Southern California's high desert is famously inhospitable to soft forms of life, but the hardy and the resourceful can thrive here. It makes sense, in a way, that this refuge for outliers and margin dwellers would also become the hideout for a certain endangered strain of rock-and-roll swagger, whose presence and influence on the coasts has lately been outshone by other genres of expression. “We come out here and nobody knows we're out here—it don't matter,” says Homme. Since the late '90s, Homme, himself a native of the region, has been returning to Rancho de la Luna to convene the Desert Sessions, an ongoing project initially conceived as a makeshift laboratory for creative collaboration when he was between bands. Each installment attracts a fresh cast of players—veterans include PJ Harvey and Dean Ween as well as several of Homme's Queens of the Stone Age bandmates—for a week or so of communal living in the desert, with the objective of writing and recording an album on the fly.
After a 16-year hiatus, the Desert Sessions are back for Vols. 11 & 12 (which came out in October), and true to his stated ambition of putting together a group that “looks odd on paper,” this go-round Homme enlisted a compellingly daft lineup of friends: ZZ Top frontman and living guitar legend Billy Gibbons, along with Carla Azar of Autolux, British actor and musician Matt Berry, bass god and producer Les Claypool, singer-songwriter Libby Grace, Royal Blood's Mike Kerr, Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters, and notorious guitar polygamist Matt Sweeney (Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Iggy Pop, Adele, et al.). “If you play music, you're interested in the inner workings of these other gangs of people,” Homme says of the project's origins. “I was looking for a way to keep playing without having a band and have it be kind of genre-less.”