WHEN QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE ENTERED the studio for their sixth studio album, Michael Shuman put expectations aside to go with the flow of his more seasoned bandmates. Shuman’s aggressive and thoughtful playing supplies the backbone to the manic desert-rock record, … Like Clockwork. What he didn’t expect was that the process would mark the end of drummer Joey Castillo’s 11-year tenure with the band, or that the ensuing sessions would bring forth collaborations with Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, and Sir Elton John.
“It was definitely a learning experience for me on how they work together, but it was a difficult record to make for everyone. We gave it a first try, and because of different circumstances, we took a break and reconvened. Then it all seemed to click.” And click it did. Shuman’s powerful lines on “My God Is the Sun” and “I Sat by the Ocean” solidify his role in the lineup, while demonstrating his melodic interplay with Josh Homme’s and Troy Van Leeuwen’s guitars.
What was the writing process like for this album?
It’s great because there isn’t an ego problem; the best idea always wins. For “If I Had a Tail,” for example, Josh brought the idea in the morning, we worked out an arrangement in the afternoon, recorded it all in the evening, and then he put vocals on late that night and we were done. But some ideas took a long time for us to figure out their identity.
That’s a tight bass groove on “I Appear Missing.”
We worked out that song in the early stages, but I wasn’t thrilled with my part. Then Dave Grohl came in to take over the sessions after Joey departed, and it all changed. The groove throughout the song just came together when we started playing. It has somewhat of a goth-dub feel that I love, because I’m a big Bauhaus fan.
How was it working with Grohl and your new drummer, Jon Theodore from the Mars Volta?
I grew up listening to those guys, and I’m a huge fan of their drumming. Playing with Joey for so long really locked us in together, and it’s hard to walk away from that situation. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s refreshing to play with new drummers. It makes you explore and approach things in a new way. I catch myself playing totally differently with Jon.
How do you create your tone?
It changes from song to song. On “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” I used more of a Paul McCartney feel; I plucked the line and used flatwounds strings on a hollow-body bass. My dream rig is an Ampeg SVT, 8x10 cabinet, and an Acoustic 360, but when you go into the studio it’s not logical to use a rig like that. So we use a lot of vintage combo amps to get better frequencies.
You play many different instruments. What’s your attraction to bass?
I started on guitar when I was seven, and at 14 I started a band. I felt like bass players got a bad rap, so I wanted to become a bass player who was creative and the best at what I did—I didn’t want to be just another bass player. Being part of the group is so important, and being part of the backbone makes it more exciting for me.
Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork [Matador, 2013]
Basses Fender American Vintage 1963 Jazz Bass, Fender American Vintage 1952 Precision Bass, 1967 Gibson EB2
Rig Fender Bassman 300 Pro, Fender 810 Pro V2 8x10 Fender 115 Pro 1x15
Effects Way Huge Angry Troll boost, Way Huge Swollen Pickle fuzz
Synth Moog Little Phatty