Michael Shuman: King of Queens

On the eve of Queens of the Stone Age’s triumphant return, Mikey Shoes walks us through the process of 'In Times New Roman...' and unveils the surprising secrets of his tone

Michael Shuman: King of Queens

On the eve of Queens of the Stone Age’s triumphant return, Mikey Shoes walks us through the process of 'In Times New Roman...' and unveils the surprising secrets of his tone

Photo by Andreas Neumann

Michael Shuman’s bags are packed, his basses and amps have long since been shipped to Germany, where Queens of the Stone Age’s “End of Nero” world tour kicks off, and the band’s highly anticipated album is waiting in queue to be released on the same day: June 16th. The rehearsals for the shows are complete and the reviews of the album are already rolling out with enthusiastic praise. The anticipation, unrest, and tension of the past three years is finally being relieved, but you wouldn’t know it talking to Shuman as his sits in his Los Angeles home with his typical cool, calm demeanor.

That’s not to say he isn’t internally brimming with excitement to get back on the road with his tight-knit band after all they’ve endured, and the relief starts to show itself as he reflects on the road to getting here. “I’m slowly starting to feel like myself again. Such a big part of me and all of us is this band, and it’s part of our identity. To be without it, I think you feel a little lost. Obviously, everyone felt a little lost the last couple of years, but our industry was the last to recover, and we didn’t know if it was ever going to recover. It was scary. With the camaraderie and the machine that we are as a band, things are now starting to feel normal again.”

Photo by Andreas Neumann

The new album, In Times New Roman…, is a return to the band’s hard-hitting, guitar-driven roots. It also takes risks like no QOTSA album before, while exploring new emotional terrain for frontman Josh Homme, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, drumer Jon Theodore, and Shuman. Despite the heavy lead of three guitarists and one of the most physical drummers in rock, Shuman’s bass makes a strong impression on every track, moving far beyond low end foundation. His gritty and fast-picked lines go toe-to-toe with the often angry and emotive guitar playing of the band’s trio, while matching them in melody and bold rhythmic design. That’s the impact Shuman has had on the group since he first joined in 2007.

The 37-year-old has never been one to shy away from taking risks, which only seems to increase with age. Proving that point is Shuman’s solo project, GLU, which showcased his production and multi-instrumentalist chops on a five-song EP he released in February of this year. Instead of leaning into his punk and rock DNA for it, he opted for a heavy hand of synths, programmed drumbeats, and unexpectedly, his rapping. The songs shined with sincere precision and the swagger and confidence of someone unafraid to fail. It’s the part of him that makes him the perfect force to drive a unit as explosive as QOTSA. And that force is about to be unleashed once again.

QOTSA performing at the Sonic Temple Festival (Photo by Alex Kluft)

How was it returning to the stage for the first time since pre-COVID at the Sonic Temple Festival in Ohio late last month?

I wasn’t too nervous about it, but I wanted to get the first one done and see where we’re at. It felt pretty great. It felt like we were back out as we were five years ago. It’s like riding a bike. And it’s good to know that people missed us, and care, and still want to see us. You never know. You’re in this record-making process where you’re in a bubble, making a record for yourself and trying to get it done. To come out of the process and find that people are stoked about it feels really good.

Tell us about the bubble that was the writing process for this album.

I was in England towards the beginning, and Josh, Dean, Troy, and Jon were together working out some ideas. There’s a little guest house at Josh’s home and they did a few demos there, which is new to this process because we usually never have demos. We kept some keyboard tracks from those sessions. They were very basic demos, but some of the stuff, because it was so specific and weird and raw, we ended up using. However, we didn’t do anything to a click, so that was difficult later in the process. Speaking honestly, the process with us is hard. It’s always hard. And I don’t know why exactly, but we all recognize it and accept it. Some of it evolved from us jamming in the studio. You start figuring out ideas that way. Sometimes one person will come up a little riff or idea and off we go. But I think also with this record, lyrically, we knew it was going to be important, and we knew how personal it was gonna be to Josh. So we had to be respectful in knowing that’s the most important part, and figure out how we can serve the lyrics and the sentiment behind the songs. Still, there are no rules when it comes to our songwriting.

Photo by Andreas Neumann

Even on your earliest recordings with the band you always went for it and put some ambitious bass on QOTSA songs. Do your ideas usually get vetted by Josh and the other members?

