Interview with John Garcia: An Emphasis on Creation

In talking to John Garcia about his self-titled solo debut, the one thing that seemed to keep coming across was a central appreciation for the process of creation, the actual making of the album. It couldn’t have been easy to put together. Released by Napalm last month, John Garcia‘s John Garcia (review here) utilizes just one drummer, Tom Brayton, and of course just one singer, but a slew of guitarists and bassists, among them members of Garcia‘s own past outfits, including Slo Burn and Hermano, whose guitarist, Dave Angstrom, was also an essential part of the creative process. The songs come from decades of demos and penned-out pieces stuffed in a cardboard box in Garcia‘s closet, and after talking about a solo project for years, it’s fitting it should come together around material he’s lived with this whole time.

Likely I don’t need to rattle off the list of bands for which Garcia has served as frontman, but I will anyway because it’s fun: KyussSlo BurnUnidaHermano, as well as countless guest spots live and recorded. He was one of two Kyuss members whose tenure spanned the entire length of the band, and no less essential to crafting their influence on desert rock than was guitarist Josh Homme or fellow Kyuss songwriter Brant Bjork, with whom Garcia reunited for last year’s Vista Chino full-length outing, Peace (review here), which, like John Garcia, was recorded at Thunder Underground Studios in the California desert with producer Harper Hug. His voice is like an unmistakable signature — a gritty, stomach-tightened soul that bursts from a subdued croon at a syllable’s notice — but on the album, it’s as much about the songwriting itself as what Garcia is doing vocally, and both impress.

And with an assortment of players involved, John Garcia also manages to sound cohesive and fluid from front to back, opener “My Mind” starting the record with one of its grandest hooks and setting the stage for a progression varied but never derailed, even as the fast-rolling “All These Walls” gives way to acoustic closer “Her Bullets Energy,” which is distinguished by a guest appearance by The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. For someone who’s long-since cast his legacy in stone with his vocal style and not his songwriting, it’s a particularly bold venture, but Garcia thrives on the new ground, and if his passion in realizing this material is anything to go by, a second solo outing may not be far off. He gives some hints in that regard as well.

For fans of Vista Chino, they’ll find that band on hold while Garcia and Bjork pursue their solo outfits and Mike Dean returns to C.O.C., who are also touring and have an album out. Garcia has put together a live group with whom he’ll tour much of the next year, including guitarist Ehren Groban of War Drum, and bassist Mike Pygmie and drummer Greg Saenz of desert-dwellers You Know Who. In the interview that follows, Garcia talks about transitioning out of Vista Chino and forming this new band, as well as assembling the songs and players for the record, his time in the studio and the prospect of touring a set spanning his illustrious career.

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

Yeah, a logo. Why the hell not?

How long has the album actually been in the works. I know it’s been talked about for years, but when did you really get to it?

I got to it, let’s see, probably the end of March. I think that’s really when I got in the studio and I started working very closely with Dave Angstrom. We sat down with the collection of songs that I had hand-picked. I had about 44 songs in a safety deposit box or a vault, if you will – it was more of a cardboard box – that were very special to me, and I went through them with a fine-toothed comb, and I wanted to hand-pick these different songs and hand-pick certain players for each specific composition. Once I got my list of 14 songs, I sat down with Dave Angstrom and we went through them. We kind of rewrote them and breathed new life into them, and that started at the beginning of March. Then after that, it took me about a month to finish it. It was great to have a deadline and to be contractually obligated to turn it in by this deadline. It was a little surreal for me, because I had talked about it for so long, and some of these songs, like “Her Bullets Energy,” with Robby Krieger, I wrote that when I was 19 years old, and I kept that for me. That’s how long I’ve had this cardboard box/vault, if you will, and had these demos, and refining the song and finding a chorus for it and making the list. They weren’t B-sides or leftovers. I’ve been getting a little bit of that verbage from journalists: “These are just ones that are leftover.” I didn’t like that and I kind of snapped at him a bit. No, these are just songs that I felt that were only for me. I didn’t want to share them. So they’re really specific for me, and I could’ve spent another month on this record. I really could’ve. I could’ve turned the knobs to death on “Saddleback” or “All These Walls,” but at some point in time you have to put your hands up and leave it alone. Mr. Garcia.I went off on a tangent there. Basically, March, to answer your question.

You mention “Her Bullets Energy,” 19 years old. That song’s been there that long. How is it for you now to experience that material in a finished form?

