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Jesse "Boots Electric" Hughes

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Jesse Hughes

Jesse Hughes is part of the reason Dirty Impound exists. My previous conversations with him about his band Eagles of Death Metal and what I’d witnessed – frequently while dripping sweat and hoisting comely strangers into the air – at EODM concerts struck me as a hotwire powered by the same heeby-jeeby, goosebump stirring energies that birthed rock in the 1950s. There are MANY things about Jesse that scream of wildness, freedom and ass-grabbin’ good times. He shakes himself up, pops his cork, and drenches anyone in range with his carbonated victory juice. He speaks his mind and makes alluring, fun-as-fuck music that cheers me up on days when most things fail miserably at turning my frown upside down. To resist him strikes me as churlish. He’s here to rattle us from our heartbreak and to inspire us to blister raising Dionysian extremes. Take his hand and head for the hills. Wine, a full moon, and warm flesh are waiting.

Dirty Impound was founded for such spirits, a spot on this vast set of tubes to celebrate real rock’s torchbearers. Jesse is right in line with DI’s little manifesto, and we’re thankful for his inspiration in ways we can’t totally express except to say he makes us wanna live with greater joy and abandon. He also makes us want to swear a lot and with great glee.

Hughes has just unleashed his first solo album under one of his nicknames, Boots Electric, and Honkey Kong (released September 20 on Dangerbird) is a pop-smart groove fest, one part Brill Building smarts, one part P-Funk-ian moves, one part pre-Purple Rain Prince, and several parts pure Hughes – an x-factor one should never underestimate. He gets a helping hand from producer/key wizard Money Mark, ex-Jellyfish man Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., singer Juliette Lewis and Ween drummer Claude Coleman, Jr., amongst others. To call it saucy only hints at the enjoyment pinging around this blippy, skippy thang. It’s a good measure away from the rock-minded Eagles of Death Metal, and thus a proper solo joint and not some stop-gap between EODM slabs.

Boots and his new band hits the road hard at the end of October (check out tour dates here), and we were tickled pink to pin him down for this lengthy free range conversation, where we hit on celebrity, pre-recorded live music, EODM and his best pal Joshua Homme, and of course, his epic moustache. We think he’s owed a full dollar for rides on that thing – a quarter isn’t gonna cut it.

Eagles of Death Metal by Kii Arens

Between classic rock – where the surviving FM stations play the same five fucking Who songs endlessly – and indie rock – the stuff championed on Pitchfork and all the places that take their cues from them – there’s a valley where real rock ‘n’ roll is taking place. I think you’re one of the warriors in that valley.

Ah, man, I’m blushing right now. When it comes to Eagles of Death Metal, we’ve always envisioned ourselves as the Special Forces of rock. We do feel like real warriors but without having to wear the Indian loincloth and headdress. I can catapult over my amp stack and blow things up. It’s a cool thing.

I don’t want to see you getting the oversized grenades and shit that Ted Nugent drags out these days.

Have you ever seen the video of Ted starting a show, maybe around 1978, where he bounds out, hits the springboard, launches over his stack and is supposed to land in front of the crowd. Well, he hits the springboard and his left foot touches the top of the amp stack and he topples over and gets knocked out cold. But four minutes later he’s up yelling, “Rock!!!”

He’s a warrior in his own right, but more consciously armed. You strike me as more of a love warrior, especially on this solo debut, where you show off sides of yourself that have been tucked away a bit.

Not in a conspiratorial way but when it comes to Eagles of Death Metal, which is my only experience, is what happens when Josh and I come together. So, a lot of times we’re both compromising, and I compromise the George Clinton out of it.

You have an Electric Spanking of War Babies groove inside you.

That is a weird record, but if I could ever achieve anything like that it would be something. George Clinton, Parliament and Funkadelic are all distinctly different bands but also part of a larger personality.

There’s more electronics in the mix on Honkey Kong than anything EODM has done.

I love electronics. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with electronics in and of themselves, but I also know you can over-think anything and do anything too much. So for a white boy like me straight from Greenville, South Carolina, too much attention to the synthesizers can make you go Upstairs At Eric’s with Yaz, or to [Rush’s] “Tom Sawyer,” or it can go Gary Numan, which is what I love. Gary Numan is an exceptional source. So, I think I just butt-fucked George Clinton with Gary Numan using Little Richard as a dick.

And you know who would LOVE to be in that equation? Little Richard.

He’d love to be in that equation twice!

This record is so loose-limbed. Every time I put it on my body decides it has to be involved in the listening experience.

