Desert Rock Legend Brant Bjork performs at Coachella
By Tracy Dietlin
Homegrown desert rock legend Brant Bjork will take the stage at Coachella Music & Arts Festival on Friday, April 10 & 17. Bjork, who will be promoting his new album, Black Flower Power, assured me that he will also be performing some of his older material from the impressive and extensive catalog of music he has recorded throughout the years.
Bjork, known for being the original drummer and co-founder of the trailblazing desert rock band Kyuss, has had a successful solo career since leaving the band in 1993. He has toured Europe many times, released at least 10 albums, and has a body of work that stands on its own apart from his Kyuss history.
Aside from his solo career he has been a member at some point of many bands including: Kyuss Lives, Vista Chino, Fu Manchu, Mondo Generator, Fatso Jetson, Brant Bjork and the Bros, Brant Bjork and the Operators, and currently, Brant Bjork & the Low Desert Punk Band.
Bjork was kind enough to sit down and chat with me recently and answer a myriad of questions.
CVW: What do you feel is different about this album from your previous albums?
BB: I’ve recorded quite a few records and they’re all different in their own way of course. But this record…I pulled together some musicians and we recorded live because I wanted to get that live feel and energy and I definitely feel that we caught that. I went for a more deliberate, heavy, sonic sound; something a little more electric. It still lays back and still grooves, but I was listening to a lot of that pre-heavy rock like late 60’s and was trying to kind of modernize that vibe. Like the Blue Cheers.
CVW: How do you feel that your sound has evolved over the years?
BB: It’s hard to say how it’s evolved because I’m always experimenting. I don’t really think of myself as a musician but more as an artist. I just really love to be creative and I just want to make music that rocks and grooves and to sing words and melodies that move people. Sometimes I go for a sound that’s in your face and other times a sound that’s reserved and pretty. It just depends on my mood. I don’t really have a sonic destination I just go with the way I’m feeling at the time.
CVW: Who played on the album?
BB: The guitar player is Bubba DuPree, bass player is Dave Dinsmore and the drummer was Tony Tornay. I have a new drummer but Tony plays on the record.
CVW: So you have a new drummer that will be playing with you for Coachella. Is there any particular reason that Tony is not playing with you anymore?
BB: Ummm….I just felt like it was time to get a new drummer…(laughing).
CVW: So what’s your favorite song on this album?
BB: I know it’s kind of a boring answer but I tend to not really have favorites. Again it depends on my mood. Today I might like “Controllers” tomorrow it might be the last song on the record. I like them all. It’s a body of work that I’m proud of. I love and accept it for what it is. And it’s exactly what it needed to be.
CVW: You’re a multi-instrumentalist. What instrument do you most enjoy playing?
BB: My answer would probably be the same. I don’t really have one. I just enjoy the creative process of music so much that I’ll play a cowbell if I have to. I just like to take an idea or an inspiration and watch it go through the birthing process and have it become a reality. If I need to play bass then okay, if I need to get behind the drums…bitchin’, if I have to do everything then fine, I’ll build the house with every tool I’ve got.
CVW: Is there an aspect of the music that you least enjoy?
BB: Well you know when you make music and you dedicate your life to being an artist and making music for a living that obviously involves the business and business is a necessary part of the merry-go-round and it can be challenging and very sobering. I’d much rather get in the studio or on stage.
CVW: What do you feel is the most pivotal or defining moment of your career?
BB: The most defining moment right now is when I made the decision to quit my day job and make music fulltime for a living and make my first solo album. That was a really important step for me and maybe I didn’t even realize at the time how important, but a major pivotal moment. I was directly stepping out from being a unit and saying ‘hey, as an artist I have visions and inspirations that I feel I have to follow and take responsibility for on my own’ and somehow that turned out to be this career.
CVW: And how long has that been?
BB: Since 1999.
CVW: So what are some of your other favorite projects that you’ve done?
