Chapter 1: The Non-Reunion “Reunion” with Queens of the Stone Age
By Lisa Morgan
Nick Oliveri sat with me on the steps outside of his hotel, as he lit a cigarette, and reminisced about his early years here in the Coachella Valley, a season where he found music and lost his father. The house he lived in as a kid was just down the street. He was humble, open, and would handily beat any critic to the punch in pointing out his own shortcomings, all the while beaming about the abilities and talents of those he has been fortunate to work with. He acknowledged past mistakes, voiced questions about what the future holds, and shared openly about his regrets. As he spoke of adolescent memories with a sense of longing, it was clear that he has had no truer love for anything other than music, then or now. For Nick Oliveri, there has never been a “Plan B”, only music. He fell on that sword at the tender age of 14, alongside some of rock and rolls biggest names, all with roots here in the Coachella Valley.
There is a vast amount of information regarding his life events and music -more than one article can handle. This is the conversation he chose to lead. From the better part of 3 hours talking with this artist, these are the highlights.
CVW: Where did this all start for you?
Oliveri: “I went to the US Festival, Heavy Metal Sunday. I was 11. I bought my own ticket and just told my mom I was going. She didn’t say no. She just made me go with one of her co-workers to make sure I didn’t get into any trouble while I was there. That show changed everything for me. I saw Ozzy, Judas Priest, The Scorpions, Van Halen, Motley Crüe. Yeah, I was all in after that.”
“I hated that we moved from Culver City. I was just about to graduate from my elementary school in 6th grade. Then I came here and went to a school where Jr High was 6-8th. I hated my parents for it at the time. But I’d never have played in any of the bands I’ve played with if we hadn’t moved here.” (He laughed as he spoke of his dad, but a cloud cast slightly on his demeanor as he continued. The senior Oliveri was killed in a car accident in ’92.) “I must have made him pull his hair out. He used to go running all the time. Sometimes, I don’t know why he ever came back. We’d get in stupid fights.”
“I got busted for spray painting a wall on the first day of school here in the desert. I came out to the bus stop and one of the older kids was still there after missing his earlier bus. He said, ‘Hey, you want to smoke a joint?’ I said, ‘Yeah…I think.’ He had these spray paint cans and we painted this country club wall. My folks had to pay $600 for that. Like idiots, we put our names on our ‘artwork’….a picture of a car with guns sticking out of it aiming at cops,” he said, shaking his head. “First day of school…off to a good start.” His mind continued to wander from music a bit as he shared, “Dad loved the Dodgers. He had a Maverick and painted it Dodger blue.” Oliveri proceeded to rattle off the names of Dodgers during that golden era. “I live real close to the stadium now.”
I’d ditch school to stay home and play guitar, when I was supposed to be getting up to go to school. My parents were both working during the mornings, and I had until noon to get out of the house without getting caught. Eventually they started getting notes from school. I just really didn’t want to do anything else. What I really wanted to learn was what Randy Rhodes was doing. The Ramones records – I could kind of figure those out. I’d check out pictures of bar chords, and watch videos.
I’ll never forget that day – my first musical conversation. It was at Brant’s (Bjork) house, him on drums, Josh (Homme) on guitar and Chris Cockrell on bass. John (Garcia) didn’t show up at first, and came in late. I’d already sung with them. I showed up with “New Rose” by The Damned, “I Don’t Care” by the Ramones, and “She” by Misfits. I had showed up with some covers I wanted to play, and Josh and Brant had 2 or 3 originals. They maybe weren’t the greatest songs, but I still remember them to this day. They were catchy, and they didn’t suck. Brant had a really long one called “Communion Youth”. It was 1987. They were 12. John and I were around 14 and 15 at the time. We played a party for Chris Baker with Sean Wheeler’s band. We were pretty much the first version of Kyuss. I played two parties with them before leaving the band. They asked me back to play bass, about a year or two later, and that’s when I became a bass player.
CVW: You wrote with Josh a lot in the days you were in QOTSA. Do you miss writing with him?
