks about intangibles, like chemistry, when he's putting together the crew of well-known and unknown musicians. He sees himself less as conductor than facilitator, and he describes the interaction as, quote-unquote, "borrowing friction from each other." You can hear that in his vocal on this track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOSES IN ROSES, FOREVER")

JOSH HOMME: (Singing) Gonna have our noses in roses forever. Everybody's just, kind and fair.

MOON: Previous "Desert Sessions" went heavy on prog rock jams. This one is more focused on songs. The group chemistry changes from track to track. Nothing feels overworked or over-thought (ph). The musicians sound like they're discovering the songs as they go along. They're not trying too hard to make magic happen, and that's precisely why magic happens.

KELLY: That was "Desert Sessions Vols. 11 & 12." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF DESERT SESSIONS SONG, "CRUCIFIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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