Brant Bjork is the godfather of desert rock. As drummer and co-songwriter in Kyuss, he anchored some of the thickest and most influential grooves the world has ever known. Landmark albums like 1992′s Blues for the Red Sun and 1994′s Welcome to Sky Valley are not only genre staples, but have become the measure by which the bulk of the desert-influenced heavy is measured. Ceaselessly creative, Bjork joined Fu Manchu, whose 1994 debut he co-produced, for their The Action is Go, Eatin’ Dust, King of the Road and California Crossing albums between 1997 and 2001, also putting out the cult hit Sounds of Liberationwith the short-lived Ché trio in 2000 and in that same period embarking on a solo career that to-date has resulted in 10 albums, 1999′s debut, Jalamanta, setting the course with what would become a signature blend of funk, soul, punk and heavy rock.
Bjork joined former Kyuss bandmates John Garcia and Nick Oliveri in Kyuss Lives! in late 2010, and after a lawsuit and name change (more on that in this interview), Vista Chino emerged to release one of 2013′s best albums in the form of Peace (review here) on Napalm Records, the touring cycle for which will take the lineup of Bjork, Garcia, guitarist Bruno Fevery and bassist Mike Dean (also of C.O.C.) to Australia’s Big Day Out this month. A funk-influenced instrumental solo album, Jakoozi, was also mixed last summer and is expected for a 2014 release.
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brant Bjork
How did you come to do what you do?
I was born with a genuine love of music. Growing up, discovering The Ramones and punk rock in general, gave me the courage to try playing music myself. It turned out I had some natural talent as well as a strong conviction to continue doing the thing I love most.
Describe your first musical memory.
When I was a little kid, I had this Fisher Price record player that my mom gave me, along with a stack of 45s. One day I went through the stack and picked one because of the attractive orange and yellow label. It was the Capitol Records label and it was a Beatles 45. It had “Help” on side 1 and “I’m Down” on the B-side. I put it on and John Lennon began to scream “help!” at me through the tiny little speaker. It scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know music could, would or even should sound like that.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
September 18, 1987. It was the first real concert outside of the desert I ever saw. The Ramones, in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palladium, I was 14 years old. It was also Dee Dee Ramone’s birthday that night and to make things super rad, my first son, Swan, was born on September 18, 2010!
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
I always had a firm belief that The Stooges, the MC5 and The Ramones were the most radical bands of their time and they were releasing the best and most influential records of their time as well. This belief was tested after I bought and listened to the release of Death’s record, For the Whole World to See… a record that was recorded in 1974 but shelved until its release in 2009. This record is so good; I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It’s almost hard to imagine what might have happened to rock and roll music, or even music in general had this record came out and the band had evolved. Unbelievable.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
For me, there is no destination for an artist. I would define artistic progression as a journey of experiencing your life as one of creativity. If you’re a genuine artist I think it simply leads to more art.
How do you define success?
To me, success is the result of looking at your current life situation and not having to wonder how the hell you got there.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
While on tour last month, I battled some boredom by watching the Star Wars sequel, Attack of the Clones. Holy moly. Super bummer. George Lucas should be ashamed of himself. And I thought Return of the Jedi was bad.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
Even though I’m a musician and music is a part of my daily life, I find myself spending a lot of my time thinking about stories. About five years ago I started studying and practicing screenplay writing. I write a lot when I’m on tour… so much time on planes and buses, etc. I have a dream of creating and finishing a rad screenplay and having it picked up for a feature movie. I wouldn’t mind directing the movie as well but you know…. one dream at a time.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
A night without the kids and a nice romantic dinner with my wife at our favorite Italian restaurant in Santa Monica.
Posted in Questionnaire on December 23rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are very few in or around heavy rock in any of its iterations who can boast a resumé to rival that of Scott Reeder. As bassist in Acrossthe River with Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson), Mark Anderson and Alfredo Hernandez (later Kyuss), he took part in one of the formative moments of desert rock, and would later reinforce its ascent in Kyuss, playing on their seminal final two albums only after joining with Scott “Wino” Weinrich in the revitalized The Obsessed for their 1991 outing, Lunar Womb. He played on Unida‘s unreleased masterpiece, joined Goatsnake for the 2004 Trampled Under Hoof EP, and released a solo record, TunnelVision Brilliance, in 2006, all the while making a name for himself as a recording engineer and producer for the likes of Orange Goblin, SunnO))), Whores of Tijuana, The Freeks and Sixty Watt Shaman – later also recording in his Sanctuary Studio in the desert with Karma to Burn, Black Math Horseman, Sonic Medusa, Dali’s Llama and Blaak Heat Shujaa, among many others. His vocal contribution to “Garden Sessions III” from Yawning Sons‘ 2009 debut, Ceremony to the Sunset, remains a high point of that album.
In 2013, he found chart success contributing bass to the single “From Can to Can’t” on the Sound City: Real to Reelsoundtrack to Dave Grohl‘s Sound Citydocumentary, and in November he made his debut with Sun and Sail Club on their first outing, Mannequin, adding his bass to the guitar of Bob Balch and the drums of (a different) Scott Reeder, both of Fu Manchu.
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Scott Reeder
How did you come to do what you do?
It’s in my blood — all four of my Grandparents have been musicians. My parents played music together before I was even born… so it’s always been a big part of my life. I’ve had a few non-musical detours in my life, but I always seem to gravitate back to being in or around it.
Describe your first musical memory.
My Grandparents on my Mom’s side would have jazz jam sessions at their house a lot when I was very young. My Grandpa is still one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen, but I would always be drawn to the bass amp, and I’d sit right in front of that amp for hours, feeling that thump, and hearing the walking bass lines weaving through the music. That guy’s name was Sid Fridkin — I was always amazed at how he knew the perfect “weird” notes to throw in.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
I would have to say jamming in the Across the River days, around 1985 and ’86, with Mario Lalli and Alfredo Hernandez. We were really just starting out, and loved playing, and began getting better and better at expressing ourselves — it was really exciting to start realizing that we could do anything we set our minds to! Our garage was insulated pretty well and we painted glow in the dark stars all over — we’d jam for hours, exploring every weird little idea that came up… Mario and I both had our future wives, Nana and Renee living there with us, too — it was a magical time. And after our friend Dave Travis introduced us to the generator and we’d played a few crazy parties outside, we discovered it was nice just to go out ourselves into the desert and just jam under the real stars. The best times for me were when we just went out with our very close friends… it was peaceful, and inspiring. Later on, it turned into big parties, and eventually just got out of control. Knives, guns, fires, police… but the early days were pretty fucking awesome.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
I had an out-of-body experience when I was 16, when I was fully conscious, before I’d had any sort of mind-altering substance. I was playing trombone with the local college’s jazz band, sight-reading a really tough chart with the band, when I “popped out” — I was looking back at myself from a few feet away, and I could hear every note coming out perfectly, even though I wasn’t conscious whatsoever of reading the music. There was a complete calm, like the quiet of diving under water and not moving… and then I snapped back to struggling through the chart. It seemed perfectly natural when it happened, but when I was waiting afterward for my Mom to pick me up, I realized it was a little weird. I had no idea what had just happened, but I stumbled upon a book a few months later about OBE’s called The Astral Experience, and it documented people trying to reach the experience with LSD. And so that became my next journey at age 16, before I’d even tasted a beer or took a puff off a joint. To this day, that book is on a table in our bathroom for our guests to check out… That initial experience made me believe that our spirit is indeed separate from the body.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
I usually don’t have much to write about unless something is really eating at me. I’ve been in the studio singing a few times with tears streaming down my face, but then it gets transformed into something I can embrace — it’s like therapy, I guess. Recording some of them have been pretty painful, but it’s a huge catharsis to get it out, and it feels good when it resonates with a few people. As far as progression goes… I don’t think I’m going to have an epiphany someday on how to write a hit song, or anything. I’ve got all the tools I need to express myself — I suppose the songs will just slowly follow the course of my life over time. I’m not very prolific, but that’s fine — I don’t have a deal with a label breathing down my neck for “product.” I just trickle stuff out on iTunes or whatever… slow motion is fine for me. And I guess that if I only write when things are bugging me… then the fewer times I have to go through the process, the better!
How do you define success?
