In 2015, mainstream music’s landscape looks much different than it did in its cock rock heyday: Slash is a sober dad, Mötley Crüe are puttering through their final tour and nice guys like Ed Sheeran are the ones selling out stadiums. It’s an age where Lenny Kravitz will have an on-stage wardrobe malfunction and sue people for gawking, rather than shake the merchandise. So, in these increasingly progressive times, naming your new album Zipper Down — and plastering a woman’s chest on its cover — seems a tad ill-advised.
“I’ve been feeling the flames of hell below my feet lately. I’m trying to give myself a fighting chance of not going all the way down.”
“It’s a philosophy on enjoying life better,” argues Jesse “the Devil” Hughes, Eagles of Death Metal’s hirsute frontman. “In the desert, when people get too excited, someone will say, ‘Zipper up!’ But it’s so much easier to enjoy breasts when your zipper’s down. That’s basic math.”
You’ll have to forgive Hughes. For the past 17 years, the Palm Desert dweller’s been a living cliché: a swaggering, moustachioed lothario who still likes his rock n’ roll with equal parts drugs and sex in it. While crafting four albums of critically-lauded ZZ/Stones pastiche with not-so-secret weapon Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age), the 42-year-old has earned a reputation for being one of rock’s biggest sinners. (“I’m living hard, man,” he says. “I’m on fire.”) Still, he believes his soul can be saved — it was once pure, after all.
Before Hughes was a pelvis-swiveling madman, he spent many years as an overweight, God-fearing Republican Party speechwriter. One afternoon in 1998, he walked in on his wife mid-adultery and promptly lost his religion. “I got mad at God,” he remembers. “The first thing I did was pollute my body.” He fell hard into crystal meth, shed 60 pounds and discovered tattoos.
While spending months holed up in an apartment drug-binging, Hughes managed to pick up a guitar and write songs poking fun at Homme, his childhood pal-turned-rockstar. But when Homme eventually heard the recordings, he was blown away: Hughes’ kitschy, Jon Spencer-meets-Elvis blues shtick actually sounded good. The Queens front man dragged his friend to a studio, where Eagles of Death Metal were born. “It was like being a werewolf my whole life, and then showing up for Bible study one night on a full moon,” recounts Hughes. “Instead of turning into a werewolf, I turned into an animal with a dick bigger than John Holmes. All of John Holmes.”
Nowadays, however, the Devil feels remorse for his lapses. So much so that’s he’s decided to become a reverend. (Yes, really.) Recently ordained by the Universal Life Church, an interfaith ministry, Hughes now offers Christian services to rockers seeking redemption on the road. “I’ve been feeling the flames of hell below my feet lately,” he says. “I’m trying to give myself a fighting chance of not going all the way down.”
That said, Zipper Down is no collection of hymns. It’s a smutty, scuzzy dive bar of a record you’ll guiltily keep returning to. But don’t feel ashamed: in this era of somber, rustic folk bands, lecherous, irreverent rock n’ roll actually sounds, well, ballsy again.
Besides, the devil horn clichés may just lead Hughes to salvation: “I’m an excellent example of God’s will,” he says. “I’ll show you what happens if you follow the wrong path. Like a really fun, After School Special.”