I met up with California rock band Eagles of Death Metal in the middle of their European tour, which makes my eyes water just looking at the schedule. It’s extensive and expansive.
After playing thirteen shows in England in December 2021, EODM continued their 24th-anniversary tour this year with another 31 shows, starting at the long-standing, iconic, Melkweg (Milky Way) in Amsterdam, in April.
The band started out in 1998 in Palm Desert, California, a long way from Europe, put together by childhood buddies, Jesse Hughes (aka Boots Electric) and Josh Homme. They have since gone through many collaborations and evolutions, at some point including Jack Black on vocals, Dave Grohl on guitar, and the late Taylor Hawkins on drums. Homme went off to have massive success with Kyuss and then Queens of the Stone Age, but he pops in on various occasions as the drummer in EODM and has played on all of their five albums.
Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme have such a brotherly love that they dedicate songs to each other at their gigs, on opposite sides of the world.
Homme wasn’t with the band the night of the horrific Islamist terrorist attacks across Paris on November 13th, 2015, including at The Bataclan Theater where EODM were playing. Almost an hour into their show, the mass shootings began and 89 people in the audience lost their lives, including the band’s merch guy, Nick Alexander.
But Hughes was. And it greatly shook him.
“The shooting started on the last note of the song and I knew instantly what was happening,” he said about the attacks. Racing backstage immediately to find his fiancee, he came face to face with one of the gunmen, “tasting copper, like copper pennies… from the blood in the air” as he described it. The gunman’s barrel miraculously got wedged in a door frame, and Hughes and the other musicians managed to get out. It was, as you’d imagine, the most terrifying night of his life.
Sadly, the band is probably best known for being the group playing the Bataclan when the terrorists attacked. Three months later, on 16th February 2016, they returned to the French capital to finish their interrupted concert for all the survivors and families of victims of the Bataclan attack. They played to a packed house at another famous Parisian venue, L’Olympia, with many attending nervous about returning, and rightfully so, but it was a part of the healing. It was now a thing bigger than all of them, yet with a thread of commonality. Their journey was documented by director Colin Hanks (Tom’s son) in Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) which premiered a year later on HBO.
While I’d been lolling around in Milan for the weekend, EODM were playing Hungary, Budapest, and Croatia before arriving in Italy, where they were to play and then take a day off and spend two nights in a hotel. They were happy about that. They’d just played eighteen shows across ten European countries in a month.
They must not be watching the news, as they’re headed as far as Poland and deep into eastern Europe. They visit some obscure places, going to the farthest reaches they can. I get the idea that this is not a regular European tour.
I wonder if they know that Putin’s walking around with his nuclear suitcase, on the same landmass, close to where they’re going, and that inquiries for personal nuclear bunkers and fallout shelters have grown 1000% in Europe this year.
We meet in Milan on Monday. The band is tight now. Now it’s Jesse, Josh, Jorma, and Jennie. (Their names all begin with J. Good start.)
They tell me that wherever they’ve played across France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Germany, they’ve had an amazing reception. After the pandemic, people seem so grateful that they’ve shown up — happy, joyous, and free after lockdown.
Jesse’s a born entertainer. Witty and sharp. Flamboyant, he’s opinionated and still fragile. I was advised to not talk to him about politics or gun control. Fine. Good with me. He’s had to make a comeback from everything, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and of course, it’s taken its toll. However, their current lineup is synergy, and each one perfectly holds their own.
Monday night. Heading to the first gig in a blackened-out Mercedes van, they’re jovial and have no idea where they’re going. Hughes’ banter is lively, going from talking about the new Family Guy, “Quagmire’s dad, who’s had a sex change, he’s at a bar waiting for someone and the bartender walks up and says, ‘Are you watching porn at the bar?… Oh, you’re transgender, you can do anything you want’” …to beekeeping as the new leftist fad, “Oh they’re going to save the planet so well. Yep. They’re gonna save it”… to being in a flash flood at his grandma’s in Palm Springs.
The band arrives at the venue, Magnolia, on the outskirts of Milan. Seeming like a part of a tented festival in the woods connected to buildings, like a small concert fairyland, and a club within. Lights strung through the trees, connected marquees in the woods. I thought it was great.
Hughes falls pensive, “whatever the world’s doing… it’s about saving ourselves individually, so that we can be together alone, instead of alone together.” We all fall silent trying to figure out what he just said.
They’d been traveling with their support, bouncy rock band Dead Sara (worth checking out) on the bus prior to my arrival, and were also being followed around by an independent documentary crew.
Eagles of Death Metal walk onto stage just after 9 pm as We are Family by Sister Sledge plays loudly. They are not a death metal band. They don’t bite heads off bats, quite the opposite and something of a dichotomy with their name of death, they spread the message of love. They’re more rockabilly, old school rock n’ roll, alt-rock, even bluegrass.
Connecting with the audience, Jesse is engaging, he loves his fans. There’s a wall of Italian press photographers below the stage. This is an event. The show is fantastic, the sound system unexpectedly good. People are smiling, head banging, dancing, and crowd surfing. The fans love them, and it’s an older crowd I wasn’t really expecting — well-dressed, (of course, they’re in Milan), ages thirties to fifties I’d say.