BB: Actually, interestingly enough, last night we just dropped our last track for our new record up at my studio in Joshua Tree. We just recorded a whole new record last week, 10 new songs. I think it’s my best record yet. And the recording process was just really a super awesome pleasure. And we really tracked some amazing music, to a 16 track ½” all live with our new drummer, Ryan Gut, and I think it’s really good stuff.
CVW: That’s really exciting since you just released Black Flower Power in the last year.
BB: Ya…it’s like let’s strike while the iron is hot while the creative juices are flowing and get to work. What are we waiting for?
CVW: So is this new album like an extension of the current one or does it go in a whole different direction?
BB: Black Flower Power is very specific. I had a very specific design and direction when I made that album. Like I said I was kind of obsessing on a modern version of blues and a Blue Cheer kind of thing and really heavy shit. And this time around it’s different. It’s got more funk and boogie elements and more jammy and improvised parts and actually more structured tracks too. It’s a completely different effort. I think Black Flower Power was an artistic statement that needed to be vented and made and I got it out of my system and now it’s time to move forward with these new ideas that are exciting to me.
CVW: So when do you think you will be releasing the new material?
BB: Well it depends. We’ve got a really busy year ahead of us supporting this album. We’ll consistently work on this recording and hopefully have it wrapped up by the end of the year. As far as the release, that’s something I will discuss with my management and see when the best time is to do it. We still got a lot of life to squeeze out of Black Flower Power. We’re going to be touring Europe all summer and then we have a headlining tour in Europe in the fall. But we’re already looking to play some of this new stuff live.
CVW: How do you feel about this being your first time playing Coachella being from the desert? And what songs will you be performing?
BB: First of all I’m beyond excited to be playing Coachella. It’s a real honor. I’ve always been excited that this type of festival is right here where I grew up and I’ve always wanted to be part of it and now I am.
I’m going to be playing some old stuff of course but I have an extensive catalog with only so many minutes to play so I’ll do some stuff from Black Flower Power and we’re talking about even doing some of this brand new stuff.
CVW: What bands are you interested in watching at Coachella?
BB: I haven’t really taken the time to see who all is playing aside from the headliners. I mean AC/DC is a no brainer. I think Tame Impala sounds like an interesting band. I love Steely Dan. Other than that I might wanna just play and soak up some sun and have a few pops and get home and relax.
CVW: Who in the business today do you most respect?
BB: You mean in the business at large? Wow! That’s an interesting question. I think Jack White is a pretty respectable artist. I haven’t listened to a lot of his music but I’m very aware of his moves as an artist and I think he maintains a respectable stance in the business. I’m always kind of pulling from the past. I read George Clinton’s book last fall and that was a real inspiring personal history. It’s amazing how innovative he was not just as an artist but as a business man. And how his business was always about making the art as good as it could be. He was a very uncompromising artist.
CVW: Is there anybody that you would like to collaborate with?
BB: I wouldn’t mind doing a record with DJ Muggs who used to be the DJ for Cypress Hill. I’ve always been wrapped up in the past with jazz and blues and classic rock, but there are elements of hip-hop that I really like. I think it would be really cool to tap into a genre of music that I’ve never done yet.
CVW: So who are you listening to now?
BB: I bounce around, but the other night we were listening to John Lennon, James Brown, Blue Oyster Cult, some old Stones records. It’s not so much artists I get attached to but albums. The other night I threw on some old Kiss stuff (laughing).
CVW: Do you think that the direction music has gone in with all the rapidly growing technology that something has gotten lost along the way for teenagers growing up today that don’t get to appreciate music the same way we did by going to the record store and caring about the whole album?
BB: Well I think it’s a colossal drag and in fact I was just having a conversation with my guitar player and it’s a pretty dark reality. I used to complain because I thought I was born too late and missed out on all the good music, but now I realize how lucky I was to come from maybe one of the last generations to enjoy music from record stores and recording tapes at your friend’s house. And for the most part that’s all gone. And now with the new technology the rituals and the quality are just not part of it. But I think kids are starting to become aware of what they’ve missed out on. And there’s no law on going out and buying a record player and buying some vinyl and just not accept Apple as the only way to get your music.
