Nick Oliveri
by Interviews

A little over three years ago, Nick Oliveri, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s true wild men, was involved in a five-hour standoff with the SWAT team. He could have gotten the shit kicked out of him. He could have gotten shot. He could have gotten killed. But, in true chaotic luck, he survived with just a few scratches.

Since then, things have gotten better. He’s gone on to cut killer records with the Dwarves, record with the Moistboyz, tour with punk legends Bl’ast, and even reunited on stage with formerly estranged bandmate Josh Homme with Queens of the Stone Age.

Now, Oliveri will release his solo record, Leave Me Alone on October 28, 2014. On the LP, he details the SWAT stand off, almost dying in a car accident and partying too hard. To get the scoop, features editor John Gentile spoke with Oliveri about the new record, that nasty car accident and that one time a giant one-eyed robot smashed down his front door.

Nick, you’ve been having an amazing two years. You’ve been killing it with the Dwarves. You toured with Bl’ast. You played on stage with Queens of the Stone Age. You’ve recorded with Dean Ween. Your new album is about to come out. You must be on top of the world!
I’ve been feeling good. Getting things back in order. Playing and staying busy as hell with all these projects. The only problem is the downtime. You wouldn’t think that I’d have much, but there are a lot of hours.

What do you do in your off-time?
I like to go out. Sometimes I like to just chill out and hide from everybody before I get back out there and see people and bands. You come back from a two-month tour, you’ve been out every night, you just like to chill. I don’t like to see nobody or nothing.

Along those lines, I’m going to read a quote. "We toured for five years straight, losing wives and girlfriends or whatever. Which is fine. I prefer music to everything." Who said that?
That’s me!

Why do you prefer music to people? Is it because music just zaps out of you like James Brown or Cab Calloway?
I wish I was that in tune with music that I was like James Brown! That would be badass! I work hard at it. I try to do the best that I can do. Sometimes I slack, and I have to kick myself in the ass. Sometimes I communicate better with a song than I can talking to a person. I wish I could really get my point across with music and talking to someone.

See, I think that really says a lot about you. A lot of people like to portray you as this wild, rock and roll guy, but I’d be willing to wager that you are a pretty sensitive person.
I kind of write what I’m thinking of at the time, or what’s happening or what I like or about what I don’t like. I don’t know how to write about anything else. The wild guy thing kind of came from Queens of the Stone Age and the press. I was quite crazy when I was younger and sometimes I can get wild. I’ve mellowed out as I’ve gotten older. I still can get wild, though.

Josh was kind of like the mysterious one and I was like the out-front going crazy one. It came naturally for us because that’s what we were doing naturally. We were touring all the time so we were always out somewhere being seen doing crazy stuff instead of being behind closed doors. We got tagged as the party band because we kind of wanted that. We wanted people to have a good time. We wanted people to have a good time at the show. We wanted people to leave it all behind and come in and have a good time. Whatever’s bothering you, don’t even bring it in. It doesn’t even apply here. Your work, your job, your marriage falling apart, your finances, you leave that at the door and rock with us. And we did that and had a good time. I like to think that the people coming to see us had a good time as well.

But in contrast to the escapism of that scene, your actual solo album seems very personal, very real.
Yeah, sure. I find it hard to write some story about something that I haven’t felt or lived. I have a hard time making stuff up like that. At least to sing it with conviction, even if I’m singing a cover song, I have to feel the lyrics. I might get something competently different out of it, but the things I sing, that’s about what I feel.

Nick, everyone wants you in their band -- Dwarves, Bl’ast, Moistboyz and others. Your album is called Leave Me Alone. I think of another much-desired guitar player, who had the album So alone, Johnny Thunders-
That was definitely an influence on my album, that album title So Alone, to tell you the truth! You know where he’s sitting by himself in the room. I love Johnny Thunders. He was amazing.

Do you feel a connection with Thunders? He was a troubled individual.
Sure, he had some demons for sure. He lived it. His music was real. What he’s singing about is real. He was a true badass, I think. It’s a shame what happened. I saw live footage of him and he was completely out of it. That’d be a great thing to see and also completely a bummer. I want to see him nail it. At the same time, the recordings were fantastic. I really dig the New York Dolls and Thunders. Some of that influenced me for sure.

