Brant Bjork on All Manner of Stuff...

"Hey man, you don’t get to decide what I do with my energy and my life…”

One of the coolest cats in rock, Brant Bjork, is hanging out at Venice, California, doing interviews and just generally being cool and mellow. In a couple of weeks he and the rest of Vista Chino will be heading to our shores for their Big Day Out slots but more of that shortly. I start by asking (solo career aside, which has produced some banging tunes), how does it feel to move beyond the Kyuss/Kyuss Lives! with John (Garcia) and Bruno (Fevery)? “It feels great. When John called me in 2010 and said ‘Hey man, let’s get the band back together’ I wasn’t anticipating that phone-call – I didn’t expect it – and when I got it I thought ‘Man, that sounds like a challenge’ and I like musical challenges.” He laughs, adding “It’s been awesome.”

How would you define the sound of Vista Chino as opposed to Kyuss? “Something I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again, Kyuss was a band when we were kids really; Josh (Homme) and I were 18 years old when we did Blues for the Red Sun (1992) so Kyuss has a really beautiful innocence to it, and it’s the sound of kids discovering drugs and discovering sex and discovering spirituality and discovering what it means to get ready to get out into the world and do your thing. But now with Vista Chino the boys have become men; we’re all men, we’ve got kids and I think what you hear is that maturity. You can hear the years of swingin’, years of groovin’ and years of writin’ – that’s what you hear, you know?”

I raise the possibility of whether being put through the legal wringer (over the use of the Kyuss moniker) killed any of his obvious passion and joy for making music. It’s a definitive“No.” and he expands on this with “I think that was the test of our convictions and our love of music was having to go through such an unfortunate, painful conflict, and not allowing it to deter us from our original goal which was to keep celebrating our love of music by creating and contributing new music to the world of music – and that’s what we did, that’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we’ll continue to do.” At the end of the day, he accepts the evils of the business element within the industry and is just glad that Vista Chino is doing what it needs to do (“But it’s nice to have gotten through it, we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish and that beef is in the past now.”) which is pumping out solid stoner groove tunes which we can all get down to.

When I ask if it was his love of creating music that kept him going through the dark times, his response is enthusiastic. “Of course! My passion is music, it’s my love, and I have fighting blood too!” He laughs, continuing “Meaning that I’ve never been one to let people dictate how I’ve lived my life and compromise my freedom and tell me what I can and can’t do. So with this experience I was simultaneously celebrating my passion but also showing the powers that fought me that ‘Hey man, you don’t get to decide what I do with my energy and my life’…”

The enthusiasm continues when we touch on playing Peace (2013) in a live environment. “It’s fantastic. We went and did six weeks in Europe in November and it was a fantastic run. We really came into our live chemistry on a real deep level; the band was executing the music on a level that I wasn’t even anticipating. It was really awesome. As a drummer I’m beyond content and was really thrilled with what I was experiencing and I only foresee that in the future as well.”

And Vista Chino’s imminent return to Australia for the Big Day Out? “I always look forward to coming down to Australia; it’s one of my favourite places to play – I love the Australian people and fans, and the Australian culture itself – coming from sunny California, I just feel that there are a lot of parallels there, and it’s an environment where the music that I’m involved with always seems to be appreciated and it makes a lot of sense. So I’m just looking forward to coming down and having a good time.”

As I won’t be going to Big Day Out, I have every part of my body crossed when I ask about side-shows plans (please, please, let there be side-shows). Unfortunately Brant can’t put me out of my misery – he doesn’t have any details himself – though he does say “We’ve requested to do some some, and I know that there are a few people tryin’ to put some stuff together. I do believe we have one official side-show but I don’t know any details about it like when and where, and hopefully we’ll get another one – I’m still waiting to see myself.”
I mention seeing him at the Bangalow Bowls Club some years ago and he actually remembers the gig (though given the shockingly small number of attendees, it’s something we skim over pretty quickly – bloody New South Wales philistines…) before moving on to the organic sound that he’s renowned for. He’s honest enough to say “I really don’t know. For whatever reason, I just like the sound of old recordings and, to me, they just sound more real, more earthy. When I was a kid, hanging with all the guys in the neighbourhood listening to KISS, I liked it - I thought it was cool but then one of the older guys turned me on to punk rock, and when I heard this punk rock on this cassette tape the sound of it, as much as the song and the band itself, I just loved so much because it just sounded so real. It was a real profound moment for me as musician, or as a listener at least – I hadn’t quite become a musician yet! But as a listener and a music fan, it was such a profound experience. I think at that moment I fell in love, much like a kid in the fifties might have heard an old Muddy Waters recording or something, I really fell in love with the organic nature and the real sound and vibe of those early recordings. I loved that.”

Being a multi-instrumentalist mentalist who plays drums, guitar, bass and sings, are there any other instruments that you play? “No, not really. I seem to be a drum and guitar guy, you know? I mess around on the piano but, with respect to piano players, I wouldn’t call myself a piano player at all.” He’s laughing as he adds” I can usually pick up an instrument and figure out a way to make it do something.”
He’s happy to jump between instruments – though he points out “I enjoy the drums, of course – it’s my first instrument – but I got an acoustic guitar not long after I got into the drums, and for me it’s all just about creating; I just love creating music and I look at the instruments as tools that allow me to create this sonic world so when it’s the appropriate time to pick up the tool I need, I enjoy doing it.”
And how deeply has the desert influenced your sound? Again, he’s honest enough to say” I don’t honestly know but as any artist might suggest, your environment is a big part of who you are and what you create. We’re all kind of an extension of our environment so it’s like growin’ up in the desert in my formative years, that was my world so in terms of planets, I’m like from the Planet Desert and I think that can be heard in my music. I’m like an ambassador to the other planets in the universe and I kind of bring the vibe of my planet with me!”

My time is at an end but before you go, can you explain the instrumental jazz/funk album that you’re planning to release? I’m mad for the funk so naturally I’m intrigued. “I have a record on the shelf that I just recently mixed, I still need to get it mastered, and I’m really, really getting close to releasing it – there’s just some non-musical hoops that I have to jump through and some things I need to sort out – hopefully it will come out this year. I’m crossing my fingers. It’s a project called Jacuzzi. I don’t know what the official release will be; whether it will be under Brant Bjork or Jacuzzi – I don’t know – these are some of the things that I’m having to deal with when it comes to distributors and labels and stuff. So I’ll just have to wait and see. It’s just an instrumental record mostly celebrating my influences like jazz and funk and break-beats and stuff.”

Cor! I’m mad for that. See you soon, Mr Bjork....