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JOSH HOMME Recalls How Experimenting With Downtuning Defined KYUSS & His Playing

In the early ’90s, as alternative bands were on the brink of revolutionizing the music scene, Josh Homme embarked on a musical experiment that would redefine his guitar playing. Downtuning, a practice now ubiquitous in metal, was a rarity back then. Homme, the driving force behind Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, stumbled upon this uncharted territory almost by accident.

When crafting the distinctive sound of Kyuss, later celebrated as a pinnacle of stoner rock, Homme was unaware of the downtuning trend, which widely credited to Black Sabbath‘s Tony Iommi as its originator.

In a recent conversation with Tom Power, as transcribed by Ultimate Guitar, he shared: “In Kyuss, one of the reasons why I wanted to detune is because I wanted something that was mine, and there was no example of tuning down to B, and C… There was no such thing. I think, maybe Black Sabbath was downtuning some songs, but I’d never heard them before. I was just a kid in the desert, with a very small record collection.”

Homme‘s unconventional approach to guitar playing wasn’t met with enthusiasm by his traditionalist teacher: “I was like, ‘I wonder if you just do this, what happens?’ If I’d still had a guitar teacher at the time, the first thing they would have told me is, ‘That’s not allowed.’ But it is allowed. It’s allowed, because that’s what I want to do and because I simply can do it. So, everything is allowed.”

This defiance of conventional wisdom led to a cascade of change. Downtuning caught on, becoming a hallmark of heavy metal. Reflecting on this trend, Homme remarked: “It became such a thing. Now there are seven-string guitars with Bs on them. It sort of gave way to a lot of heavy metal, some of which I like, and much of which I don’t. But it doesn’t matter if I like it or not; it sort of opened the doorway to this thought…”

Homme credits his early missteps, influenced by a Polka-focused guitar teacher, for his innovative approach. This spirit of experimentation continued with Queens of the Stone Age, as seen in tracks like “No One Knows,” where the band’s trademark downtuning adds a unique twist to a pop sensibility.

Queens, still, is detuned much of the time, because it sounds unlike other things. On ‘No One Knows’, you’re hearing a song that’s tuned in C standard. And so, it’s a pop song with drop tuning, strangely.”

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