Jon Theodore talks Queens of the Stone Age, gear and replacing Grohl
Earlier this year, former Mars Volta man Jon Theodore joined one seriously chopsy club. By taking up residency behind the kit for the Josh Homme-led Queens of the Stone Age, he followed in the footsteps of Messrs Grohl, Castillo, Hernandez and more.
So, when the Queens came into town, we cornered Theodore to find out how it feels to sit on such a revered drum stool, what it's like working with Josh 'the Coolest Man in Rock' Homme, and a whole heap more.
Becoming a Queen
“When I was in Mars Volta we had played some shows with Queens of the Stone Age, and we had always had a mutual respect for each other.
"From mid to late last year I had played with Troy. We live in the same neighbourhood and had extra time on our hands, so we jammed. Because of that, I was right in the loop when the last drummer quit. I was doing a couple of other things at the time, but Troy called me to say that I should come down. I was like, ‘I’ll be right there’. I brought my drums over in my truck and had a list of tunes to learn.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, which is unfortunate, because everything in this band is so specific. You can’t just get close - you have to nail it. I prepared the best I could, but I had to keep my head buried in the notes that I had written for myself.
"I played, and it went well. We hung out that night and it felt great, but I had to leave for a tour the next day, so was gone for a few weeks. I came back, and Josh called me and asked me to come back. That time it was a much mellower hang - we were at the studio Pink Duck, which feels like the coolest basement in the world. We played and it went well again, and I got another list of songs. It just snowballed naturally from there.”
Wooing the Queens
“In a situation like this, everyone is conspiring to do the best and make the music as good as it can be. That means you’re not just doing your thing, you’re doing something special, even if that is subtractive and you’re making something simpler. By virtue of the fact that you’re co-creating, it gets you out of your own head and into the universal flow of things.
“There is certainly always pressure - self-imposed pressur - to be as great as you can be, especially when you are in a new situation. When a relationship is new you put on your cologne and deodorant, you brush your teeth a lot, eat all your vegetables and work out. It wasn’t uncomfortable or tense - it was really natural.
"I was so happy. I was just feeling gratitude to be there. They could call anybody they want and they called me! Wow!”
“I think the connection is a really powerful aspect of this band, and is also what makes it so attractive for me. That’s pretty rare in Los Angeles - there aren’t many bands that are brothers and that are in it together.
"When they called I dropped everything because that is what I love and it is how I grew up playing. When you don’t have that it feels strange and can be really empty. But that is the feeling I get right away with this band. That made it all the more exciting to get that blessing. It’s like someone saying yes when you ask to marry their daughter. They’re not just saying that you’re good enough - they’re saying you’re accepted into the family.”
A well-built machine
“I think there’s a common thread, regardless of what the music sounds like. There’s a common thread in terms of dedication to the craft and commitment to taking an idea and working it until it is great.
"I think this band particularly is attached to that thread of great things. There’s not one note out of place - nothing is left to chance. It’s like a well-built machine, but it is all based on a spontaneous and explosive seed that gets planted and built into these finished structures that are just dazzling.
“The meticulous craftsmanship and devotion to taking something really good and making it something exceptional and unique - that is the common thread. In that way, that goes beyond individual musicianship. The songs become as exciting as the playing.
"That is definitely happening here. Everybody is as good as it gets as a player. Everybody is a fantastic player. That, combined with the songs being great and inspired and thoroughly composed and arranged, makes it great, and attached to everything else in the history of greatness.”
Josh's musical brain
“It’s f***in’ great working with Josh. Number one. He is a really great cross between knowing exactly what he wants and having the faith to let you do your thing.
"Everything is open to discussion, and it is all about what is best for the song. That is liberating, because if you have a really strong idea you can put it out there and it could be great. Also, he is a great drummer and has an awesome sense of rhythm. For me, it’s great, because I know if something is working or not working immediately. We don’t waste time - we just lock it down and nail it.
"For creating together it's great - having that sense of rhythm that he does. and a head for drums, it just happens fast. It is a pleasure to share the creation with somebody like that. It feels like I have an extra musical brain.”
The bar is set high
“Dude, it is a pretty serious legacy. There’s not one bad drummer - they always had the best drummers.
"It’s awesome. It creates a challenge that I can’t wait to dedicate myself to. The bar is so high. It can’t be any worse - it pushes me to the limits of ability. To be chosen by this band is so meaningful; they can see the potential there and want to take the chance. It is awesome to be able to be mentioned in the same breath as those other dudes.
“I love stuff from every era of the band and from every drummer. I love the feel and vibe of Alfredo - it was just so perfect; Gene is awesome with great feel; Dave is super imaginative and economical but exciting; and Joey is savage. He is so great, a total brawler but with so much brains. Joey is a great mixture of power, finesse and steadiness. There are different highlights form every era, for me.”
“[Playing live] is really challenging but it is natural. That’s just the vibe - you do have to be a little bit of an athlete.
"I have to try to drink enough water and eat healthy food, especially over longer tours. So far, though, it has just been energising to play these songs. Every time I look down the set list I see the next song and think, ‘F*** yeah - I can’t believe I get to play that song now!’ But it is physically demanding - you’ve got to play hard and you’ve got to be steady.”
“I’ve got these killer tubs from DW. It’s like Spinal Tap: you can hit them, go away and have dinner and they’re still ringing.
"They’re great and they’re rugged. You don’t have to worry about them - you put them up and they don’t go anywhere. I’ve just got some brand new Zildjians as well, and I can’t wait to play them. I’ve been using a K ride.”