That’s a tricky one. There are small successes possible every day, striving to be the best you can be at everything you do, whether it be putting down a bass track or raking up some horse shit. Laughing with each other. Enjoying the simple pleasures. Life is in a constant state of flux — at the end, it won’t matter how much money you made, or how many things you acquired. I’ve lived among the rat race, with everyone stepping over each other, not thinking of any consequence to stabbing each other in the back — that’s not the life for me at all. I’ve tried to slow down my life, keeping it as simple as I can, for the most part. There have been some bumps in the road over the last couple of years, but it’s inspired me to focus on what’s important on a deeper level, I think, and I’m still searching. But I think the most important thing we can do, is to do our best to elevate each other.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
Well… I guess this is supposed to be an ugly one. After my Mom passed away a couple of months ago, she was laid out on her bed. The coroner was running very late, so it was great to be able to take our time saying goodbyes. However, I was alone in the room about six hours in, and dark fluid started coming out of her mouth — I tried to quickly clean her face so that her husband and his kids and grandchildren and my brother wouldn’t have to see that, but it started streaming out faster than I could wipe it away, as I was desperately trying to keep everyone out of the room. That image will always haunt me. On the positive side, hopefully it helps me to process the reality of her death a little quicker. But, no rush…
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
Hmmm… That would be our future swimming pool with a guest cabana and a big patio for barbecues!
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
That would definitely be the next time I take my horse out for a ride. That’s probably the only time I’m really away from music, even though you get completely enmeshed into the rhythm of the horse’s gait. It’s like a meditation, becoming one with the horse — it clears my head and calms me. I should be doing it every day, but I get busy…
If Man’s Ruin Records had never put anything else out, the 1997 Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age split would still make them legendary. The end of one era and the beginning of another. Of course, Man’s Ruin did put out a ton of other landmark albums from the likes of Acid King, Dozer, Alabama Thunderpussy and on and on, but to have the last Kyuss tracks and the first Queens of the Stone Age tracks on the same disc gives the split a momentous feel in hindsight. Josh Homme had put out the Gamma Ray 7″ in ’96, and Queens would go on to include the track “18 A.D.” on Roadrunner Records‘ Burn One Up: Music for Stoners compilation (discussed here) in 1998, but the three tracks on this split — “If Only Everything,” “Born to Hula” and “Spiders and Vinegaroons” — were the first to surface under the moniker.
And until John Garcia and Brant Bjork picked back up with Kyuss Lives! and continued into Vista Chino, the jamming cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Into the Void” and the two “Fatso Forgotso” tracks (both of which were included on 2000′s Muchas Gracias: The Best of Kyuss, the second under the title “Flip the Phase”) were the last of Kyuss‘ studio output. So yeah, something of a landmark. It was more the grooves of the thing itself than the historical aspect that made me want to round out the week with it, but I figured if the thing can be appreciated on multiple levels, that rarely hurts the actual listening experience.
Next week, look out for a new podcast, a review of that Clutch show and hopefully one for It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Olde Growth and company on Sunday night in Boston — I’m going to Connecticut during the day, but provided I get back in time will hit up the show — and then a look at the new Horisont and Sandrider albums, as well as more in the “10 Days of Stoner Hands of Doom XIII” coverage, including a video premiere provided it comes together as scheduled and some words about the new Druglord tape, which is duly fucked up-sounding. I also took a poll today on Thee Facebooks to name a new vinyl column, so On Wax will start next week too.
Much to come, in other words.
Hope you have a great and safe weekend. See you back here Monday and in the meantime, please check out the forum and radio stream.
Posted in Features on September 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m going to go on a limb here and say that while it wasn’t their first choice and something that was brought about through a lawsuit from former bandmates, the name change that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was a good thing. My reasoning is simple. Kyuss is a set entity. It’s in stone. It’s done. It’s been done for over 15 years now. There’s a legacy born out of the California desert that’s influenced thousands upon thousands of bands, and without Kyuss, that just doesn’t happen. They were an integral part of setting forth a movement in heavy rock that continues to this day.
The difference is they were and Vista Chino are. Even if vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork — who toured and wrote songs together as KyussLives! – had been able to continue using that or just the straight-up Kyuss name, they’d be setting themselves up to fail, because even if original guitarist Josh Homme – who along with former bassist Scott Reeder brought the lawsuit that was settled with the moniker switch– had returned to the fold and they’d worked with the same lineup that resulted in 1992′s Blues for the Red Sun, it never would’ve been the same. It may have been conflict that birthed it, but with the Napalm Records release this week of Peace (review here) as the first Vista Chino studio album, Garcia, Bjork and Fevery (Oliveri having left after recording his bass parts) are moving forward in a way Kyuss wouldn’t have been able to do.
It’s a question of freedom, ultimately, and where any output under the Kyuss banner would’ve resulted in an endless stream of comparisons set to the impossible standard of a decade and a half of lionization, Vista Chino are free to progress, both on a career level and creatively. Peacefinds Bjork taking lead vocals on “Planets 1 & 2,” something that never happened in Kyuss (though certainly it’s happened plenty since), and works off a different, new instrumental chemistry and playing style from Fevery. The record isn’t about capturing something that used to exist and doesn’t anymore, and at its heart, that’s why it succeeds. I’m not sure Peacewould’ve worked as a Kyuss album, but for Vista Chino, it stands not only as an excellent debut but a potential-filled sign of things to come. It makes the listener look forward to what could be and not back to what was.
So while it may have been plenty ugly getting to this point and of course no one knows what days ahead might bring, Peace establishes Vista Chino as a band with both a past and a future. In the interview that follows here, Brant Bjork discusses some of those prospects, particularly as relates to bringing in bassist Mike Dean from C.O.C. to fill the position vacated by Oliveri and held for a brief stretch by Billy Cordell, and also creating music for the first time alongside Fevery, the legal tribulations that made Vista Chino who they are, his relationship to Vista Chino as opposed to Kyuss, when he knew that Kyuss Lives! would result in new material, the group’s plans after the US tour they’ll soon start and much more. As he spoke, I could hear a desert wind come through the line in the background.
Here’s the story of how I came into possession of over 250 audio and video bootlegs all at once:
A few weeks ago, when I could still consider myself gainfully employed and not go into some kind of simultaneous laugh-cry about it, I got an email from a dude who reads the site. Knowing I’d almost certainly post about it later, he asked pretty early on not to be named. He said he had a bunch of live stuff from Wino he was looking to get rid of, that he’d been a big CDR and DVDR trader for bootlegs over the years and had got together a good collection. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.
He wrote that he wanted it to go to “a good home.” I said I was happy to provide one and to send over his list. I’ve never traded boots, but I know that in the days when physical trading was a thing, you were your list. He sent it over and I read it in slow motion. As advertised, there was a ton of Wino, from The Obsessed playing in 1983 and Warhorse at their high school in 1978 up to Saint Vitus in New Orleans in 2009, with a healthy dose of Shine/Spirit Caravan and The Hidden Hand stuff in between, audio and video. I found a video of a show from TheHidden Hand that I went to at the Khyber Pass in Philly, Feb. 5, 2004. I’m pretty sure you can see my big goofy head in the shot.
But the Winory is just the start of it. From The Atomic Bitchwax live at Roadburn in 2003 to shows from Warning, Valkyrie and a slew of sets recorded at Emissions from the Monolith (there’s a lot of “Live in Youngstown, OH” in late May 2003 and 2004), there are gigs from Revelation, Solace, Blood Farmers, YOB, Buried at Sea, Goatsnake, Test-Site and Acid King, Iron Man and Paul Chain. I said to the guy that I’d take everything on the list, and that’s just what I did. For $100 to cover the cost of discs, sleeves and shipping, I got 266 discs, some with more than one show included on them.
Here’s the full list:
Live & Demo CDs
35007, Roadburn Festival 2003
Abdullah, Cleveland, OH 10/18/01
Acid King, Baltimore, MD 10/2/00
Acid King, San Francisco, CA 7/16/01
Acid Mothers Temple, Chicago, IL 10/20/02 (2 CDs)
Agony Bag, Piss Out Your Trash Demo
Asylum, Demos 1986-88 (3 CDs)
Asylum, Baltimore, MD 4/13/07
Atomic Bitchwax, New Jersey 9/10/99 Atomic Bitchwax, Roadburn Festival 2001
Atomic Bitchwax, Berlin, Germany 5/11/04
Atomic Bitchwax, Switzerland 5/6/05
Dax Riggs, The Skeletal Circus Derails – Demo
Dead Meadow, Peel Sessions 2002
Deadboy & The Elephantmen, Demos
Deadboy & The Elephantmen, 10/9/03 Lafayette, La
Debris Inc., Cincinnati, OH 5/27/04
The Dictators, Asbury Park, NJ 6/8/91
The Dictators, Philadelphia, PA 5/30/98
Fu Manchu, Sweden 6/18/99
Grand Magus, Demo + Live 3/30/02 London
Helmet, Compilation (Rare, B-Sides Etc.)
