It may be a ghoulish question to put to Josh Homme, frontman of popular American alternative rockers Queens of the Stone Age, but it has to be asked.
Did he really die a couple of years ago on the operating table?
"Yeah," says Homme, 40. "I was under [anesthetic] so I didn't know and there was no [white] light. It doesn't have any badge or courage or honour or anything. It just seems like one of those things where I feel very detached from it, like ‘that probably sucked'. It feels like something that occurred to someone else."
It happened while Homme was undergoing a routine operation on his leg. There were complications and Homme choked on oxygen tubes. For a brief period he was declared medically dead. After being revived he had to endure a long recovery - including being bed ridden for four months- which had an impact not only on himself and his family but his band, who will play a double bill with Nine Inch Nails in Wellington in March.
Homme says he's not even sure whether the operation was in 2010 or 2011. "To be honest with you I have no concept of time. I'm going to say 2010 and I'm not even sure if that's true."
Most reports indicate it was in 2010.
The distinctive ginger-haired, 1.98-metre (6 feet, 5 inch) tall guitarist and singer rarely talks about his personal life. For most of his career, it's been about the music.
But post-op, Homme found it a struggle to return to music and to move on to a new Queens of the Stone Age album after 2007's Era Vulgaris. For a time he neither had the desire nor drive to record again.
Homme says he did go through the wringer before coming to the point that he could record and play. "It's all relative, I'm sure. I'm not complaining, but for me there were a number of wringers to go through. I'm totally fine with doing that, in fact it's a good thing. The last ringer to go through was to musically get back on my feet.
"I've been doing this a long time and you face certain peaks and valleys. After 17 years in this band you are eventually going to get to a valley that's really far down there."
But when Homme climbed out the result was last year's ...Like Clockwork, the first Queens of the Stone Age album to get to No 1 in the United States charts. While the tattooed Homme and other band members have always projected an aura of rock 'n' roll rebellion, was Homme proud to have finally made No 1?
"You know, I had no expectation for something like that," he says. "And to be honest, I was so obsessed about how I felt about our record I didn't know what to expect. When that occurred I was really pleasantly surprised. I guess I was more relieved than anything.
"When you take a big chance and you stop and bow and wait to see if you're getting boos or applause that moment of silence is a long time. I'm not making music to get to No 1 so that's why getting to No 1 felt really nice."
Homme, who founded his band after the demise of his previous outfit, stoner rockers Kyuss in 1995, says the album's success was partly due to the culmination of many years of hard work and the devotion of their fans. He's in music for the long run, he says. "The arc of my story is my lifetime long, so I'm not in any hurry. We have a lot of fans that we've had the whole time and we get new fans and we don't lose the old ones. That's because people that are into our music, like it or not, know that it's real."
How people reacted to Homme during his recovery also made its way on to the album. One song, Fairweather Friends, alludes to how some people treated him. The song is also significant for including a piano and singing contribution from none other than Sir Elton John. As one wag in Britain's Guardian newspaper pointed out last year, a true Queen of the Stone Age.
The album also includes contributions from Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor, former Queens members Mark Lanegan and Dave Grohl (from Nirvana and Foo Fighters), as well as Arctic Monkey's Alex Turner - Homme co-produced the British band's second album. But Sir Elton's involvement was luck. Homme says an old room-mate had become one of Sir Elton's "high end" drivers.
The room-mate was playing Queens of the Stone Age for Sir Elton and they got talking about the band. The room-mate told Sir Elton that he knew Homme. It wasn't long before Homme took a phone call from Sir Elton. "The world spins in a funny direction sometimes," says Homme, who at first didn't believe it was Sir Elton on the other end of the line. "It would be unfair to expect me to believe it was Elton John, but you do what you can," he jokes.
Homme says he was also pleased Sir Elton wanted to be involved because it is the last thing anyone would expect from either the music veteran or Queens of the Stone Age. "Elton was a huge thing for me and I love strange wicked chemistry. You are not supposed to do that, so it's exactly where I want to go."
Homme is familiar with Wellington, having played the TSB Bank Arena in 2010 as part of "supergroup" Them Crooked Vultures with Grohl and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. Queens played Wellington Town Hall in 2011.
Current and past Queens of the Stone Age members are well known for side projects and other bands and another string to Homme's bow has been the popular and wonderfully named Eagles of Death Metal, which has released four albums since 2004. Homme says he's been in the studio working on the next Eagles of Death Metal release - a sure sign as anything that he isn't struggling to make music any more.
His regimen is even more impressive when you consider that he and his wife, Australian-born musician Brody Dalle who will open for Queens of the Stone Age in New Zealand, are parents to two children Camille, 8, and Orrin, who turns three his year.
"I'm a workaholic," says Homme. "And a workaholic's work is never done."
"The goal is never to make a record and it gets huge - and then to sit by the pool and get an amazing tan. I want to make good shit. But I'm never satisfied. I wish I was because then I would be satisfied.
"I'm looking for something and I've got to keep going. For me, that is what I enjoy about life. It's catching the scent of it or feeling like I saw a piece of it for a second. If I can touch it for a second I'd be happy enough to chase it for the rest of my life."
- March 19, Auckland, Vector Arena.
- March 20, Wellington, TSB Arena.
- March 22, Christchurch, CBS Canterbury Arena
Tickets at www.frontiertouring.com/ninqotsa
- The Dominion Post
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