By Noe Gutierrez
There is no debate that John Garcia’s legacy in music is firmly etched in stone. He is revered all over the world for his work with Kyuss, Unida, Hermano, Slo Burn, Kyuss Lives and Vista Chino. He has at times been perceived as an enigma to many. He is as mysterious as the desert’s legendary generator parties. He himself admits that he rarely gets out and remains like a tortoise in its shell. Given his touring schedule we can’t blame him. As he states, “When I’m home, I want to be home.” He’s the desert’s answer to the Sphinx. The Sphinx was viewed as benevolent and having ferocious strength and wisdom. These are traits John Garcia also embodies.
John Garcia’s first ever solo album via Napalm Records, is complete and upon us. The release dates are as follows: Europe 7/25, North America 7/31, Australia/New Zealand and Japan 8/5. The video for the first single “My Mind” premiered on-line on 7/15. It was directed by Douglas Quill and filmed at the Salton Sea. To kick-off his first solo tour, Garcia will be performing four consecutive shows in Australia September 11-14 in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Byron Bay.
In between rehearsals for the Australian tour, Coachella Valley Weekly recently sat down with Garcia in an intimate setting in a suite provided by the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs to discuss his self-titled solo debut and all other things pertinent in his life.
Husband and Father First
When you talk with Garcia you first get a sense of the multiple hats he wears. Some might expect the rock star persona the media can portray. His family is at the forefront. “I’m a family man. I’m a husband and a father first. By no means do I think I’m a rock star or sitting backstage thinking I’m a rock star. I thank my lucky stars that my family still allows me to do this. It’s a respect thing. Being in the type of environment that I’m in on a nightly basis when I’m on the road it takes an incredible amount of communication, patience and trust. The unsung heroes are Wendy and the kids, the loves of my life.” It’s this unplugged attitude that permitted the Canadian artist Danko Jones to write a song in honor of phone conversations he and Garcia had about family. The song “5000 Miles” is about Garcia’s two children (daughter and son) and wife. “Danko is a great singer songwriter from Toronto I toured with 19 years ago. We talk about family. What a great song. He said, I wrote you this song. It reminded me a lot about our conversations. You’re always talking about your daughter. This song’s for you.”
Garcia’s wife Wendy is supportive of her husband and sets a standard for the “rock and roll spouse”. “The world knows John for his amazing voice. I know John on a totally different level. He is not only a great singer he is the most loving husband and father. It has been so exciting to see him put his solo record together finally. He has been talking about this for so long and he has finally done it. Although I do still miss working with him and try to get him to come back to veterinary medicine, at the same time I love him and know how much music means to him. I enjoy seeing him happy doing what he enjoys most whether it be music or veterinary medicine. Again, I’m so happy for him and also very proud of John.”
The journey to this solo project began right out of high school for Garcia. “When I was 19 years old living with Nick Oliveri in North Palm Springs off of San Rafael I wrote “Her Bullets Energy” with Nick. I knew that eventually I wanted to do this. Throughout the years ever since that first song was written I’ve kept a collection of songs in what I call a safe deposit box which in reality was a cardboard box I just traveled with and moved with me.” In listening to samples of the songs it is apparent that they represent multiple approaches to melody and writing. “These songs that I have are not ‘B’ sides. They are not leftovers. These are songs that were special to me that I had a personal relationship with. As I got older, as I looked at them every single morning I got up, I started feeling exhausted and felt bad for these songs. I’ve always wanted to do it. At some point in time it clicked. I was tired of saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone else with the exception of these songs that were close to me. I said no more. I want to finally do this. This project is tangible. These songs are tangible.” Album participants include; Dave Angstrom, Nick Oliveri, Mark Diamond, Tom Brayton, Danko Jones, Nick Oliveri, Chris Hill and Damon Garrison from Slo Burn, Dave Angstrom and Dandy Brown from Hermano and Tom Brayton the percussionist.
In completing the music for the album the artwork that accompanied it had to be equivalent in stature. The cover art for the album is very unique and feels native to the desert given its Big Horn sheep motif. The cover art is by Sam Young from Melbourne, Australia and Jared Conner from Austin, TX of mexicanchocolate.com. “The illustration of the ram was specifically drawn for this project. The desert sheep are indigenous to this area. We see them all the time in Morongo. I’m proud of the desert. I call it my desert. I love this place. Kyuss was proud of it as well as Vista Chino. We named the band after the street that goes from Palm Springs to Cathedral City. The album cover depicts an open desert road leading you to wherever the record takes you. That spoke volumes to me about if you could visually look at what the music sounds like. They did a great job.”
