Making Little Richard proud. Photo by Amy Theilig
Making Little Richard proud. Photo by Amy Theilig

Voodoo Boogie

What's not to love, one wonders. Witnessing the Eagles of Death Metal live is to encounter an embodiment of all that made early rock & roll so wonderful. There's a simple beat, you can sing along to it, and the singer is bizarrely charismatic. Jesse (a.k.a. Jesse "The Devil" Hughes, but calling him "Hughes" would be like calling Ozzy "Osbourne") is a rock star as imagined by John Waters: greased-back hair, glasses, what he calls a "soft wonderful boomerang of love" mustache, gloves, tattoos, tight jeans, a Fender Telecaster and (sometimes) a rayon cape, delivering up the best Chuck Berry/Little Richard/Canned Heat-inspired rock & roll to leak out of America in some time. Eagles of Death Metal owes its unlikely existence (and profile) to its drummer: Josh Homme, an old high school friend moonlighting from his day job as leader of marijuana-rock powerhouses Queens of the Stone Age. But it's Jesse who writes—and sings—the songs about midnight creepers and speaking in tongues, about voodoo dances and kissing the devil's tongue and wanting to be your monkey.

OC Weekly: What does the name mean?

Jesse Hughes: There's a lot of conjecture about that, but basically Josh and I and some friends were at the Beerhunter out in Palm Desert years ago, and they were playing Poison, but it wasn't just any Poison song, I think it was "Every Rose Has a Thorn," the softest and most wussy of their tunes, and this nitwit in the midst of a drunken gleeful moment was dancing around the bar going, "Dude, this is fuckin' metal, man." And Josh or someone responded, "This isn't metal." He goes, "Dude, this is! This is fuckin' death metal, man." And I said, "This is the Eagles of death metal." Cut to two hours of smoke and haze later, and we were in the back of our friends' VW, discussing what would the Eagles of death metal sound like. Josh came over the next day, and he got on my drum kit and configured it in a very bizarre manner and started doing a Zombies/Turtles beat, I laid a Piedmont/hillbilly guitar line on it, and he goes, that's Eagles of Death Metal. And I said, Yessir. And he commanded me to become brilliant and to become the entity that I am.

But you didn't make a record for years . . .

The band stayed alive because people asked Josh about it for years. The whole time he's been asking me to make records, and I'm like, "With you?" I had been married and pursuing a more conservative lifestyle. And a much heavier lifestyle. I was 199 pounds. Now I weigh 148. I've literally been transformed by destiny and by the call to be the most amazing mustache in the history of rock & roll.

You're really into your mustache.

I've always carried the mark of the mustache. It's always been inside. It's been a Cosmo layout waiting to happen, '78, Burt Reynolds, you know what I'm saying. A mustache is a kind of tongue-in-cheek way to say, "It's fun to be a dude—it's even better to be a man." And women are much happier when I rock it real.

Have you always had one?

I think I'd grown it out some, and somebody goes, "Dude, Freddie Mercury." And I thought, Oh, okay, fine, it'll be really Freddie Mercury—and I'll fuck your girlfriend.

What's the cape all about?

That's the Avenger of Rock & Roll. He showed up around the third day of our tour with Placebo, when I could see the joy in the faces of all the people that were showing up, of having rock & roll returned to them, and by having the uncomfortable cliquish conformity of "You can't listen to the Clash unless you've been into them since '81" attitude lifted from their shoulders. And miraculously, I think it was supernatural, when I turned to look at myself in the mirror yet again, I saw that I had a cape on that said "Rock & Roll." As if the spirits of rock & roll anointed me at that very moment, on that third day, and I did rise and don my black leather gloves and the gauntlet of rock & roll, and goddamnit, I could boogie.

That you can.

Our motto is "Make Little Richard Proud." See, it's not just the music you play, it's the attitude you represent. Cuz you have to approach rock & roll like you're a medium. Robert Fripp said something to the effect that you're calling on whatever that entity of music is to wrap its cape around you and take you into its confidence, and those are the moments that inform your pride. Well, rock & roll gave me the fuckin' cape itself!And has sent me to wrap it around everybody.



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