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Interview – Brant Bjork, Vista Chino, September 2013

| 22 September 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

An edited version of this story was first published in X-Press Magazine’s 11 September 2013 issue.

When I get Brant Bjork on the line at his home in the California town of Palm Desert, he’s enjoying some downtime after a short tour through Europe, and preparing for the September 3rd release of Vista Chino’s debut album Peace.

Vista Chino Brant Bjork 01

A hulking behemoth of groove rock, Vista Chino is comprised of drummer Bjork, alongside former Kyuss bandmates singer John Garcia and bassist Nick Oliveri, plus guitarist Bruno Fevery, and were formerly known as Kyuss Lives! before a 2012 U.S. Federal Court case ruled they could not release recordings under that name.

Rebranding as Vista Chino was a simple step forward, the name literally meaning “the Chinese view”, though to the band it has more personal significance.

“It has nothing to do with the [translation] for us.” Bjork explains. “The name itself is the name of a street where we’re from, out in Palm Desert. When it came time to rename the band – I’ve named a few bands in my life, and I know what it’s like – it’s difficult, you’re literally naming something, coming up with a word that you’re going to have to hear for years to come, so you gotta do it right the first time and hope no one’s gonna take it away from you. So Vista Chino is just the name of a street, and when we hear it, it just kinda takes us back to our roots man, makes us feel good and reminds us where we’re from.”

A hint of bitterness creeps into Bjork’s voice when asked if the album is titled Peace as a message to Josh Homme, the former Kyuss guitarist who wrested control of the band from Bjork, leading to him quitting after third album, 1994’s Welcome To Sky Valley, and also, alongside another latterday Kyuss member, bass player Scott Reeder – who, interestingly, also played for Kyuss Lives! for a few shows in 2011 – sued Bjork, Garcia and Oliveri over the Kyuss name in 2012.

“Well… you know, I don’t have much of a message to those particular folks at all.” He says with a self conscious chuckle. “I’m more concerned with myself and my brothers in this particular band. For us, we’ve been put through a really, really stressful, unfortunate experience – I’m actually quite grateful for the experience, because it’s been a lot of education for myself, and taken me to a whole new perspective on love for those things that I love. And you know, the word Peace, it’s a word that I just thought we could meditate upon for years to come, and it can remind us of what we went through and what we accomplished, and where we ultimately ended up. And it helps us get through the psychological damage and stress that we had to endure in order to get here. We’re not interested in conflict. John and I and Nick, we’re not confrontational guys – we’re just professional musos, and we just wanna play music, man, that’s all it is.”

Vista Chino - Peace CD

If Peace does indeed extend the stoner rock stylings of Kyuss, Bjork is unapologetic as to Vista Chino’s right to sound like themselves.

“It sounds like exactly what it is,” he says proudly, “Bruno & I got together, he flew out to the desert and we played around with the guitars and jammed, and I built an all-analogue studio simultaneously. And we began our creative process with the intent of just really, really going on an adventure and making some fresh music and that’s what we did. We bounced ideas off one another, then John came down to the house and, you know, we were responding to an inspiration we were all really hit with when we got together in the beginning, where it was all really quick – quick as people and quick as musicians. And that’s an awesome, inspiring chemistry and vibration, so we knew where we are and we knew we were gonna make fresh music. And we did! That’s what this record’s all about.

“When John Garcia called me in 2010,” he continues, “he didn’t ask me to start a new band, he said ‘let’s put Kyuss back together’, and that’s what we did [as Kyuss Lives!], we put Kyuss back together but with a new guitar player. Kyuss is many things to many people, and for me Kyuss was not just a sound in a song, but it was a soul and it was a spirit. That to me was the cornerstone and the foundation of what we were, and there is no telling what the band could have become or where it would have gone had it not imploded early on.

“The beautiful thing is that John, Nick and I and Bruno put it back together and this is where we’re at now.” Bjork says of the record. “You know, we’re a rock band, we’re from the desert, and this is what we do, this is the kind of music we make. If you want to call it stoner rock, we’re okay with that. If you want to call if desert rock, we’re okay with that. If you want to call this Kyuss or an extension [of that], we’re fine with that, and if you don’t want to call it that and just call it something fresh and new, we’re down with that as well, man – we’re just doing what we do.”

Vista Chino 2012

Vista Chino 2012

Kyuss are hailed nowadays as the Holy Grail or ground zero for modern stoner rock music – but through the early nineties they actually struggled with a lot of apathy towards the band.

“Yeah, you know it’s interesting that you bring that up,” Bjork says thoughtfully, “not too many people, if any, really do. I mean, Kyuss was a band that the mystery and the adoration and the romanticised respect for the band that developed over the years is quite fascinating – and I myself am inspired and grateful for that. But Kyuss was not a band that was loved when we were around back in the day. Not everybody loved Blues For The Red Sun when it came out, and not everybody understood what we were doing. And that was okay for us, we were cool with that – we were committed to who we were and what we did. So I always remember that, and I feel good about remembering that because that was the reality of it. I’m grateful and stoked that everyone has come to appreciate the band and the music now, but it wasn’t always like that – and I think that’s perfectly normal and natural.”

Bjork laughs when I put it to him Kyuss’s fame in hindsight almost parallel’s that of the early Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, where they played to as few as forty people, yet thousands SAY they were there.

“Yeah – it has definitely evolved to that place,” he says, perhaps a little in awe of their retroactive fanbase growth. “It is something of legend and where there’s legend there is always a bit of a ‘fish story’, that’s for sure, man, definitely. You know, whatever makes people feel good about their relationship with the band, I’ll take the majority of it with good grace – but we’re in the here and now, and we’re really excited to be here and we’ve got fresh music and we’re moving forward, man.”