Garcia is preparing intently for his first solo trek. “This is my first ever solo tour. I’m nervous. I would be nervous if I wasn’t nervous. It’s special to me. I’ve never done this before. You talk about exposing yourself. You’re not hiding behind a band name. I’m doing past and present. I’m gonna be doing some Kyuss songs, some Slo Burn songs and of course some solo stuff.” Once the Australia shows are complete they will jump on the plane again for a heavy extensive tour over 25 dates in Europe this November and December.
Australia has substantial regard for Kyuss and John Garcia. Kyuss opened for Metallica at one time and Kyuss introduced the Aussies to desert/stoner rock. “I owe a lot of that to Metallica. What an amazing country. The people, the environment, the wildlife and the food, It’s a beautiful country. If there was a chance we could afford a second home someplace it would be Australia. It is phenomenal. We’d live somewhere on the Gold Coast close to Brissy. There’s something about Australian beaches. There’s something magical.”
Supporting Garcia on the Australian and Europe tour is Waxy. “I’ve known Robbie (Waldman) since I was 7 years old. My mom used to work for Dr. Waldman. Robbie has always been there for me through anything; recording, friendship and health. I love Robbie. It will be nice to tour with a good friend. The desert has always been that way. We’ve always looked out for each other. There’s a kinship that goes on with the people who were born and raised here and went to school here.”
Also on the Australian tour are label mates Mammoth, Mammoth. On the European tour will be Steak also of Napalm Records. Steak recorded their most recent album at Thunder Underground Studios and Garcia sings on one track.
Joining Garcia as his band are Ehren Groban (War Drum) on guitar, Mike Pygmie (You Know Who) on bass and Greg Saenz (You Know Who, The Dwarves) on drums. “It was really important for me to have all local guys. Rehearsals have already started. We’re practicing the solo album, Kyuss songs, Slo Burn songs. There is an excitement; we’re all excited to do another record together too! That’s on tap.”
His band is made up of world-class musicians and is highly regarded in the Coachella Valley. “I like that they showed a genuine interest. I saw the passion. We rehearsed at 6 p.m. and left at midnight. They breathed new life into the older songs. We’ll be performing songs that even Kyuss never played live for some reason. Songs like “Gloria Lewis”, “Phototropic” and “Catamaran”. To explore these songs has been really cool. The first person you see on stage when we play our first show is not me, it’s the band. I’m not even on stage. They come up and expose themselves. Everyone is gonna give them that respect they deserve.”
The players individually are held in high esteem by Garcia. “Greg holds it down. Mike is an animal. Talk about somebody who’s very talented Mike does it all, guitar, drums and bass. Who knows how many other instruments he can play. He’s a lifer. It gonna be a pleasure to share the stage with those guys.”
Kyuss need no introduction to the music world. They created hope for music where there was none. Garcia has bittersweet memories of his early career. “I don’t always look back on those times with great happiness. I think I’ve done a lot of growing up since then. I have a whole new appreciation of the music for the people that I play with. For the most part those generator parties were amazing times. They’ve taken on a legendary status. It was like the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. When there were no clubs to play at you had to find a way, we found a way. Whether it is in the South of London or the deserts of Australia or in the cornfields of Omaha, Nebraska, this stuff happens and people will find a way.”
Garcia reminisces to a simpler time. “I remember one time it was blowing really hard at the ‘Iron Door’ off of Dillon by the Indio dump. I was singing and I reached down to take a drink of my beer and got nothing but mud beer where it kinda slowly poured out.”
Recently, the Kyuss album Sky Valley celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release. “I’m blown away by that record. That’s Josh’s baby, I was proud of the part I played and the recognition it received. I’m honored to have played in a band with those guys. I never thought I’d be here talking about something that we did 20 years ago. I have a whole new level of appreciation at 43 years old.”
Kyuss World is an online fan club based on Facebook and facilitated by Nathan Lawver. “Kyuss World blows my mind. I want to let the Kyuss supporters know that I am going to release something. I want people to feel what I feel about this thing I just created. They’re the reason why I am here. I had this kid come up to me a year and a half ago in London. He had a Blues for the Red Sun record and he asked if I would sign it for him. He was about 17 or 18. I asked him what his name was and he said, ‘please don’t take this the wrong way but it’s for my mom.’” Garcia’s music is timeless. The bands he has participated in and led have created a genre unto itself.
Despite the heartache and frustration, Garcia found maturity in the turmoil. “As I got older, it started to click a little bit more. The unappreciative person became less self-centered. I was a kid who didn’t care about anyone but himself. There have been times I wanted to go back and slap that kid around and tell him to wise up. I learned. The big blessing was that Kyuss broke up. That was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It made me find out really quick who my friends were. Talk about a piece of humble pie. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the man upstairs for giving me a throat big enough to swallow the piece of that humble pie. It made me start appreciating things. I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve forgiven myself for that and I want to move on.” Moved on he has.
