Vista Chino Interview with Brant Bjork: Peace and Progress

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 Kyuss Lives! — 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. Peace finds 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 Peace would’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.

Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

How are you feeling about the album?

I’m very pleased with it. We went into this wanting to satisfy ourselves and accomplish what we set out to do and at the completion of it all, we’re very content and, dare I use the word, we’re actually quite proud.

Tell me about how it was going to back to writing with John again after so long.

Well, in relation to Kyuss back in the day, really the nucleus of the creative process in terms of writing songs was generally Josh and I writing together. It was kind of a yin-yang creative partnership where we kind of bounced our ideas off each other and wrote songs that way. That was generally how things worked in Kyuss, and then John would later put a word or two on it and of course Nick and later Scott would come in later and add their ideas to it. I knew going into this that obviously Josh is not here, I needed to develop a new relationship and that obviously would be with Bruno Fevery, and I knew that was the key to moving forward with our creative chemistry. John is not an instrumentalist. He comes up with melodies.

But for me, being part of a band is all about collaboration. It’s all about bouncing ideas off someone or everybody, and I knew I needed a partner. The first day I jammed with Bruno Fevery in 2010 – obviously he had played with Garcia Plays Kyuss and I was quite impressed with how he played the Kyuss material live, but I didn’t know how he’d fit as an individual musician – and within a minute of jamming with him the first day, I was like, “Oh wow, this guy is a true musician. There’ll be no problem in developing a writing chemistry.” I could feel it. So when it was time to write, Bruno and I just got together. He flew out to the desert, he hung out at my house and we just talked and jammed and just really got to develop a whole philosophical approach to being writing partners. That’s how it developed.

What was that philosophy? Did you find you guys were working from a similar basis of what you wanted it to sound like, or was it not even that thought out and the sound came out of jamming?

The creative process, for me, is always two things. It’s out of emotional necessity – I’m an artist and I’m always needing to be creative and express myself – and also, to celebrate. To celebrate my love of music and rock music in particular with other forms of music like funk or jazz or blues. So it was kind of a combination of those two things. Bruno is obviously a musician and he needs to express himself like everyone else, and also, he loves music. We decided to just sit down and see how can we together express our love of music and simultaneously express what we’re truly feeling. That was really just the foundation of us moving forward in the creative process.

When was that? When did you know you’d be doing an album?

John called me in 2010 and he asked me, “Hey man, I wanna put the band back together. Are you in?” I said, “Sure, man.” I’d been doing solo work for 10 years. I felt I needed a change. And for me, it was like going backwards to go forwards. We all knew Josh wasn’t gonna participate, so John wanted to get Bruno and like I said, I was familiar with him, and I said, “Okay, that’s fair, let’s get together and see what it’s like,” and as I said, we got to L.A. and we started jamming and I immediately knew like, “Wow, this is an exceptional guitar player. This isn’t just a guy who learned the Kyuss catalog. It’s a guy who has really studied and really embraced his instrument and is a true professional.”

I knew that first day of rehearsal, John and Nick and all of us said, “Hey man, we gotta record new material. We gotta move forward with this.” Because I mean, we’re musicians. That’s the challenge. We always want to challenge ourselves and that was a big challenge for us. We committed to it early on.

In terms of the arrangements, how did you taking on vocals for “Planets 1 & 2” come about?

That particular song just has a particular emotion. There is a similarity in rhythm to “Green Machine” in terms of the opening riff and it’s just kind of a classic riff to me that I always have in my back pocket. To me, even though it’s not a blues riff, to me it is a blues riff. It just perfectly expresses a certain emotion – an emotion of confusion, and frustration, and angst – and I just completely, 100 percent, embraced what it is and how it flows, and when it came time to present the track to John, I just had this feeling one night, and I got up in the morning and said, “Hey John, I think I’d really like to take a crack at singing this track myself. At least for the first half. It’s just a feeling I have inside and I think it would be really authentic if I sang it myself.” Certainly, with John’s blessing. I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. He was 100 percent, immediately like, “For sure, man. I think that’s totally necessary,” and of course we have John pick up the second half and put a cap on it. It all just kind of worked out.

That song’s obviously a standout because of the vocal change and all that, but it seems like a lot of the album is dealing with the lawsuit and that kind of stuff. One of the things I like most about the title Peace is you don’t know whether it’s asking for peace, arriving at peace, striving toward peace. Can you talk about how the title fits in your mind with the songs and where you’re at now?