The thing with our band is that everyone is very capable of playing all of the instruments, and being creative and writing in all kinds of ways. I have no ego when it comes to whether Josh or Troy have an idea on bass and want to try it. And the same goes for me. If I have a piano part or a guitar part that I want to do, I do it. When I came into the band I was very young and I respected all of the records and the people who played before me. You want to make an imprint—you don’t want to overplay, but you want to be you. I had no fear in putting everything out there. To be honest, when I get a riff or a song idea, I tend to overplay at first. I want to get all of my ideas out and then I can edit and pull back. I don’t want to be shy, especially in this band, where there’s three guitar players. Because of that, I also can’t be all over the place. I have to make sure that I’m serving the song and leaving room for vocals. That’s especially important to me as a songwriter, but I know where to find those gaps and where to compliment. Josh is our leader and we trust him, for the most part. But I’m never afraid to voice my opinion, nor is anybody. The best idea always wins in our band.

This is certainly considered a heavy guitar album, but your tone is big and brutal and cuts through everything. What was your chain like in the studio?

There was definitely not one chain. This is a heavy record, it’s a raw record, but it’s also relatively eclectic, so I don’t look at one song the same as another song. I wasn’t about to get one chain together and run through all the songs. Also, most of it was being played live, where at least me and Jon would try to get the bass and drums together on the same take. It would be maybe a couple days until we did the next song, or a week, even. So what was I using for each song? I don’t even remember [laughs]. But there are a few staples I use, which are two small, quirky amps. Actually, I don’t know if I should say this, but one is the Peavey Decade, which Josh has relied on for the bass sound of QOTSA for a long time. Well, I guess I kind of let the cat out of the bag on that one. We use that a lot for both guitar and bass. For some reason they are special. And even when I first saw them, 16 years ago, I was like, Come on, this is a Peavey practice amp! But there’s something about them. They’re very versatile and they can really cut. Sometimes when recording bass it can be difficult to capture the low end, where even if you get it spot on, it can seem far away. The little Peavey is always very present. I used that and the Guild Maverick, which has also been a secret weapon. On the last cycle I started playing those live, because I was like, Fuck it, this is what I want to play and this is the tone I want. I’m not going to hide this anymore. There’s something about how it can sit in the mix that’s just special.

The Peavey Decade 10-Watt 1×8″ 1980s Guitar Combo Amp

Wow, a Peavey Decade? I never would’ve imagined that the secret behind the QOTSA sound was a cheap practice amp.

Yeah man, it’s funny because when people found out recently, the price for those things skyrocketed online. You can probably find one right now for anywhere from $500 to $1,000. But before anyone knew that’s what we were using, you could seriously get one for $50. Look, I love playing through big amps. We all started on club stages where you needed the sound to blow people out of the room. But for recording, and the more time you spend in the studio, you realize smaller amps are actually gonna get better results. Bigger amps are harder to record, so we tend to go smaller.

Every time I see you perform you’re using a new bass. You’re obviously not married to any particular 4-string. Which basses did you use this time around?

Yeah, I’m not loyal to anything. On this record there were a few things that called for a more plucky, woody sound, which we don’t normally do. Like the way the record starts, at the beginning of “Obscenery” is unlike any bass sound you’ve heard on any Queens record. That was my Fender Coronado. It has not just a pluck, but there’s some woodiness to it that the body gives you. It’s unlike any other bass. I wish they were a little more stable, but for the studio, they’re great for certain applications. I got this ’67 Mustang at a Cleveland, Ohio Guitar Center eight years ago, when I was on tour with Mini Mansions. It’s beautiful. I played that a lot on the record. I used my Jazz Bass on a few songs because over the last few years it’s been the most even and consistent bass I’ve played. And then there’s one bass that’s a secret, which I’m very reluctant to identify. I’ll say it’s a Yamaha. It’s an old Yamaha. It’s been used on every Queens record. I was surprised when I first picked it up, yet it’s played all over the place. But I’ve already spilled too many secrets!

Photo by Andreas Neumann

You mentioned the opening to the song “Obscenery,” which has some great bass and guitar interplay. How did that come about?

That was something Josh gave to me that he’d been messing around with. He didn’t have an exact riff, but he was like, Take this idea of the bass constantly moving, shifting, and bouncing, and play around with it. It can be difficult when you know someone has something in mind already, so the mentality was, Am I going to beat you at this? I basically freestyled the part and that’s how it came about. I like that we say to each other, Here’s the vibe, now go figure it out. And it’s okay if there’s a mistake when you lay it down. Who cares? Let’s go, let’s move on. There are a lot of mistakes on this record. That’s what was cool about it, nothing’s perfect. I like that.