Unida recently returned from a tour of Europe where they performed in locales like Vienna and Berlin. Their conquering of Europe is a great preface to Garcia’s solo project. Garcia shares his love for Unida. “I can’t talk highly enough about those guys. Let’s not leave Unida out of the package. Arthur is a great song writer and guitar player and Mike Cancino is A-1! We just got done doing two weeks in Europe. We did 10 shows in 10 countries in 14 days. It was a whirlwind. It took a year of planning.”
Garcia has a progressive sense of humor. As serious as he is, he can also be funny. He has a multi-faceted relationship with Unida drummer Mike Cancino. “I have nick names for everybody. He’s Bill, I’m Phil. Mike and I have a long standing professional relationship but we’re friends first. We also have a working relationship in the veterinary field.”
Days Gone By
Garcia has many different ties to the desert, from Indio to Palm Springs. Music was always a constant in the Garcia household. “Growing up in North Indio my brother listened to Earth Wind and Fire, The Ohio Players, The Temptations and Johnnie Taylor and then he would kick me out and my older sister was listening to Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, The Smiths and a lot of KISS. I had this constant back and forth. I was the youngest one.” Those early memories of music have taken Garcia on a journey he always expected. “I love it when music takes you places. Art Laboe takes me back to those Summer Sundays when I was ten years old kissing my Mexican girlfriend behind the grapefruit tree. Music takes you some place. I still appreciate I have that passion.”
Garcia was stimulated tunefully from many different musicians. “Those artists take me back to living in North Indio. Those are times I will never forget. I remember going to Don’s Ranch Market and getting a pickled pig’s foot and sitting down on the corner of Jackson and Emerald and just gnawing on it. I look at those things now and say ‘what was I thinking?’ Those are good musical early times. It gets you somewhere and it takes you someplace.”
Aside from the pig’s feet, another of Garcia’s noteworthy past times is listening to the radio of all things. “In Southern California we’re spoiled with radio. Traveling abroad or even the Midwest, Europe and Australia radio is hard to find. In Southern California we like our oldies and radio stations. We’re pretty lucky.”
Ian Astbury & The Cult
Everyone I know in the music community has a music icon they look to for inspiration. For Garcia, that hero was Ian Astbury of The Cult. Garcia’s favorite album is Love. “The Cult got me from La Quinta to Palm Desert High School. I formally met Ian when I was 26 years old and earlier in my late teens. He’s the reason I started singing. I’m not afraid to admit that. He’s my idol and always has been. He’s the reason I’m sitting here right now.” Garcia recalls his photography teacher offering up the headphones to his Walkman. “When I heard “She Sells Sanctuary” for the first time in photography class back in 1985 it changed my life. I still listen to that record. It brings me back to those places.” Garcia enjoys the comparisons and following the fine example. “He spent a lot of time in Palm Springs in Chris Goss’ Monkey Studios. He did his solo record called Spirit Light Speed. It’s a great first solo record. Occasionally, from time to time, I run into him. I still get awestruck.”
Garcia would be bowled over again by having a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee perform on his first solo effort. “If somebody were to tell me that at 19 the song that I was about to write would eventually have Robbie Krieger play Spanish guitar on I would have told them you’re out of your mind. When Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever were sitting down selecting specific songs Harper looked at me and said, ‘I hear Spanish guitar on this song’. He says he knows Robbie Krieger from the Doors. I just fell over. We got him the track. He liked it and agreed to play on it. He showed up with a burrito in one hand and a flamenco guitar in the other. He sat down and did three takes. The majority of my conversations with Robbie switched to golf courses in the Coachella Valley because he is an avid golfer. We talked more about golf than the track and I don’t even golf. What a great way to end the record with an acoustic track.”
If “My Mind” and “All These Walls” are a preamble to the album then we are in for the solo ride of our lives. Garcia verifies that his other musical ventures are on temporary pause in order to ride stag. “Vista Chino, Hermano and Slo Burn are parked in the garage.” Kyuss will always be the foundation that allowed all that followed. Garcia does not deny the heritage of Kyuss. “Being able to share the stage with Brant, Josh, and Scott; it’s been an honor. I wish my old friends nothing but the best of luck for their families to be happy and healthy and wish them the best.” Garcia also realizes this is his day and his time. “I’m very happy with where I am at right now. There is a tremendous amount of freedom and a sense of liberation that I feel by giving these songs exactly that, freedom and unlocking them.”
Garcia has opened up like no other time in his life. He has a strong bond with his desert and makes it known. “I’m a desert local. I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to talk about something that I recently created. To be here talking about it blows my mind. The appreciation is crazy. At the end of the day, for me, it’s not all the record hype; I want to be able to make an impact, not looking to change the face of rock and roll by any means.”
You can pre-order the album here: