"I was very broken-hearted and frustrated and very, very depressed, but sometimes you’ve got to go through these things and you learn from it."
It's a mid-December afternoon and Brant Bjork is holed up at a friend's studio in Palm Springs, California, not far from the deserts where four friends once lugged their music gear for 'generator parties' that helped a precociously talented band become legends. That band, of course, were Kyuss, who between 1989 and 1995 – across four albums, some equally ripping B-sides and several line-up changes – fused “the grassroots philosophy of The Grateful Dead and Black Flag” (according to Bjork) with the heaviness of Black Sabbath to create the blueprint for stoner rock.
Bjork left Kyuss in acrimonious circumstances in 1993 – “there were those elements directly and indirectly related to the band that was betting on us to be the next Metallica, and I just wasn't really interested,” he says of that decision – and now calls nearby Joshua Tree (and occasionally Los Angeles) home. But his pleasure at being back on familiar ground today is obvious, particularly as he's running over the recordings that will see his seminal band's second coming as Kyuss Lives! transform into an entirely new beast called Vista Chino.
With the basic tracks laid down by Bjork, returning bassist Nick Oliveri (Bjork says of his recent leave of absence that “sometimes he's gotta leave home, but if he wants to come back and get his old room back then he's welcome”), and newcomer guitarist Bruno Fevery, only the husky tonsils of frontman John Garcia are required to complete the band's rebirth.
“We knuckled down about three months ago,” Bjork continues, “and after talking to an assortment of producers and labels and stuff, we ended up just recording the record at my studio up in Joshua Tree and I'm actually producing it. Nick's back in the band again, and really it's been Bruno and myself doing the majority of the writing.
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“It sounds amazing – it's all analogue recording, so it sounds really warm and just fat. It's a really groovy, heavy rock record, man.”
Making groovy, heavy rock has been the Kyuss modus operandi since their formative days, and that recipe was no less potent when Fevery stepped into the sizeable shoes of founding guitarist Josh Homme for the first Kyuss Lives! Australian tour in May 2011. Fans left those shows in no doubt that Fevery had serious chops (“I think he did so with a lot of respect and a lot of taste,” offers Bjork), with the drummer believing “he's really liberated himself” on an album slated for an April 2013 release.
“He's an amazing guitar player, he's an amazing person, and he really, really does shine on this record,” Bjork enthuses. “I think a lot of people are going to have a whole new understanding of what sort of musician he is. I'm really excited to see him step up and really become the guitar player of this band. It's fantastic.”
For those late to the Kyuss party, a quick summary. Bjork, alongside singer Garcia, Oliveri and Homme, was part of the line-up that recorded 1992's breakthrough, Blues For The Red Sun – by the time instant classic, Sky Valley, (1994) was recorded, Oliveri was gone and Scott Reeder was on the four strings. Bjork left before that album saw the light of day, replaced by Alfredo Hernandez on the skins for …And The Circus Leaves Town, the group's 1995 album swansong.
Homme, Hernandez and Oliveri formed the first album line-up of Queens Of The Stone Age; Garcia moved through Kyuss-esque acts like Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano; and Reeder all but disappeared, though he was briefly sighted auditioning for Metallica's bass player role during their 2004 documentary, Some Kind Of Monster.
Bjork, meanwhile, moved onto the drummer's stool of fellow California rockers Fu Manchu, where he shared creative control with band leader Scott Hill – but not before wallowing in the mire following his Kyuss departure.
“Oh yeah, that was a real bummer, you know,” Bjork recalls. “That took me a good year-and-a-half to get over. I was very broken-hearted and frustrated and very, very depressed, but sometimes you've got to go through these things and you learn from it. So I'm actually grateful for the experience - but it was a painful one.”
Bjork called time on his other musical endeavours in late 2010 (he's been full-time since 1999, both with Fu Manchu, as a solo artist, and with his sidemen in The Bros) when the news Kyuss fans never expected broke – the band were getting back together, albeit without Homme, to dust off the classics as Kyuss Lives! The subsequent tours were met with almost universal applause, though former members Homme and Reeder (who briefly replaced Oliveri in Kyuss Lives! when the bassist went AWOL) eventually took umbrage and filed a lawsuit for breach of trademark infringement and consumer fraud.
A warts-and-all May 2012 interview with US Rolling Stone saw Bjork and Garcia let slip with more details about the band's demise, including Homme's battle for complete creative control, than most fans ever wished to hear. For Bjork, though, they were words that needed to be said.
“It is a bit of a bummer, but sometime I have to separate myself and my experience with the band from the fans and what they need and want. Kyuss is my life, a very big part of my life, and I've had my own individual experience with it. It's a bit of a mystery for a lot of people – most people – I've never felt the need to come out and speak of the unfortunate underlying history, reality of the band.
“But I was the first to be aware of the magic and the beauty of this band, and was the first to be really upset when it wasn't going to move forward as a harmonious unit. For better, for worse, this last year was just a time when I made the conscious decision to openly give facts on why certain things are happening and why certain things happened.”
With the lawsuit now settled – and the Kyuss Lives! name about to be retired after a trek around Australia for Soundwave – Bjork is unsure whether the bridges with Homme and Reeder can ever be rebuilt.
“It's hard to say man,” he sighs. “Anything and everything's possible – people change their minds. Today we're just not on the same page – maybe we can get on the same page somewhere down the road. I don't think it's going to be tomorrow or next week.
“But, you know, I can't worry about them worrying,” he laughs. “I'm very happy with my life, I'm very content with my work, I'm very proud of what we're doing and what we aim to do. And you're just not always going to be able to always stoke everybody out, you know?”
Kyuss Lives will be playing the following dates: