Exclusive Interview: John Garcia [Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano, Vista Chino]
Despite John Garcia’s long-standing status as a cult favorite in rock for the past two decades, and the fact that his voice helped lay the blueprint for the entire desert-rock/stoner-rock movement after being the frontman for the legendary Palm Desert bands of the ‘90s — Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano — Garcia has really never strayed far from who he is at home: an earnest, desert-dwelling family man who loves his wife, his kids, and occasionally working in a veterinary hospital. These days, between tours, he’s trying to focus on the peaceful, more simple things in life, and excitedly chats about a recent camping trip he took with his family. He encouraged them all to “unplug” and leave their phones and other devices turned off, especially since the kids have just recently learned the evils of cyber-bullying. “I was telling my daughter the other day to keep her eye on the ball. She said, ‘What’s the ball?’ I said, ‘The ball is spending time with your father. Spending time with your brother and your mother. And detaching yourself from all of that.’ Because in ten years, nobody gives a fuck.”
Garcia’s wisdom on that matter comes from a long career, peppered with some major bumps in the road. In 2001, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to record it, Unida’s would-be breakout album, For The Working Man (sometimes incorrectly referred to as The Great Divide) was shelved by American Recordings in the midst of a split with Sony. More recently, of course, is the story that everyone knows, despite many details not being made explicitly public: A few founding members of Kyuss wanted to get together, tour, and make an album. Josh Homme, ex-guitarist/songwriter of Kyuss and now frontman for Queens Of The Stone Age, had always made it clear that he was opposed to a reunion, and at one point famously said, “Kyuss was a really magical thing — and if you weren’t there, well, you weren’t.” When it came time for the legal process of securing the rights to the name, Homme and ex-Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder filed a federal lawsuit against Garcia and Brant Bjork, Kyuss’ founding drummer, and they were forced to change the name of the new project from Kyuss Lives! to Vista Chino.
After putting out the Vista Chino record in 2013, appropriately titled Peace, and after saying no (for now) to a second VC album, a new Unida record and even new Hermano material, Garcia is finally doing what he feels he should have done in 1995: start his solo career. Next Tuesday, the long-awaited self-titled record will be released in North America, and it will mark the first time in Garcia’s whole career that he’s been able to call the shots. He’s liberated. And he’s ready to speak his mind on a lot of things while he’s at it.
Back in the early ‘90s, in most interviews it seemed like Kyuss tried vehemently to describe themselves as a punk band. Because back then, to you guys, “metal” meant Judas Priest and Metallica. And obviously Kyuss didn’t sound like that. Now, in 2014, “stoner metal” is a huge thing, and here I am interviewing you for a metal blog. How do you feel about that now?
As far as what Kyuss’ attitude was back then, we were sort of do-it-yourself, anti-everything. And we were into punk rock. Since then, the attitude has changed but the passion is still there. Call it what you will. Kyuss or Hermano or Unida or Slo Burn. Even my solo stuff. Stoner rock, desert rock, stoner metal. I’ve learned to come to embrace these labels. There was a point in time in my life when I wanted nothing to do with the term “stoner rock.” I didn’t like it. But I’ve come to terms with all of that and people are gonna label it. For me, I consider Kyuss as well as my other projects to be rock. It’s as simple as that. There’s no long, drawn-out, super epiphany I had or a long, biblical speech I have in regards to that — I don’t think about it too hard and I don’t ponder upon it. It’s a very simple answer: I call it rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve embraced whatever anybody wants to call it.
Is there ever any cynicism about the fact that the kids are really obsessed with Kyuss right now? Like a “Where were you guys twenty years ago?” type of thing?
For me, Kyuss got to this status where I was thinking, “Where was everybody when we were together?” But I think that once a band breaks up, or once a record or rare poster goes out of print, there becomes a value to it where people are drawn to it because it’s no more; it’s not happening anymore. I think there’s something to be said for the music that Josh and Brant and I created together. I don’t know if “timeless” is the word — I don’t consider it to be that — but I’m certainly appreciative of the fact that people are still passing those records around, that people are still listening to those records. It blows my mind. I never knew, back in the day, that I’d be sitting here talking to Cat Jones about something I created all those years ago. I feel blessed and super lucky.
There’s that one now-infamous interview you guys did in Toronto in 1992 where it’s pretty clear you don’t want the camera on you at all. Josh, Brant and Scott ended up doing all of the talking. It seems like you were pretty reclusive in those days. But now, with your own solo record and everything, you’re the only one handling the press and talking to fans and all that. Is shyness something that you still battle? Or did you just grow out of that?
Yeah, I never did too well in interviews talking about some of those things. You know, Cat, my lack of participation in Kyuss, especially in the early years, is and was apparent. I give credit where credit is due, and to see Josh and Brant handle the majority of the press was very fitting. Later on in the Kyuss days, I started participating a lot more. That said, I’m not going to sell myself short of what I helped create, whether it’s Josh’s lyrics or Brant’s melody or vice versa. I had to make those songs my own. And I can guarantee you this: The way that they were presented to me was not the way that I sang them. These were songs that I had to fall in love with. So as it progressed, as I started songwriting more, it became easier for me to talk about how I created it.