Oliveri: Yes. I don’t know if he misses writing with me, but his collaboration always makes things better. On the song “Autopilot”, the original drummer played it kind of fast. Josh got on the drums, slowed it down and made it sound really good. His signature contributions were great on the last Mondo Generator album. It made the song “The Last Train”, 100 times better. He did this slinky backwards solo that only he does. It’s different and cool. It may be the best song on Hell Comes Your Heart. I put that one out myself, and it didn’t really do much. I’m not a good business guy. Josh, on the other hand, is great. When you’re working with Josh, you can be as creative as you want, he can be as creative as he wants, but when it comes to business, he keeps you working. Josh for lack of a better term, is a ‘suit and tie rocker’, he keeps the business rolling right along with the music.
I’ve been out of the band for 10 years now, and I’ve come around and asked if I could sit in. When I was with the band, we’d have guests come on all the time. I may be the only one who hasn’t yet, as the thirteenth member to be fired from Queens of the Stone Age. We had a bit of a revolving door. Anyway, I’d just ask to sing a song, not stepping on current bass player, Mike’s, aka Shoes’, feet. And he’d say, not this time. It’s his call, his band. It’s not about what I want anymore, and that’s ok. I stopped asking.
CVW: What has been your experience with Dave Grohl?
Oliveri: During the early days of Kyuss, we could always count on Dave and Chris from Nirvana being at our shows. Later, Dave is the reason we got the label behind us. He did a couple tours with us. He didn’t have to do that. But it had been a while since he’d gotten to play drums with a band. We knew he wasn’t there forever. Everybody had practiced really hard to be ready for him. I sure did. Last thing I wanted to do was be the weak link. It was great playing with him; he was so consistent and dependable. It was perfect every single time. I got to fly a Learjet because of him. He told me, ‘I don’t do drugs, but I have this thing with Learjets.’ It was his fiancé’s birthday and he wanted to take her somewhere and asked if we wanted to join them. It was the full rock star experience: we didn’t have to go through customs which felt weird. They fed us sushi. I’ll never forget it.
When I was in Australia, I was working with Michele Maden from the band Tourettes. We were recording the song “Dog Food”, an Iggy Pop song for an independent film there in Australia. For her birthday, I thought I’d ask Dave to do a couple tracks with me. This was when he was doing Crooked Vultures. I didn’t think he’d even answer the phone, but he did and said, ‘Sure’. He basically just had to ask how the song went and just laid it down, perfect. The movie was never completed, but a 45 was released on an Australian label that I’ve worked with, that put out Mondo Generator records.
CVW: What is the music business like for you now, compared to pre-internet and pre-electronic downloading?
Oliveri: The music business has changed so much. Everything Lars (Ulrich) from Metallica said came true…his delivery sucked, but he was right. He said free downloads of music would ruin the record industry. Now there’s only two major labels and they’re not signing anyone. I used to always do these 50/50 split deals; you can usually make enough money from them to make a new record with a little left over, and not get dropped. Retail isn’t even taking new CDs anymore. Vinyl has made a comeback, but it’s expensive. Vinyl is the only thing that you can hold in your hand and not burn on the computer. A major would have dropped you for only selling 10,000. And as far as touring goes, I haven’t had a band like I did when I was a kid since, well, when I was a kid. It used to be like, ‘Ok, let’s go!’ and we’d have mom’s house as security. Everybody has kids and families now, and they need to focus on being parents.
I’ve been told that if I had kids, it would change everything, maybe even be good for me. It just hasn’t worked out for me that way. I am an uncle though. I love my niece. She’s beautiful and she’s grown up so fast. But I’m a lousy uncle. I just missed calling her on her birthday. Used to be, I would see her a lot when I was with Queens, because I felt really good about seeing her and I could bring her stuff…but then I lost that because of my screw ups, so then I felt like I couldn’t just see her and bring her stuff. I felt like a loser, the guy who had everything and lost everything. I’m not in denial. I admit it.