Well, I mean, this was a very rewarding record for very many reasons, but it goes without saying that it was a challenging record to make. It did not fall off the tree, so to speak. A week after we started the creative process, Josh and Scott filed the lawsuit, and it took its toll. It was very hard on us. This whole record was conceived and arranged and written and recorded and performed while we were dealing with this lawsuit and lawyers and all kinds of legal stuff. It was very, very stressful. But creatively, it was an adventure. I simultaneously developed a writing chemistry with Bruno and I built an all-analog studio in Joshua Tree to press the record, and after it was all over with, it was like we had to title the record, and I just kind of said, “Hey John, what do you think about the title Peace?”

I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it, I put a whole lot of feeling into it. I needed a word that we could meditate on, that just didn’t have any significance super-detailed meaning. It’s very broad. It’s very general. It’s just a word that we can meditate on when we’re referring to the record, and it’s a word we needed to see and hear and feel because the whole thing was developed through conflict. John and I never wanted conflict, man. That wasn’t really in our cards. It was a war that was brought upon us and we just had to deal with it. In the end, we just want to make music. So that’s why we called it Peace.

In light of everything you went through, all the bullshit for lack of a better word, is your relationship to Vista Chino different than your relationship to Kyuss because of that?

Yeah. I haven’t had a journalist put it to me that way, but I think that’s 100 percent accurate. I have an entirely different relationship with Vista Chino than I do with Kyuss. Kyuss was a great band. I think musically speaking, we were an impressive band and I’m very appreciative of the people that have come to enjoy the music over the years, but something that I think a lot of fans don’t understand – and it’s actually better they don’t – is that Kyuss was a band just rife with dysfunction. We didn’t really get along all the time. We were four dudes from the middle of the desert, and we just couldn’t have been four more different guys. I think the most extreme example would be the relationship between Josh and I, which, ironically enough, happened to be the two guys that the chemistry was where a lot of the creativity was coming from. But Josh and I couldn’t be two more different guys. To me, it was always a shame, because as much as I loved Kyuss – I loved the band, I loved what we stood for and what we originally were – to me, Kyuss was a blues band.

It was a spiritual thing. I’m a very spiritual guy. My friends make fun of me, call me the hippie, you know what I mean? But I’m just like a spiritual guy, man. I don’t look at the world through linear eyes, man. I look at this world with my soul, man. That’s how I relate to the world. That’s how I hear and see and taste and feel things. And that’s what Kyuss was for me. And it wasn’t that for Josh. It just wasn’t a spiritual thing for Josh. It was an entirely different thing. So it just naturally didn’t last. Now Vista Chino is a band where we’re all spiritually on the same page, and I feel liberated. I feel like I can exercise my love of rock music with these guys who I love playing this music that I love and helped create. There’s this spiritual unity and I feel it’s awesome, and it was at the expense of the name, but lucky for me, I’m not in it for names. I’m in it for music.

Did you write that last riff at the end of “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” for that jam at the end?

The very last riff?

[Mouths the riff].

Oh no, that’s a Bruno Fevery riff, and then I think it blossomed into another riff that might’ve been mine. But Bruno and I worked really close. I’d say that was a Bruno riff for sure.

How did bringing Mike Dean in come about?

To go to the top of that story, you know, when we got hit with the lawsuit, Nick really tweaked – no pun intended. He really freaked out and left the band. We had some obligations that we were already committed to. We were basically like, “What do we do here, man? We’re really getting beat up. Do we just fold or do we move forward?” and both John and I were like, “Fuck it. We’ve got Bruno, he’s down. He wants to do this. We’ve committed. Let’s move forward. We’ll call in a friend to play bass, take care of our commitments,” and that’s what led us all the way up to the making of the record. That particular bass player just wasn’t cutting it in the studio, so we ended up calling Nick. He was kind of getting in touch with us around that time. Things just all worked out. Nick came out to the desert, blew out all the tracks. He played wonderfully. I think the bass on this record, as far as Nick goes, is some of the best bass playing I’ve ever heard him perform or record, and everything was awesome. We patched up all the BS, and got back to our love and then we were getting ready to go down to Australia, which was a really important gig for us, man. A really important tour. It was the last tour that we were legally getting to do as Kyuss Lives! It was a tour that was financially very important – we had to pay off all our legal and pay off Josh and Scott with all that shit. It was a tour that was mandatory. It had to happen.

About a week before we left, we just couldn’t get ahold of Nick and we needed to get his visa sorted out. We were really in bad shape, and it turned out Nick got into some problems in his personal life again, and he wasn’t gonna be able to go to Australia. We were in a serious pinch and I was like, “Oh my god, bass players are driving my life crazy.” So I just said fuck it. I had a glass  of wine and I shot for the moon. I said, “You know, my favorite rock bass player ever is Mike Dean. I’ve known Mike for years. I’m just gonna fuckin’ call him up. I’ve got nothing to lose at this point.” So I called up Mike, and he’s been jamming with us ever since. In a lot of ways, I feel like he’s always been there. He’s a wonderful guy, an amazing bass player, a great musician. And Nick. I love Nick. I feel like Nick’s always going to be a part of this. This is a home for him. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Nick, but to be honest, right now we’re in a situation where we’re really stoked and things are working. Things are working really well right now with Mike, so we’re just going to roll with it. We’re all very content.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the band yet, what does Mike bring to the material on stage?

