Vista Chino (ex-Kyuss) Interview
with Brant Bjork
2nd November 2013
@ The Roundhouse, London
Interview by Anna Dumpe
Photography by Corinne Cumming
Vista Chino is an American band formed by the founding members of Kyuss – John Garcia (vocals), Brant Bjork (drums) and Nick Oliveri (bass). After setting out to reunite and tour as Kyuss Lives! back in 2010, the band was forced to rename themselves after a lawsuit filed by other former Kyuss members Josh Homme and Scott Reeder.
We caught up with the legendary drummer Brant Bjork just minutes before the Palm Desert Scene heroes Vista Chino (ex-Kyuss) were about to take the stage at London’s Roundhouse and talked about the band’s future and history, the new album and the development of stoner rock.
Hello Brant! It’s good to see you back in London! How’s your day been so far?
Hey! I’m doing pretty well, thanks! Just getting ready for the show ads stuff like that.
Vista Chino debut album Peace has been out for two months now. How do you feel about this record and how would you describe it someone who’s never heard of either Vista Chino or Kyuss?
As a band we’re all collectively pleased with the result of this record and I think it’s quite an accomplishment for us. I dare to use the word that we’re almost kind of ‘proud’ of it.
To those unfamiliar with Vista Chino or Kyuss, I would describe the album as a rock record that’s done in an old-school spirit of how a lot of the classic rock records were made back in the day. We never wanted to overproduce this album, so we recorded it on analogue gear with minimal mics on the drums to avoid putting out this super intense rock record.
Personally, I love the recordings of rock bands from the 60’s and 70’s when you can almost hear this Ing and Yang effect where there’s feminine quality to the production and the more masculine elements are left for the songs and the music itself. I think our record sort of resembles that.
When recording Peace, what was the main inspiration behind the record and what would you say is the most significant difference between Kyuss and Vista Chino music?
The sound today is different in obvious ways and maybe not so obvious ways.
The return to Kyuss and the decision to expand with new music was about going deeper into those things that inspired us in the first place.
Sometimes my idea of going forward is going way back, so that was the exciting thing for us when working on this particular record. It was especially exciting for me, because I asked the guys if I could produce the record and they seemed pretty stoked about it.
While working on recording Peace I was able to impose my own ideas of what I felt Vista Chino could represent and what we could achieve in terms of going back to our primary jazz and blues influences, like Thelonious Monk and Lightnin’ Hopkins. When listening back to the way these deeper rooted records were recorded, we knew that we wanted to pursue some of that.
We were really just trying to capture similar essence and technique just so the listener can truly hear the band that we are. I mean, we’re all accomplished musicians and we should be able to celebrate that. We don’t need to dress it up.
After putting the lawsuit behind and focusing on things that matter, like writing and performing music, we now have Vista Chino. Could you please explain us the new band name, what does it stand for and mean to all of you in the band?
Vista Chino was the working title for what would have been the new Kyuss record and when we had to change the name we just decided to stick with it.
Vista Chino is just a name of a street out in the desert where we’re all from. And I’ve been in this industry circus for long enough to know that when you’re working with names that have to represent the unit or the album, it can be a bit nerve wrecking, because you know it’s something you’re gonna have to hear for years on.
Vista Chino is just a name that doesn’t have any significance other than it’s just a name that we all heard when growing up and it kind of reminds us of our roots.
Fans obviously wonder about what to expect from tonight’s setlist. Are you going to put the main focus on performing Vista Chino stuff off Peace or can we expect to hear most of Kyuss classics?
This is all a part of Kyuss adventure and that’s why we’re all here, and we’re not confused about that.
Fans love the hear Kyuss classics and I really enjoy playing them, so we’re definitely going to perform some Kyuss material and also jam on some of the new stuff, which is about 6 new songs in the set.
Your current bass guitarist is Mike Dean from Corrosion Of Conformity. How is he settling in and would you say he’s now an official member of Vista Chino?
Well, we’ve all kind of committed to this until the end of the year and then we’ll get together to see where we all stand and what we want to do. Currently we’re all super excited on where we’re at, what we’re feeling and where the music’s at.
Mike was kind of this really rare addition to the band that we were not expecting, so we’re all very much stoked and grateful that he jumped on board when he first decided to. Since then things have been rolling in a super positive way, so right now we’re just really excited on what’s happening. I guess we’ll just have to see how it all works out later on.