Helmet, Blacktop 2/28/91
Helmet, New Orleans, La 8/5/91
High Rise, NYC, New York 3/14/00
House Of Large Sizes, I.O.W.A. – Live
House Of Large Sizes, Iowa City, IA 8/11/90
House Of Large Sizes, Davenport, IA 2/9/91 (2 CDs)
House Of Large Sizes, Cedar Falls, IA 8/16/90
House Of Large Sizes, Cedar Falls, IA 2/16/91 (2 CDs)
Internal Void, Frederick, MD 6/13/98
Internal Void, Indianapolis, IN 6/19/04
Iron Boss, Baltimore, MD 12/31/02
Iron Man, Force (Pre Iron Man)
Iron Man, Frederick, MD 12/31/07
Iron Man, Cincinnati, OH 3/14/00
Kyuss, Black Jeweler (B-Sides Etc)
Kyuss, San Francisco, CA 11/12/94
Kyuss, Desert Heavies
Kyuss, Desert Storm
Kyuss, Live At Bizzare Fest
Kyuss, Mercurious Pools
Kyuss, Norfolk, VA 12/18/92
Kyuss, To Infinity And Beyond
Kyuss, “Sons Of Kyuss “”Demo”" 39 Mins.”
Kyuss, Muchas Gracias
Nebula, Sweden 6/15/00
Opeth, Chicago, IL 10/02
Orange Goblin, Osaka, Japan 6/11/99
Orange Goblin, Austin, TX 5/10/02
Orange Goblin, Cincinatti, OH 5/27/04
Pale Divine, Frederick, MD 6/13/98
Pale Divine, Wheaton, MD 6/18/99
Paul Chain, Rimini, Italy 4/10/82
Paul Chain, Milan, It 1/15/90 (2 CDs)
Saint Vitus, First Album Demos
Saint Vitus, Koln, Germany 3/12/95
Saint Vitus, Firburgo, Swi 3/17/89
Saint Vitus, Torino 12/02/90 + L.A. 1984 (2 CDs)
Saint Vitus, Brain Sabbath – Boot
Saint Vitus, Washington, D.C. – 4/2/86 (2 CDs)
Saint Vitus, (Tyrant) Rehearsal 1978
Saint Vitus, Torino, Italy (2 CDs) 3/29/89
Saint Vitus, Tilburg, Holland (2 CDs) 4/24/09
Shine, Washington, D.C.2/13/98
Shine, Hagerstown, MD 5/14/98
Shine, Powertime E.P. + 3 Live + 9/20/97
Shine, Dallas 5/21/98 + Interview
Shine, Live 1997
Shine, Wheaton, MD 12/31/98
Shine, Washington, D.C. 12/13/97 (2 CDs)
Shine, NYC, NY 8/15/98 (Cuts)
Shine, Wheaton, MD 12/31/97
Shine, Washington, D.C. 8/10/97 (Slight Glitches)
Shine, Washington, D.C. 10/29/98
Shine, Baltimore, MD 8/16/98
Shine, Frederick, MD 9/20/97
Shine, College Park, MD 8/21/98
Shine, Washington, D.C. 6/6/97
Sixty Watt Shaman, 6/26/99
Solstice, Demos 1992-93
Spirit Caravan, Long Branch, N.J. 7/8/99
Spirit Caravan, Chicago, IL 4/26/02
Spirit Caravan, San Francisco, CA 7/16/01 (Glitches)
Spirit Caravan, St. Louis, MO 4/23/02
Spirit Caravan, U.K. 12/1/01
Spirit Caravan, Philadelphia, PA 8/3/01
Spirit Caravan, Baltimore, MD 5/15/99
Spirit Caravan, Wheaton, MD 8/14/99 (39 Min)
Spirit Caravan, Baltimore, MD 7/27/00
Spirit Caravan, Maryland 5/18/01
Spirit Caravan, Baltimore, MD 5/4/02
Spirit Caravan, Chicago, IL 7/26/01
Spirit Caravan, Brooklyn, NY 5/2/02
Spirit Caravan, New York City, NY 1/16/00
Spirit Caravan, Old Bridge, NJ 1/21/01
Spirit Caravan, Long Branch, NJ 2/18/00
Spirit Caravan, Cambridge, MA 8/1/01
Spirit Caravan, Munich, Germany 9/14/99
Spirit Caravan, Denmark 9/22/00
Spirit Caravan, Baltimore, MD 5/3/99
Spirit Caravan, Baltimore, MD 7/22/00
Spirit Caravan, Baltimore, MD 10/02/00
Spirit Caravan, Wheaton, MD 12/31/98
Spirit Caravan, Wheaton, MD 1/12/00
Spirit Caravan, Toledo, OH 1/14/01
Spirit Caravan, Youngstown, OH 9/3/00
Spirit Caravan, Youngstown, OH 5/27/01
Spirit Caravan, Toledo, OH 4/27/02
Spirit Caravan, Washington, D.C. 10/4/00 (Gaps)
The Hidden Hand, Pittsburgh, PA 2/12/07
The Obsessed, History Of Vol. 1 (Doom Records)
The Obsessed, History Of Volume 2 (Doom Recs)
The Obsessed, Live At The Wax Museum (Doom Recs)
The Obsessed, Washington, D.C. 3/14/85
The Obsessed, 9 Song Demo
The Obsessed, Various ’80′s Live
The Obsessed, Tucson, AZ 7/31/92
The Obsessed, Tucson, AZ 10/15/92
The Obsessed, Columbia Studio Session
The Obsessed, FM Broadcast December 1992
The Obsessed, Stuttgart, Germany 12/28/92
The Obsessed, Carrboro, NC 4/19/94
Trouble, Stuttgart, Germany 1/2/93
Trouble, One For The Road
Trouble, Aurora, IL 5/4/02 (2 CDs)
Trouble, South Barrington, IL 5/18/02 (2 CDs)
Unida, Chico, CA 5/24/00
Unida, Vienna 11/5/00
Unida, Unreleased 2002
Unorthodox, Asylum Demos 12/15/90
Unorthodox, Frederick, MD 10/14/00
Unorthodox, Frederick, MD 12/31/07
Unorthodox, Baltimore, MD 4/14/07
Wino, Tilberg, Holland 4/26/09
Wino, Athens, Greece 10/12/10
Acid Mothers Temple, 4/22/07 Charlottesville, VA 80 Min Alabama Thunderpussy, 11/4/06 Richmond, VA 62 Min
Asylum, 6/26/88 College Park, MD 115 Min
Atomic Bitchwax, 1/12/99 New York City, NY 64 Min
Atomic Bitchwax, 7/8/05 Baltimore, MD 63 Min
Atomic Bitchwax, 11/23/05 Washington, D.C. 54 Min
Blood Farmers, 4/15/07 Baltimore, MD 57 Min
Brant Bjork & The Bros, 5/21/05 Washington, D.C. 78 Min
Buried at Sea, 5/29/04 Youngstown, OH 30 Min
Clearlight, 8/14/99 Wheaton, MD 49 Min
Dead Meadow, 6/16/06 Washington, D.C. 46 Min
Debris Inc. – 5/29/04 Youngstown, OH 45 Min
Delicious, 5/27/04 Youngstown, OH 33 Min
Dixie Witch, 5/27/06 Youngstown, OH 42 Min
Doomed Nation, Volume 1 2004 65 Min
Doomed Nation, Volume 2 2005 85 Min
Dragon Ass, 9/5/03 Baltimore, MD 38 Min
Earthride, 9/3/05 Frederick, MD 18 Min
Earthride, 11/23/05 Washington, D.C. 34 Min
Fu Manchu, 1/30/96 Los Angeles, CA 38 Min
Goatsnake – 5/24/99 – Eindhoven, Germany 55 Min
Grief, 5/27/06 Youngstown, OH 57 Min
High On Fire, 12/15/04 Richmond, VA 65 Min
Hounds Of Hasselvander, 3/14/08 Washington, D.C. 65 Min
Internal Void, 8/28/04 Washington, D.C. 60 Min
Internal Void, 3/4/05 Baltimore, MD 28 Min
Internal Void, 9/3/05 Frederick, MD 69 Min
Internal Void, 11/23/05 Washington, D.C. 48 Min
Internal Void / Kelly Carmichael, 12/10/05 Frederick, MD 101 Min
Iron Man, 12/31/99 Wheaton, MD 68 Min
Iron Man, 4/15/07 Baltimore, MD 57 Min
King Valley, 9/5/03 Baltimore, MD 31 Min
King Valley, 8/28/04 Washington, D.C. 32 Min
King Valley, 3/4/05 Baltimore, MD 39 Min
King Valley, 5/26/05 Youngstown, OH 27 Min
King Valley, 6/25/05 Newark, DE 36 Min
King Valley, 9/3/05 Frederick, MD 34 Min
King Valley, 2/3/06 Leesburg, VA 40 Min
Kramer, Wayne, 7/13/02 Baltimore, MD 70 Min
MC5 / DKT, 6/18/04 Washington, D.C. 81 Min
Nebula, 6/2/02 Baltimore, MD 50 Min
