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Josh Homme's Rotating Supergroup The Desert Sessions Returns For 'Vols. 11 & 12'

Josh Homme's The Desert Sessions brought together an all-star line-up of rock legends to collaborate.

It almost sounds like a twisted science experiment: Invite a dozen rock and roll warriors to spend a week at a ranch in the California desert, encourage them to write songs and play together, then capture the results.

The Desert Sessions Vols. 11 & 12 is the result of one of Josh Homme's experiments. The Queens of the Stone Age frontman has been hosting these retreats since 1997, inviting a different group of musicians to each one. Earlier this year, he convened another one, with guests including Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Les Claypool of Primus, and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint.

Homme has been making records for a long time and says his favorite method of cultivating a recording vibe involves getting strangers together in the desert. The remote location encourages musicians to shed their professional armor and try things they wouldn't under "normal" circumstances, i.e. playing for fun, in the garage, like when they're first starting out. Even a longtime arena-dwelling professional like Billy Gibbons, who's approaching age 70, gets it.

The credits offer clues about what goes on at Rancho de la Luna. In addition to drums on album-opener "Move Together," Carla Azar plays "hand boop boop synth." Meanwhile, Stella Mozgawa plays stand-up chimes and room-service trays. In other words, stakes are low. Nobody gets blamed if a song flames out — they just go outside, watch the sunset and then try something else.

Homme says he thinks about intangibles, like chemistry, when he's putting together the crew of well-known and unknown musicians. He sees himself less as a conductor than a facilitator, and describes the interaction as "borrowing friction from each other." You can hear that in his vocal on a track like "Noses in Roses, Forever."

Previous Desert Sessions went heavy on prog-rock jams, but this one is more focused on songs, so the group chemistry changes from track to track. Nothing feels overworked or overthought — the musicians sound like they're discovering the songs as they go along. They're not trying too hard to make magic happen. And that's precisely why magic happens.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.