On Leave Me Alone, you have a song called "Human Cannonball" which is about a very serious car accident that you had while recording the album.
I feel asleep driving my car. I did two days of drum tracking and on the second day -- I’m not a drummer, so I guess my stamina was down. Ha! I was driving back from Palm Springs, California to my downtown LA flat and I passed out. When I passed out, I passed out. I didn’t just doze off, pull over, slap myself on the face and drink some Red Bull, I passed out.

When the car rolled, I hit my head. Normally that knocks people out. But, for me, it woke me up! I didn’t even feel the roll or anything. I was like "what?" It was bad. I’m lucky to be walking and making a record. It was a bad, bad scene.

Do you feel like you are protected or something like that?
Maybe someone is looking over me. I seem to have a lot of things like this happen to me and knock on wood, I come out with a couple stitches and staples. I don’t want to jinx anything and end up dead tomorrow! Ha! I seem to have a lucky nine lives kind of thing. It’s been quite crazy. I don’t really think that there are angels. I don’t believe too much in that stuff. Maybe there was something helping me.

The guy that pulled me out of the car -- the one window that wasn’t busted out was the passenger side. He busted it out because it was the one window that I could kind of get out of. The rest was kind of flattened.

It turns out, the guy is named Edgar, I met him at a Dwarves show later on. He was a fan of Mondo Generator and stuff. He came to a show and was like, "I’m the guy that pulled you out of your car." He showed me pics on his phone. I was like "What!" So strange! He said he played bass and I happened to have a bass in my car so I gave it to him. it was so weird. It’s like "Are you following me around, man? Keep doing it, because I need it!"

I would guess that the accident was particularly hard for you because a long time ago, your father died in a car accident, too.
Yeah, he drove off a cliff. We actually dedicated a Kyuss record to him, in ‘91. That was a shocker. That sucked.

That’s kind of scary that a serious accident like that happened to both you and your father.
After it happened, I kind of went like "Wow! I almost went out like my dad!" Crazy. It would have sucked. It really grounded me. It humbled me better than any ass kicking in my life. I got my ass kicked that day! Ha! Ha! Ha! I really got beat up. I was lying in bed like five people had jumped me and kicked the shit out of me -- just really gave it to me. I could barely move. I heard a knocking on my door and I was like, "I gotta get up." I limped slowly, and stumbled over, and opened the door, and Josh Homme of Queens and his wife Brody sent me sandwich meats and cold cuts and fresh bread with a note like "I knew it would be hard to make food, so here is easy to make food." It was super cool that the did that. I was like, "Wow! Right on!" I couldn’t make food by myself. I was drained. That was the right after getting beat up. It was like a light. Somebody cares! I was stoked.

My friend Al, who works for Pepsi, he said, "You want anything?" I said, "Bring me a Pepsi!" I never thought a Coke or Pepsi would taste so good. The crazy thing was a week alter, I went on tour against a doctor’s order and a now ex-girlfriend’s order. "You don’t need to go up to Alaska and get on stage and play." I was like, "those people were expecting me to play and everyone cancels Alaska, so I’m not going to cancel!" I got my stapes out at urgent care up there in the middle of the tour, while we were camping. We were touring and camping. I had a real hard time. It was hard to sing because my head hurt when I sang. Wow! This was killing me!

On "The Void" you seem to contemplate death.
It’s about lifestyle and substance stuff like that. You can get stuck in anything. Things can be great and things can be very bad, depending on how you want to use them or abuse them. It can seem like death is the final "solution." If that’s the only way out, that’s bad. It was just how I was feeling at that particular moment.

I had a lot of weird twists and turns happened in the past 10 years after I’ve been out of Queens. Pointing fingers, "it’s their fault!" It takes time to get out of your ego and say "Wow, that was me! I did this. I made this happen to myself." That what I was feeling with that. It takes some time to heal certain things, and say it isn’t anyone else fault.

Things haven’t necessary gone bad. Things have changed. That’s ok… depending on how you make the change work for you. Nonetheless, change happens. You can either roll with it or fight it and make things harder on yourself. I like to write about things like that in my own way. Sometimes it’s harder for me to admit it. So, instead of just admitting it, I’ll just write it through a song and admit it that way, so no one knows what’s happening. So, I just write about it and some people know about it and some don’t.

