Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
Alan: Hi Nick. It’s great to meet you. I know you’ve been to Ireland a few times before; I remember seeing you here with Queens of the Stone Age at Slane Castle in 2003. Have you any particular memories of that show?
Nick: It was fantastic. It was different than anywhere else I’ve ever played. I drank at this bar the night before, and people were saying it was going to be quite magical, and I didn’t really know what they meant. So we got there and went on stage and sure-as-shit, it was a magical night. You know, it’s such a beautiful setting with the castle, and everybody kinda going mad.
Alan: And you’ve played here a few times since…
Nick: Yeah, we’ve played some club gigs, and I played here with Mark Lanegan somewhere in town about eight or nine years ago.
Alan: And this gig tonight: It hasn’t really been very widely publicized. I think a lot more people would have loved to see you perform. Was it a conscious decision to play such an intimate venue?
Nick: Well it’s an acoustic show, and to have a good acoustic set it should be in a great setting, and the people are as much part of the show as me, and sometimes the crowd is better than me! I try to do the acoustic set in a way that people can interact. At some point, I’ll have people come up and sing and stuff like that.
Alan: So you’re new album is due out in September, is that right?
Nick: Yeah, I have a single out now that’s on the record, but the full-length is out in September. I’ve called the new band “The Uncontrollable”, and I’ve got Joey Castillo on drums from Queens and this guy Stephen Haas from Moistboyz playing guitar. But I did all this stuff on the record, and I called the record “Leave Me Alone”, because I did the drums and bass and guitar and stuff. But I had some help with the guitar leads. Phil Campbell from Motörhead is on one track, and Dean Ween from Ween is on one track, Stephen Haas plays lead on one of the songs. But basically just the lead part and I did all of the rest of the stuff. I worked really hard on it.
Alan: Yeah, I wanted to ask why you called it “Leave Me Alone”, but you just answered that; because you recorded most of it yourself.
Nick: My drummer at the time was having a kid, and I felt weird asking him to do anything that could pull him away from that, you know? So instead of doing another Mondo Generator record, I changed the name to The Uncontrollable. I still play with Mondo Generator back home, but this is a new band, so I got to choose different members and stuff, so it’s going to be really interesting and fun.
Alan: You have quite a few shows in this tour. Have you been playing some of your new material?
Nick: Yeah, I’ll do some new songs tonight, and some old songs. I’ll do some old Kyuss, some songs from different bands that I’ve played with. And songs from bands like the Ramones that influenced me.
Alan: What were your lyrical themes and inspirations for Leave Me Alone?
Nick: Well, I got the idea to do the drums from playing with some of the best drummers, I think, from my generation of players. I was very fortunate to play with the drummers that I have. I was kind of influenced by these guys, like Grohl, Alfredo Hernandez, Joey Castillo… I’ve been so fortunate with drummers, it’s unbelievable. My drummer Hoss from Mondo Generator. I was really influenced by these drummers. So I actually wrote the songs on drums. I played drums, humming these parts in my head, and then I had to transpose them to guitar, which made me write riffs I would have never done before.
Alan: Yeah, it sounds unusual to me to start with the drums.
Nick: Yeah, it was very strange. And so my song-writing has actually taken a good turn and expanded into something different. And when my drummer is present, I’ll write like I normally write, but I don’t think my songs are much different than songs I’d normally write. I was just humming weird riffs in my head that maybe I wouldn’t have written just sitting down with a guitar. So that was cool.
Alan: Any inspiration from your “near-death experience”; your car crash last year?
Nick: Yeah sure. Yeah, the first song on the record is about me crashing my car. I actually crashed the car the second day I recorded drums. I drove home. There’s a song called “The Void” on the record that could have been my last communication with this planet; because I drove home after doing that. I drove back to L.A. from Palm Springs instead of staying at the engineer’s house. He was saying “Come on man, stay here; you can come in tomorrow and start vocals”. I would do a track on drums, then I would do guitar and bass. And I was due to do vocals the next day, but I didn’t make it home. I lost my car; that’s it. So that’s ok.
Alan: Do you remember exactly what happened?
Nick: I fell asleep, which I’ve never done like that before. But I’ve never played drums in the studio before either! [laughs] I was pretty tired. To be honest, I fell asleep so hard that I actually only woke up when my head hit the ground. That normally knocks people out, but it woke me up. I had the cruise control set, and after the car rolled, I was upside-down in the car; strapped in with the airbags open. I really got lucky. I didn’t know what was going on. The engine was still running. My head was gushing blood; I had to get staples in my head. I’ve still got some glass and rocks in there I think, growing out a year later. I never even stepped on the brakes to turn off the cruise control, so the wheels were still turning really fast and the engine was revving really loud. It was a bad scene. I was in shock, and managed to climb out of my seat belt and rolled into the back seat. The car was all crushed, but the one window that wasn’t busted was the passenger side, and this guy started breaking the window to pull me out, and I’m thinking “Why is this guy trying to break my window – Stop! What are you doing?” It finally came into focus when he broke it and reached in and my hand was all bloody, and he pulled me out of there. He ended up coming to one of my shows later, and he was a fan of some of my bands. He had a tour shirt on. So I gave him a bass and stuff. His name was Edgar. He was a cool guy. I still call him every now and again and tell him to come out. He gave me pictures from his point of view; it was creepy man. But yeah, I made it, and I’m walking and talking!
