AND AN UPCOMING SOLO RECORD IS UNDERWAY AT THUNDER UNDERGROUND RECORDING STUDIO IN PALM SPRINGS
By Robin Linn
Since the early nineties when I first discovered the then very underground music scene here in the desert, it was always John Garcia and Kyuss for me. My love for hard rock, desert rock and grunge all came together perfectly within the music of Kyuss…..and the incendiary live shows were exhilarating. Music is a very personal thing, and what makes us gravitate toward certain genres and styles is a mystery. For me, that ferocious, passionate full-range vocal that John brought forth with Kyuss moved me to the core. The metal music I had loved in the eighties fell short next to the deeply textured, psychedelic guitar lines pitted against brutally dense structured rhythms emerging from the desert music scene.
Kyuss was swept away quickly when they began working with producer Chris Goss, turning out ground breaking records like Sons of Kyuss and Blues for the Red Sun, a record that caught the attention of Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters). Grohl remembers discovering that record, buying up every single copy at his local record vendor, and giving it away to music fans at shows to share his love for their music. In the mid-nineties those records were fresh and new, and they continue to make an impact on rock music around the world today, achieving legendary status. With four full length records and an EP (a split that featured Kyuss on one side, and QOTSA on the other, who back then was comprised completely of former Kyuss members) Kyuss and desert rock attracted a huge international cult following, creating a sub-genre that continues to grow today. John Garcia is one of the most treasured rock icons of our time, and he still calls the desert home. Kyuss has had a revolving cast of characters featuring some of our most influential ground-breaking musicians. Bassists have included Chris Cockrell, Scott Reeder, Nick Oliveri, drummers Brant Bjork, and later Alfredo Hernandez. Along with Josh Homme, John Garcia created music that forged the way for the stoner rock of today. Those records are even more popular now than when Kyuss was still actively performing together. John is a hometown hero to us desert rock fans who have watched him and Josh grow from aspiring young songwriters and musicians to world class artists that have helped change the face of rock and roll! Real-life pioneers who impacted music in a very real way creating their own uniquely inspired kind of rock.
When Kyuss broke up, it wasn’t long before John won us over again with his next band Slo Burn, the second act of his already illustrious music career. The band featured Damon Garrison on bass, Chris Hale on guitar, and Brady Houghton on drums (later replaced by Alfredo Hernandez). Their debut EP, Amazing the Amusing, on the Man’s Ruin’s label is classic desert (stoner) rock, and still sounds fresh and relevant today, twenty years after it was recorded. Each of John’s projects seemed to push him to the next level as the song writing continued to progress and develop. The instrumentation continued to sonically evolve and become known for its psychedelic, overdriven, crunchy guitar tones and thick, fuzzed-up distorted bass lines. Combined with John’s gorgeous sense of melody and inspired lyrics, he continued winning new fans. His heavy metal side project, 13, with Arthur Seay, Mike Cancino, and Billy Cordell) morphed into Unida in the late nineties. Unida still performs rare shows in Europe and has featured bassists Scott Reader, Eddie Plascencia and Paul Gray of Slipknot fame over the years. This June Unida, along with Vista Chino, will be playing the very popular Hellfest in France with bassist Curt Kristenson from Dixie Witch, another incredible rock band that shares the Smallstone label with House of Broken Promises, Arthur Seay and Mike Cancino’s desert based heavy metal project with bassist Joe Mora.
While John has been actively touring and involved in multiple side projects, including Hermano which featured producer/bassist Dandy Brown (Orchestra Del Desierto), Steve Earle (Afghan Whigs), Mike Callahan and David Angstom, it wasn’t until 2010 that he began to recapture the legacy of Kyuss with former members Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri, later replaced by bassist Mike Dean. Vista Chino (Kyuss Lives) allowed these pioneers of a genre to re-position themselves in the international stoner rock music scene and move forward as a band again. Together they encountered a lot of obstacles, but persevered and remained committed to creating their own brand of original rock. With the addition of Belgian guitarist Bruno Fevery, they have moved forward with their debut release, PEACE on Napalm Records, ushering in a whole new era of stoner rock. Garcia’s vocals sound youthful and fresh, and he has all the fire now he had as a young performer and more. Fevery was recruited from the band Arsenal, whose sound was rooted in electronic dance music featuring African and Latin American rhythms to pop, hip hop and indie rock. In Vista Chino, Fevery has developed his stoner rock chops and is a welcome addition to the band. His love for Kyuss ran so deep he formed a Kyuss tribute band in his teens. With such a deep love for the quintessential desert rock band, it’s no wonder he fits into this lineup with absolute perfection. Vista Chino’s 2013 release on Napalm Records (a label now producing some of the most beautiful rock records in Europe), PEACE is a standout psychedelic rock record featuring stunning musicianship & stellar songwriting, and finally reunites some of the most beloved stoner rock musicians of our era. They have been met with great enthusiasm at venues and festivals all over Europe, and stoner rock fans have been buying up their record like stoner rock candy from a head shop. Yet, here at home….we miss these cats deeply! It has been a long while since we have seen John Garcia & Brant Bjork together and we are growing quite restless for a live show.
