The words “Grammy” and “cool” have been mutually exclusive for years. Who can forget when the flute-tastic Jethro Tull somehow beat out thrash pioneers Metallica for the first Hard Rock/Metal award in 1988? And then there have been the numerous oversights. For instance, how did Marvin Gaye not receive a Grammy until 1983?
But perhaps the Grammys are turning the corner in terms of cool quotient. Queens of the Stone Age, the consistently strong stoner-rockers, will close the Grammy Awards show Sunday night (8 p.m. on CBS). The band will jam with Dave Grohl, who often tours and records with them (in fact, Grohl plays drums on the Queens latest album, “...Like Clockwork”), and Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor (who also played on the album).
“This is crazy,” multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen says while calling from his Los Angeles home. “It’s a coup for us. I’ve had a big smile across my face for the last 24 hours since that’s when I heard the news. I can’t speak for the Grammys, but I think Arcade Fire winning (Album of the Year in 2011) over those other acts (established stars Katy Perry, Eminem and Lady Gaga) was awesome. Playing the Grammys is amazing. Maybe it’ll be a great night for us. We’re nominated for some Grammys.”
The band, which also features vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Josh Homme, keyboardist Dean Fertita, bassist Michael Shuman and drummer Jon Theodore, is up for Best Rock Performance for “My God is the Sun” and Best Rock Album for “...Like Clockwork.”
“That would be amazing to win, but we’re not expecting anything at the Grammys except having the opportunity to play,” Van Leeuwen says. “That’s good enough for us.”
Queens of the Stone Age, which will also perform Thursday at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, has been one of the most consistent rock bands around since releasing its eponymous debut album in 1998. Homme has a knack for penning visceral but stylish songs that have nothing to do with the outside rock world.
“We don’t pay attention to anything but what we’re doing,” Van Leeuwen says. “We do what we want. But this album wasn’t so easy. We wanted this one to be as open as possible. We didn’t want tons of loud guitars. The lyrics couldn’t be superfluous. We cut the fat with this album. We only went with prime cuts. We wanted to make something classic like David Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs.’”
Elton John, a “Diamond Dogs” era star himself, was one of the many guests on Queens’ “Clockwork.”
“We had some incredibly talented players come in, but it blew us away when Elton arrived,” Van Leeuwen says. “He comes in with his fancy suit on, surrounded by his entourage, but he remains a badass player. He practices every day and his voice is gruff and awesome. He learned the song we were working on for a week in 20 minutes. He doesn’t just ‘still have it.’ He flaunts it.”
Homme’s wife Brody Dalle, along with Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan, also lent their skills to the project. “That’s a lot of great singers right there,” Van Leeuwen says. “They helped shape this project.”
But the freelancer who had the most impact on the disc is the aforementioned Grohl. The leader of the Foo Fighters is a more than capable vocalist-guitarist, he’s also a monster behind the drum kit.
“I think Dave is most natural behind the drum kit, but that’s why I think he plays guitar, writes and sings,” Van Leeuwen says. “He’s great at playing guitar and singing too. He loves to challenge himself. Every time he makes a record, it’s a challenge.”
The same can be said for the Queens of the Stone Age. “We try to just make the best music we can every time,” Van Leeuwen said. “We really do the best we can.”
And the reward for that is a primetime spot before a national audience Sunday night.
“It’s unreal,” Van Leeuwen says. “None of us could have guessed this would happen. It’s going to be something we’ll never forget.”