Mike’s a very musical bass player. He’s got a lot of groove. He’s got a great pocket. I think he’s the funkiest bass player of the two, meaning Scott and Nick. Nick plays with a pick and he’s very conservative, very tasty, very respectful of the tune. Scott is a very tasty bass player. He pushes the envelope as far as showboating, but he’s got great swing. He was a drummer to begin with, so he’s got good rhythm. Mike has a very unique style. I had always enjoyed – even when I was younger and listening to a lot of Corrosion of Conformity and stuff, especially the Animosity record – I always enjoyed the confidence and authority that’s a real authentic approach to the bass guitar with Mike. He had a character. There’s a character there. I always believe that every musician, their musicality perfectly represents their personality. Mike is just a really cool, grounded dude. He’s got a really pure, rad, rounded outlook on life, and he’s all positive. He’s a very positive dude, and I hear that and I see it and feel it in his bass playing, so when we’re on stage now, to go back to what I was saying, it’s a really nice, groovy, positive vibe that’s happening literally in the music. It’s really, really awesome and very powerful.

Could you see yourself writing new Vista Chino material with Mike on bass?

Oh, 100 percent. We talk about it all the time. At this point in our careers and lives, we’ve all got wives and families and kids and we live in different parts of the world, so having that ability to come in and hang out in the garage and drink beers and jam all day, we don’t totally have that luxury now. It’s just a matter of our yearly schedules jiving. Mike’s still spearheading Corrosion of Conformity, they’re an amazing band and we certainly want them to exist, so it’s just a matter of getting our schedules to jive, and if we can get our schedules to jive, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t start moving into new material all together. We’ll just see how it works out.

I figured it’s a while off either way.


What’s the status of your solo stuff? Will you do another Brant Bjork and the Bros. record?

Yeah. Music’s my life. It’s all that I’ve ever done. So I’m always recording, always demoing, always writing, always dreaming, and I’ve got a lot of solo material on the shelf. I’m gonna release a record, I may at the end of this year, a solo record, and it’s called Jacuzzi, just kind of an instrumental record of some tracks that I cut through years ago. It’s just stuff that’s really celebrating my love of funk and breakbeats and jazz and stuff like that. I plan on getting back to my solo work for sure and I’m really, really eager to do so. I’m feeling a lot of inspiration and just really inspired right now, but I’m focused on Vista Chino, which is a really important thing for all of us. We’re committed to it and we’re committed to supporting this record and we want to quickly make another one, so we’ll just see. We’ll see how everything works out.

Having your own studio is probably handy in the meantime.

That was 20 years in the making, man. That was a dream realized. I’m really stoked on that. That’s going to be a major, major factor in my ability to put out some awesome shit.

Do you know what Vista Chino’s doing after this US run? Will you go back to Europe this year?

As soon as we’re done with the North America run, we go back and do a fall hard-ticket in Europe. It’ll be our full-on European tour. It’s like six weeks. It’s a whopper, but it’s a beautiful-looking tour, and I think it’s gonna do really well. The tour we just did in Europe a week and a half ago was fantastic. The fans are great, the response was amazing. And that was without the record out, so I think it’s gonna be a really, really awesome tour.

Any last words to add before we wrap it up?

My last thoughts are, I know that Vista Chino is something that evolved out of conflict, and I know that’s kind of a drag. I know that with conflict, people seem to just naturally pick sides and stuff, and that’s just a real drag to me, but that’s the nature of things. Really, Vista Chino is not for people who have fear about what we’re doing, it’s about people who don’t have fear. Kyuss is a band that a lot of people love for a lot of different reasons. It’s genuine love and I appreciate that. But where there’s love, there’s also fear. People don’t want change. People want to fantasize about something and romanticize it. So the people that fear what we’re doing, Vista Chino’s not for them. The people who don’t fear what we’re doing, that’s what this is all about. This is for them.

Vista Chino, “Planets 1 & 2” Live in Geneva, Aug. 2013

Vista Chino on Thee Facebooks

Napalm Records

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3 Responses to “Vista Chino Interview with Brant Bjork: Peace and Progress”

  1. Juan Safa says:

    One of the best music interviews I have ever read. Well done and thank you.

  2. mike says:

    I wouldnt be suprised if josh didnt pay off brant to bad mouth him in the media. Seems like something he would do.

    • Will says:

      Maybe he would try it, but something tells me that Brant wouldn’t accept it. I don’t think he would either way though.

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