I may be moving out of my place in LA soon, and I’m not sure about where I’m going next. I think about Spain. I wouldn’t be down the street from LA when someone wants me to record, but then the Dwarves aren’t going to pay $1000 to fly me in either. I don’t like the business end of things. I just can’t find myself doing it. I got lucky, I know that. I got comfortable with people doing things for me.
CVW: What is the new project you’re working on currently?
Oliveri: I call this Uncontrollable instead of Mondo Generator, because I feel a sense of loyalty to the guys in Mondo. I’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t really work. Fans and I both, all really love the lineup we are as Mondo Generator. But right now, everyone is focusing on their families.
My new CD, Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable, Leave Me Alone, is due to be released at the end of this month (October). I played all the instruments on it, with some special guest players, so I hand-picked the guys that are going to play with me.
I loved the band Unsound, and I remember when Tony Brown (drummer) left. He was so good. But then this new guy, Jeff Bowman, comes in and he’s even faster, and he’s so hard hitting. I love that! I think that’s important. I’m really excited that he’s going to be part of this. Then there’s Mike Pygmie (guitar) who knows everybody’s songs and he absolutely rips on guitar. Hell, Mike knows more songs of mine than I do!
I’m excited to get started. Normally I’d have people come up to LA to work on this, but I know these guys have kids and stuff. We’re going to open up for Queens of the Stone Age along with The Kills and JD McPherson. There are some things about the show I can’t talk about, (you know, the element of surprise) but I’m incredibly stoked.
(Oliveri indicated that he may have already over-spoke to another media source due to a previous misunderstanding regarding certain elements to the sold out show.)
CVW to the hand- picked crew set to perform with Nick Oliveri at the sold out LA Forum with Queens of the Stone Age: How are you feeling about this new project?
Mike Pygmie – Guitar: I’m really excited about this project. The record is killer and it’s gonna be fun to perform. Nick did a great job on it and it’s very personal, not only the lyrical content, but also the fact that he plays all the instruments. You are hearing the music exactly how he heard it in his head and without compromise.
It’s an honor for me to have a solo on it, especially because the list of guitar players he got to contribute is incredible. I’m stoked to be playing guitar in the band as well. Nick, Stephen and Jeff are all incredible musicians and awesome dudes as well. It’s gonna be a lot of fun!
Jeff Bowman – Drummer: I’m grateful and somewhat nostalgic about playing with Nick Oliveri. At this point in my life, it feels like things have kind of come full circle. My very first musical project, called The Fast, was a noisy little high school garage band with Nick and another friend, Chris Baker. That was when I was first introduced to the desert music scene and an amazing circle of great desert musicians.
Mike Pygmie and I have played in several projects together over the years, too, including The Agents and The Whizards. He’s an incredible guitarist and has been a great friend through it all.
So here we are, all these years later, friends still jamming in a blazing hot garage, kicking ass and dreaming big about what’s ahead for us. I feel totally honored to have the opportunity to play with these guys in Uncontrollable, and bringing Nick’s new music to life. I congratulate Nick on all of his musical accomplishments. I really connect to where he is coming from as an artist.
Stephen Haas – Guitar: I’ll tell ya, I’m so stoked to be playing with my bro Nick! If it wasn’t already enough to have him ask me to record the solos for the song “Keep Me In The Loop” on the new record, that’s already filled with amazing and legendary players, then he asks me to be a part of the live band and tour with him. He could pick anyone to play with, and I’m the lucky one. His new record kicks ass and he’s just an unbelievable talent. I’m so excited to get the fuck outta Texas for a little while and come out there and play my ass off at the Forum opening for the Queens again.
BREAKING LOCAL NEWS: There is also a potential in-store appearance in the works for the release of The Uncontrollable Leave Me Alone album at Hollywood’s Amoeba Records. A pair of tickets for the sold out show on October 31st will allegedly be enclosed in one of the CDs sold at that event. Also just confirmed is a show with Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable at The Hood on Saturday, October 25. War Drum will also be on the bill.