Kyuss Lives! – Interview with drummer Brant Bjork (2011)

The moment I heard about the coming together of this group and the fact that they are playing in Hungary, I knew it was going to be something amazing and a very special occasion for me. Whether it’s a tribute or a reunion band is insignificant – what matters is that they play Kyuss songs, some of the most inventive sounds in music history ever! If somebody had told me in my high school years that someday I’m going to hear these songs live from some of the original members, I would have either pissed in my pants or cried in happiness. Well it didn’t happen then. Instead, that was almost the case when I got the opportunity to meet the band’s original drummer Brant Bjork before the concert in the changing room. Brant was relaxed and friendly and it didn’t seem to bother him to revise Kyuss’ history with me in short.

endhits: I’d like you to know that I’m absolutely taking the fan’s position. I was in high school, I was 17, when I was introduced to Kyuss and it really made a big influence on me in a way that I had never heard such sound and songs before. I wanted to do a kind of a history lesson revision if it’s possible, but first let’s start with what’s happening tonight. Tonight a band called Kyuss Lives! hits the stage, which is basically three guys from Kyuss and a guitarist playing Kyuss songs. But this is not Kyuss, is it?

Brant Bjork: Well, to John (Garcia, singer) and Nick (Oliveri, bassist) and myself this is very much Kyuss. The name Kyuss Lives! was agreed to be used for a couple of reasons, of one being for the gathering reasons. Because we wanted to make sure that we can come out here and do this and have a good time and not having problems with other people.

endhits: I read an interview with John where he says that this is actually three guys having nostalgic moments, playing good old songs that you wrote together. But is it really just about coming together after 15 years and having fun or are there any future plans with this project?

B.B.: Well, there’s a handful of reasons why we were motivated to come together. Some of those reasons – that are around – are that it’s a great way to promote our individual musical projects, economically it’s good, but mostly, the way I see it, we’re very lucky to be able to come back together and celebrate the band that brought us into careers as musicians. We all loved Kyuss as much as everybody else, we’re very proud to have been part of it, and not every musician gets the opportunity to rejoin their old friends and play some of their old music. That’s the key that really makes this engine turn. There just came a point where for John and I it just got more difficult thinking of reasons why not to do it than to do it. So we have decided to go for it and we’re having a fuckin’ blast and a lot of fun.

endhits: But what about Josh (Homme, original guitarist)? He’s, of course, doing his band Queens of the Stone Age and several other projects, Them Crooked Vultures and stuff, but what did he say, if anything?

B.B.: That would be a question for John, he speaks to Josh more than any of us. I haven’t spoken words with Josh a long time. So I couldn’t honestly say what his opinion is of this situation. In my humble opinion, from my perspective, I think those who really want to be here and whose hearts are into this adventure are here. Furthermore, as far as the guitarist situation, the irony is that there’s a good chance that I might not have agreed to be involved if Bruno (Fevery, current guitarist) wasn’t here. He’s a fantastic guitar player and a wonderful person. It’s an interesting situation but it’s awesome.

endhits: Now let’s get back to history. Kyuss made four albums from Wretch (1991) to …And the Circus Leaves Town (1995) and looking at them from the perspective of history of music the last three are all outstanding masterpieces – this is not only my, but people’s opinion! When you were working on Blues for the Red Sun (1992), which had a sound that was unheard before, were you aware of the fact that you were doing something really fresh and new? What were the circumstances of making that album?

B.B.: Well there’s a couple of events leading up to Blues for the Red Sun. The first time we left the desert and we toured crossing the United States, for me personally that was a very big awakening, and being able to experience the rock ‘n’ roll climate, if you will, in the rest of the country. The stakes were very high in the late 80s and early 90s, there were a lot of good rock music that was happening. But for me personally I have an epiphany on that first tour where I started to… “you never really know where you’re from until you leave” kind of thing. And I started to have self reflection on not only myself but the band and I started to come into an entirely introspective on what I thought we were and what we were potentially becoming. Some of those perspectives were marijuana-induced but there were very much real and the epiphany, that I had, was very simple: we were a band from the desert and so my objective was to present that and capture that and release it in the form of a record. That concept was Blues for the Red Sun and that was the kind of like embrace the reality of what we were. While we were going through that process – again I’m just speaking for myself, I can’t speak for the other guys – I was very much becoming more and more aware of the uniqueness of what Kyuss was. I remember after listening on the final day of mixing Blues for the Red Sun I sat back and listened to the record in its entirety and – I mean you don’t really know what it’s going to do to listeners or how they’re going to perceive it but – for me it was an absolute victory because I felt like we’ve finally captured a very authentic representation of what we really were.

endhits: And for the sound of the album a credit goes to Chris Goss too, I guess.

