With his handlebar moustache, aviator sunglasses and tattooed arms, Jesse “Boots Electric” Hughes of Eagles Of Death Metal is something of an endangered species: he’s a genuine old-school rock star. But he’s no washed-up has-been- his band only got going in 1998 (co-founded by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age) and each successive album release has generated bigger and bigger waves of excitement. According to Hughes, the secret of their success lies in keeping things simple. “We just wanna make good music,” he drawls in an accent more suggestive of the Deep South than his native California.
Their hard-rock style is similar to QOTSA but has a bluesey, summery feel reminiscent of the Dandy Warhols. The lyrics aren’t exactly complicated: they sing about girls, L.A., girls, and… well, more girls. “I’m not here to tell anyone who to f***ing vote for! This isn’t bible studies, it’s a rock n’ roll show, you know what I mean? So I treat it that way.”
Although Hughes isn’t interested in using lyrics to make moral or political statements, he doesn’t have a problem with those who do – including poor long-suffering Bono. “I love Bono. I look up to Bono, I respect him.” But, would Hughes ever consider taking the musical moral high ground himself? “Not at this point, though I’m not ruling it out ever in the future.” In fact at this point, cynics could accuse Hughes of selling-out. His music has been used in commercials for Nike, Pontiac cars, Budweiser, and video games like Gran Turismo and Need For Speed. Hughes is unapologetic for his endorsement of big corporations: “I never said I wasn’t gonna do that, I wanna make the world better so I’m gonna start by lending my music to stuff I’m involved in! I buy stuff, I love stuff. I love Budweiser. I’m here to help!”
“This isn’t bible studies, it’s a rock n’ roll show”
While Hughes may have the rock-star look down to a T, he isn’t afflicted with a clichéd rock-star ego. The band remain undemanding while touring: “I love what I do, I just need a place to sleep, that’s about it,” he says. In fact Eagles of Death Metal have been the victim of other musicians’ drama-queen attitudes – after opening for Guns n’ Roses in Ohio, 2006, they were fired on the spot by Axl Rose who went on stage and called them “Pigeons of Shit Metal”. “You always have to take s**t! That’s Murphy’s Law, that’s how s**t works, I just take it and give it to someone else.” Hughes shows Otwo a “Pigeons of Shit Metal” tattoo on his forearm and laughs: “Having an asshole let the world know he doesn’t like me is cool!”
There’s more to Hughes than his brash exterior would have you believe. His close relationship with childhood friend Homme helped him combat drug addiction during the making of their second album Death By Sexy. “He’s the best friend I ever had, I love the man, he’s one of the only people I ever stayed in touch with.”
Do Homme’s commitments to QOTSA cause friction between the bands? “He probably finds it more difficult to deal with my schedule than I find it to deal with his,” responds Hughes. “We’re all friends, I have the drummer from his band [Joey Castillo] in my band.” In fact the flexibility of the line-up keeps things interesting; guests such as Jack Black and Dave Grohl often record and play live shows with the group.
This summer has seen the Eagles of Death Metal take to the road headlining a European tour to promote their 2008 album Heart On. The trip wouldn’t be complete without stop-offs at a few festivals, something bands from the USA look forward to. “The festival phenomenon is something uniquely European, that’s why we love it so much, it’s something we don’t often get to do,” says Hughes. But do bands that play festivals- especially high-profile bands like Eagles of Death Metal- get to enjoy a genuine festival experience? “We get to watch gigs but we don’t have to camp, we sleep on the tour bus,” Hughes tells Otwo, sounding a little disappointed. “I’m a boy scout so I love camping.”
And as for Limerick, where they played the night before the interview, “I didn’t stab anyone, that’s for sure!” he laughs when asked if Limerick deserves its nickname. “But I like rough places. Jesus Christ himself hung out with hookers and thieves!”