At what point, after all of that, did you start to realize that your voice had become synonymous with a movement of music?
I don’t know if I ever got to that point. I trip off that we’re even talking about this stuff. I really do. I’m lucky. I know that I still love doing it. I still love being on stage, I still love sharing the stage with the incredible musicians that I’ve shared the stage with. But I never thought that any type of the verbiage that you just said would ever be brought up, never in a million years. It still kind of blows my mind.
On the new record, you cover Black Mastiff’s song, “Rolling Stoned,” and you also recently produced their new record. What came first, producing them or deciding to cover their song?
A little bit of both. It happened on the same night. Very rarely do I get the chance to sit down and listen to an opening act, especially a local act. On that tour, it was always Vista Chino and Black Pussy, but on this particular night in Edmonton, I went in with Bruno and there was this band with these weird lighted triangles up on stage and they were playing this song called “Rolling Stoned.” It was haunting and exalting. I was put in a trance by it. As the night went on, I was more and more impressed with Bob [Yiannakoulias] and his lyrics and his take on singing. I’m a fan of singers, so I was immediately drawn to it.
Once they got offstage, Black Pussy went on and then we went on and [Black Mastiff] were still hanging out. I went up to them, and we were just shooting the breeze, and I told them, “I love you guys. I really like that song, ‘Rolling Stoned.’ I want to produce you guys.” I’ve never said that word before to anybody. They looked at me and probably thought I just had one too many or something. They gave me their records and their CDs and I fell in love with it. It was still in the back of my mind, “I just might want to cover this.” As time progressed, and I started listening to it more and more and I said, “I want to do this.” So I reached out to them and I got their blessing. They came out to Palm Springs and worked with Harper and Trevor and I. I don’t think I “produced” them — I think I’m just a fan of the band. The good ideas, they kept; the bad ideas, they didn’t keep, and that’s all it was. “Producing,” to me, is a bad word — I don’t like that word at all. To me, it was just me being a fan and being in the studio and wanting to be involved in that project.
It is sort of weird that there is a negative connotation to the word “producer.” There shouldn’t be, obviously, because it doesn’t mean anything bad — but you’re right. It sort of leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Yeah, somebody asked me, “So, you produced that Black Mastiff record, huh?” I said, “No. I didn’t produce it. I’m not a producer.” On my record, it says it was produced by Harper Hug, Trevor Whatever and John Garcia, but all that means is that you care. That’s all it means. You care. And you have ideas. And you throw them out there. And you help mold. But I just don’t like that word — it doesn’t fit right with me. I’m not a producer, I just care about that band, and particularly that song, so much so that I had to cover it.
The songs “His Bullets Energy” and “Her Bullets Energy” have the same general lyrics, but they’re two totally different songs. What’s the story behind that?
I play guitar primitively, but I wrote the initial riff, and then I worked closely with Andy Brown, the guitar player for Hermano, on this. He co-wrote and came up with a cool chorus for it and whatnot. After playing it for so many years on my guitar, it very naturally progressed into something that was heavier. And meaner. And had more grit to it. I could have made it into one song, but I didn’t want to. I decided to separate them and make one soft version and one hard version. That’s just a direct result, I think, of sheer boredom of playing the acoustic version for so many years. I wanted to hear it harder.
I really like that. It’s not very often that you get to hear two different takes on the same idea. They ultimately mean two completely different things, too — one is aggressive and one focuses on, I don’t want to say “hurt,” but maybe the sensitivity behind a situation.
Yeah, that’s it. I couldn’t have put it better.
In that recent interview you just did with Noisey, one thing you said that shocked me and quite a few fans was that you said you thought Slo Burn never should have happened. What would you have done differently?
I’ll tell you what I meant by that: I don’t regret Slo Burn. It was a short-lived, little blip. I love those guys. Love them to death. Still talk to them all the time. But anyway, after Kyuss had broken up, I immediately jumped into Slo Burn. I probably should have stepped back and really looked at where I was in my life and not jumped into that so quickly. I should have started my solo career. That’s what I should have done. But, again, I don’t have any regrets. I just rushed into it a little bit too quickly. That’s all I meant by that comment. I should have taken a breath for a little bit before I went off onto another endeavor.
I don’t think it came off regretful, but it was just a surprise. That record is a favorite for so many fans who are definitely glad you did it.
Thank you, Cat. I appreciate it.
You’ve got this cult fame, which is becoming mainstream fame as of late, but you often work in a veterinary hospital in Palm Desert. Are there ever any people who come in with their animals and then get totally shocked when they see you there?
You know, not really. I’m lucky to have things I love to do. One: playing in a band, and two: working in the field of veterinary medicine. I just may go back into that field. I love that career. I honestly, genuinely do. Even when I was a kid, one of my first jobs was working at a pet store. And then I went into working at a boarding facility. And then I went into working at no-kill shelters. Ever since I was a little boy I loved animals. And I’m still passionate about that. There’s nothing wrong with me stopping music and going into that field. I could work at Home Depot, for all I care. I don’t care what people think. It doesn’t make a difference to me.