Nitroseed, 6/2/05 Washington, D.C. 39 Min
Ogre, 4/14/07 Baltimore, MD 46 Min
Ostinato, 5/26/04 Washington, D.C. 48 Min
Ostinato, 10/29/04 Washington, D.C. 40 Min
Pearls & Brass / The Amoeba Men, 1/29/06 Richmond, VA 80 Min
Penance, 4/14/07 Baltimore, MD 63 Min
Revelation I, 4/14/07 Baltimore, MD 63 Min
Revelation II, 4/15/07 Baltimore, MD 57 Min
Revelation, 3/14/08 Washington, D.C. 65 Min
Rwake, 5/29/04 Youngstown, OH 40 Min
Saint Vitus, 7/21/87 Albany, NY 53 Min
Saint Vitus, 1987 Indianapolis, IN 42 Min Saint Vitus, 1993 Florida 100 Min
Saint Vitus, 7/1/03 Chicago, IL 56 Min
Saint Vitus, 4/11/09 New Orleans, LA
Shine, 12/29/96 Columbus, OH 27 Min
Shine, 2/14/97 Baltimore, MD 31 Min
Shine, 4/12/97 Washington, D.C. 54 Min
Shine, 8/15/97 Wheaton, MD 75 Min
Shine, 10/18/97 Wheaton, MD 65 Min
Solace, 5/28/04 Youngstown, OH 51 Min
Solace, 7/3/04 Baltimore, MD 30 Min
Solace, 9/5/04 Youngstown, OH 44 Min
Spirit Caravan, 7/8/99 Long Branch, NJ 61 Min
Spirit Caravan, 7/10/99 Richmond, VA 55 Min
Spirit Caravan, 8/14/99 Wheaton, MD 84min
Spirit Caravan, 2/2/00 Richmond, VA 59 Min
Spirit Caravan, 2/14/00 Cleveland, OH 67 Min
Spirit Caravan, 4/15/00 Youngstown, OH 53 Min
Spirit Caravan, 7/22/00 Baltimore, MD 28 Min
Spirit Caravan, 12/12/00 Hungary 68 Min
Spirit Caravan, 2/9/01 Springfield, VA 42 Min
Spirit Caravan, 5/18/01 Baltimore, MD 70 Min
Spirit Caravan, 8/1/01 Cambridge, MA 65 Min
Spirit Caravan, 1/19/02 Baltimore, MD 50 Min
Spirit Caravan, 5/2/02 Philadelphia, PA 60 Min
Spirit Caravan, 5/4/02 Baltimore, MD 56 Min
Stinking Lizaveta, 5/29/04 Youngstown, OH 40 Min
Suzukiton, 12/15/04 Richmond, VA 35 Min
Suzukiton – 5/29/07 Charlottesville, VA 38 Min
Test Site, 9/5/04 Youngstown, OH 35 Min
Test-Site, 6/1/05 Washington, D.C. 39 Min
The Hidden Hand, 12/31/02 Baltimore, MD 37 Min
The Hidden Hand- 2/22/03 Washington, D.C. 48 Min
The Hidden Hand, 6/24/03 Baltimore, MD 47 Min
The Hidden Hand, 8/29/03 Washington, D.C. 63 Min
The Hidden Hand, 1/16/04 Baltimore, MD 50 Min
The Hidden Hand, 2/5/04 Philadelphia, PA 60 Min
The Hidden Hand, 2/10/04 Baltimore, MD 45 Min
The Hidden Hand, 2/12/04 Lancaster, PA 30 Min
The Hidden Hand, 2/13/04 Washington, D.C. 45 Min
The Hidden Hand, 5/25/04 Washington, D.C. 54 Min
The Hidden Hand, 5/26/04 Washington, D.C. 52 Min
The Hidden Hand, 5/29/04 Youngstown, OH 42 Min
The Hidden Hand, 10/28/04 Philadelphia, PA 56 Min
The Hidden Hand, 10/29/04 Washington, D.C. 67 Min
The Hidden Hand, 1/15/05 Washington, D.C. 52 Min
The Hidden Hand, 2/12/05 Gaithersburg, MD 45 Min
The Hidden Hand, 4/16/05 Washington, D.C. 51 Min
The Hidden Hand, 5/20/05 Hartford, CT 48 Min
The Hidden Hand, 6/25/05 Newark, DE 52 Min
The Hidden Hand, 7/2/05 Washington, D.C. 47 Min
The Hidden Hand, 12/29/06 Washington, D.C. 56 Min
The Hidden Hand, 2/9/07 St. Paul, MN 60 Min
The Hidden Hand, 5/13/07 London, England 60 Min
The Obsessed, 1993 Fort Worth, TX 27 Min
The Obsessed, 4/18/94 Hampton, VA 36 Min
The Obsessed, 4/19/94 Carrboro, NC 40 Min
The Obsessed – Documentary 27 Min
Trephine, 12/11/04 Baltimore, MD 28 Min
Unorthodox, 6/19/04 Tradesmen Party 22 Min
Unorthodox, 7/31/04 Washington, D.C. 44 Min
Unorthodox – 9/4/04 Youngstown, OH 48 Min
Unorthodox, 4/14/07 Baltimore, MD 74 Min
Valkyrie, 3/4/05 Baltimore, MD 39 Min
Valkyrie, 11/4/06 Richmond, VA 37 Min
Valkyrie, 3/9/07 Richmond, VA 41 Min
Valkyrie, 4/14/07 Baltimore, MD 37 Min
Valkyrie, 5/29/07 Charlottesville, VA 37 Min
Warning, 4/16/05 Goppingen, Germany 64 Min
Wino, 1/28/09 Washington, D.C. 25 Min
Wino, 2/7/09, Washington, D.C. 57 Min
Witchcraft, 5/28/05 Youngstown, OH 66 Min
Witchcraft, 11/11/06 Washington, D.C. 45 Min
Wooly Mammoth, 6/16/06 Washington, D.C. 36 Min
Wooly Mammoth, 10/29/04 Washington, D.C.41 Min
Wooly Mammoth, 12/29/06 Washington, D.C. 36 Min
Wretched, 8/28/04 Washington, D.C. 30 Min
Wretched, 9/4/04 Youngstown, OH 24 Min
Wretched, 4/15/07 Baltimore, MD 42 Min
YOB, 5/20/05 Hartford, CT 45 Min
Warhorse, 1978 Rockville, MD 28 Min
The Obsessed, 3/80 Rockville, MD 106 Min (2 DVDs)
The Obsessed, 7/3/82 Washington, D.C. 74 Min (2 DVDs)
The Obsessed, 11/83 Kensington, MD 45 Min
The Obsessed, 2/11/84 New York City, NY 35 Min
The Obsessed, 6/16/84 Long March, PA 40 Min
The Obsessed, 4/17/94 Washington, D.C. 45 Min
Shine, 9/29/96 Wheaton, MD 45 Min
The Hidden Hand, 5/25/03 Youngstown, OH (Bass Heavy)
I’ve taken to calling it The Megabox.
It’s been here more than a week now and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it contains. A Spirit Caravan show here, some Acid King there. At that rate, it’ll probably be years before I get through everything — if I ever do — and I have no idea how to organize it, because it can’t stay in the Megabox forever, but screw it, there was no way I was going to let an opportunity to own such a collection pass me by, even if it is CDRs in sleeves. Someone poured their heart into getting all of this. I was flattered even to be asked if I wanted it.
Yeah, some of it is available on YouTube or whatever blog or forum group, but considering I spent less than 50 cents for each of these shows and especially considering the human element in the media and the passion that clearly went into putting the collection together, I’m still ready to call it the bargain of the year.
Nebula, “All the Way” Live at the Ottobar, Baltimore, MD, 06.02.02
Any discussion of all-time essential heavy albums is incomplete without Kyuss‘ 1994 full-length, Welcome to Sky Valley.
Officially self-titled, the Palm Desert four-piece’s third album following 1992′s also pivotal Blues for the Red Sun and 1991′s Wretch debut is to this day the single blueprint on which the desert rock aesthetic is based. The album was recorded at Sound City by Chris Goss and included the simple instructions to, “Listen without Distraction.” Rarely in heavy rock has such sound advice been given.