Alan: Yeah it’s great. You were really lucky. You’ve worked with a lot of bands and projects over the years, and now you seem to taking the reigns a bit more with solo work. Do you prefer to be more in control?
Nick: I like both, but I kind of prefer being part of a band. I’m not the best king, but I’m the best king’s knight! I’m the best knight in the army! I’ll defend the army and the king till the death, kind of thing. That’s a good analogy. But yeah, I like to do my own thing as well. My band moves slower than other bands because I’m running it. I kind of blow things off sometimes. “Ah, we’ll do it tomorrow” kind of thing. But when I’m part of a band, and everybody’s in on it, I shine best that way.
Alan: Ten years on from your split with Queens of the Stone Age; in hindsight, do you think it inspired you to pursue things that you otherwise might not have done?
Nick: Well, I’ve done a lot of stuff in the past ten years. I’ve stayed so active; I probably wouldn’t have done as much. Queens have done a few records, and I’ve played on so many different things, and helped to create so much stuff. Maybe not on the same level of success, or in the public eye. I kinda did it on a grass roots level. All the bands I play in are very kind of “DIY”. So, it’s credible stuff, and I’m very proud to be part of everything I’ve been part of. I’m in five bands right now, and trying to juggle that has been tough. I’m busy, and I stay out of trouble; which is good! But it’s definitely a thing where you can’t breathe sometimes. I mean, sometimes I double-book myself. This thing happened with the Dwarves in Las Vegas, and I had already had planned a show in Portland with BL’AST, so I had to cancel the Dwarves. But the Dwarves thing is cool, because I’ve been a member of the Dwarves for 21 years and I can come and go. We make a record and I come in on bass and help write songs. We just did a new Dwarves record and it turned out really good; I’m really excited about that. But yeah, I double booked some shows. What are you going to do?
Alan: You did some vocals on a song on the last Queens album, and you played live with them for the first time in ten years in April. How did that feel? How are things between yourself and Josh [Homme] and the rest of the band now?
Nick: It was great! I put it out there to Josh a few times over the past ten years. At the shows, I would say “Hey man, you want me to come up and sing tonight? I’m here.” and he kinda didn’t blow me off, but would kinda say “Nah, we’re not going to do it yet”. It’s his band now; not mine any more, and it’s on his terms, and when he wants it to happen and if I’m around, then it’ll happen. We’re supposed to do some stuff in October, on Halloween, but I don’t know for sure.
Alan: If Josh came to you in the morning and asked you to come back full time on bass, how would you respond?
Nick: I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. It’s a different band now. He’s changed it to where he’s the dude, and he’s the main guy, and the music is all his. He’s the main front guy; there’s no other singers, and he’s got it to where he wants it to be. I don’t see that happening. I’m not going to wish for something that I don’t see happening. Not that I don’t want it to happen, but I don’t need it to happen. I’m happy with the music I’m doing. I love the new Queens, but there’s a lot of stuff that Josh adds to my music and a lot of stuff that I add to his music. So I would love to work with Josh again, in any band. I don’t necessarily see it as Queens, but I’m sure we’ll work together again, and I hope we do. We love working together and we have a good time. We write well together; there’s a good chemistry there, so I don’t see it not happening.
Alan: So I don’t want to dig up the past too much, but regarding your infamous run-in with the law and a SWAT team; I understand that as part of your bail conditions you had to remain sober for three years. At least this is what I saw reported online…
Nick: Well, I completed all my obligations and I did what I was supposed to do so well that I got off probation early. I went before the judge and got off early. I had to stay straight and narrow for the time of my probation and I had to check in and all that good stuff. But I did all my obligations to the court and the community, so that when I went before the judge after a year, he released my probation.
Alan: My question was more whether you found it difficult to stay sober. Here in Ireland, where drinking is so much a part of the culture, we know that being told to stay sober against your will is difficult.
Nick: Yes and No. I had to do therapy and classes and stuff like that. It was easier to do it with those things because you can’t really go into those pissed, you know? So I kinda just did my thing. Obviously I wanted to have a drink, because I prefer to do that! I just did what they wanted me to do from the time they wanted me to do it, and I thought that would be good enough. And apparently it was, and I’m glad it didn’t have to go any further than that. They were concerned of course; they wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting all messed up and stuff. So I just stayed the course, so to speak. Which is important to do when you’re in trouble! [laughs] I could have been really fucked up and kept getting into trouble, but I decided to not do that!
Alan: Finally; the Download Festival this year. Is this your first solo festival performance?
Nick: Yeah, it’s an acoustic set. It should be great. We shared the stage with Black Sabbath one year at Download, playing with the Dwarves on the main stage and people hated us! They were throwing so many piss bottles at us! But it was great!
Alan: Thanks very much for chatting. Have a great show tonight.