- 02 Oct 15
Long considered the wild man of modern rock, Nick Oliveri has entered midlife with a more thoughtful outlook. Reflecting on how anger ended his days in Queens Of The Stone Age, he talks about his friendship with Josh Homme and how, if you're crashing cars and engaging with SWAT teams, it's good to have fans...
"The last thing I remember is that I had my cruise control set at 79 miles per hour. I don't know what that is in kilometres. It isn't slow..."
When you close your latest solo album with a song entitled 'Death Leads The Way', and you happen to be the man one Youtube commenter summed up as the former "delirium tremens" of the not-exactly-choir-boys Queens Of The Stone Age, journalists are going to ask whether your relationship with this mortal coil is a touch troubled. Turns out it almost came to an abrupt end for Nick Oliveri on a late night desert road last year. Once known for gleefully joining oldest friend and former band mate Josh Homme on a chorus of "nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol", Nick says exhaustion was the culprit. Recording the lion's share of the electrified, Johnny Thunders-referencing Leave Me Alone by himself in Palm Springs, he was coming off the back of constructing an entire stage for an impromptu warehouse gig, laying down hours of drums, and resting uncomfortably in the studio when he decided to head for home for some proper kip. Sleep caught him too quickly.
"I didn't make it home," Oliveri recalls, taking his time over a Guinness in a Dublin bar. He's in town ostensibly to promote Leave Me Alone but mainly to "stay busy and keep my name out there" as part of a solo acoustic European tour. "If the airbags had opened up, it would have killed me. It would have kept me all stiff. Somehow they didn't open up... Luckily I had my seatbelt on and I just went with it. I remember waking up, sitting upside down. I never woke up to step on the brakes. When you step on the brakes, the cruise control turns off. So the noise was still 'rrrrr!' with the wheels up to the sky. It was insane."
After a brush with a type of death very close to home – Oliveri's father died when his car went off a cliff in '91 – a good samaritan smashed his window and dragged him to safety. But he wasn't any a good samaritan; he was a fan.
"He comes to a lot of gigs; I put him on the list. He's become a friend."
Who else can you add to the Nick Oliveri Fan Club? Members of the SWAT team that infamously surrounded his Hollywood house in 2011, apparently.
"They were like: 'we were worried that you were trying to hurt yourself and that's why you weren't coming out.' I wasn't coming out because I didn't invite you guys here!"
If you haven't been keeping up with his music career since he was kicked out of Queens Of The Stone Age – "11 years in February" he offers sadly without having to think twice – the last time you heard of Nick Oliveri was likely via TMZ reports of a five hour stand-off between the bassist and the heavily-armed authorities.
The situation ended in his arrest. It appeared Nick's wild ways were leading to prison and that there was some truth in those dark rumours swirling around his QOTSA departure. However, the six felony counts, including domestic violence charges, were dropped when he agreed to plead to one count of possession of cocaine, resulting in three years probation, one year anger management and 200 hours of community service.
Today, Oliveri says the reports were far removed from the reality.
"It was a police stand-off with a fully loaded assault rifle? Nah, I had my gun under my bed. You're allowed to have guns in America... I did learn that you are supposed to open up the door when they come, if they do come."
Instead, Nick had told his girlfriend to leave the house to show she was unharmed and then closed the door behind her, staying in the house for a further three hours.
"That was 'obstructing an officer' right there, because I didn't come out. They didn't ask me to come out, they asked for her to come out, so for some reason in my head I thought, 'alright, they just want to see that she's ok, she should go show them.' The proof that I wasn't having a 'stand-off' with the SWAT team? I'd be dead right now!"
Alive and in person, the man from the Californian desert is not what you'd expect. His reputation proceeds him, painting him as an out-of-control, GG Allin rock caricature but, while the shaved head and long beard means he could easily get a gig as a Sons Of Anarchy extra, he is relaxed, easy company. Humble about everything bar the turn of the century period when the Queens released Rated R and Songs For The Deaf, he even talks about that with a kind of was-I-really-part-of-it? reverence.
"We'd just started getting to a point where we were getting recognised more. Everybody rose to the occasion, nobody got scared. Nobody shied away from it... My thirties were the best time of my life."
Now 43, he comes across like a man who is done pointing the finger at anybody but himself. Talking about regrets, when bitterness could bubble, he sidesteps that path for a more philosophical outlook.
He took care of all his court obligations straight away so he could tour, and probation ended early. As for anger issues? The best advice he ever received was to get a drum kit.
"I look like a fighter but I love music, that's what gets me going. I don't want to go and punch somebody in the stomach in the street to make me feel better. That isn't what I'm into... So [the drum kit] really helps me, it's very therapeutic. I need it. I'm not denying that I do need that. It really makes me feel better. Instead of attacking myself or someone else in my life, I attack the drum set. And hopefully get a song out of it."
On All Hallow's Eve, 2014, Josh Homme stood onstage with the current incarnation of Queens Of The Stone Age, dressed as a priest. Over his right shoulder, a devil appeared. Nick Oliveri, wearing red horns, rejoined the band for five raucously-received numbers. With Homme not wanting him to step on current bassist Michael Shuman's toes, he opted to just sing.
"That's understandable. So I'm standing there with the microphone and no instrument. I've always been a guy holding an instrument. What do I do, do I do a dance?! So it awkward but it was fun."
It followed Oliveri lending backing vocals to 'If I Had A Tail' on 2013's ...Like Clockwork. Though Nick had hoped for a more collaborative experience with Josh on that Queens track – "he... produced me!" – it all seems a way of reintroducing him to the QOTSA family.
A decade ago, Homme was telling the press he couldn't know Oliveri if rumours of him abusing his girlfriend were true. A frosty near-silence in public was maintained for years after but the way Josh is now telling it, they worked things out a mere three months after parting musical ways and have remained firm friends since.
"Me and Josh had two arguments in our life. Two. There was one when we were in Kyuss and one time when we were in Queens. That one of the main reasons that I'm not in the band. I lost my cool and got real weird. You can't have a business partner who's that angry with things going on. If anything, I needed to do the anger management stuff anyway. I lost a lot of things in my life because of that. Overreacting and getting over dramatic about things."
Does Oliveri understand why many fans wouldn't be onboard with him returning to the band?
"I think that it was a bit blown out," he offers. "Josh said 'it's going to be a long time coming. It's going to be hard. Some fans won't understand, because of everything that's been said and everything that's gone on.'"
After his 2011 arrest, the Queens frontman was one of people who picked up the phone. "Josh was giving me numbers for lawyers... People really reached out to make sure I was alright and I really appreciate everybody [doing that]. The press were attacking me. And that's okay; don't let the truth get in the way of a good story, right?"
The current state of play?
"I saw him just the other day before I left on tour. I DJed at this place and he came out with Brody [Dalle]. Had a really good time. He's going to do something online – some radio show or interview thing – and he wants me to come on there. I said 'sure, let me know when, let me know where. I'm there.'"
Not that Oliveri is sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Over the past decade, he reckons he's made "20 different records with different bands that I love."
Post-tour, he joins Cliff Dinsmore, Mike Neider and ex-QOTSA drummer Joey Castillo and a new BL'AST! record. Another LP with his band Mondo Generator will follow "ASAP", while he features alongside the likes of Corey Taylor and old Queens bandmate Dave Grohl on the self-titled debut from the Teenage Time Killers supergroup. "Dave really goes the extra mile," he notes as we chat about how The Nicest Man In Rock has constructed a throne-like contraption so he can still play shows while his broken leg heals.
"He'll be in the middle of eating and stop, letting his food go cold, to talk to people. I love that about him."
So Oliveri's focus remains on music, though he'd really like to be making it with his best friend.
"I think it is important that we do another record some time in the future..." he says, thinking out loud. "I figured out the reason why there probably won't be a reunion of Queens is that I own 47 per cent of the name. Why would you let somebody come back that had that? I'd have to sign away that 47 per cent and I'd be a hired gun. I really don't want to be a hired gun just to be in the band again. But I'd like to do a record with Josh one day, whether it's Queens or something else. Just to work with him again would be great."
Greatest Hits Vol. 1 by Teenage Time Killers is out now