One of the things I have learned interviewing John Garcia over the years, is that he is as much a fan of music as he is a creator of music. He has a deep appreciation for the god-given talent he possesses, and for the opportunity to play with musicians that he himself is in awe of. During his tour with Vista Chino this year in Europe, Garcia made it a point to see the local bands opening up for them in various international cities. One such show took place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Garcia recalls being completely moved by the beautiful hard rock vocals and deep heavy grooves created by Black Mastiff. He approached the band members after the show and invited them to come to the desert to work with him on their third (upcoming) record at the same studio where he has just finished his new solo album, Thunder Underground Recording Studio. The relationship between studio producer and engineer, Harper Hug, Technical director, Trevor Whatever, and Studio Manager, Katherine Hug is close knit and built on mutual respect and admiration. Trevor attributes his move from LA to the desert to his friendship with John and his love for desert rock. Trevor (guitar tech for Slash, among other things) works closely with Harper and together they are bringing quality rock acts here to our desert and turning out world class records. Bands from England, Canada, France and the most legendary desert rock bands are now turning to Thunder Underground to capture their desert rock landscapes and tap into a little of the magic we are known for here. The results are undeniable….they get what making a great record is all about. I have now been on two field trips to the Thunder Underground facility and I can tell you that it is stocked with the finest recording gear in a pristine setting designed to produce high fidelity sonic perfection.
I sat down with John Garcia to discuss what has been happening for him this past year with Vista Chino, his solo record, his relationship with Thunder Underground, and his role as co-producer for Canadian Stoner Rock band, Black Mastiff…….
RL: How was the tour with Vista Chino this year?
JOHN: I Love Vista Chino, Brant, Bruno, Mike Dean…..what a great band to be fronting. I can’t speak highly enough about these guys. We had a good run. It was a great experience. It was a great tour. We toured Australia, Europe, North America, and we set out and accomplished what we wanted to do by doing another record, all mutually wanting to perform and play with each other. It was awesome. They are great guys…fun to play music with. I can’t talk highly enough about the musicianship. Of the band…I am a fan. To share the stage with those guys is great, an unbelievable experience. I was out doing what I love.
RL: What other bands did you experience while on the road in other parts of the world?
JOHN: That’s how I ran into Black Mastiff. Before the shows on tour I would go and check out the different opening acts. It was a Black Pussy and Vista Chino tour, but I wanted to experience some of the local acts from the actual cities we were playing in….take in the flavor of the culture. You know Robin, you’re a fan of music, I’m a fan of music….when you hear music that makes you feel….well, that’s what Black Mastiff did for me…they made me feel…… there was just something there. When music makes you feel anything, anything at all. Happy, sad, takes you back…I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if it’s Earth, Wind or Fire, Motley Crue, if it draws out deep emotion, I become a fan. I became a fan of Black Mastiff when Bruno Fevery and I caught their set….So much so, that I covered one of their songs on my new solo album.
RL: That is the highest compliment you could pay someone. It’s odd that you just described what it is I love about you as a vocalist and creator of music….you make me feel so much. I remember seeing you with Slo Burn at The Saloon in Palm Springs, down on one knee, singing your heart, and I was so moved I realized a tear was running down my cheek. Maybe it’s because you are such an intense performer and I was only 10 feet away from you, but, It’s powerful music. Chris Cornell can do that to me as well.
JOHN: Chris Cornell to me is the best singer of my generation. I am a fan of singers. I’m a fan of emotion. I’ve been very, very lucky to play with great musicians my whole life. Whether it be Josh Homme, Scott Reader, Chris Hale, Brady Erickson, Damon Garrison, Alfredo Hernandez, Arthur Seay and Mike Cancino. I have been blessed. It’s something that I DO NOT take for granted. It’s something I have to take stock in, that at my age, to share the stage with these players is nothing to take lightly.
RL: Do you feel it’s a tough road to stay true to your music and pursue a life as a professional musician?