That’s kind of the magic of it. I’m dancing all the time and clearly the music I make, either this or Eagles of Death Metal, is me writing a child’s sex manual – in, out, in, out in music form. Everything is played like a drum, which is sort of the James Brown principle. If everything is a drum, then everything locks in automatically. You don’t have to think about much.

I’m not the most articulate guitarist. I don’t have those long, unbelievably eloquent fingers like Joshua, but I’m not trying to be a virtuoso. My dad used to say there are two kinds of rock bands – the rock band that jacks off for everyone to see and the rock band that comes out and fucks everybody in the room. Which one do you want to be in?

There’s more to be gained from engaging people on a basic level than there is in standing aloof. Folks that float above it all miss out on some juicy stuff. There’s much to be said for getting into the scrum.

Artist's Interpretation of Boots Electric On Tour

I love people, man! I love people! There’s nothing more beautiful and rewarding than singing and dancing for someone who adores you for it. Let’s face it, this ain’t a Bible study. I ain’t out here to save the whales. I’m trying to get people to look at me and make me feel loved. And there’s no better way to do that than getting right down in it. I don’t eat an orange with a fork and a knife.

Sticky good! A lot of modern rock folks have forgotten the value of getting some mess on yo’ thing. Thankfully, there are exceptions like you willing to get wet up their elbows.

This is a bizarre discipline I’ve basically learned from my friend Joshua Homme. The days when a record label put out a few records from a band before they expected a radio hit are gone. There was a time when everyone seemed to understand that you needed to give bands time to develop. There was a time when even the executives at a label said, “These guys are going to be so great in three or four albums.” No one is saying that now. There’s immediacy to downloading but the negative drawback is in the old days you couldn’t just have every song you wanted with a click. I walk around with an iPod with 40,000 songs on it. It’s such an immediate reference. If I have an idea for a song I can put it into my GarageBand and realize it more fully than musicians ever could before.

The way people listen to music is changing. Someone can be very passionate about one song for one week and then they’re off into the gazillion other choices available to them the next Monday.

It all depends on the person. Some people are looking for good music or a certain sort of music or just a single tune. I want to run down and fuck ‘em all not just fuck one of them. I like to be patient with things. Technology will make you think it’s easier to record something but a robot is going to do things a certain way. If you let a robot run things pretty soon everything sounds Auto-Tuned.

There’s something irreplaceable about flesh and blood, even with its inherent faults and failings.

A beautiful mistake. And a mistake is an opportunity to recover, which is a demonstration of rising expertise in any area. Badass Delta Force Rangers don’t get to show how badass they are until there’s an emergency they have to go in and kick ass for. I like mistakes. John Lennon detuned his D-string so his amp would know which one he was in the band. On the collector’s circuit these days you can get the exact 24-track breakdown of say The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” They engineered in things to make other parts jump but it’s not all necessarily perfect by itself.

Happy accidents rule. That’s what puts a song in your memory. You have a perfectly good tune, words people sing along to, etc. but if there’s no unique personality it won’t last for most listeners. There aren’t a lot of Aretha Franklins anymore, singing their guts and soul out and driving the meters into the red.

And then there’s the songwriters like James Brown, who could walk into a café and write “Respect” on a napkin. “Aretha, I got a song that I think would just be a smash for you!” If you listen to the lyrics, it’s from a man’s perspective but with a woman singing it the song is super badass. And you didn’t have to dress up like a psychotic, Kabuki Ken/Barbie doll to do that. The exact idea was communicated without having to burn the Bible.

Jesse Hughes

But don’t you have an Indian headdress on in some of the promo photos for the Boots Electric release?

Absolutely! It’s one of those kid’s Indian headdresses. People have been calling me redskin for a long time, and we were shooting those pictures and I love action shots, so I said, “Let’s spice things up!” You can just sit there and act cool, but it’s difficult for me to look at bands who do cover art with them looking so, so serious. Jiminy Cricket, no music is that fucking deep!

It’s always nice when you find someone in the metal world who allows a small smile or laughs onstage.

If you’re going to be the Devil’s servant then you should be laughing – hysterically! Isn’t that half the point of it? There’s so many weird, self-defeating things happening with attitudes lately. It’s artists screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” and the second they get attention they put up a velvet rope and say, “Don’t look at me!” I want the days of David Lee Roth. “Here’s my genius idea for a video – tits times ten and me with the tits. Sounds perfect. Print it!” Nowadays, no one has that kind of honesty. “I want to show the artistry of the breast to show I have feelings for sisters everywhere and to help us curb global warming.” So now, our tits are breasts. Give me a fucking break! You fuck for money you’re a whore. A camera being there is a technicality. It doesn’t make you an artist.

