Crooked Vultures ready for NZ tour
John Paul Jones is on the line from Los Angeles - he divides his time between there and London these days - and it is hard speaking to the former Led Zeppelin bassist without referencing his old band.
That makes the first five seconds of the phone call difficult as Paul Jones immediately states, "We can talk about Zeppelin. That's no problem. But I think you're going to want to hear about Crooked Vultures. It's the most excited I've been about a band in a very long time".
It's a big call, particularly when you consider that Paul Jones had worked with an incredible list of legends before changing the face of rock music with his bass and keyboard parts as one quarter of Led Zep.
Briefly a member of The Shadows, he would go on to work with the creme de la creme of the British scene in the swinging sixties: Rod Stewart, Dusty Springfield, Jeff Beck, Donovan, Cat Stevens, Lulu, and Shirley Bassey.
He arranged strings for The Rolling Stones, played on classic rock songs by Wings and The Kinks and of course went on to write, arrange and play on nine studio albums from heavy metal's equivalent to The Beatles.
But that was then.
Now it is all about Them Crooked Vultures, the "supergroup" that Paul Jones leads alongside Dave Grohl (former Nirvana drummer; Foo Fighters leader) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age).
It was rock's best kept secret and then - very quickly - it was the worst kept secret as news of a group involving Homme, Paul Jones and Grohl spread through the music press last year.
"It's not true that it was under wraps," Paul Jones laughs. "I mean - not to us anywhere. Not for anywhere as long as people have been reporting."
He refutes the claims that Grohl has been sitting on this idea for nearly five years.
"Dave and I worked together; I did some work with him as I've been a fan of his Foo Fighters band for a while. But I did not know Josh at all. So I think someone's having a laugh saying the project goes back that far, but we're here now. That's the main thing."
It was covert operations for a couple of months though - from late 2008 through to early 2009. Paul Jones explains, "we couldn't be seen together - all three of us, that is. We had to be very careful that only Dave and I might be photographed. Or only Josh and Dave".
He starts to chuckle, saying it's hard to keep any kind of secret in this day and age, but "Them Crooked Vultures has definitely benefited from the buildup. That can't be denied".
It is fair to make comparisons to Zeppelin too - the long shadow of that band definitely informs this project.
"Well, we're all fans of Led Zeppelin," Paul Jones says. "I played in the band of course - but I'm still a fan of the music we made. And Josh and Dave are both huge fans; that's no secret."
And, beyond that idea of overt influence, it was the Led Zeppelin reunion show from December 2007 that created the hunger now obvious in Jones' voice.
"That was the start of it; being back on stage, playing those songs - I wanted to tour with Led Zeppelin. I wanted to hit the road. I guess you could say I felt inspired again. But [Robert] Plant said no.
"So now that's not going to happen, I am free. And Jimmy [Page] and I toyed, briefly, with the idea of forming a new band - simply to go and play some songs - but that didn't work.
"And that's not going to happen now, either. So it is time for Crooked Vultures."
PAUL JONES says this is the most fun he has ever had playing and reckons the flow has been effortless - "I can honestly say that this has been the easiest group I've been a part of; the easiest group to work with."
In particular he has been impressed with Homme.
"I didn't know Josh before we started playing together. I had heard of him. I had heard some of his Queens of the Stone Age material, but I wasn't prepared for just how good he was. I'm particularly blown away by just what a good guitar player he is. I almost feel like he was hiding something there. And he's a great singer and writer too."
The band began playing shows before their self-titled debut album was released in November of last year. He says he knew from the earliest rehearsals that this band were something special ("a keeper").
He says they instantly locked in; songs coming from jams, the riffs bubbling up and flowing over as soon as the instruments were picked up and the record button was hit.
"We just wanted to jam; just sit in the room and play. And that's what we did. And it's been incredibly easy, and that, I think, has been part of the magic of this. We're all having fun."
Live, Them Crooked Vultures stretch the songs out, heading for new territory. And that, Paul Jones says, does come from his old group.
"It's definitely something Zeppelin did and I think we did it well. And there's plenty of space and scope for exploration when Crooked Vultures plays live.
"We add in bits, we improvise. We have a second guitarist helping us when we play live, which gives me room to move between instruments and it gives us all freedom to search and seek."
But there won't be any Led Zeppelin covers live. Or for that matter Queens or Foo songs.
"I think the thing is, with that, we haven't once sat down and played any of our old songs. We haven't thought to; haven't needed to. At no point have any of us thought that we should cover old material. We're happy to let our songs from the past inspire some of the new content - I mean it's blues-rock music really, isn't it? So there's your influence - it all comes from the same place."
And if, after all of that, you still need a reason to see the band live, then the quiet member of Led Zeppelin has the answer: "Because", he says, moving from English gentleman to a cartoon villain, "we'll melt your bloody faces!"
Them Crooked Vultures
January 29: TSB Arena, Wellington
January 30: Vector Arena, Auckland
* Will you be going? Post your comments below.
The Dominion Post