Interview: Queens of the Stone Age’s Mikey Shoes talks Villains & the hunt for an individual creative authenticity

Only weeks ago, Queens of the Stone Age marked their return to Australian shores with a blistering run of shows that saw the Americans begin to introduce fans to their new album Villains, due for release this Friday.

A few hours before their final show in Melbourne took place, I was ushered into artist catering, where bass player Michael Shuman was waiting, following their soundcheck. The band’s Splendour in the Grass appearance was still ahead of them but as Mikey Shoes mentions from the jump, being back in Australia on a headline tip was a ride and a half.

“Because last time was with Nine Inch Nails,” he remembers. “It’s [been] nice to do our own shows [here] and play to just our fans. To be able to play longer, more songs and to play deeper cuts we might not get to play all the time.”

Kicking off their Australian return in Darwin, Shuman reflects on the band’s first trip to the NT.

“It felt like going to a small town in the States; they might not get a lot of music and because of that, they’re so appreciative. You can really feel that. Ultimately, it makes for a better show for us. It was really down to earth and those guys, the Lonely Boys, it was great meeting them. It was a great experience to see that dynamic. We loved seeing it develop.”

“When we met them they were like, ‘We’re so excited; we’ve never played on a stage like this’. That was so exciting because I know what it was like the first time I played on a big stage; it means a lot. You have other bands who have an ego or think they are whoever they are or whatever. It doesn’t matter how big the band is, it’s about being a good human being and they were really kind, nice people.”

Their east coast shows saw Queens of the Stone Age join forces with Melbourne’s own, Ecca Vandal, another artist Shuman praises for her individuality and striking music.

“We were sent a bunch of bands but, no offence to any of those bands, a lot of those bands sounded the same. They were what you would have expected to get. I listened to Ecca and I was like, ‘Holy shit’. You could just tell. It was something new; she liked hip hop but she also obviously comes from a punk rock background. That’s what you want; you want someone who sounds like no one else. That’s why I was excited for both those artists.”

With the release of Villains on the near horizon, Shuman has noted the response singles taken from Queens’ seventh album so far have brought in a more diverse crowd at recent live shows.

“Our audiences have always been pretty dynamic, where it’s young to old, metal dudes and hippie dudes, all kinds of people. We’ve noticed with Like Clockwork, there’s been more kids. Younger kids. Even with this record, I feel that the younger generation is understanding it more maybe, where they didn’t before. Maybe the other records didn’t connect as well as these records are. It’s great. That’s the only way you can expand. We just want to keep building and growing.”

“I hadn’t been on the road in a year and a half,” he furthers. “It’s the longest time I’d gone without playing a show. Just to be out here again is really exciting for me. I think in general, maybe because it’s been four years, people are really excited for this new music. We’re excited to play the tunes because they’ve been living in some vacuous hard drive and on tape; to be able to play them for people is really exciting. We recorded them with the intent to play them live; when we made the record, we practiced them live before recording, instead of piecing it together. They’re intended for the band to do them live.”

Splitting his time between QOTSA, Mini Mansions and more recently, his foray into film composing, Shuman admits that it can be a bit of chaos trying to prioritise everything, but the challenge in keeping focused is one he relishes.

“Film composing has really taken over my life,” he says. “Ot’s so intense and there’s so much music to create. We intended, even with …Like Clockwork, there were so many songs we were supposed to finish. With this record, there are songs we wanted to finish too. We’d love to go back in the studio and make another record and be quick about it, not take four years! It is hard with the amount of touring we have to do, but this experience has been really fun. It definitely was a fun record to make, so to piggyback off that, of course we’re like, ‘Let’s go do that again’.”

Noting the different responsibilities he has within both QOTSA and Mini Mansions, Shuman compares writing between the two projects and particularly, how Villains has further developed his own songwriting direction.

“I get to have different roles and that keeps it refreshing.” he says. “In my other band, I sing and I play drums and guitar; with this band, obviously, I play bass. I write the majority of the songs with my other band and with this, they extend mostly to Josh and we create them together as a band. It’s a totally different thing. Just having different avenues is very important. If you were just in a metal band and you were doing metal all day long, I don’t know, I’d get burnt out. It gets boring.”

“I know a lot of people do it for the money; they hate their bandmates and they hate touring. We love it though. We’re excited to hang out with each other and go on tour. I think we’re lucky and I’d like to think we have the right attitude in why we’re doing it.”

With the Villains album cycle still in its infancy, Shuman is still finding new elements of the record to be realised live. As we chat backstage at Festival Hall, conversation drifts to his own musical influences and the unique position he and his bandmates are in, where they are attracting new waves of fans who may be aspiring musicians themselves. Navigating a cutthroat music industry while trying to find your own voice is hard enough today, but as we talk about the younger fans Shuman sees front row at Queens’ shows nowadays, he reflects on his own experiences in developing his craft.

“Just trying and giving it a shot [is key].” he asserts. “I mean, I wasn’t a drummer until Mini Mansions. I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do this’. That’s kind of how I started playing bass as well. I was a guitar player, but I wanted to do something different. It was just in giving it a shot, figuring it out for yourself and finding something unique to yourself that feels authentic? That’s what everybody should be doing.”

Photos by Rochelle Flack. 

Villains is released via Remote Control this Friday, August 25th.