It feels good to revisit them and to bring them to the light of day. I’d talked about it for so long and going through my collection of songs and going, “Yes I want this one,” “Yes I want this one.” Not all of them worked out, and I still have another over 25 songs for the next one that I’ll vibe off of. That process has already started. But to have a song like “Her Bullets Energy,” and my producer wrap his head around that song and go, “You know what, I’m hearing this Spanish guitar on this song. We’ve been talking about The Doors for a long time, I wonder if Robby Krieger would be into it.” At 19 years old, if you were to ask me, “Hey dude, Robby Krieger’s gonna be playing on this song 20 years from now,” I’d tell you you’re fucking crazy. So the first step to that song’s puzzle, to elaborate a little bit, was finding out if Robby would be into it. If he would even like the song. My producer – who’s Harper Hug — reached out to Robby Krieger, and Robby liked the track. That was step number two, which was a big relief. Then number three was giving him our ideas. We heard Spanish guitar on that, but he came in with these three guitars and he did an electric track, three or four acoustic swipes on the song, and that was it. Talk about an experience. That’s something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. It was a huge honor, and to have that on this record — especially an acoustic track – means a lot to me. And to have Robby Krieger breathe a breath of fresh air to that song was an amazing experience. We’re gonna do a video for that song, and hopefully Robby Krieger will oblige us and be in that video as well. It’s been a great experience.

Of the material of the record, what’s the most recent?

Um… the newest track… Probably “Rolling Stoned.” I should mention to you that that is a cover of one of my newly-found favorite bands. This band out of Canada, Edmonton, called Black Mastiff. Part of being in the studio with all this creating, sometimes a song goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t, and there were quite a few that didn’t go my way or I just wasn’t feeling the direction. I knew that I should have some other songs that I really enjoyed singing and listening to, and I thought to myself, “You know, there’s no rules to me being a fan of a band.” I’m a fan of Danko Jones. Danko Jones wrote “5,000 Miles” for me 10 years ago when I was on tour with him and we started talking about family. I helped with the lyric process and the melody process, and I always give credit where credit is due. Those two songs in particular, “Rolling Stoned” by Black Mastiff, that’s a cover song. I switched it up a bit, added some ad libs and used their outro for my intro and kind of bookended the song like that. But that’s the fun part, is creating.

How did you decide to start with “My Mind?”

Sequencing was hard for me on this record. Try to have the record flow and stories and chapters, but “My Mind” was, I think, an opener that immediately would let the people know, or let the listener know, that you’re in for a ride right off the bat. You have some ‘80s-type of metal feeling, maybe late ‘80s/early ‘90s type of metal feel in there, then you have this harmonic melody over top of it, “What the hell are you saying/Who in the hell are you talking to?/Won’t you leave me alone?/My mind.” I always thought something melodic over something heavy, sometimes it married well, sometimes it didn’t marry well, and for me, my creation of this song, it married well. I thought it was just a great opening track and a great intro, for lack of better words, the beginning of what’s about to happen. It goes from that to ending with “Her Bullets Energy.”

You must have been pretty quick in the studio. What was the actual time like?

I didn’t have a band. That’s hard to do. When you have a band, let’s just take for instance Black Mastiff. They’re a three-piece with drums, bass and guitar and the guitarist’s the singer. They come in and record. They record it live. They get these takes. Of course, you go back and cut the vocals, but it’s easy that way. What an experience. I missed that. This particular record, as I was saying at the beginning, I hand-picked different musicians to play on different tracks, but it needed to stay conducive, so it didn’t sound like it was not a band. It needed to have a conducive feel even though Mark Diamond, from The Dwarves, played on some of the tracks, Dave Angstrom from Hermano played on some of the tracks, Ehren Groban, who is now the live guitar Mr. Garcia, boozing.player for me, part of the live band, he played on a track or two. Then the same process with the bass player. The one thing that really made it conducive was having the percussion down, the drums. That was all done by one person, a very talented musician by the name of Tom Brayton. He did percussion as well on the Vista Chino record. The drummer the obviously the singer stayed the same, but the guitar players were hand-picked, and to have everybody’s schedule line up to do this song versus this one, that was the hard part. It took me months of planning before we even stepped foot in the studio. To have that happen, that was long and tedious, but it was great to have the support of the players. Everybody that I asked wanted to be there, just because. That was the fun part, getting in there and creating. What we did, when all the moons aligned, it went pretty smoothly. It was Monday through Friday, typically. Sometimes you’d have to go on the weekend depending on a schedule mess-up or whatever. I most likely won’t be doing that (laughs) again. I want to be able to have my band in order and the songs written so we have a little bit clearer picture of the process.

You mentioned Ehren Groban being in the live band. Is Dave Angstrom in that as well? Is that lineup set?

No, Dave Angstrom was a big part of the creative process, 100 percent, yes, but as far as live goes, Ehren Groban is my guitar player. A gentleman, a very nice guy by the name of Mike Pygmie [guitarist for You Know Who], he’s the bass player, and as a matter of fact we have our last audition of the drummers tonight and tomorrow. So by the end of this week I’ll have my live band and the band that I’m gonna be writing with.

Do you have plans in the works for touring? I assume you’ll go to Europe. Will you do the States?

Plans are touring heavily. We leave for Australia in September. Four exclusive shows there. I’m going to be playing Kyuss songs still, some of my favorite songs I didn’t get to play on the Kyuss Lives! or Vista Chino tour, “Tangy Zizzle,” “Gloria Lewis” and songs like that that we didn’t touch base on. I’m also gonna add in there a few songs that I loved to play in the past, a couple Slo Burn songs, “Pilot the Dune” and “July,” and over half of my record. That’s pretty much a little taste of the setlist. It’s still being worked on. So, September, tour in Australia. Heavy, big, extensive tour in Europe in November/December of this year. I would like to get back over to Australia, New Zealand and Japan next January/February, and I’m working on a West Coast and East Coast tour. There might be a few Midwest shows in there, maybe Chicago, maybe Madison, Wisconsin, and maybe down South through Austin, Dallas, New Mexico, Arizona and back to Southern California. So the touring plans are pretty extensive and they’re in the works and we do plan on touring it heavily. Obviously the States is… It has to make sense in every single way. I’m not rich (clears throat), so I can’t really pay to go out and be on the road. It’s impossible for me to do that. My wife would divorce me quicker than shit anyway (laughs), so it has to make sense. If I was in the music business for the money I would’ve quit a long time ago. I love doing it, and I think I’ve told you this before, where my wife really allows me to do it. She’s the unsung hero. You have to be able to have another half that allows you to be in the environment that I’m in every night. And my kids as well. She helps run Palm Springs Animal Hospital, and she always tells me, “You know, you could come back.” She just gets bummed because I’m planning these long tours and she has to deal with two kids, a 12 year old and a four year old, and that’s hard. And run Palm Springs Animal Hospital! So it’s tough, and it’s gotta make sense, and there’s a lot of communicating that goes on with that. Touring is definitely happening though, for sure.

Well, it’s cool that you’re getting out and getting to play some of the songs from other bands. Maybe it’s just your approach, but it seems like some of this record is tying those bands together in a way.

It’s interesting to get other people’s views. The initial feedback that I’ve been getting has been positive, but I’m interested in what people hear when they listen to it, and that’s the second time that I’ve heard that word. You get little bits of this band and that band and this band and that band, whatever and whatnot. I’m a fan of those bands, even though I sang in them. I’m a fan of those guys that I played with, and Damon Garrison, from Slo Burn, he came in and played bass on a bunch of songs. Chris Hale, from Slo Burn, he came in and did “All These Walls.” Dave Angstrom, he’s part of this project creatively, and so is Dandy Brown, the bass player for Hermano. So I can see that, and I appreciate that. I have a big, big, big respect for all the musicians that I’ve played with in the past, and so I’m into a lot of them, and I think it shows on this record.

Vista Chino has a new video for “Barcelonian.” I know Brant’s touring as well. Is that on hold while you’re concentrating on this for the next year?

Yeah. Those guys wanted me to do another record. I got hit pretty hard by not wanting to do it, from every single side imaginable, and I had to say no. Unida, who Our desert goat, was all we know.I’m getting ready to go out with just for a little because I love to stay busy and I like that project and it’s a little bit of a farewell for that project for a long time, and I said no. Dave Angstrom and Dandy Brown wanted me to do another record. I said no. I wanted to finally say yes to this project, and it feels good. It feels great to finally be here, and putting it on the back burner for so long, I finally told myself yes. Those projects are put in the garage, and maybe they’ll stay in the garage until we decide to collectively put some more gasoline in ‘em and take them out for another ride again. Until then, I’m gonna be doing this, and again, it feels great to be here. I’m excited to be here, and it’s been a long time coming. So I’m excited.

John Garcia, “My Mind” official video

John Garcia on Thee Facebooks

John Garcia on Twitter

John Garcia at Napalm Records

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One Response to “Interview with John Garcia: An Emphasis on Creation”

  1. Jordi Castellà says:

    Dude, seems really hard to try to balance out family time with all the touring and recording (and that’s 3 projects at the same time!). Anyways, it’s a cool record I’m still digesting, John’s still singing quality.

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