JOHN: It’s hard all the way around. I am very lucky to have two passions, one, playing music, and two, the medical field as a veterinarian. I am really blessed. There’s a huge appreciation that I could even be here with you now talking about the career that I have had with all of the musicians that I’ve just mentioned. It’s a big deal. Again, I go back to that word….appreciation! I wasn’t always so appreciative when I was in some of those bands. Now that I am older, I wised up. It brings a whole new perspective, having kids, growing up. To still be here, playing this music I love, going out on the road, working with bands like Black Mastiff…it could all be gone…just like that (he snaps his fingers)!
RL: I interviewed Nick Oliveri and he made a statement about Josh Homme that I found interesting. He said that Josh had a clear vision of the music he wanted to create and he went out and made it happen. After the break up, the lawsuits, how do you feel about that?
JOHN: To this day I am a fan of Josh Homme. I love Josh. I respect Josh. I love Scott (Reeder), I respect Scott and they are some of the best musicians out there. Scott is one of the best bass players out there…one of the best players I’ve played with in my entire life. And, Josh’s songwriting skills and vocals are superb. There’s a couple of words that float around about Josh….that he’s somewhat of a mad scientist when it comes to tonalities of guitars and amplifiers. I will always love those guys. They were the first people I played music with and I am a big fan!
RL: Tell me about your meeting with Black Mastiff?
JOHN: I saw them in Edmonton, Canada. They have such a unique take on music and just when you think you know where it’s gonna go, they take it somewhere completely unexpected….some of their songs remind me of a modern version of The Doors whether they see it or not. So here they are here with me at Thunder Underground, and let’s not forget where we are (the desert). I told them you need to come out here and work with Harper and Trevor. They are great producers and engineers and they get what’s going on. They did Vista Chino’s record, my solo record, the Steak record…and this is all within the last two months. They are turning out some GREAT stuff here, and I love this studio. I love Palm Springs. I love Joshua Tree too. Rancho De La Luna, Brant Bjork has a studio up there, Robbie Waldman’s Studio, Unit A is absolutely fantastic. I give him major props! He is always right there when we need him, I love Robbie (100% quote me on that) I live in Morongo Valley, hell, you’ve lived all over this desert too. Hell, we are desert locals! You know what I mean…there is something special about this place. To have a studio of this caliber…right here in uptown Palm Springs…Thunder Underground, is amazing. I feel blessed to be part of the music that is coming out of this place.
RL: Which brings me to my next question…your solo record?????
JOHN: It’s all the songs I have collected over the years that didn’t quite fit in with whatever I was doing at the time. All of these songs have been in my back pocket for a very long time. “His Bullet’s Energy”, a song that I wrote when I was 19 years old while living with Nick Oliveri in North Palm Springs, that’s finally here. It has a flip side, a feminine side, “Her Bullet’s Energy”. I recently recorded a track with Robbie Krieger (The Doors) at his studio in Glendale, so he’s playing on my solo record. It really excites me that I can finally put it all to record after all these years. It just got done today! Finally mastered….it’s a monumental moment for me. The goal was never to reinvent the face of rock and roll. It’s a collection of songs that I have had that I have wanted to put out and Harper and Trevor and Thunder Underground helped me do that. I’m excited. It comes out the end of July on Napalm Records and we are off on tour Australia, New Zealand. This place is a real thing, it’s a real emotion. I am very stoked on Thunder Underground. Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever they make records! That’s what they do…they make records. The environment that we are in right now in uptown Palm Springs offers a really cool vibe. This is a real studio. It’s not a house with Pro Tools. It offers the best in audio recording and that includes tape, Pro Tools, they do it all and the results speak for themselves.
RL: Do you intend to get actively involved in producing now?
JOHN: I certainly have my wish list of bands I want to work with here. Bands like Jackson Firebird from Australia, Monkey Three from France, I want to bring them here because these guys make great quality records. They get shit done. It’s a family here and we dig in deep. We talk about tonality, drum takes, guitar stabs. That’s what Trevor and Harper do…they give a guitar sound or a bass sound width, from A-Z. The artist is number one. Black Mastiff is number one right now. We want them to be comfortable and at home so they can focus on the music. We have Robbie Krieger from the Doors, Mark Diamond from The Dwarves, Tom Brighton from The Dwarves whose a great session guy, we have Damon Garrison and Chris Hale from Slo Burn (Brave Black Sea), Dave Angstrom from Hermano, Dandy Brown from Orchestra Del Desierto, ….all coming here to make records.
If you have a void in your gut or your heart that needs to be filled there’s not too many people that can do that for me, Trevor and Harper can fill that void and it’s real! This is a real thing that they are doing and the appreciation level I have for a studio and guys that actually really care about your craft, your emotion, your playing…that to me is phenomenal. It’s very hard to find. These guys nurture that, they champion that and it’s great to have that kind of support when you are creating a record.
John Garcia with Vista Chino at: http://www.vistachinomusic.com