I love me some Kyuss. And perhaps it’s because the Palm Desert quartet only released three ridiculously awesome LPs in their time together (in my mind, that first record was a trial run) that I, along with plenty of others, tend to deify them alongside the legendary, bona fide rock & roll soul-sellers like Sabbath, the Stones, the Stooges and Zeppelin. Sure, when the band broke up, Josh Homme built Queens of the Stone Age into a worldwide brand and eclipsed Kyuss’ general notoriety many times over, but they’ll never have what Kyuss (or their mystical cult persona) had.
Kyuss was a band that was on to something. Beginning at local desert parties and playing their down-tuned guitars through bass amps, that heavy, sludgy, plodding sound, that frequently changed tempo multiple times within the framework of a single song, was pioneering. Stoned-out jams into amped-up metal, instrumentals that ripped just as hard as anything else they did, Bonham-esque bashing, and John Garcia’s grizzled croon combined for something many bands have imitated over the years but have never come close to capturing in the same exciting and perfect way. And now, they’re back, with Garcia, original drummer Brant Bjork and original guitarist/bassist Nick Oliveri in tow. (Homme has been replaced by Belgian guitarist Bruno Fevery.) Performing as Kyuss Lives!, the newly re-formed outfit kicks off the second leg of their first official tour at House of Blues Thursday night. I recently spoke with the iconic frontman Garcia, who was at his Palm Springs home during a 48-hour respite from tour dates.
Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
John Garcia: Good. Really good. Decompressing from a 24-hour trip down to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Just got in earlier today and have been relaxing a little bit with my wife and son.
SM: Nice that three of four of you are making this happen.
JG: This is really as close as anybody’s going to get to seeing Kyuss. And I’ll never be someone who beats around the bush: An integral part of Kyuss is Mr. Homme -- Josh, and, of course, he’s not there. But if you’d allow me to say, a lot of people think that there’s a lot of animosity between Josh and I, or Josh and Brant or Nick, and it’s really quite the opposite. He’s been very cool and cordial about this entire thing. And there’s a reason that I didn’t ask him to do this: that’s because I knew what his answer would be, and it would have been "absolutely no." He’d much rather get together for a cold beer than jam these old songs again, and I totally respect that. He’s a dear friend to all of us. Some people are just so damn bored, they need to make drama in other people’s lives where there is none, and we’re just all too old for that s---. We’re family men now. We can’t be d---ing around with the equivalent of high school bulls---. I just don’t get it. It’s like people want there to be something going on, but there’s not. I mean, we don’t sit at the park and kick the ball around together. Josh and I don’t talk on the phone all the time, we don’t have dinner with each other like we used to, but we’re good. It’s really kind of like seeing my brother. I see him once in awhile as well. But there’s no bad blood at all. And it’s really great to be doing this.
SM: Well, I knew you sang some songs at a Queens of the Stone Age show a few years back.
JG: Yeah, in L.A. at the Nokia. But we actually saw Josh this year in France, and he came up onstage. He was up there for awhile, and it was great. Queens and Kyuss Lives! were both playing the same festival that day, and it ended up being really, really cool.
SM: Well, with or without him, better late than never.
JG: Again, this really is as close as it’ll ever get to the original Kyuss. And if you don’t know who [new guitarist] Bruno Fevery is now, you certainly will. San Diego is the first show of this second leg, and we’re all really looking forward to it.
SM: How did this all get put together?
JG: We were really just planning on it being a few shows to help promote a solo record of mine [Garcia vs. Garcia] that has now taken a back seat to all of this. It’s just been so enjoyable up onstage with these guys. And when you come to see us and walk out of that door afterward, I really do want people to go, "Kyuss does live." So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve even decided to do another record. We’re going to be doing that very soon under the name Kyuss Lives! It’s an exciting time right now. And it’s great to make this a priority again.
SM: You had recently been performing as “John Garcia Plays Kyuss.” What prompted trying to get Nick and Brant on board?
JG: I was doing that over in Europe, mainly, just to let the fans know not to sweep me under the carpet just yet, not to kick me to the curb, and I was doing it under the blessing of my family. My wife and I had decided, like married couples do, that it seemed like a good idea to give it another try. And I ran into Brant Bjork at the very first show I did. Here I was playing "Green Machine," which is completely and totally his song, at a show that he was playing as well. It was a little nerve-wracking. But Brant and I never had a bad relationship. As old friends do, we had gone our separate ways, but we rekindled our relationship and started to play a couple of shows together. It grew from there.
