Is ‘living legend’ an over-used phrase? Not when you’re talking about John Garcia it isn’t. We sent Amit Sharma to interrogate stoner rock’s standard-bearer when he played at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, earlier this month.
Sometimes, even with the benefit of hindsight, it seems almost impossible to gauge the true impact of a band. Kyuss are a classic example of that. For mainstream rock audiences, the name is nothing but a footnote in the pre-Queens of the Stone Age career of one Josh Homme. For fans of music just a little heavier, Kyuss was the keystone of an early 90s renaissance in stoner riff-worship. It’s the strength of that legacy that has seen John Garcia, former frontman of the band, touring Europe this summer playing nothing but Kyuss songs.
After Kyuss split up in 1996, John Garcia has kept himself busy with a veritable truckload of projects. While not nearly so well-known as Josh Homme, Garcia’s musical ouput has been no less intriguing. From the spaced-out beyond stoner riff-jams of Unida and Slo Burn, to working with Danko Jones and the Crystal Method. We grilled him on these band and much more besides, including his long-awaited Garcia vs Garcia solo project, as well as that long-rumoured never-realised Kyuss reunion….
People have been waiting a long time to see you on a ‘Garcia Plays Kyuss’ tour. How did this come about?
“Well, Garcia Vs Garcia is my solo thing and I’ve been out of the loop for the past couple of years. I concentrated on vetinary medicine for many years, had another child and moved to Los Angeles. Hated it, whilst working in vetinary medicine. Moved back to Morongo Valley in the desert and was totally content. This is the perfect bridge to Garcia Vs Garcia. If you’re aware of what Josh Homme did in the past, the Kyuss / Queens Of The Stone Age split EP was one of the first things he released. I don’t think that Kyuss put Queens Of The Stone Age on the map, but that CD kinda helped bridge the gap a little bit. I think Josh made his own name with Queens Of The Stone Age who I love and adore immensely. Josh Homme is a very close friend of mine and a lot of people think there’s animosity between us but it’s really quite the contrary.
“So this whole project was for me to revisit some of these songs, to breathe some life back in to these songs and to help catapult Garcia Vs Garcia for a release in Summer next year. For me, I’ve always had enough special affinity in my heart for Kyuss to be able to play these songs again and it’s great.”
This tour is being advertised as a ‘one-time only tour in Europe’. Why just Europe?
“Well we are trying to make it down to Australia to promote Garcia Vs Garcia down there, and Im gonna do this possibly until February next year. This tour is only 7 shows and I just got here the day before yesterday. Was home for 10 days after a 22 date stint, so we are gonna try to keep it possibly up to 60 shows. So we’ve done half of them and Im coming back again in August for 3 more shows, doing a couple of festivals. Its where Kyuss was most appreciated that we’re doing it. The US – I don’t think the US appreciated Kyuss as much as, lets say England or Germany, Holland, Spain or whatever. It had to be places we would get warm receptions and obviously its got to make sense financially. I wanted to come back to show my appreciation and say Hey if you didn’t see Kyuss back in the day – this is as close as you are gonna get! The chances that Josh is gonna call me and say ‘Hey Dude, wanna come and play some fuckin Kyuss songs’ are very slim.”
Watch some long-distance Garcia-plays-Kyuss at the Camden Electric Ballroom:
How did you choose the musicians that are playing with you, and was it an easy decision?
“It was a very difficult decision to make. We had to hire people for their talent. Jacques De Haard, Rob Snijders, Bruno Fevery are very, very talented musicians and play with such a high standard. We had to keep the bar high, as Kyuss were all great musicians, so it made perfect sense. Jacques and Rob play together as such a great rhythm section, Rob’s a heavy hitter whose timing is impeccable. Together those guys are unstoppable. Bruno Fevery is so technical and right on with his playing – it just made perfect sense. Our home base is Holland – that’s where the management is. My manager and best friend suggested Rob and Jacques, and I thought they were amazing. I suggested Bruno who has never once let me down – his style is impeccable and so right on. We try to mirror Kyuss as much as we can but personality also comes out in these songs. So does Bruno play a solo just like John – no, he doesn’t. Does he put his own stamp over a solo – absolutely, and I applaud that.”
How did it feel to have Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork on stage with you at Hellfest?
“You know just looking over and seeing them, I just had a great big smile on my face. We had three quarters of Kyuss there and that’s the closest a Kyuss reunion ever came. It felt like a flashback to my early twenties – and Im 39 now. Nothing’s changed, Brant’s a great musician and a great songwriter. Gods And Goddesses is one of my favourite records right now, I can’t turn it off! One night I’ll be at home, kids are asleep and my wife’s inside waiting for me to come in – and Im outside smoking weed listening to Brant Bjork. A very talented guy and I love him dearly.”
You’ve worked with Danko Jones a few times in recent years and we heard he wrote a track called ‘5000 Miles’ for you – how did that come about?
“Danko and I are good friends, he’s a super cool guy. He’s a family man too and we are both musicians – we have a lot in common. When he said that he had written a song for my solo record, I nearly shit my pants! He’s an amazing singer, great songwriter with great stage presence – he knows how to turn it on. So I was ecstatic and blown away by it and I would want him to play guitar on that song for me on the record. So it’s true, it’s going on the record and I’m very happy about that.”