David Lee Roth and Tits

It also seems dangerous to me that the days when kids wanted to be doctors, policemen and firemen are kind of going away, and kids don’t want to be Jimi Hendrix, they just want to be famous. It almost seems like there’s a whole genre of music like the Disney cookie cutter pop – which I’m not fundamentally against – where half the attraction for the fan is thinking, “Ooh, look at how lucky he is to be famous!”

This reminds me of the scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden says, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” Except it’s not polite or acceptable to exhibit that anger publicly in our culture.

And then there’s the more subtle, incidental critique that modern man is the hip man. The only way he’s going to be tough is with a fantasy character. That creates a self-induced schizophrenia. The only cool character isn’t even fucking real!

We have a whole generation coming up where many of them will never take an actual punch. One of the most formative experiences for me were my first fights, the pain of them but also realizing I could fight back and how much confidence that built in me. People will slay armies in their living room but they have no idea what an actual fist feels like upside their head. It’s sobering, and if you’re at all human it should help curb one’s desire to inflict (and absorb) such pain.

You hit the nail on the head. Something Josh and I and our whole gang say all the time is, “That kid’s never been in a fight in his whole life.” That kind of shit has definitely affected everyone. When I got a phone call as a kid, it was in the kitchen with my mom sternly watching. That was it. And if I ever used a computer it was one of the ten Apple IIe’s in the library at school. If I came home and complained about getting my ass kicked, my mom was offended and told me to go do something about it. This was not just my father. My mom was all, “Why don’t you get one of my bras, too, and see what that’s like.”

The idea of standing on your own two feet is important, as well as the understanding that you won’t always succeed.

In America, especially within the truly unique notion of the American Ideal, failure is an opportunity to succeed again.

We love resurrections.

Only in America could you make plastic explosives out of Silly Putty and make a million dollars.

There’s also the great American belief in destiny, and I do think you were put on this Earth to be a rock star. You may have done other things before but my guess is they were square pegs in round holes.

EODM by Kii Arens

Joshua and I both believe there are no accidents. I’m cool with fate without having to believe in any magic talking monkeys. Every fucking choice I’ve made has brought me to this place. My dream, my goal was to, right about now, be a Republican Senator at the State Senate level. I was a conservative, redneck, 210-pound journalist who was beginning a career in politics, and an affair my wife had sent me crazy. I wrote the first [Eagles of Death Metal] album in a week. I didn’t do anything to get here – it made me come.

That’s a pretty big crossroad shift to go from that to where you are now.

It’s like being a werewolf your whole life and you don’t see your first full moon until you’re 30.

But when you saw it, clearly, it was hugely transformative.

It was also the first real time the world made sense to me. The way I was raised, I tried to always let facts dictate my decisions, but the conspiracy of circumstances made it so when it came time I said, “Fuck it, I’ll race you to the bottom of the pit!”

If we’re going to hell in a bucket then let me grease the rope!

Satan On The Burning Lake by John Martin

I’ll get beachfront property next the Lake of Fire. Don’t sweat it!

What happens for most of us though is when we step outside the boundaries we grew up within nothing actually catches on fire.

Some fires and explosions are really dangerous but controlled explosions are what get you into space. Sometimes it takes dynamite to put out an oil fire.

And you blow up real good. I mean this in a wholly positive way. Folks have a way of noticing you.

Thanks! And I don’t mind my music being used in commercials because a) I’m vain and b) I like money. If someone were to ask me, “Boots, is it true you sold your songs for jingles to corporations?” My response would be, “Duh. Next question, please.”

It’s hard to give musicians grief for shaking a nickel loose in what is largely regarded as a cratering industry.

Beatty Giving Blowjob

But the thing most musicians do is pretend they’re not doing it the whole time they are. In the sixties, Captain Beefheart had eight different writing names so he could get more of the money because the artist was getting fucked out of it. But then a bunch of super spoiled monsters came along…John Lennon saying everybody can be a star sounds like a bit of guilt to me. Well, everybody can’t be a star and everybody can’t own everything and be cool. It’s easy to say everyone can own everything when you have eight million in the bank.

Can I just say I’ve always just hated “Imagine”? Most of us barely scrape by paycheck to paycheck or worse, and while world peace sounds nice it’s hard to muster on a daily basis. I always choked a bit on Lennon living in estates and castles and writing a song like that.

