Raptor's Spirit

The Eagles of Death Metal still take to the sky

Singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes, the brash, bad-boy singer of Eagles of Death Metal, has a simple motto: "Stay horny, keep it light, never let the bad guys win." 

It's fitting for a musician who came out of one of the most chilling attacks of terrorism, shaking his hips just that much harder.

The band has been on the road almost consistently the past year, rocking crowds with their celebratory, boogie-down anthems. They have a stop in Tucson coming up on Oct. 18. Hughes leads his pack as a larger-than-life rock figure, cutting an iconic image with his thin frame, bushy mustache, tinted glasses and slicked-back hair. He has a mouth on him like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis back in their heyday, all big-talk and bluster with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Eagles of Death Metal isn't so much a band but a rock monster created by Hughes and longtime friend Josh Hommes (perhaps better known for Queens of the Stone Age), which rose out of the sands of Palm Desert, California in 1998.  

Though Hommes rarely goes on the road with them anymore (he remains a presence in the studio), the band is still very much his, with a rotating lineup of members that currently includes Dave Catching (guitar, slide bass), Jennie Vee (bass), Eden Galindo (occasional guitar) and Jorma Vik (drums).

The band was recently featured on two songs on Kesha's latest album, Rainbow. They've known the pop singer since she was 14 years old.

"She's the real deal," says Hughes, "She's put up with a lot of sh*t and come out on top. I admire her so much."

EODM's last album, Zipper Down, was released in October 2015, a rollicking mix of quirky hard rock with classic riffs and irrepressible good time spirit. Despite the misconceptions of their name, it is decidedly not death metal. The name was always meant to be taken in jest and gives a good idea of their sense of humor, which is apparent throughout their four-album discography.

The band had just taken the new album out on the road and were performing at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris to a crowd of 1,500 people, when three dark-clad men with assault rifles entered the theater and began shooting into the crowd. 89 people died, while many others suffered serious injuries. The band managed to escape unharmed, but they lost merchandise manager Nick Alexander in what was later learned to be a city-wide terrorist attack with a death toll totaling 130 people.

While the tragic event will forever remain as part of the band's history, Hughes saw something positive in the wake of it.

"Even though it was an unbelievably horrendous act of awfulness, honestly I saw nothing but the best that people can be," he says. "I saw the whole rock community come together."

 The aftermath and the emotional journey of grief, survivor's guilt and comeback was documented in the HBO film, Nos Amis (French for "Our Friends") directed by Colin Hanks (son of actor Tom Hanks), a longtime friend of the band. The film chronicles the aftermath of the attacks as the band members struggled to cope with what happened, and their return to Paris.  "We wanted to show the ultimate truth of what we thought was the right thing. The 89 lives who were taken from us, their story doesn't deserve to be a secret. It deserves to be remembered in heroism," says Hughes.

The film relays what it was like for the band in those moments to fans who want to know, sparing the band members the necessity to recount the incident over and over, especially in the media, where comments Hughes made following the attack regarding conspiracy theories and gun control laws led to a strong backlash against the band.  Hughes says he doesn't regret what he said in terms of content.

"I regret saying some of those things because it created a distraction from what the real focus was," he says. "I was in the midst of dealing with a traumatic event. I clearly love everyone, but I don't like bad guys."

Though there are some very moving moments in Nos Amis that show Hughes' extremely vulnerable and emotional side, he isn't one to wallow in self pity over the incident. He would rather stand up and fight. "I've never been a 'why me?' kind of guy. Rock 'n' roll is a community and when it's attacked, we're all called to defend. When it's my turn, I want to make sure I'm the fiercest."

Sadly, he's also now part of a club whose membership is growing. This past May, Hughes found himself aligning with pop star Ariana Grande when the music community received another sucker punch to the gut from terrorism. At least 22 people were killed and more than 50 injured in a suicide bombing that took place at Grande's Manchester, England performance.

Shortly after the attack, Hughes connected with Grande to offer his support, "We basically just sat on the phone in silence for about 15 minutes. We didn't know what to say. I just wanted her to know I was there for her and what we did to try to do the right thing."

And then less than two weeks ago, on Oct. 1, a lone shooter at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas took the lives of 58 concert-goers and injured hundreds of others while country artist Jason Aldean was on stage.  Eagles of Death Metal stopped their show the following night for a moment of silence for the victims, and Hughes posted on his Facebook page:

"I am praying for those who were killed and for those who were injured today in Vegas... Jason Aldean 1 million things are going to go through your head...I'm going to be praying for you particularly because I know what you're going through...i'll be here if you need me for anything."

Hughes admits they are still healing, which is challenging when the wounds are reopened often.

"We've all worked our asses off to get better," he says.

Though it's been a long (and clearly still painful) road, the main way the band has overcome the tragedy is by going back to the music, with full force. They have plans to go in the studio to record new music at the end of the year. So what can fans expect from the new songs?

"It will be like [porn star] John Holmes but with an even bigger dick!" Hughes boasts, adding that the band only takes from the greats: Keith Richards, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and George Clinton. "It's going to be a real Dr. Funkensex!"

Another EODM recording to look forward to is the score and soundtrack for the upcoming Super Troopers sequel due next April. Hughes called it "the greatest experience I've had so far professionally. It's inspired the whole next writing phase."

Despite all the good and bad that's happened with the band, Hughes says the most important thing is to keep rockin'.

"I have to boogie even harder when the bad guys want me to stop dancing," he says.

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