The band play some originals primarily written by Jesse, some covers, and of course their I Love You All the Time song. They have a great looking lineup, not the same one as on the horrific Parisian night. Only Jesse is here from that.
Bass guitarist Jennie Vee, a Croatian Canadian rock goddess, 6ft tall with her boots on, Madonna-esque but better. Her endless leopard skin legs at times forge right angles with the stage as she struts with her bass. Eyes are fixed on her. Red lipstick smile. Long wild blond hair. So gorgeous I wonder for a minute if she’s an alien.
Josh Jove shreds on lead guitar with his personal rockabilly style and is surprisingly good.
Jorma Vik on drums — smashes it — or them in this case, sweat dripping from his movie star face, burning cigarette clutched in his lips. I wonder how he does it. He’s played with EODM for six years now. Before that, he played with rock band The Bronx. He’s from L.A.
Jorma told me, “It’s cool to see how elated people are, being out and doing stuff. You feed off that energy from the stage. It’s pretty cool to see. People have been cooped up for so long.”
Hughes is sharp-witted, funny, and, like all proper rock stars, crude sometimes. He shakes his butt all over the stage, his persona a little Iggy Pop. He wears signature suspenders holding up his jeans, and he owns a variety of capes. He’s also an Ordained Minister at the Universal Life Church. That happened prior to the attacks.
He’s had a lot of trauma the past few years, not just with terrorists but also with his fiancée who ended up in a coma from an asthma attack. She’s slowly, thankfully, recovering.
On stage, he’s a showman, he’s fun and he’s loud. Offstage, he wanders between pensive quietude, sharing intricate knowledge and loud music. And he’s grateful.
“I’m actually in the process of standing back up,” he tells me.
Tuesday, off. Wednesday, 8.30 am call time outside the Hilton. Headed to Switzerland. Playing Zurich tonight, then departing around 2 am and traveling 220 miles to Munich. We’ll be waking up in Bavaria. Which is where I will leave them.
Their big black tour bus is designed with eighteen bunks upstairs, living room areas upstairs and downstairs; and a kitchenette and one tiny bathroom. And while I was on the bus, no running water, plus signs in the bathroom basically said that you’d be killed if you pooped on the bus. God forbid! The band and crew shower at hotels or at venues when they arrive.
On the bus, Jesse’s range of musical tastes goes from old honky-tonk banjo to reggae and Morphine, to Level 42, to Living the Right Life Now by Molly O’Day, and Hit the City by Mark Lanegan, his old friend, and musical collaborator who recently passed away. He plays the music loud on the bus as we drive through the Swiss mountain tunnel passes at night. It’s a good thing the door through to the sleeping quarters is padded, and I suddenly understand why Jennie sleeps at the far end.
EODM’s five albums, like them, are diverse, and the last one is of covers: On The Best Songs We Never Wrote, Hughes covers Careless Whisper to AC/DC, and The Ramones to Bowie.
“Music that’s good is transcendent and if you interpret it with honesty, you can’t screw it up,” he says.
Josh Jove is more mellow, which probably balances Hughes out. He loves rockabilly fashion, and photography, documenting his trip through Europe with his camera through blackened bus windows. Trailer Park Boys is his favorite show and is often playing in the background of his life. It’s playing now on the big flat screen on the bus, some guy with googly glasses at a campsite.
From EODM’s media attention from the Paris attacks that put them under the global spotlight, it’s brought them empathy too.
Hughes runs on adrenaline and sugar. At some shows, he disappears off stage, and with his crazy long guitar cord led by music tech and special effects guy Eric Epple, he often appears suddenly in the crowd. He adores his fans and he likes their proximity. He’s a loveable character and a complete nut.
Sitting down with seriously badass Jennie Vee, married to her forever love Slim Jim Phantom from The Stray Cats, she tells me her mother is from Croatia, where they’d played a couple of nights prior.
“That was very special to me, and I am very grateful to have the best job in the world, to quote Jesse, every single night, for so many reasons – getting to play music and sharing that, but also you find yourself in foreign lands, or your motherland as I did in Croatia.”
Jennie is a self-taught bassist. She heard inspirational music growing up and read everything she could about playing before she got her first bass guitar at sixteen. It was arctic white, and she still plays it. She’s played with a myriad of people since and was the bassist for Courtney Love’s Hole. (Read that how you want. I didn’t name the band!) Besides EODM, she’s in a trio with her husband and works on her solo musical career. Her last 7” single, “Out for Blood” is out now on limited edition, milky white vinyl.
“I’m also working on a Rockabilly documentary the past four years with Slim Jim. It’s eighty percent done and featuring Slash, Jack White, Joe Perry…” (a bunch of great people apparently).
She mentions that she’s into sustainable fashion and, (head’s up girls) she has closet-clear-outs directly on her Instagram page. Her music can be found on her Bandcamp page, where Jesse also appears on vocals. They mix it up, these peeps.
“I’m on a ferry to Estonia” Jennie Vee messaged me the day after I’d left them, at one a.m., from another time zone.
Catch their show in Austin, TX on 7/24/22 at The Far Out Lounge (part of Ripple Fest 2022.
And look out for their multi-year trek to Australia, New Zealand, S.E. Asia, the US, and Canada. Watch out for their schedule here.