You also have Dean Ween on that track!
Or, as I know him, Mickey Moist! He’s a true champion on the guitar. He’s a true champion of songwriting. I love Mositboyz and Ween. He’s one of the best guitar players around. Me and Josh, in Queens, toured with Ween. Ween is a badass band! I feel, and Josh feels as well as I’ve heard him say this, Mickey is one of the best guitar players around. He can play any style believably and great. Notes that for anyone else would be wrong, are right notes for him. He’s playing things that no one else could do. He’s a fascinating guitar player and he’s a good guy. He’s good people. He’s cool. On top of that he was cool enough to make that song much more than just him being on it. I really thank him.

On the album you also have Phil Campbell of Motorhead!
Phil Campbell plays the lead on one of my songs. Dreams do come true. To have one of my heroes on the album is amazing.

What’s your favorite Motorhead album?
Hands down, it’s not even an album. It’s the No Remorse compilation with the leather sleeve! That was the first release with Phil Campbell and Wurzel. I love that record because it compiles al the best tunes. I actually just picked up the first record -- the very first one on Chiswick and it’s on white vinyl. I actually have it right here. [Roots around for a record]. Here it is! It’s on "White Vinyl Fever." It’s got "Vi-vi-vi-vi-vi-brator!" It’s an amazing record. Apparently it’s pretty rare to find an original copy of this record and I was really happy to find it.

Wow! You’re a record collector, too?
Oh yeah! Right on!

You also have a song called "Luv is Fiction." Do you really think that love is fiction?
In my experience, no, it’s not. It’s kind of a play on words. I was surprises that no one ever put that together. I did a New York Dolls thing and spelled it L-U-V. I love all my girlfriends I ever had. Not all of us like each other anymore. But, I still love them… probably 90 percent of them love me back. We still see each other.

I’ve found that hate lasts longer than love, sometimes. Love is real for the first 15 minutes… Ha! I’m just joking.

Could it be that you love the women in your life too much? That’s why there is such an explosive negative reaction when it’s over?
Well, I’m now married. I love my wife. She always kind of gives me a hard time about the song. "Love is fiction, huh?" she says. I’m like, "It’s just a song baby!" It’s just a play on words. I’ve been told many times, "You don’t even know what love is!" by ex-girlfriends. I was like, "Hmmm… maybe I don’t. Maybe you haven’t shown me, yet."

I’ve been kind of a bastard sometimes. I can’t deny that. It’s not something that I don’t want to make better, I just don’t know at 42 that it’s possible to find a junior high style uncontrollable love -- when I first started it was like, "I’d die without that person!" You have to let go some. I’d always had a hard time of letting go of that kind of thing. Love is very real in my world.

The centerpiece of the album is "Robot Man," which details the crazy situation that you got into with the SWAT team. What exactly happened on that day?
A lot of things could have happened or gone terribly wrong that night. I didn’t answer my door when they knocked. I kind of messed up. I could have answered the door. I could have had no problems at all. But, I was like, "This is my house! I don’t have to answer the door for anybody!" I got all tough guy about it. Trust me, when I finally came out, I signed a thing saying, "you can search my house, you don’t have to wait 24 hours. "

They found a gun under my bed. It’s my dad’s gun. It was a hand-me-down. It was registered to my father and I inherited it. It was fully loaded. I don’t have kids, so it was under my bed for home protection. If someone breaks in and tries to get my wife or whatever -- I don’t imagine that someone would break in without a weapon. So that’s why I had it there.

It really got blown out a little bit of what really was going on. But, I wrote the song because it happened and it was real and a robot came and busted in my door. Usually the cops will come. But this time, a robot with tank treads for legs went up the stairs of my porch and smashed in the door!

The robot man’s eyes blinded mine. It smashed the oval window and I pulled back the curtain and it’s high-beam-like eye shined and I was like "Aahhh! What the hell! Oh shit!"

It was the craziest thing. When I was in jail that night, they were like, "Do you want a cigarette?" and they let me have a smoke and they started naming Queens songs and were fans and I was like, "You guys are fans?" It was super weird and surreal. "Wow! They like my band." They took pretty good care of me. I think they thought I was a suicide case and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt myself. It was bad scene and it sucked.

I’m actually going to make a copy of "Robot Man" and drop it off at the police station. I’ll say, "Hey guys, this is the song that I wrote for the guys in the SWAT team about that unfortunate night that I had. Thank you for taking good care of me and not killing me." I’m going to do that today, actually. I can’t wait to do that.