B.B.: Oh absolutely! Chris Goss was a big part of that capturing process for sure. I mean we’re talking about a man who had seen Black Sabbath in 1970. He was very much aware of what it meant to produce – or to be honest we might have been his first band of production really, but he very much knew what a rock band should sound like and we were his favorite band at that time, he would come to the desert and see us play out in the middle of nowhere and stuff so… He really knew what we were. Chris and I would sit down and stay up late and just kind of study rock records to gather ideas and discuss what kind of sonic direction we’ve felt would be best for what it is that we deal with in the studio – sonically, artistically and even scientifically, really.

endhits: Then two years passed and (Welcome to) Sky Valley came out. Were there any changes in the concept?

B.B.: There were many changes for me at the time that record was coming out. Internally, the band was starting to grow apart, there was inner conflict, Josh and I weren’t sharing a vision anymore, some of that had to do with business, some of it was personal. None of it was too musical based, we always had a tremendous amount of respect for everyone’s music but I think Blues for the Red Sun, ironically enough, was such an awesome event, it just kind of shook us all a little bit and we all had to deal with that, its effect on us. And it all affects everyone different. For the way it affected me, I decided to leave because I didn’t like the way it was affecting other people.

endhits: And later you joined Fu Manchu and started doing Brant Bjork and the Bros…

B.B.: Yes, I technically started my solo career in 1999 but I put the Bros together in 2003.

endhits: Whether you like it or not or you’re aware of it or not, you are pioneers. You are leaders in a genre that got to be called, probably by the media, stoner rock. Do you agree with this term? What does it stand for really? There are tons of bands out there following Kyuss’ sound and attitude.

B.B.: If I was to see some band full of 20 year old kids and they sounded like Kyuss, well then yes, I could say that we have obviously pioneered some kind of movement that motivated these kids to start a band and sound like us. Just like 90% of bands do, they always sound like their influences when they started. But in some ways the term “stoner rock” is comical, it’s kind of funny, in some ways it would kind of detour people from checking out the music, it’s kind of lowbrow. But at the same time we were… stoned. So in some ways it’s very accurate. I don’t think we – and I think I speak for most of the guys now – feel that we are the champions or pioneers of this thing called stoner rock, we always thought of it as desert rock. It’s difficult to embrace such a “crowning”, if you will, because we’re all aware of the bands that influenced us.

endhits: Speaking of which, who were they?

B.B.: I think it’s different for all of us but I think the one band that every member of Kyuss agrees to love is probably the Misfits. I personally was a bigger fan of The Ramones but I did love the Misfits a lot and that seemed to be the band that we all admired. Nick and I were really into Black Sabbath and hardcore, Black Flag and stuff like that, and of course Josh liked punk and hardcore as well, but he didn’t really listen to classic rock, he didn’t really care for Sabbath too much. And John was coming from more R&B and more vocal based music and hip-hop – we called it rap at that time – but you know, he liked a lot of like ZZ Top, Earth, Wind and Fire as well. And then Scott (Reeder, bassist) and Fredo (Alfredo Hernandez, drummer) have similar influences as well, hardcore-punk, Pink Floyd… and it all added up.

endhits: You’ve mentioned the desert which is a very unique and exotic place to us here while it’s a normal thing for you to go out and play there. I remember seeing the video of Green Machine for the first time… it blew my mind. So how should we imagine these events? You asked your friends to go out with you and just played a concert for them?

B.B.: To understand Kyuss as a band you have to understand the environment where we came from. Like any band is a representation of their environment: The Beatles represented Liverpool, The Ramones represented the lower east side of New York. We came from a small desert valley, that’s primarily a retirement community, because it’s really nice weather, it’s kind of like the South of Florida for New Yorkers, that’s kind of what the desert is on the other side of the country. But the thing is that there are normal suburban families that aren’t retired and live there because they’re employed as the part of the community, and the retired don’t think of these community citizens as people who have families and kids and stuff to do. And there wasn’t anything to do. You could play baseball or maybe soccer but that was really about it. And so what people would do when they’re getting in their adolescence – the years when they really want to go out – is throwing parties. That’s what it was, it was a chance for the kids to go out and do what they wanted to do, to get some beer without adults fucking with them. It was a collective. It was amazing how everyone from all backgrounds collectively would get beer and go out in the middle of the desert and we would just have a party. And when there’s people having a good time, there’s an opportunity for people in bands to play. That’s all it was really.

Photos by gonczo.

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