You could argue that Blues for the Red Sundeserves induction into the Canon of Heavy first — I’m not sure you’d be wrong. The difference, however, is that where Blues for the Red Sunestablished Kyuss as a band apart from the grunge movement that was then sweeping radio, print mags and the greater rock and roll consciousness, it was Welcome to Sky Valleythat showcased specifically the alternative they presented, the weight of their grooves, the loosely jammed feel of driving, punk-derived rhythms, the sheer power of a riff like that of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” to stomp itself into the brain of a listener — I still try to tap out the hits at the end and get it wrong more often than not — and ultimately set the stage for the massive and ongoing influence Kyuss has today on bands all around the world.
Then comprised of vocalist John Garcia, guitarist Josh Homme, bassist Scott Reeder and drummer Brant Bjork, Kyuss would become a standard for those to whom even the commodified strains of alt rock left cold, and the sheer something else-ness of Welcome to Sky Valleycontinues to resonate and make it one of the best heavy records of all time, the best and most formative desert rock release ever, and an utterly timeless listen.
If nothing else, let the fact that Welcome to Sky Valley is included second to Black Sabbath‘s Master of Realityin the Canon of Heavy be a testament to its standing among the classics. And yet how can we call Kyuss anything but underrated?
“The Desert Sound”
Among others, Kyuss cited local jammers Yawning Man as having an influence on their sound, and one can hear that in Homme‘s guitar work on “Space Cadet” and elsewhere, but in a way that’s both unpretentious and undeniable, Welcome to Sky Valleywas representative of the Californian desert to its very core. Weird and a little hippie, there was nonetheless heat in the tonal fuzz of the guitars and an ecosystem at work in Reeder‘s basslines, and while Garcia mused with stoned, brazen abandon about who the hell knows what, Bjork solidified every move the band made with understated percussive brilliance. Whether it was the single-worthy psychedelia of “Demon Cleaner” or the landmark thrust of “Odyssey,” Kyuss was as much about the rhythm section as it was about riffs or melodies.
The closing duo of “N.O.” (a cover of Reeder‘s prior outfit, Across the River) and “Whitewater” emphasized that perfectly, but really, it can be heard throughout Welcome to Sky Valley, and the photos that comprise the album’s artwork, of cracked sands and a foldout of a windmill, only speak to the band’s connection to its geography and their intent in conveying that musically. Whatever it was that did it, Kyuss never quite fit sonically with either the hard rock or the metal of their day. A jammed-out instrumental like “Asteroid,” placed as the second track behind opener “Gardenia” in the first of the album’s three movements, is unlike anything radio would’ve touched at the time, and at the time, radio was how a band like Kyuss would’ve gotten big. So what we have is an act necessitating a new vocabulary that didn’t exist when they did — ahead of their time — an act forcing those who’d approach them to realize that heaviness didn’t necessarily have to come hand in hand with anger or some teenaged grunge moping.
How did all this come from the desert? Hell if I know. Thinking about a landscape like that, beaten by the sun, dry and cracked like in the liner note pictures, it looks heavy, making a subtle, nonchalant threat just by being there. You can get lost in the desert and you can get lost in this music. The two almost can’t help but go hand in hand.
Let’s say you’re a rock band signed to a major label. You see that the audience is becoming less and less dependent on a full-album listening experience and to counteract this — because you’ve just gone to the trouble of writing a full-length’s worth of material and perhaps you believe in all of it and want it to be heard — you decide to block the 10 component tracks of your album into three movements, three in the first, three in the second and four in the third. Basically, you’re demanding that your audience engage the songs on the level you’ve chosen for them. They no longer have the power to skip to whichever track they want. The terms are yours.
First of all, you’d never get away with it. Today’s corporate label strata is so client friendly that so long as you’re willing to give even the slightest bit of money as opposed to just stealing an album by downloading it illegally, record companies will basically spoon-feed the music to your ears (that’s not to mention the homogenizing effect that the desperation to reach as broad an audience base as possible has had on commercial hard rock as a whole; it’s an issue for a different time), and if you want singles, singles you’ll have. Even Welcome to Sky Valleyfeels like the result of a compromise in this way. Kyuss could just as easily have presented the individual pieces as one 51-minute track. One wonders at the negotiation process that resulted in the three blocks of tracks that the final CD housed, a new meaning given to the proverbial numbers game of contract talks.
Promo copies of Welcome to Sky Valleywent out to radio stations with the pieces split up individually, but for the general listening populace, Sky Valleymore or less forced you to take it on as a whole and on that level flew in the face of its own potential for commercial success. In a climate that was having less and less time for a whole album, Kyuss decided they’d refuse to give anything less.
Unless you’ve done it, I’m not sure you can understand quite how difficult it is sometimes to review heavy rock records and not just be like, “Well, it kinda sounds like Kyuss on Welcome to Sky Valley.” At this point, approaching 19 years since its original release, the album continues to have an appeal past any expiration date one might’ve ever wanted to put on it, and from California to Moscow, bands have tried to make even the slightest bit of its magic their own. Most fall short, but the mere fact that their inspiration can be traced back to Kyuss and in particular to Welcome to Sky Valleymakes the album a standout in its generation.
The basic fact is that when Kyuss released this album on Elektra, yeah, there was a market for creative hard rock — the Melvins put out Houdinion Atlantic late in ’93, and Monster Magnet‘s second album, Superjudge, founding them riding high on A&M — but the number of bands taking the approach Kyuss were taking to psychedelia, to rock-after-punk (that’s not to call them post-punk), on the level they were doing it, well, it was pretty much them and nobody. The desert from whence they hailed may have had a vibrant scene at the time, with bands like the aforementioned Yawning Man or Fatso Jetson, whose guitarist Mario Lalli guests on lead for “N.O.,” but Kyuss became the ambassadors for that scene to a wider public consciousness.
Really, it’s a title they continue to hold to this day, and with the boom in awareness of what they were doing that came with the rise of the internet as a musical conveyance, their reach went global just a few years after they’d broken up. Already by the mid-to-late ’90s, Man’s Ruin Records was having an impact on listening habits, but today, the sound that took root in Palm Desert can just as likely be heard in Poland or New Zealand.
So Why Weren’t They Huge?
How can that be true — how can Welcome to Sky Valleyhave had such an impact on heavy rock — and Kyuss still be an underground band? Well, the commercial success that Josh Homme eventually found with Queens of the Stone Age — and let’s not forget it took three albums and a collaboration with Dave Grohl to get there — eluded Kyuss for the entirety of their career. Singles like “Demon Cleaner” and “One Inch Man” from subsequent album …And the Circus Leaves Town(1996) brought some attention, and the band toured hard, but they never quite took the steps that Homme would later take to embrace their audience. Songs were loose and half-jammed, Garcia‘s vocals biting and guttural, and like several others of their musical generation, Kyuss inhabited a curious zone somewhere in between hard rock and heavy metal. The difference is now two decades’ worth of bands have lined up behind them in that position.
The way I look at it is like “Lick Doo” — the “secret” fourth track after the glorious finish of “Whitewater” that’s a minute-long faux doo-wop organ number with Garcia singing, “Oh honey, you know that you can and will lick my doo,” etc. Kyuss by this time were getting to be professionals at their sound, realizing that they had something unique to offer on a stylistic level and setting themselves to the work of capturing that on tape, but they were also a bunch of desert-dwelling stoners goofing around. You think if they were up to taking themselves too seriously they’d have put “Lick Doo” after “Whitewater?” No way. “Hey, here’s probably the best song we’ll ever write, let’s end the record with it and then put this stupid outtake on after it for absolutely no reason.” Sorry, but if you’re considering your position in rock history, that’s probably not the choice you’re gonna make.
And ultimately, maybe that’s part of what makes Welcome to Sky Valleyso special — that Kyuss may have been reinventing a long forgotten classic rock wheel, but they were basically doing so just by being who they were. And maybe that’s why all the people who’ve come along since, including Kyuss themselves, have never quite managed to harness the same feeling in a recording as these guys did at that particular moment in time, in that studio, with those instruments, those songs.
A couple weeks ago, I asked the question above: “What are the 10 greatest stoner rock records?” It was kind of just something I was throwing out there to see what came back. Nothing scientific, pretty vague on what “stoner rock” actually meant as a genre designation. Basically just trying to get a spur-of-the-moment response, like an inkblot test for riffs. First thing that comes to mind.
The response was awesome, so before anything else, thank you to everyone who contributed a list to the original post. I was taken aback by the number of replies that came in — a total 73 comments — and the resultant breadth of records named reads like a wishlist of the damned. Some people were pretty orthodox in their definition of the genre, and some more open in the bands they included, but working from everyone’s lists, I tallied up the votes, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all the choices personally (I added my own list as a comment to the initial post, so I won’t bother reprinting it), it was a blast to see what emerged on top. The people have spoken.
