“We wanted an upbeat record,” says guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen in describing the agenda behind Queens of the Stone Age’s new Mark Ronson-produced album, Villains. “We’re a rock band, and we write big riffs, so we wanted things to be catchy and simple.”
In QOTSA, Van Leeuwen shares guitar duties with frontman Josh Homme and Dean Fertita, and he says that a shared sense of humility is the biggest key to their interplay.
“It’s not about me—it’s about all of us,” he notes. “If somebody plays a significant guitar part, it’s my job to support it. And, likewise, they support what I play. So we have an understanding: ‘Do your thing. I’ll back it.’”
Here, Van Leeuwen shares three ways the guitar trio supports each other.
Stay in Your Frequency Lane
“With three guitarists, everybody has to claim their own sonic real estate,” he says. “On Villains, I live in an anti-big guitar place—a very single-coil-driven sound with some ambience. I use a wet amp/dry amp combination, although it’s not stereo. That way, if I need some ambience, I’ve got it, but if I want to be heard, I’m right there. For the most part, I went for a clean sound. I didn’t really turn my amps up very loud, because less distortion gives the notes more value—especially when you turn up your parts in the mix.”
Silly Solos Aren’t That Silly
“A lot of our best solos are kind of silly, and we constantly try to ‘out-silly’ one another. We improvise as we’re doing them. I’ll go in with sort of an idea, but you want a solo to sound like it’s the first time you’ve played it. Josh will go, ‘Troy, you take this one. Dean, you take that one. I’ll take this one.’ Josh plays a solo in ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ that’s amazing. He pulled it out of thin air, and it sounded so funky and funny. On ‘Head Like a Haunted House,’ Dean does a solo that’s completely nutty. He just flicks things out and they’re great.”
It’s All at Your Fingertips
“There aren’t a lot of effects on the record. That isn’t to say I didn’t try some effects, but what ended up on the record were the tracks without so many pedals. There are even direct guitars that were distorted at the mic preamp. If doing direct doesn’t amplify what your fingers do, I don’t know what else will! Our sound has progressed in that it’s less about the gear, and more about your fingers and your intention. For me, it’s all about getting the right balance of clarity and ambience.”