Since forming Eagles of Death Metal in 1998, Jesse Hughes has been a sexual dynamo on and off the stage. Prior to that, he says he was a devout Christian with a tendency toward naughty thoughts in church—and far from a ladies’ man. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and, as Hughes puts it, “I felt like Penthouse and I were on a collision course. It was kismet. It was meant to be.”
Was this your first professional photo shoot of this nature?
Absolutely. It was a delightful shoot. People who do what I do usually have pictures taken of them. Nobody ever really expects much of them other than to be quiet and just smile. And why would you? I would never ask a monkey how to speak English, you know what I mean? When I was asked to do this, I was so excited because it was a chance to be behind the camera instead of in front of it, and I took it as a great opportunity that I didn’t want to fuck up. So it was the first of its kind in many respects: the first shoot I was asked to artistically direct and also the first where I didn’t fuck it up.
How about nonprofessional, sexual photo shoots? Have much experience in that department?
Oh, yeah. Because I have the greatest girlfriend in the world. We tend to have a nonprofessional photo session biweekly. I try to use anything with the word “bi” in it because it keeps it modern. One of the first times we hung out, I took her to the Sportsman’s Lodge. She was psychedelically drunk, and I got my camera out and chased her around the room. What makes it interesting is that in every picture I’m the exact same distance from her, because wherever I moved in the room she moved 30 feet away from me. There’s a masterful consistency to the photos.
What was that one bathroom groupie story you told me?
On my first rock ’n’ roll tour in Europe we were opening for the Distillers, and one night in England after the show I met this really hot chick. For me, when I was in high school, girls didn’t have sex with me on purpose every day, so any hot chick was awesome to me. This chick gives me the green light and I’m looking for a place to take her. We go to the bathroom; it’s one of those one-person bathrooms but the door didn’t lock. I peeked my head out the door, and there’s this dude standing there, looking for someone. I said, “Hey, man. Could you do me a favor? I’m about to hook up with this really hot chick. Would you watch the door for me?” He said, “Sure, bro.” She and I end up doing the deed, and as I open the door and thank him, he’s not even looking at me; he’s just staring at the girl who’s coming out with me. He says to her, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you.” So I left them to it.
Cut to the next night. We’re playing our first live TV gig at an awards show, and when I’m introduced by the stage manager to my guitar tech for the evening, lo and behold, it’s the dude who watched the door the previous night. I told Josh [Homme], “I think this motherfucker is going to try to jam us up.” Sure enough, I get onstage and realize he de-tuned the strings until they were sloppy wires on the neck. We sat there for six and a half minutes on live TV with our dicks in our hands, trying to retune the guitar.
That’s classic…. Let’s talk about this photo shoot for Penthouse. What was the inspiration?
My girl, Tuesday Cross, got me a book called Secret Identity; it’s about Joe Shuster, who created Superman. Shuster was an interesting character. In the fifties, in secret, he drew the illustrations for one of the very first bondage-themed comic books, Nights of Horror. It was unbelievably influential; almost every current bondage or fetish theme had its origins in the creator of Superman. It’s a delightful irony in and of itself that the person who created the icon for truth, justice, and the American way also created the iconic images for every horny thing you imagine.
So when I was asked to do this shoot, I saw the perfect opportunity. To me, you achieve a greater, more satisfying horniness when you’re not inundated with absolute nudity. I really like women. All the women in my life are really strong, independent, curious creatures, and I felt this opportunity could have been wasted if all I was trying to do was look at naked chicks. So I tried to get to the inner horny. If you stay horny, you will stay young forever, so stay horny. The images I chose from the book are the most moving to me. They are the ones that stick in my head. There’s something so delightful about resistance, especially when resistance is futile, and that seems to be the theme of this shoot: Resistance is futile—even resistance to your own libido.
You mentioned Shuster’s comic inspired a spree of murders in 1954 by the Brooklyn Thrill Killers.
Yeah, it was actually one of the first thrill killings. Three kids in Brooklyn got ahold of these comics, and they’d go out at night in vampire capes and act out the scenes from each book. It finally culminated in them torturing a bum and walking him off the pier in Brooklyn. Comic books had a major enemy in America when they first came out, and it was the Christian right. They thought comic books were desensitizing the American youth. So when this psychologist came in to interview the kids, they described everything in the terms of Nights of Horror, and they called it their “great adventure.”
You grew up Christian. Could that have played into why you chose Nights of Horror as your inspiration? Was this photo shoot your “great adventure”?
Dude, when I was growing up I went to church every Sunday, every Sunday night, and every Wednesday. I was incredibly devout. When I would be in church, on occasion, I would have compulsive thoughts that I could not shake out of my head. They would be dark, naughty thoughts, and it was long before I ever saw Nights of Horror. I feel like when I finally saw Nights of Horror I was like, That’s my dream from 20 years ago!
How does someone so devout end up a rock star?
You don’t pick who you are; it gets picked for you. God’s will is everything, all at once. It’s mysterious and impossible to comprehend. The reason that we’re instructed in the fact that the Lord works in mysterious ways is because He does exactly that. I’m a mere mortal and I don’t presume to speak for God; however, I know everything serves His will. That said, I’m a horny dude.
So we can agree that God instructed you to get these two particular women naked, correct?
I see where you’re going with this and I like it. Again, everything serves the will of God.
Well, He’s got good taste. These women are beautiful.
Well, He wouldn’t have made us naked if He didn’t want us to think about it.
What is your idea of beauty, Jesse?
My grandmother was very influential in my attitudes and opinions about women. She used to tell me, “Son, remember there’s something beautiful about all women. You tell a pretty girl she’s pretty and you tell an ugly girl she has nice shoes, and you’ll never go wrong for as long as you live.” That stuck with me; I find something beautiful about all women. The ultimate turn-on for me is a girl named Tuesday Cross. I like low-rider girls who have a little wickedness in their eyes, who aren’t necessarily as experienced as they are willing. Willingness is much more important than experience. Pavlov showed us a lot, and I’m just trying to ring their bell now, know what I mean?
What’s the first thing your eyes go to on a woman?
That depends. Sometimes they’ve highlighted certain attributes and I would not like to be the person who would frustrate their attempts at attention, so I’ll let my eyes go right to where they lead it. But normally a girl’s mouth is the first thing I look at. But I’m a weirdo. I don’t so much get turned-on by a girl as I do by what she gets turned-on by. At this point, I’ve done so much that basically somebody’s got to be choking a chicken for me to get a boner anymore.
Well, you are from the South.
That’s right. A chicken or goat, whatever.
You had full control over what models were picked. Why did you choose these two ladies in particular?
The first thing that jumped out about them was that they looked the least slutty. I could tell that they could pay their rent and they didn’t travel around with all their stripper clothes in one very messy bag with about $700 in ones and fives. That I liked. And they truly seemed to wear a look of self-respect, which was critical. I wanted models who would appreciate the fact that I wasn’t just trying to get them naked, and I was unbelievably pleased by the level of high art this shoot resulted in.
Now that you’ve had this experience, any chance you’ll quit the band and become a pro fetish photographer?
What I would like to do is chew gum and walk at the same time. I’d like to continue my rock ’n’ roll while also pursuing this. I loved this experience. I really did.