I tried to be as fair as I could in the tallying. There were some comments left that were individual songs and not albums, and those I didn’t count, but everything else went in, even if it was only mentioned once, and when someone said, for example, “Melvins – all,” I actually added a tally to everything by the Melvins that everyone else had said. Again, it’s not really a scientific thing polling demographic data, but it was a lot of fun.
Okay, here’s the list:
The Top 10 Greatest Stoner Rock Records Poll Results:
1. Kyuss, Welcome to Sky Valley (41 votes)
2. Sleep, Sleep’s Holy Mountain (27 votes)
3. Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (19 votes)
4. Kyuss,Blues for the Red Sun (18 votes)
5. Monster Magnet,Spine of God (15 votes)
5. Sleep,Dopesmoker(15 votes)
7. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone(14 votes)
7. Fu Manchu, In Search Of… (14 votes)
9. Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age (12 votes)
10. Fu Manchu, The Action is Go (10 votes)
As you can see, some real classics in there, and Welcome to Sky Valleywas far and away the winner, picked by 41 out of the 73 people (myself included), with Sleep and Black Sabbath behind. There were two ties at numbers five and seven, but beyond that, it’s a pretty clear picture of where people are at with their favorites.
What about everything else? Well, it was all counted. I broke all the entries down by number of votes and listed them by artist with albums in chronological order.
Posted in Reviews on December 13th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Earlier in the day, while waiting for a table at the Alexis Diner on Rt. 10 in Denville, I asked The Patient Mrs. to buy a ticket for the Powerball. I don’t usually play the lottery, but we’d been there for a bit waiting for the rest of my family to show up (lunch following my nephew’s Xmas pageant was one of the day’s several social obligations), and still tired from seeing Mighty High and Cortez the night before, I thought how great it would be to both win the Powerball and see Kyuss Lives! in the same day. My reasoning was that one was great enough, but imagine both!
It’s a wonder I’m not divorced.
The early part of that same evening found The Patient Mrs. and I (she was driving; I’d already had a few and I’d have a few more before the night was out) racing northbound on the Parkway to get to the Wellmont Theatre in scenic Montclair, NJ, in time to catch The Atomic Bitchwax open the show for Black Cobra, The Sword and Kyuss Lives!, who were on the last night of their tour and under whose banner the whole show took place. The Bitchwax being Jersey locals, the appeal was plain, and with the added interest of Dave Witte (Human Remains, Burnt by the Sun, Exit-13, Birds of Prey, Municipal Waste, etc.) filling in on drums, I didn’t want to miss it. You know that hurried feeling when you get all anxious that you’re not going to make it in time? It was like at, and as per usual, completely without reason. We arrived well in time for the start of their set.
Last time I saw The Atomic Bitchwax was at the Saint in Asbury Park with Karma to Burn, and it was high on the list of the best shows I’ve ever seen them play. With Witte‘s taking Bob Pantella‘s spot on drums while the latter is on a European run with Monster Magnet, intrigue was high. Sure enough, Witte more than held his own, but as you’d expect, the chemistry that’s developed between Pantella and bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan just wasn’t there. Still, they did Jersey proud, and I spent the whole time trying to figure out how Kosnik would know Witte (Human Remains was a Jersey band; that’s the best I could come up with), taking minor mental detours to enjoy “Destroyer,” “Gettin’ Old,” “So Come On,” “Shitkicker,” “Hope You Die,” the Core cover, “Kiss the Sun” and the curious instrumental choice of closer, “Force Field.”
Witte is a master drummer. The reason he’s involved in so many projects is he’s so adaptable, and in The Atomic Bitchwax, he nestled in well alongside the fast-winding riffs of Kosnik and Ryan, though there was part of him that looked ready to bust out a grindcore blastbeat at any moment, and his snare seemed to pop with that kind of expectation. By contrast, Rafa Martinez of Black Cobra did unleash a few blasts, most notably during “Obliteration” from the band’s most recent Invernal album, but hit with a different technique altogether. This was the first I’d seen Black Cobra since Invernal came out, and I was glad to find them focusing on the new material, since I think it’s their best yet.
That Martinez and guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian were unbelievably tight should almost go without saying at this point, since that’s pretty much been the case with the duo since their inception as a touring act seven or eight years ago at this point. They opened with “Avalanche” from the new album, though, and it occurred to me how much they’ve grown in terms of stagecraft. Landrian, quiet and subdued off stage, is more confident than ever while on, and more apt to engage the audience as a frontman. He held his guitar over his head, headbanged, yelled off-mic at the crowd and generally worked to bring people into the show. It wasn’t yet crowded at the Wellmont, but the people who showed up early knew why they were there, and I think Landrian‘s efforts were appreciated.
“Avalanche” and “Obliteration” were highlights, but the irresistible riffing of “Corrosion Fields” made their set, and it would do so again the next night in Brooklyn. That kind of chugging groove is unmistakably righteous, and I didn’t in the least envy Austin, Texas, riffers The Sword for having to follow it. Still, they did, and as The Sword are more or less the commercial vanguard at this point for heavy rock, I felt in watching them like they were unavoidable. Bound to happen. I didn’t hear their last record, 2010′s Warp Riders, and I don’t remember the one before that, but I immediately recognized “Freya” from Age of Winters for its epic riffing and battle tales, and that was fine.
Look. At this point, The Sword aren’t going anywhere. They have a more than solid fanbase, have worked hard enough on the road to give their now-former drummer a nervous breakdown, and as guitarist/vocalist J.D. Cronise was out front watching The Atomic Bitchwax during their set, I’m inclined to think their hearts are in the right place, whatever the hype or promotional push around them might be. Hipster metal isn’t all The Sword‘s fault, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like the band. They did their thing and the crowd responded well to it, and if I wasn’t into it, then at least I got a few minutes once I was done taking pictures to grab another beer and sit down before Kyuss came on, which I appreciated thoroughly.
And you’ll notice in that last sentence I dropped the “Lives!” from Kyuss Lives!, which seems only fair at this point. The looming prospect of a new album next year, plus the time the foursome of vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork have put in on the road playing those old tunes, they’ve earned it. It’s Kyuss. You know it, I know it. This was my second time seeing them, and yeah, Josh Homme wasn’t in the building, but seriously, bands have toured with fewer founding members, and I defy you to watch Brant Bjork during “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” and call it anything other than Kyuss.
It was pretty clear they were tired from being on the road, the show wasn’t exactly sold out even at its most crowded point, and the cavernous high ceiling of the Wellmont that so well suited Black Cobra didn’t do them any favors sound-wise, but how could I possibly think of a Kyuss set as anything other than a positive? What else would I have been doing that night that would’ve been better than drunkenly belting out the parts to “El Rodeo” along with Oliveri and Garcia, or watching the jam that developed out of “50 Million Year Trip (downside up)?” Nothing. Watching the current incarnation of Kyuss tear through their set with the level of poise and professionalism they did was a blast. Garcia didn’t talk much, but sounded killer singing, and Fevery seemed even more comfortable on the songs than he had in Philly, making “Hurricane,” “Freedom Run” and “One Inch Man” high points of a night mostly comprised of high points.
Whatever becomes of the Kyuss Lives! lineup, with Oliveri facing jail-time following a SWAT standoff earlier this year and Scott Reeder waiting in the wings to take up the bassist position as he did prior to the release of 1994′s genre-defining Welcome to Sky Valley, they’ve done well by themselves and most importantly, by the material on these American and European tours. After absolutely nailing “Demon Cleaner,” they came out to do a quickie encore that included “Green Machine” and (I think; someone please correct me if I’m wrong) “Odyssey,” and then were done. I’d expected “Thumb,” but the Wellmont house lights came back up and the audience was quickly escorted out the door and into the cold.
Jersey doesn’t get shit for heavy rock shows. Generally speaking, if it’s coming anywhere these days, it’s coming to Brooklyn or maybe Manhattan if it’s a big enough deal to get into one of the corporate venues, but something like seeing Kyuss on my home turf in North Jersey, I felt like it was a really special opportunity and one I think I made the most of. It was night two of three shows in a row for me, but definitely will standout as more than just the middle in a series. I got everything I could’ve asked for except cheaper beer, and as I woke up the next day sans hangover, I felt like even the $7 Shiner Bock was a favor directed in my way (well, maybe not). I didn’t win the Powerball, but I’d hardly call it a loss for that.
Last time, we took a look at some classic heavy ’70s artwork from Atomic Rooster and Buffalo, and that was fun, but let’s face it, there’s bigger fish to fry. For example, now that Californian desert legends Kyuss have been (mostly) resurrected in the form of the appropriately-exclamatory Kyuss Lives!, it becomes more necessary than ever to examine the legacy they left behind them in their first run. Kyuss: The gods of the ’90s desert!
The question in part comes down to lineup. For 1992′s Blues for the Red Sun, Kyuss consisted of drummer Brant Bjork, guitarist Josh Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri and vocalist John Garcia. Of those four, it was Bjork and Oliveri principally responsible for the songwriting. That remained true for 1994′s Kyuss, which would later adopt the unofficial title Welcome to Sky Valley (often shortened as just Sky Valley), but the swapping out of bassist Scott Reeder in place of Oliveri — a process which, it could be argued, is under way again now in Kyuss Lives! — had a huge impact on the band’s sound, accordingly with an increase in confidence, establishment of aesthetic, etc.
What’s not up for debate, however, is that these are two of the most classic and pivotal desert rock albums of all time. With landmark songs like “Thumb,” “Green Machine” and the truly post-punk “Allen’s Wrench,” Blues for the Red Sun helped set in motion the genre that would be centered around Palm Desert and the surrounding area, but the vision wasn’t completely realized until two years later, when Sky Valley was released. Broken into three larger movements, tracks like “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” “100 Degrees,” the softer “Space Cadet” and the instrumental “Asteroid” solidified the sound that the prior album had proposed, arguing not just for its artistic relevance, but for the imperative blend of atmosphere and classic influence that has come to typify true desert rock.
But as much as that’s true, you couldn’t have had the one without the other. I know where my heart and listening habits place me, but what about you? Desert island scenario (or maybe just desert, if that’s more appropriate), you can only have one or the other. Which is more pivotal in terms of its influence, and which would you rather just hear for the rest of your life to the exclusion of the other? These seem like big questions — because both records are so great — but that’s why The Debate Rages.
Posted in Reviews on September 22nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
As I made my way into the Trocadero on Philadelphia‘s Arch Street (apparently right in Chinatown), I asked the mostly-disinterested girl working the ticket window if anyone had gone on yet. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Everyone but Kyuss!” It was a little before 8:45PM.
I didn’t remember having been at the Trocadero before until I saw the place, then flashes of Fireball Ministry, Clutch and Strapping Young Lad came to mind, though no recollection of how many shows that actually was. One or two, anyway. The place was decently crowded but not overly packed considering the headliner was about to go on, and I made my way up toward the front of the theater to wait for the set to start.
And wait I did. Kyuss Lives! — the remarkable three-quarters reunion of desert rock gods Kyuss that features vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, drummer Brant Bjork and guitarist Bruno Fevery — wouldn’t go on for another half an hour at least. I wasn’t especially bummed at having missed MonstrO or The Sword, but the crowd spent an awful lot of time spent waiting for Garcia to come on stage and tell them they don’t seem to understand the deal. And just like when you’re so hungry at a restaurant and you’re waiting, and you think maybe your order is screwed up somehow, that you’re going to get the wrong food, or nothing at all, that the little slip with your meal written on it fell off the thing and is sitting on the dirty kitchen floor, I started to worry something was amiss, that Brant Bjorkhad slipped on a banana peel or something and pulled a calf muscle and couldn’t drum or something equally ridiculous and unlikely/likely as that.
Guess that means I fell for it. Granted, on the scale of the 15 years it’s been since Kyuss last toured, the wait for Kyuss Lives! to take the stage last night wasn’t all that bad, but the anticipation was excruciating. And not just for me. The whole audience — a mostly-dude mix of stoners, rockers, guys who were there the first time and younger-types who weren’t, peppered with the occasional patient girlfriend and/or female actually there to enjoy the music — seemed tense with it. Maybe that’s me projecting.
They opened with “Hurricane” from 1995′s …And the Circus Leaves Town and sounded right on from the start. They could’ve played anything and it both would have been perfect and not enough, but it was a solid set — more than an hour, not quite 90 minutes, if I timed it right — and though there was no “Demon Cleaner,” cuts like “El Rodeo” and the more expected “Gardenia,” “Thumb” and “100 Degrees” covered a lot of ground.
Oliveri took backing vocals on “El Rodeo” and several others, and though he was a little loud in the mix initially, his voice meshed well with Garcia‘s. His legal problems notwithstanding, he sounded good and looked good on stage and seemed glad to be there. He and Bjork were practically a band unto themselves in the rhythm section. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but Brant Bjork is the Godfather of Desert Groove, and playing drums in Kyuss Lives!, he made it look almost effortless, like at any moment, he was about to kick his feet up and take a nap while also ripping through “Allen’s Wrench” in the encore. Solid doesn’t even begin to cover it. The dude is something special.
Presumably, Garcia knows that, and likewise for Oliveri and guitarist Bruno Fevery, otherwise he’d have gotten other people for the project. For his part, Fevery held down the songs well. His hair hanging in front of his face for most of the set, the Belgian six-stringer kept a low profile compared to the draw of the other three in the band, and while he seemed impatient in the several extended jams the band took, his sound fit well with the songs. No complaints, is what I’m trying to say. Invariably, he didn’t have the sense of freedom with the material as might the dude who helped write it initially, but it was a more than respectable showing, and I think he won over most of the crowd as the set wore on.
The high point, for me, anyway, might have been “Whitewater” from Welcome to Sky Valley, if only because I didn’t expect it. I mean, you pretty much know you’re going to get “Green Machine” — and we did, in the encore — but I didn’t see “Whitewater” coming, and the crowd singing along to Garcia‘s “Aah-ah-ah, I am home” chorus made it seem like that was all the more the case. It was beautiful, and a little lonely, and more beautiful for being a little lonely — much as I’ve always imagined the Californian desert to be. I missed my wife and wished I wasn’t there alone.
It would be pretty easy for me to slip into wax poetics and talk about the grandeur of getting the chance to see these guys play these songs, since I never thought it would happen, but I think it’s important to remember it’s a rock and roll show, even if one that obviously meant a tremendous amount to the crowd assembled to see it, myself included. I will say that a telling moment came about during the break before the encore. The audience was chanting “KY-USS! KY-USS!” and it went like that for a bit, but was gradually overtaken by the even louder “KY-USS LIVES! KY-USS LIVES!” I was glad to have seen it.
Oliveri introduced Fevery to the crowd during the encore saying something to the tune of, “This dude rules and he’s from Belgium.” They jammed out “Molten Universe” before Garcia came back out to close the night with “Allen’s Wrench.” I remembered being on the side of the stage at Roadburn and watching as Orange Goblin‘s Ben Ward joined Garcia Plays Kyuss for the song. This was a different experience, being in the audience in Philly, but more than a thrill, all the same. I was a little surprised when it was over, but the house lights came up at about 10:35 and the place cleared out.
I made my way back to the lot where I’d parked, shelled out a whopping $7.50 for what in Manhattan would’ve cost me $20 plus a tip and hit the road back north with the ball game on the radio. I was in the driveway before 1AM, which is rare to say for the return from Philadelphia, but even if it had been five in the morning, it would be worth the trip. Say what you want about hating reunions, the dudes just being in it for the money, or whatever. I saw John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork do a set of Kyuss songs last night, and I don’t care what else was happening in the world, it’s not gonna beat that.
Posted in Features on September 15th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Their work in the genre of stoner/desert rock and doom is second in influence only to Black Sabbath, and Kyuss‘ four albums — Wretch, Blues for the Red Sun, Welcome to Sky Valley and …And the Circus Leaves Town — have become an essential blueprint for a subsequent generation of rockers. Songs like “Green Machine,” “Thumb” and “Gardenia” ring out like epic poetry: utterly timeless and complete in every way.
Taking youthful cues from Yawning Man, punk rock and other outfits from their home in the Californian desert, the four-piece of vocalist John Garcia, guitarist Josh Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri and drummer Brant Bjork set a spontaneous-sounding course, and the generator parties in the desert wilds have become the stuff of YouTube legend, capturing an unconcerned lack of self-awareness that’s straight out of classic rock. That is, in the true spirit of innovation, they didn’t purport to be changing anything at the time.
Inevitable lineup shifts saw the departure of Oliveri and eventually Bjork, with The Obsessed‘s Scott Reeder coming in on bass for Welcome to Sky Valley in 1994 and drummer Alfredo Hernandez (Yawning Man) replacing Bjork on …And the Circus Leaves Town the next year. Kyuss continued to tour and gain popularity, but ultimately came apart, releasing their last studio offering in the form of a 1997 Man’s Ruin Records split with Homme and Oliveri‘s new outfit, Queens of the Stone Age.