People are going to say, “Did you see John Garcia stopped because he couldn’t do it anymore? He couldn’t stop the pressure of Josh and Scott suing him and he couldn’t do it on his own, so he’s working at Home Depot.” So the fuck what? I don’t care. I love the fact that I have that attitude, that temperament and that demeanor. But never once did anybody come in and say, “Hey, dude, why are you working here? You have records out. You’re the singer for Kyuss. Why did you decide to go back to the garden section at Home Depot?” Or, “Why are you walking this dog right now?” Because I want to, that’s why. “Why do you play in so many bands?” Because I want to. “Why are you with a little 4-year-old at Chuck-E-Cheese?” Because I want to.
I didn’t mean that I thought people were judging you. Rather that they’d walk in and go, “Holy shit! John Garcia! No way!”
Oh, I know what you meant. I just had to go off on that tangent because it’s weird how people perceive that. And it hurts me just a little bit. I’m like, why? If somebody has to work at Circle K, somebody’s gotta work at Circle K. To get them someplace. There is nothing wrong with putting in a hard day’s work anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with that. No pride should be crushed. There shouldn’t be a piece of humble pie that goes down your throat. And it kills me that some people still actually feel that way. And I see it because some musicians have to do that, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But I had to go there — sorry.
That’s totally understandable. I imagine that working in a veterinary clinic would be one of the most rewarding jobs a person could have, regardless of what their other passions are in life.
It is. I live vicariously through my wife. She’ll text me pictures of a spleen that she helped take out, or a picture of [the veterinarian] doing a tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy on this 120-pound Rottweiler and he can’t walk anymore and they’ve gotta put plates in his legs. And when she comes home, we talk about interesting cases. She always tells me, “Any time you want to come back.”
That’s really awesome. So many musicians out there don’t have anything to fall back on. Sometimes, even if a person isn’t down and out per se, or even if you’re a millionaire, it’s still good to have something to occupy your mind between records or tours so you don’t go nuts with boredom.
Yeah. It’s all about family and keeping your eye on the ball and what’s important in life. Because as you know, I can go down to the local liquor store and pick myself up a pint of Jack Daniels and lose both my fucking legs doing it. And it happens, like that. Just. Like. That. So I appreciate me being able to play an acoustic guitar, or walk around my kitchen right now. I don’t that that for granted.
I imagine this is a subject that you hate talking about, but I’ve gotta ask: Throughout the whole Kyuss Lives! lawsuit with Josh and Scott, what do you think is your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is letting it get to me emotionally. I’m an emotional guy anyway, and being able to detach myself emotionally from that one was really tough. And I didn’t do it. It was an experience where I had to tell myself, “Nobody is allowed to take my joy away.” Nobody is allowed to take my happiness from me, and I’m not going to let anybody do that. We were on a mission to do another record. We wanted to call it “Kyuss Lives!” Josh did not. He won. Done. We changed the name, made a record, mission complete. That’s it. You know, this is what it was: It was a kid on one side of a chain-link fence and another kid on the other side of the chain-link fence, and they had sticks. And they were poking at each other going, “Come on!” That’s all it was. Cat, as the singer for Kyuss, Kyuss Lives! and Vista Chino, that’s all it was.
And, you know, there was a time when my emotions got the best of me and I said some not-so-nice things. But now, I’ve forgiven them, and I want nothing but the best for them. I want to wish Josh a happy, healthy, great life with his family, and Scott with all of his little critters and big critters over at the ranch up in Banning. I wish nothing but the best. And that’s what I have to say about that.
On one other note that I have to say, the thing that stung me the most and that hurt a little bit was my relationship with Scott Reeder. He and I were real tight. I was tighter with Scott Reeder than any other band member in Kyuss. That one stung just a little more than anything else. But, again: I’ve forgiven those guys and hopefully they’ve forgiven Brant and I. And I want nothing but the best for them. I love them! Scott Reeder is the best bass player I have ever played with in my entire life. Ever. Hands down. He’s one of the best bass players in the entire world. He is just an animal on that bass. Crazy, upside down, left-handed, guru, mad scientist — call him what you will — he is a bad ass.
Well, all things considered, you guys made a great record, you toured the world, you met a bunch of incredible people, your solo record is about to come out — it seems like things turned out pretty okay.
Thank you. I’m just really glad it’s over. I don’t like a speeding ticket or a parking ticket, let alone a federal lawsuit slapped upon me. I don’t like that at all. But one thing that I can always do, and nobody can ever take this away from me: I’m gonna sing Kyuss. I will always sing “Thumb,” “Green Machine,” “Supa Scoopa And Mighty Scoop” and any Kyuss song I want to sing, whenever I want, however I want, however many times I want. I’ll always be able to do that. And you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna do it. That’s my God-given right.