CVW: Do you still live in the desert?
BB: I live in Venice but I have a house and a studio in Joshua Tree.
CVW: Is that studio just for you to record your music or is it open to record other bands?
BB: Well it has been for me to record, but I’m open to anybody coming up and in fact I encourage people to come up and tap into this creative energy source. I wouldn’t mind providing an experience for some of the younger bands to come up or bands of all ages to have an analog experience. I have the ProTool option too if people want that. I’m just a fan of analog. I’m just about at the point where I can open the doors to that.
CVW: What do you like to do in your downtime?
BB: Well I don’t really have much downtime (laughing). I have a wife and 2 boys that are 3 and 4, so I like to spend time with my family. My downtime might come at 11:00 at night and I’m watching a Pink Panther episode. Being a fulltime father, husband and musician keeps me pretty busy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
CVW: So are you over being asked about Kyuss?
BB: (laughing) Well I’ve been over it since 15 years ago, but it’s part of my history and I accept that. I can’t deny my history.
CVW: So can I ask what your relationship is like now with all of the guys that were original members of Kyuss and those that came in after you left?
BB: Ummm…I mean, I really don’t (hesitates), well… the one member that I probably have the most relationship with would be Nick (Oliveri). And that goes back to the beginning because I was friends with Nick before I really knew any of the other guys. John and I obviously have worked very close together over the last 3-4 years and I love John and I don’t have any problems with John Garcia. And Fredo (Alfredo Hernandez) and I have had our history together and I don’t see him a lot anymore but I have a lot of respect for him as a drummer and when we see each other it’s good. Obviously I don’t have a relationship with Josh (Homme) or Scott (Reeder); they kind of represent a mindset that as an artist I’m not really supportive of. And it’s almost a philosophical thing. It’s really that simple. Chris (Cockrell) and I are very close still and we talk consistently and in fact I was just talking to him about helping him get this great record out that he’s been sitting on. But see that’s just kind of how it all goes back to the origin of Kyuss. I mean Chris and I started the whole thing. We were best friends and we’re still friends and we pulled Nick in.
CVW: So who do you consider the original members of Kyuss? Not Katzenjammer or Sons of Kyuss, but Kyuss?
BB: The original Kyuss was Josh, John, Nick and myself. And Blues From the Red Sun was what I consider to be the one record that really captured the essence of what the band was. Then Scott Reeder replaced Nick on bass and Alfredo replaced me on drums when I left in ’93.
CVW: So what advice would you give young bands today to try to avoid what the 4 of you went through with the dismantling of the band and the lawsuits?
BB: Well people need to remember that we were all really young when we started Kyuss. We were boys becoming men and we never really had a chance. It would’ve been unnatural for us to fully understand what we were going to experience and know how to navigate it. There was just a purity to the music. What I’ve learned from my experience is that a band is a collective of people all being on the same page and in agreement to work together for a common destination. My advice is that if you all get on the same page from the beginning and you can all bond on what the vision is and where it’s going and why, then I think the odds are in your favor to arrive at your destination. Kyuss had a tremendous amount of raw talent and powerful musical ideas, but right out the gate we weren’t all on the same page, so it wasn’t built to last. It was an explosion and a pretty awesome one. But it wasn’t a unit to last because there was internal conflict from the beginning on very basic issues. So for kids coming out today if you want to have something you can really nurture, with comradery and longevity, then you just need to make sure you’re all on the same page from the beginning.
CVW: So what do you think the desert music scene is like today compared to back in the Kyuss and generator party days?
BB: It would be hard for me to say because I don’t live there anymore and I’ve not participated in the low desert scene in a long time. (laughing) So I don’t really know what to say except I will always support the music going on there because that’s where my roots and beginning are from. For me I’m kind of a product from my era and for me my time in the low desert was the late 80s and it was a beautiful time but short-lived.
CVW: So is there anything else you want our readers to know about Brant?
BB: It’s an honor to be part of your paper. I’m a desert musician: Once a desert punk always a desert punk. I’m a low desert punk.