It’s like Warren Beatty saying we should be glad to be soaked for 80-percent of what we make in taxes. Dude, 80-percent of 20 million dollars is a little different than 80-percent of $40,000.

But for all this negative stuff we’ve slipped into – which is REALLY easy to do these days – there are things that cheer me, which brings me back to Honky Kong. The album seems to strike like a rainbow sword against this kind of cynicism. God, I can’t believe I just said that!

Humpty

It kind of is. I fucking hate cynicism; it’s the worst. I love Bill Maher, who is funny and entertaining, but he’s the worst in the way he doesn’t like anything. His whole shtick is to go be a dick where people can’t do anything about it. That’s lame. Try and make it better.

Even the simple act of shaking your ass in public without worrying about what ANYBODY thinks chips away at cynicism. Laughing at yourself works well, too.

If you have a big nose, cool, have a big nose. Digital Underground taught us so much. Humpty gives himself a big nose to show us what a badass he is. That’s the beauty of Humpty. That’s the right attitude. My grandfather used to say, “Who gives a fuck what an asshole thinks?” If Hitler wrote you a letter saying you suck it’d be like winning the Nobel Peace Prize. You want an asshole not to like you AND you want everyone to know it.

So, how’s it coming together to take the Boots Electric Show on the road?

I’m taking this thing all the way. The Eagles of Death Metal is truly the bravado of lack of rehearsing, and with Boots Electric I want a little more consistency…with a little bit of Britney Spears. I can’t help it, I must do the thing I’m not supposed to do. If I’m not supposed to like Britney, then I love her. If I’m not supposed to sing along to pre-recorded tracks, then goddamit, I’m going to lip-sync. We’ve got a Pro-Tools rig where we’re using weird bits and pieces of pre-recorded tracks. Dude, we have a retired porn star in our band because it turns out she’s a badass bass player. So, I can say to my mom, “This album stopped pornography.”

That’s a gold star for you.

“I never would have found my way out of the porn world without Boots Electric!”

Eagles of Death Metal

I saw you last summer at Shoreline when Eagles of Death Metal played with 38 Special and Skynyrd.

All of our bass parts were pre-recorded at that one! That’s the show I learned that you could do it and still come across legit. The audience at that show didn’t have any idea who the Eagles of Death Metal were. [Dropping into a Hee-Haw cornpone accent] “Eagles of what?” Then after three or four songs, “Is that boy queer or what?” and finally when we broke out “Brown Sugar,” they were all, “Oh, it’s rock ‘n’ roll!”

So, what prompted this solo effort? You already have EODM as a vehicle.

I’ve always appreciated every opportunity I’ve been afforded. I wouldn’t have half the things I do if Joshua Homme wasn’t the most supportive, amazing best friend. I never would have come here – that’s a fact. But I wanted to show I’d learned something and give something back. This album is all about how much I love my friends, and you can see them all in this record. Everyone that ever made me wanna shake my dick, I put ‘em in here.

It does seem like a natural extension of your EODM work and something new.

I think it’s because everytime I walk off stage with the Eagles, I immediately put my head back into my Bar-Kays, my Sly Stone, my EPMD. I love hip hop and old soul. I love it, man. I love Billy Ward and the Dominoes. But it was weird getting there for me. It required Money Mark to achieve that. I knew a honkey all on his own can’t get straight to funky. You can’t decompress your classic rock overnight.

You tap into the sweetness of sixties pop music all over this record. It endures because it touches on basic shit.

And it’s corny, too. “All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.” That song is rad because it’s beautiful.

This is your lover man side fully revealed.

I had to hide it because of all the machismo a band like Queens of the Stone Age generates, ironically. That name basically means “old fags” but they generate so much testosterone it’s unreal and I love it. I love women. My mother was a saint, my grandmother is tattooed on my arm, and I really despise the bullshit boys club that exists in rock ‘n’ roll. Without meaning to, this album is directed towards women. I realized it at the first performance. For me, I need to direct it to someone in the audience, and I saw a lot of women saying with their eyes, “Alright, motherfucker, you been talking it, now get to walking it…and take off the shirt while you’re at it, beefcake!”

Oh, Magnum...

The moneymaker is to be shaken, sir.

Dr. Freud showed us it’s the operating paradigm, and I look like every under-age girl’s dad when they got interested in sex, which happens to be during the Magnum P.I. calendar era.

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask how is the moustache?

I just had it anointed with oils and on Tuesday we trim just the tips.

I stand by you in your claim of possessing the greatest rock moustache of all-time.

It’s true, and it’s not my vanity saying that. It’s my pure respect for reality.