The poorly-titled compilation of rare tracks Muchas Gracias: The Best of Kyuss hit in 2000, and for a full decade, Kyuss‘ legacy was left to fester. Queens of the Stone Age hit big commercially, Brant Bjork amassed a catalog of incredibly underrated solo albums, and Garcia found outlets in the form of Slo Burn (whose EP, Amusing the Amazing, was stellar), the Rick Rubin-produced Unida (whose breakthrough album was unfortunately shelved and never saw official release), and Hermano (currently on hold after three records, including the boldly self-exploratory 2007 effort …Into the Exam Room), but eventually came to recognize family and his career in veterinary diagnostics as his main priorities.
The outfit Garcia Plays Kyuss was announced for the 2010 Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands, and the response was electric. Garcia surrounded himself with hand-selected European rockers — including guitarist Bruno Fevery — and used the fest to launch a well-received European run. Bringing Oliveri and Bjork on stage at that year’s Hellfest in Clisson, France, the vocalist discovered that Kyuss‘ energy had far from dissipated, and the exclamatory Kyuss Lives! was born.
On the eve of their first North American tour, Garcia reveals in the interview that follows that Kyuss Lives! has begun writing material for a new Kyuss album, and his excitement at working with Oliveri and Bjork, along with Fevery, is palpable. He also discusses going back to touring from family life, the expectation of animosity between Kyuss Lives! and Homme — not part of the reunion process — the status of his Garcia vs. Garcia solo project, that Roadburn appearance that kicked off this revival, and much more.
The complete 5,100-word Q&A is after the jump. We spoke over morning coffee on Sept. 8, 2011. Please enjoy.
I’m fairly certain I got ripped off. It’s my own fault. Dicking around on eBay in the middle of the night — as I do — I came across a Ukranian seller with a two-disc bootleg of Kyuss at the Opera House in Toronto from 1994. What was I supposed to do? The cover didn’t look like it was from the inkjet that had run out of blue, and Kyuss boots don’t pop up that often. I thought maybe it was a Cold War black market leftover, maybe someone found it in a Soviet footlocker or something. Whatever. I wanted to make it mine.
The bidding got stupid. I waited, as I usually do, until the last minute, and in that time, it went up past $50. I set limits for myself — I have to — and that was beyond mine, so I let it go. I woke up the next day, still bummed, skulked around most of the afternoon, and then found an email from the seller in my inbox saying, “Oh hey, the guy who won backed out, do you still want it at your high bid?” My high bid was $47, which, with the $5 shipping would put it over $50. I said I’d take it.
Now, here’s my question: Was there really another bidder, or was it just this shady motherfucker on the other end of the email trying to drive up the price? It’s not a bad racket, right? “Oh, hey, that other dude flaked, I’ll give it to you at the ridiculous amount of money you were apparently willing to spend,” and meanwhile, he’s the one clicking “Increase bid” the whole time. In all my time on eBay, I’d never had something like this happen before, where the buyer split and the seller offered it to the second highest bidder. And I’ve been second highest plenty of times.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. I paid for The Opera House, Toronto, Canada 1994/10/30 and set about waiting for it to come, hoping that the insult to injury wouldn’t just be the discs never showing up. They came. It’s CDRs, which is meh but ultimately not that much of a concern for me, and well-printed inkjet covers, but when I put the discs on to listen in the office — because a CDR from the Ukraine is most certainly not working in my car player — they had the two-second pause in between the tracks, meaning that when this jerk or whichever jerk actually downloaded and burned these files to CD, they couldn’t even be bothered to click “Gapless.”
It’s happened to me before, too. The edition of Black Sabbath‘s godly Asbury Park 1975 show I have is inkjet/gapped CDR, and just like with that, I feel like a fucking idiot every time I listen to the Opera House 1994 Kyuss show. It’s an audience recording, not terrible, not great, but as each song ends and there’s that long hiccup of silence, it totally kills the experience. Bootleg sound has its charm, but having paid $50-plus for what will basically sit on my shelf and gather dust because just hearing it sucks has all the appeal of a pineapple prostate exam.
Never underestimate a human being’s capacity to fuck over another human being. I knew I should’ve stuck to the radio promos. Lesson (probably not) learned.
I know in the past it’s been “here’s so-and-so’s first bio,” but, well, there was this promo for And the Circus Leaves Town, and there was text on the back that I couldn’t read in the eBay listing shot, and so I had to make it mine. Reading it, you can really get the sense of how on the brink of mainstream success ElektraRecords believed Kyuss was going into their last album, and in light of the just-announced Kyuss Lives! dates, I thought I’d post this for anyone else who might be interested. Click the image to enlarge it:
I think that Josh Homme quote at the end is my favorite part. You never really know if that’s the artist or the PR person saying that kind of thing in band bios, but it’s a cool and succinct summary of Kyuss‘ sound, with just a hint of arrogance for good measure, so I’d believe it. Also dig that “Thee Ol’ Boozerooney” is spelled wrong (or right) in the tracklisting. Nerdy fun.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 6th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Because I’ve already expelled as many words as my brain can handle today, I’ll be blunt: I cannot fucking wait for when Kyuss Lives! plays NYC. I don’t care it’s not a full reunion. I don’t care about whatever else, I want to see these dudes play these songs, and whatever to everything else.
Looks like even more people than we thought are going to get the chance to see them, too. Dig the new list of dates off the PR wire:
Kyuss Lives! — featuring original Kyuss members John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork along with guitarist Bruno Fevery — will unleash their desert rock fury on North America for the first time in over 15 years this fall. The eagerly anticipated near total return of the California rock pioneers follows the blanket success of the group’s sold out spring European and Australian tours which have proven to be a feast of recognition for the legendary musicians. Now, due to unprecedented demand, Kyuss Lives! has announced that they will perform their classic songs in the following North American cities this September/October:
Kyuss Lives! North American live dates: (** = support from The Sword, MonstrO)
(++ = MonstrO opens, remaining support TBA) 09/16 Toronto, ON The Sound Academy ++ 09/17 Guelph, ON Guelph Concert Theatre ++ 09/18 Montreal, QC Olympia de Montréal ++ 09/20 Worcester, MA The Palladium ** 09/21 Philadelphia, PA The Trocadero ** 09/23 New York, NY Terminal 5** 09/24 Washington, DC 9:30 Club ** 09/25 Asheville, NC The Orange Peel ++ 09/26 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade ++ 09/28 New Orleans, LA House of Blues ++
09/29 Houston, TX Warehouse Live ** 10/01 Austin, TX Stubb’s ** 10/02 Dallas, TX South Side Music Hall ** 10/04 Denver, CO The Summit Music Hall ++ 10/05 Santa Fe, NM Santa Fe Brewing Company ** 10/06 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre ** 10/07 Las Vegas, NV House of Blues ** 10/08 Pomona, CA The Fox Theater **
Kyuss Lives! will also perform in Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil in November, 2011. The just-announced dates are as follows:
11/09 Mexico City, Mexico El Circo Volador
11/11 Santiago, Chile Teatro Teleton 11/12 Buenos Aires, Argentina Teatro Colegiales 11/13 Sao Paulo, Brazil Caricoa Club
Moment of clarity: I am a fucking wreck of a human being. Even before I got drunk tonight and wasted the whole evening when I should have been reading stories for workshop on Monday (school, man, school), I was a total mess. Then I hit up a couple bottles of wine with The Patient Mrs., etc., and went outside and fell on the ice and fucked up my hand. It’s been a real shitter of a week. Posts later than I want, missing days of reviews. I’m having a hard time adjusting to the semester. Work, school, this. It’s a lot.
And when that shit piles up I go for comfort. Alfredo for dinner, Kyuss for des(s)ert. It was a long week, and I know next week is going to be a little better, and the one after that a little better, but that doesn’t make this one just finished any less of a pain in the ass. Ah hell, I’ve got it good.
Thanks to everyone for checking in, for scoping the Wino interview, for commenting on whatever you’ve got to talk about, for listening to the Hour of 13 record and so forth. It’s much appreciated. Next week I’ll be posting my Q&A with Dylan Carlson of Earth. We talked a couple weeks back for an hour-plus about the development of his band, the concepts behind their new album, and more. It was a really fascinating conversation, and I’m looking forward to bringing it to you.
So, enjoy the live Kyuss while I finish off the last bit of this wine, and while I’m not going to see The Giraffes tomorrow night for vocalist Aaron Lazar‘s last show with the band at Mercury Lounge because I’m stuck doing story revisions, I will be in front of the computer all weekend and I don’t doubt the forums will provide ample and much-appreciated distraction from responsibilities. Can you believe they expect me to write a masters thesis this semester? Ha!