“May I tell you you're a handsome devil, though?” says Homme.
Gibbons laughs. “Sleepless but handsome.” He summons something on his phone. “I took a nice desert shot early this morning out the back window. It looks all red.” He displays the landscape: hills in the background, a can of Modelo in the foreground.
Homme and Gibbons have known each other for years, and soon launch into the story about writing “Move Together,” one of eight songs on the album. Rummaging through the studio gear one day, Homme discovered a mysterious box. Instinctively, he went in search of Gibbons, who was (picture it) outside, surveying the horizon.
“Well, he didn’t know what it was, and I certainly didn’t know what it was,” recalls Gibbons of the box, which turned out to be a crippled old looper. “And he managed to turn it on. Wherever it had been left sitting, it was making a very appealing and rather magnetic sound. We looked at each other and we knew: Don’t touch it, it’s gonna work.” Within five minutes, he says, they had the skeleton of the song.
“There’s really great comfort when you’re surrounded by those that you trust. What you don’t trust is where you’ve never gone before,” says Gibbons. “We didn’t rehearse it. We just kind of aimed it.”
So it goes in the desert, where synergy provides when the muse refuses. Generally, though, session days follow a loose structure. “Maybe someone would be here first, making sound, and people would just naturally come in. Some people had a song idea already started, we would all contribute ideas. It was very free,” says Carla Azar. “Josh welcomed everybody's input on any instrument.… Even though he is in control because it's his thing, he got musicians he wanted to play with and just let everybody figure things out.”
You can assemble all the talented people you want and still not guarantee chemistry, but according to Azar, the group struck an easy rhythm. “It didn't feel foreign at all—that was the strangest thing,” she says. “I stopped at one point and said, ‘God, I can't believe we've never played together. It feels like we have always played together.’ ”
The high-vibrational tug of the desert—Gibbons has been visiting since he was a kid, and Mozgawa likes it so much she recently bought a house here—has long attracted artists. The space and quiet allow the tightly coiled urban mind to soften and unfurl. But maybe don't get too comfortable out here: As frequent visitors know, the lunar loveliness of this place is not without menace. “I've come out here enough that I know what it feels like,” says Matt Sweeney, lounging on a deck chair with a guitar in the far reaches of the courtyard, “and it's nice to have that inside your brain, a sense of space and a sense of utter meaninglessness. That you ain't shit, that you could just go out there”—he indicates the hills beyond with a wave—“and be completely screwed, ants eating you.”
“I was falling asleep last night, it was beautiful and all that stuff, and then I heard from the highway, just because sound being what it is here, this crystal clear, ‘You motherfucker! You piece of shit!’ clear as a bell. I run, and I’ll run past houses that are out there and I swear to God I heard a pig squealing like it was about to be slaughtered inside of somebody’s house. Just like, No, dude! It is not chill, at all, out here. It doesn’t want us here. That ‘the universe will provide’ fucking bullshit? Come out here and see how friendly the universe is.”
Another longtime pal of Homme’s (“I’ve known the fool since before Queens of the Stone Age”), Sweeney says that the project’s fleetness was an asset, since you can’t afford to be fussy or precious when moving so quickly. “There’s an excitement, because there’s no lag time of living with the thing,” he says. “From needing to do it, to doing it, to recording it is all one continuous thing.”
For every installment, Homme likes to invite someone from outside the orbit of what Mozgawa calls “the hamster wheel” of recording and touring and promoting as a professional musician. This time he encouraged Libby Grace, a family friend, to take a break from full-time mom duties and give it a shot. Grace has been playing guitar and writing songs since she was a kid but has always been put off by the idea of public performance. The laid-back process of the Sessions, and working with people she already knew socially, made it a gentle baptism.
“What it did for me, 'cause it's so different from what my life is, is that it showed me another version of myself that exists that I need to feed,” says Grace. “That it can exist, and so can mom and so can wife.”
Homme, whose plans for the Sessions are ongoing and open-ended going into the future, points out that the benefit is mutual: “The Les Claypools and Carlas and Billys and mes get to see that wonder, which is, ‘Do you remember why you started playing? She does.’ ”
“If you are lucky enough to do this for a living, you have to be careful so you don't turn into a bitter old crank,” adds Homme. “Somehow that happens as time goes on. But this is a great reminder of what it should be, what it could be.”