SM: And Nick?
JG: We were in Clisson, France. Brant was playing, Nick was there with Mondo Generator, and I was there with Garcia Plays Kyuss. I don’t know if the promoter had ulterior motives, and I don’t think he did, but all three bands were at the same festival on the same day, so it made perfect sense for all of us to want to jam out again and play songs like "Freedom Run," "Green Machine," and "Gardenia." We did those three songs onstage together, and as time went on, I decided to ask them if they wanted to go on the road. Once I had Brant’s blessing, I called up Nick and asked him if he wanted to do it. He did and the next thing you know, we were playing shows as Kyuss Lives! And I remember coming home every night after rehearsal for that tour and telling my wife what an amazing feeling it was to be playing with those guys again. We’ve created a little bit of a monster. This project wasn’t set up for longevity. We just wanted to celebrate the past for a small jaunt and that was it. But a lot of things have happened, and now all of our other projects have been put on the back burner, and we’re going to record a new album together -- even if that’s the complete and total opposite of what my initial plan was. This thing has just punched me right in the face, because none of this was part of the agenda. But it’s been one hell of a year. It’s been really great. And I have such a better grasp of it all, and the music means so much more to me these days.
SM: Is it weird that Europe has always been bonkers for the band and you were just starting to arc stateside when you broke up?
JG: You know, I often think about that, and it’s a subject that somehow always comes up. Why is it that Kyuss, and that genre in general, does so well overseas? I don’t know. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. But it’s something that Brant and I always talk about. We don’t know. But where we’re picking up is tenfold where it was when we left off. It’s like when a poster goes out of print, or a bottle of wine is no longer available, there’s a new certain value to it. And that’s why we’ve been able to play the type of venues we’ve been playing now. But I still don’t know if I’ll ever understand the Europe vs. U.S. thing.
SM: They always say that girls develop faster than boys. Maybe Europe is the girl is this case.
JG: That’s an interesting point. That may be it. A lot of things break over there before they do here. There’s totally something to that. So many things catch hold over there first.
SM: Because your albums are heavy with instrumentals -- that probably threw off American audiences as well.
JG: I agree. They didn’t know what to think. And to have vocals on some of those songs would have destroyed them. We realized that and weren’t afraid to risk the commercial end of things to make sure that the songs were right.
SM: Will the new record be all original material?
JG: That’s right. And I’m very, very curious as to what it’s going to sound like. We’ve got a lot of ideas down that are going in all different directions. But one thing is for sure: We want to keep the standard high. We want to stay inside the Kyuss realm, but we also want to take it out for a spin. We’re much older now. Does that mean we’re going to make a polka record? Absolutely not. But we’re not going to be afraid to explore. And I know for certain that I want my own participation level to be a lot more than it was in the past. We’re not going into the studio with the intent of changing the face of rock & roll. We’ve got the attitude that we always have: Let’s play the music that’s missing in our lives. I want to fill that void in my gut. And I think that’s one of the reasons, at least for me, why the music of Kyuss was good in the first place: You had four, young, hungry punks that played the music that was missing in their lives. And we plan to do exactly that again.
SM: Can you talk a little about how that’s going to sound?
JG: You have hard-core, heavy music and you have something very beautiful on top of it. Sometimes that marries very well, and sometimes that tanks. Our intention, obviously, is to have that marry very well. I want to concentrate on melody, melody, melody. And I really believe that this band is up to the f---ing task. Bruno played me a few things he’s written recently, and I was blown away. There are 1,000 guitar players who can play Josh Homme and Brant Bjork’s music, but Bruno has such a character and integrity to him, it’s exciting to see what all of us together will be able to do.
SM: Sounds like, at least so far, things are headed in the right direction.
JG: It’s all or nothing for me these days. I’m just very, very appreciative of the fact that I can continue to celebrate the past and revisit some of these songs at my age. I’m thankful that Brant is there, that Nick is there, that sometimes Scott Reeder is there. It’s just an amazing feeling to be able to get back onstage with these guys again and do what we do. It’s a very surreal thing. But it’s been a great ride so far.