You’re known as a die-hard fan of Ian Astbury and The Cult. In what ways has he inspired you?
“Every single possible way… I wouldn’t be here right now without Ian. I’ll be honest with you, when I was a kid like 16 / 17, I wanted to be Ian. When I was in high school I had short hair, and once I heard The Cult’s Love record and I saw pictures of Ian Astbury, that’s when I let my hair grow. That’s the one point when I was said fuck any other plans I have in the future – I wanna sing in a rock band. He was my idol and I listened to him every chance I got. Later on in life I became friends with Ian and he knows how I feel about him. He’s been in my car – how surreal is me driving down Highway 111 and looking over to see my idol! I’ve known him for over 10 years now and I owe my whole fucking career to him. Im not ashamed of being a fan – he’s A1 in my book.”
Watch Garcia-plays-Kyuss at the Camden Electric Ballroom a little closer up:
The Crystal Method collaboration was something quite different and came out sounding really cool. Did you ever get to meet Wes Borland who played guitar on the track (‘Born Too Slow’) and would you consider yourself a Limp Bizkit fan?
“I’m more of a Wes Borland fan. I think Limp Bizkit are great at what they do, they have a certain style and flair that’s great. Ask me if I have any Limp Bizkit records and I’ll say no, but Wes Borland is a great musician. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet him but I saw some video footage of him playing on the track. We were basically slaves to Scott and Ken – Wes came in to do his part, I came in to do mine and they just basically went chop, chop, chop… Wes Borland actually said ‘we are slaves’ and I totally agree with that. I thought to myself ‘Why do Crystal Method want me? How do they fuckin know who I am?’ I knew who they were from commercials, TV shows and their records in the techno scene. Ask me if I had any Crystal Methods at the time, and I’d say no, but ask if I have any now, and I’d say I have every single one. We became huge, huge friends and it was awesome.”
The metal community has lost many heroes over the past 8 m0nths, including Paul Gray from Slipknot. What was he like to work with when he toured with you in Unida?
“One thing I liked about Paul was that he really had character… his character and his heart. He was a master of his craft and to share a stage with somebody like Paul was complete total honour. One – he played in Slipknot and two – I couldn’t believe he had actually signed up to play with us. So be touring with that guy for a whole tour, for one of Unida’s last before we went on hiatus was something very, very special. He’ll be missed dearly, a total master of his craft – some of his tuning was out there and bizarre – and he was definitely a great. I cant talk highly enough about Paul.”
You studied and worked as a veterinary surgeon before and after Kyuss. Do you still do any work with animals?
“I’ve taken a break. My last job was in vetinary diagnostics and after doing surgery it became something I’m really interested in, the actual diagnostic tests. I love teaching too…but I seriously miss music. Im fortunate to have found two things I love to do: one working with animals and two playing in a band. I miss getting up at 3 in the morning and doing an emergency C section with Dr. Rambazo on a 190 pound Irish wolfdog and having all 12 puppies survive. I miss doing a (insert indecipherable technical term here) with Dr. Jackman so a 120 pound rottweiler can walk a little better. Those are surgeries and procedures I miss… but I love music.”
Is it true that you are an accomplished fisherman?
[Grins] “Man I fucking love fishing – all my spare time is spent doing it! I love to take my wife and kids fishing… I just redid my tackle box right before I came over as we are planning another fishing trip. I’ve been working hard and I think I deserve a break. Gonna a rent a cabin, a pontoon boat and go fishing on a lake. Fish there, cook there, swim there. Hang out and hopefully catch some fish!”
The classic Kyuss line-up: John Garcia, Scott Reeder, Brant Bjork, and Josh Homme.
Hows the Garcia vs Garcia project coming along – and when can we expect a release / tour?
“It’s coming along good. Right now I’ve got over 40 songs that Im going through that I’d written from when I was 18 years old to right now, and I’m still picking the songs for the record. Hopefully it’ll all be ready by August / September next year. It takes a while to work, there are a lot of musicians I want to work with or have involved. I’d like to have Josh Homme involved. The moons have to align just right for that shit to happen, so its fits my schedule, everyone else’s schedule, Brant’s schedule, Nick’s schedule or Josh’s super busy schedule. I’ve been working on it for over a year and now Im not gonna do anything else until I get this out. No other projects – no Unida thing or Slo Burn thing, no Hermano thing or me doing a bunch of stuff with Arsenal, Crystal Method or Mad City Rockers or whatever it may be. There will be no projects for me until I get this monkey off my back and I’m really looking forward to it.”
If you could form one supergroup to end them all, who would you have in it?
“Josh Homme, Scott Reeder and Brant Bjork. Straight up… I miss those guys and I miss playing with them. Hopefully one day we might do another record? That would be my real dream, to see what happens, or what would have happened if we continued. Would it have bombed and stayed in the same place or would we have enjoyed more success – I don’t know. It was a great ride, and a lot of good things have come from Kyuss: Queens Of The Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, The Desert Sessions, Brant Bjork, Mondo Generator, Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano. I’m just glad we’re all still friends.”