I love the constant bass fills on “Negative Space.” How did you work those out?

We wanted it to be dumb. That song is caveman dumb [laughs]. That’s the vibe. I wanted to keep it interesting. I wanted it to have a weird flair, but I also wanted to make sure there was some kind of melodic signature riff that’s always there. And I wanted to make sure that I was playing with the vocals. I’m a big James Jamerson fan. I’ve always taken his approach of, How do I rip on this thing yet make sure I’m out of the way and serving the vocals? Because those Motown songs, it’s all about the melody, the vocal, and the bass. That’s what I was looking for here.

What are you using to get the deep tone on “Carnavoyuer”?

The song had no groove when I first got it. Josh had this vocal idea and I was like, Man, that’s a beautiful song, we’ve got to do it. My tone came from two pedals, which are the Way Huge Conquistador before a MXR Bass Envelope Filter. I had that set up at home and I was messing around with it, and it’s so cool. There’s something about the pedals in that order that worked well. And it was the Yamaha bass along with those pedals getting that sound.

Photo by Alex Kluft

What is it like being in a rhythm section with Jon Theodore?

It’s the best. We have a real connection. We’re very close. I think you should be close with the person you’re gonna make music with. I was a fan of his when I was 14 years old. I remember I telling him this story after I got in the band: When I was 14 and my band was starting out, Mars Volta was playing the Troubadour, and it was a special private show, so you couldn’t buy tickets. I went around the back of the alley to try to sneak in, and Jon was outside smoking a cigarette warming up with his sticks. I said, Hey man, I’m a huge fan and I’m here with my band, and I handed him a flyer to our show. I remember he said, “Cool, man, but I gotta be honest, I’m not going to your show. I’ve been on tour for six months. I can’t go to another club.” It’s funny, thinking that was me back then, and now we’re playing together as equals, and sharing this experience. The guy can do anything, so it’s fun to be able to play whatever I want and see how he reacts to it.

Photo by Andreas Neumann

Dave Grohl and many others say you’re the baddest and best rock band out there. Do you feel that swagger within the band?

I mean, I like to hear that, but it’s not for us to say. We feel confident about ourselves. We know what we do and we know we do something that no one else does. We’re very confident in what we do. All you can do is be yourself, right? So to answer your question, yes, I guess we do have some kind of chip on our shoulder, but it’s because of each other.

You also recently released solo material as GLU. What sparked that?

It was during COVID lockdown, and yes, I had time on my hands and I needed a creative outlet. Some people tried baking bread and I tried rapping. I wanted to do something that scared me and challenged me, and that I’m not an expert at—therefore I had no limitations. It wasn’t about having creative control of a project. I just wanted to be able to do what I wanted without worrying about other people’s schedules. I’d always wanted to do something in the hip hop realm, and it worked. Once I played the first song for people I knew would be honest with me, they all loved it. I thought, okay, I’m doing something right, let’s continue down this path. It gave me so much joy to make because I’d never done it before.

How have you evolved as a bassist since joining QOTSA?

I would say I’ve found myself more as a human being at this age, which has leaked into the creative side of the music. When I got into Queens I knew who I was, and I wasn’t gonna change it for anybody. I’ve always tried to stay true to myself, but I think I found that taking risks will give you the most reward. In all ways, from having a plucky bass line on the first song of the Queens record, that a lot of fans might not be into, to doing a project where I rap. Just take as many risk as possible and that’s the best thing you can do to challenge yourself. Being scared a little bit is important for growth. Keep doing that. –BM

Hear Him On: Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman… [2023]

Glu, My Demons [2023]


Bass Custom Shop ’60s style Fender Jazz and Precision Basses, 1967 Fender Mustang Bass, Vintage Gibson Ripper Bass

Rig Fender Super Bassman heads, Fender 4×10 Neo Cabinet, Guild Maverick Tube Bass Combos

Pedals Dunlop Volume Pedal, Way Huge Conquistador, MXR Bass Envelope Filter, Ten Years Pedal, EarthQuaker Devices Dirt Transmitter, Electro Harmonix Micro POG, MXR Smart Gate

Strings Dunlop DBN45105 Nickel Wound

Picks Dunlop Triangle .73mm Tortex

Follow Michael Shuman: HERE

For more on QOTSA: Click Here

Jon D'Auria   By: Jon D'Auria

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