In the Kyuss days Bjork and Co used to go out into the desert, set up a generator with some friends, drink beer and jam, and he says he’s recently been thinking of doing so again.

Vista Chino 2013

Vista Chino 2013

“No, I haven’t done that in years,” he says, “but it’s funny you say that, man – just the other day I was thinking about doing that! I really miss it – I think that would be fantastic. So I’m actually working on the concept of putting something together, if for no other reason, just to ask some close friends to go out and drink some beers and jam and work on some new material. So that’s something I’m actually looking into.”

Bjork is a long way from needing his past glories with Kyuss to keep him afloat, with seven solo albums as a multi-instrumentalist, two as guitarist and songwriter with Brant Bjork & The Bros, as well as a bunch of others drumming with Fu Manchu and Mondo Generator under his belt, and no doubt more to come.

“Yeah man, but it’s hard to do,” he elaborates, “’cos when I get into something and I’m motivated and inspired, I like to focus. Vista Chino is really rewarding for me right now. Despite the legal nonsense, this is where I wanna be. I’m very grateful to be with my buddies who’ve put this thing back together, and to be moving forward fresh, it’s fantastic, and very rewarding. However my solo career is very, very important and very, very dear to me. I’ve got a record I’m going to drop this year – it’s an all instrumental record called Jacuzzi. The songs and music are all about my love of jazz and funk and even breakbeats and stuff like that, so I’m gonna get back to my solo music, and I’m always eager to do so – I’m kinda backed up at the moment, I’ve got so much material, and now I have my own studio, it’s gonna get really, really funky, it’s gonna be awesome, man. But right now I’m focussed on Vista Chino – I’ll probably return to my solo work probably sometime late next year.”

One of those brief projects was a band called Che, who made one self-titled record in 2000, and which also included latterday Kyuss alumni drummer Albert Hernandez. Was it too gimmicky to consider moving to guitar and getting Hernandez in on drums so Kyuss Lives! or Vista Chino would be all ex-Kyuss members?

“Well it’s an interesting question,” Bjork muses, “I’ve not heard that one before. It wasn’t something that we didn’t talk about once or twice, but you know, when it comes to Kyuss, that’s where I developed and became the drummer that I am. I feel that what I bring to the band, not just in terms of writing songs, but most importantly that feeling, that groove, that’s what I bring to Kyuss with my drumming. And I feel that with all the respect I have for Alfredo as a drummer – I love his style, he’s one of my favourite drummers, I grew up watching him play out in the desert when I was 12 or 13 years old, and I love the material they created with him after I left the band – but it didn’t have that Kyuss spirit and that glow and that funk and that groove, that I feel that I bring to it. I feel that’s important, and most importantly I enjoy it! That’s what I enjoy – so I think it’s appropriate I play drums for this unit.”

By this point the reader might be feeling a little confused. Bjork is moving forward – yet playing with a new incarnation of his old band, and despite espousing Peace, he obviously retains emotional scars from the way he has been treated by other ex-bandmates. The fact remains that even after he quit Kyuss in ’94 he played with Homme on several of the latter’s Desert Sessions jam albums in the late 90’s; with Oliveri in Mondo Generator and again in Kyuss Lives (and although he insists Oliveri is a permanent ‘honorary’ member of Vista China, the bass player didn’t play on the album [Mike Dean played on Peace] or live with them since mid 2012); made an album under the name Che with latterday Kyuss drummer Albert Hernandez; and had Scott Reeder touring with Kyuss Lives! for a bit.

Vista Chino

So what’s going on? Is it wrong to think there’s a strong brotherhood between all of the Kyuss – for want of a better word – family?

“Well,” sighs Bjork, perhaps a little sadly, “something that people often misunderstand when it comes to all of us, there’s not a dissimilar parallel to musicians in the middle of the desert in the way there might have been a bond amongst musicians who were stuck upon the island of Jamaica. When you’re in the middle of the desert, there’s not a whole lot to do. Music is very important to us – it’s how we dealt with stress, it’s how we created an identity for ourselves. It’s how we got that confidence, some of us who lacked self esteem.

“All musicians are somewhat compelled to pursue music,” he continues, perhaps finally explaining the drive behind this extended group of people all playing together off and on, despite old grudges and simmering tension. “It doesn’t mean that we were friends; it doesn’t mean that we came from similar backgrounds; it doesn’t mean we had the same philosophies. There might have been moments at any particular time where we were all on the same page, but a lot of the time we weren’t. I’ve always said that I didn’t invite Josh to join the band because he was the best guitar player or he was my best friend. There were like, three guys in Palm Desert who could play guitar and two of ’em didn’t even have a fuckin’ guitar!

“It was just kind’ve the law of nature of us coming together – we want to play music, we want to have a band so we could exercise our feelings and our inspiration, and we need two or three, four, five guys to do that. So you just start making it happen, start rolling with it. I knew Josh was a particular kind of person before I even asked him to join the band,” he chuckles ruefully, “and even actually warned my friend at the time, who was in the band [with me]. And we said ‘fuck it, man – we wanna play’. Our love of music, man, and our desire to be in a band together was bigger than that. And that goes the same for all the other musicians, man, we had respect for each other in terms of what we want to accomplish and what we’re trying to do musically, but a lot of the time we’re just not on the same page as people, we’re just kind of a dysfunctional musical family. Really, that’s how it is.”


Category: Interviews

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