There are so many great rock bands that split up and somehow never manage to re-unite. What would you say is the main reason that you guys have stayed friends throughout all these many years and now have found your way back together as a band?
It’s not easy to get four or five people together on the same page for anything, especially when you’re striving to be creative.
Out of all the members that have made Kyuss over the years, some of us were on the same page and some of us weren’t. And that’s exactly why Kyuss didn’t last too long the first time around.
In 2010 John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and myself put the band back together and there’s no coincidence that it was the three of us who did that, because we were always the three that got along. So for us it wasn’t a difficult thing to get back together. It was just a matter of timing and deciding that we’re all interested in doing it. Personally, I wasn’t anticipating it, but I think that’s all the more reason why I got so excited about it and I think I’m speaking for Nick as well.
John was the first one to put the whole thing together and it’s really awesome that he did. I’ve always loved John and known him since I was 14 years old and I’ve known Nick since I was even younger.
So would you say you’ve been through a lot together?
Yeah, we’ve been through a lot, man! Vista Chino is kind of like a family reunion for us where we’re the brothers that always got along. Brothers who never really managed to get along just didn’t come for the family reunion. But that’s alright, man! Whatever! (Laughs)
How touring the world with Vista Chino in 2013 differs from touring with Kyuss in 1990? I’d assume it’s not as crazy anymore?
Yeah, man… Definitely not as crazy!
That’s another thing that people forget about Kyuss. We were all around 18 and 19 years old when it all was happening for us.
We were really young guys, so when we’d come back stage and see a case of beers, we thought that we’re supposed to drink it all before we go on stage. We had never before seen so much beer in one place, man! (Laughs)
We were wild and crazy and we did all the dumb things that wild and crazy kids do. Obviously, it was a lot of fun, but then one day you just you wake up and realize that you’re just not 18 anymore.
So here we are today a lot older. We all have families and responsibilities, and we’re just musicians doing what we love. I guess somewhere along the road we actually became musicians! (Laughs)
When you look back at the development of the desert rock scene and stoner rock, how would you say it had changed since you guys started as Kyuss and could you ever foresee how successful it is going to get?
When it comes to desert rock scene, then in the late 80’s it was just a local scene out in the desert where we’re from. Back then no band sounded the same and we were all different. None us thought we were ever gonna leave the desert in the first place, but then suddenly we got discovered, we made a record and got pulled out of the desert.
As far as stoner rock and desert rock becoming and evolving in relation to us getting out of the desert and doing our thing is quite trippy!
It’s hard to explain, but for us growing up out in the desert it was all quite surreal, as we would have never guessed that anyone actually knew that were out there and that anyone would even care. What we did back then wasn’t cool and that’s what people don’t understand. I think it’s very romantic now, but I always compare it and think about those first bands from Lower East Side of New York in the early and mid 70’s that started the punk rock movement. It was probably a very uncool scene, man! They were fucking desperate to be creative and do something with themselves and that’s kind of how we were back in the day. It’s kind of crazy how it’s turned into this whole trip.
So when you first started Kyuss with all the other guys, did you ever foresee yourself going for so long?
Our ambitions then were to start a band and play out in the desert for our friends. That was all we ever wanted to do.
I don’t really think about it that much anymore, but when I do, it still seems very surreal to me.
You’ve also developed a successful solo career. Have you put the main focus on to working with Vista Chino now or can we still expect something new from you?
I’ve got a lot of solo work on the shelf – couple of records and couple of live records. Vista Chino definitely demands a certain amount of attention right now and we all give it our best, but we don’t know if and when we’re going to put Vista Chino to the side and get back to our solo work.
I’m equally as excited to do both, so I’m just gonna go with the group and see how it all works out. If everyone wants to keep moving with the band and are still feeling as good as right now, I’m definitely up for it.
But also, I committed myself to solo work for ten years before John called me, so when that happened, I was really excited about being in a band again. When you’re a solo artist, there’s not much to fall back on and there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility involved. It can be very rewarding, but also super exhausting. We’ll just have to wait and see, but I’ll definitely get back to my solo work at some point.
We’re really exited to hear something new from you!
Thank you so much for your time, Brant, and have a great show tonight!
No problem! Thank you, guys!