Kyuss is Dead, Long Live Vista Chino - An Interview with Brant Bjork

It’s been a long, convoluted and indirect career path for Vista Chino co-founder Brant Bjork. Most readers probably associate Bjork’s name with the seminal band Kyuss, but after a long series of bitter fights and court battles, Bjork has started Vista Chino with fellow veteran John Garcia and is on the forward path again. Hoping to ignite a new chapter of his career with his new brand and familiar faces, Bjork sat down for a few minutes to talk about this chapter of his musical life, the past litigation and what desert rock means to him. Read on!
M.DREW: You’re releasing “Peace,” under the title Vista Chino. Walk me through this album, how did this album come to be?
BRANT BJORK: In 2010, John Garcia called me and said that he wanted to get Kyuss back together, and he wanted Bruno Fevery to play guitar. I said ‘sounds great, let’s do it.’ I wasn’t expecting that phone call and I think that was part of the excitement.The first day I jammed with Bruno and Nick [Oliveri] and John in Los Angeles was the day that I discovered that Bruno wasn’t just a guy that could get on stage and respectfully play the Kyuss material, but was an exceptional guitar player. I immediately felt a musical chemistry with him, I think we all felt that. So that first day of rehearsing for what was to become the Kyuss Lives! tours, we knew right then and there that we wanted to pursue fresh material and record a new record. So we worked with that concept and started the creative process while we were touring as Kyuss Lives!, getting ready to make a new record. When we finished our tour cycle, we went right to it. Started putting the record together.
M.D: What did you hope to achieve with “Peace?” What does it mean for you?
BB: I been playing music my whole life. I’m a professional musician, it’s what I do. This is my passion, it’s my love, it’s my talent. For me, like a lot of people, I like challenges, I like to challenge myself. For me, I thought getting Kyuss back together and recording new music with a different guitar player would be a challenge. “Peace” is a record that represents the adventure of pursuing the unknown. That’s what it is for me. Where there once wasn’t something, there’s now something and we’re quite proud of it. It was an adventure, it’s a lot of fun.
M.D: For clarification purposes, what is Nick Oliveri’s status with Vista Chino?
BB: Nick obviously left the band not long after the lawsuit was filed against us and we understood the situation. Nick had another lawsuit going on in his personal life, so he stepped out of the band. When it came time to do the record, we were able to come back together and he recorded on the record. He played great, we were one happy family again. We were getting ready to go down to Australia to do the Soundwave festival, which was the last Kyuss Lives! show, and he got into some more trouble and wasn’t able to go to Australia. At that point, I was quite frustrated. So I just shot for the moon and called one of my favorite bass players, Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity and said ‘here’s the situation.’ Mike’s been with us ever since. It’s a situation where if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We feel like we’ve arrived in a place where there’s a harmonious driving vibe within all the members of the band. Musically, fundamentally, spiritually. We’re just all on the same page. We love Nick, I grew up with Nick, I’ve known him my whole life and love him like a brother. We still talk, we’re still buds and maybe some time in the future Nick returns, we don’t really know. We’re not concerned with that right now, he’s a busy guy with his own thing going on and we’ve got Mike Dean in the band and we’re doing really well. Like I said, it’s just jiving and we’re going with that.

M.D: I will only ask this briefly because I’m sure you’re sick of talking about it. You mentioned the litigation – how comfortable are you with the outcome of that, and do you feel like it gives you some closure for that chapter?
BB: It was a very stressful and frustrating experience. Sometimes you gotta go through hell to get to heaven. For us, it was like a process of purification for our band. Kyuss was a band that was a good band, we made some good records, made some good music. But internally, we weren’t all on the same page, we didn’t share a common perspective on what we were doing and why. It’s not a coincidence, there’s no irony that it was John, Nick and myself that put the band back together. We were always the three guys amongst the six that never had a problem, and always felt like we doing it for the righteous reasons. So we knew going into it that there was potential beef, but we didn’t want to look back in our careers and say we didn’t do that because we feared there was going to be conflict. We’re not the kind of people that live like that. In short, no one tells me what to do [laughs]. So we moved forward, we had a great time, we’re still having a great time, and the good news is that, as I said, it’s a purification. We’re Vista Chino now, we still get to celebrate our love for the Kyuss classics, but we have a bright future with a new name and the new material, and we don’t have to deal with the negative elements. That stuff has been washed away. In a weird way, it’s kind of a blessing. But there’s no doubt that it was a frustrating, sad experience.
M.D: You mentioned that you’ve got a new name and a new brand, the word you used was purification. Does this give you a feeling like you’re starting your career over again?
BB: No, not really. To me, my career is about dedicating my life to the path of being a musician, making music in general. All kinds of music, with all kinds of musicians. But a purification and a renewal for this band of brothers and this spirit that we came from. John was born a singer in Kyuss and I was born a drummer in Kyuss, Nick was born a bass player in Kyuss. We had various musical projects prior to Kyuss as kids, but really, the truth is that Kyuss was where we were born. That spirit, that camaraderie, that essence, that’s what this is, a return to love. Being in a band, I’ve been a solo artist for over ten years and it’s awesome to return to a band with the original guys that we all came up together. It’s awesome, it’s just John and I now, but even to just have John Garcia by my side to tap into that love and that creativity that fueled our entire initial adventure back in the early ‘90s, I feel very, very lucky and grateful to have that opportunity and be experiencing that right now.
M.D: This may be a strange question to try and answer, but it merits asking. With all of that behind you, and now you have a new name and the whole bit, do you feel like you’re enjoying yourself more than you have in a while?
BB: I’m a man who loves what I do, I enjoy music, I enjoy recording, I enjoy writing, travelling touring and of course performing. There’s always the general enjoyment and excitement of being able to pursue my passion. That’s my job and my living. But, right now, we’re dealing with the rebuilding of something and the transition from a band being dragged through a lawsuit and having to do a rebranding from scratch. And we knew we’d take a hit. It’s gonna take time for people to acknowledge and understand what’s going on, it must be very confusing for the fans. The numbers are definitely much lower, and those are just realities that we all knew were going to be part of this adventure. But, we love playing, we played Seattle last night…I’ll be frank, we played Seattle as Kyuss Lives! to probably thirteen hundred people in 2011. We played Seattle as Vista Chino, there was probably a hundred people. You know what? Those hundred people were as stoked if not more so than those thirteen hundred back in 2011. The feedback was incredible. We’re playing at a level we’ve never played at before. Those are the reasons why we do what we do. For us, if we can pay the bills and continue to do this, that’s what it’s all about. We don’t need five thousand people screaming in a venue for us to feel validated or like we’ve arrived in some kind of successful place. We’re a success in our minds because we get to do what we do and do it on our own terms, create the kind of music we want to create. The high road is the long road, it’s going to take time to get back to that place where people are understanding and able to participate with this trip. We’re ready for the long haul, man.

M.D: Couple friends of mine were over the other night and I played them “Peace” without telling them who it was. After a couple songs, they asked me if it was a new Kyuss record. Is that an association that you want, or is it something you’re trying to avoid?
BB: Well, neither. I don’t think we want it, and I don’t think we try to avoid it, either. John and I and Bruno, we wanted to make a great rock record, an honest rock record. This is the style of rock music that we make. Kyuss was something that I helped, and John with the voice and Nick, create Kyuss and make Kyuss what it was. There’s not a thought or expectation to try and return to a specific sound or song. This is what we naturally did. I don’t know how else to explain it [laughs]. If there’s similarities or parallels, well, I helped develop it.
M.D: You’re commonly credited as the inventor of ‘Desert Rock.’ What does that sound mean to you?
BB: As much as I’m very proud to be from the desert and proud that many people call Kyuss and Vista Chino desert rock, I think I’m almost in some ways more comfortable with ‘stoner rock.’ When you mention ‘desert rock,’ there were a lot of bands that came from our scene, some of the best bands I’ve ever seen in my life. For us to be credited with desert rock, it’s a little hard to swallow that pill. I know guys that were slugging it out years before we were in the desert that certainly would be more qualified to hold that title of creating desert rock. But stoner rock, at the time I heard it, and I’d already been out of Kyuss and Kyuss had disbanded by the time I heard the term, as silly as I thought it was at first, it was really quite authentic. I mean, we were a bunch of guys smoking grass and playing rock music out in the desert. Being credited with stoner rock, I don’t know. It’s flattering to be said that you created anything.
M.D: If you can, talk about John Garcia, because he’s really been through the wringer with you. What’s it meant to always have that one guy you can lean on?
BB: My relationship with John goes back to him coming up to my house to watch us rehearse or jam when we were freshmen in high school, John was a little older. He had a driver’s license and a car and he was going to the store to pick up some beer and some smokes and I went with him. When we were in the car, we were listening to The Cult’s “Electric,” that record was still pretty fresh. It had come out the year before. John was singing along to it, and I told him he had a great voice, and we don’t have a singer, we need one, why don’t you sing for the band? He said no, he couldn’t even think of that, he had never pictured singing in a band, but I knew he had a great voice. Eventually he did it, the rest is history. John and I have always had a very close bond. We respect each other, respect our differences, love our similarities and respect our space. We have similar moral compasses and I just think he’s a great friend. I couldn’t have asked for a better dude to go through that kind of situation with.

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