Brant Bjork on Doing His Thing

"I’m just tryin’ to navigate and express what’s in me..."

“Hey man, how are you doin?” It’s Brank Bjork on the phone, all mellow and joyful – and why wouldn’t he be? His new record Black Flower Power (recorded under the Brant Bjork & the Low Desert Punk Band moniker) is just about to drop. I note that you’re back on guitar for this one? “Yeah; guitar and singing – that’s where I need to be right now.”

So you’ve got Tony Tornay (drums), Bubba Dupree (guitar) and Dave Dinsmore (bass) in for this album; didn’t you used to play with Dinsmore in C’HE (Sounds of Liberation, 2000)? “Yeah, we did the C'HE record back in 2000, and I actually played alongside Tony years back in the mid-nineties when I was playing guitar in Fatso Jetson but these are all old friends of mine and I’ve known them for years and that’s what it was all about; just gettin’ back to basics, gettin’ guys that are rooted in the same kind of vibes and music that I’m rooted in, and also connected as people, y’know? We jive as people.” Indeed, you can have the best musicians in the world but if they don’t gel then you’ll get nowt of any consequence. Brant agrees. “Yeah; virtuosity and stellar musicianship is fine and dandy but it’s not, and has never been, what motivates me. I’m probably more of an artist in the sense of approaching the creative process; I’m just tryin’ to navigate and express what’s in me to come out. Sometimes when it’s at its most primal essence it’s the most effective…”

I mention that he appears to record an album then does a tour then records an album then does a tour; is there ever a need for a break, or is it something that he just has to do? “It’s a bit of both; vacations are nice – I don’t take very many vacations and I don’t need very many vacations – but I’ve said before, music for me is a handful of different things.” He mentions the ‘job’ aspect of being a musician – he gets up, goes to work, pays the bills etc but at the same time “It’s a path to self-discovery; it’s how I discover myself and what’s in me, how I perceive the world and just the whole life of an artist as a person who’s devoted themselves and their energy to creativity. And I just try to find that balance - that ying/yang – where I just let it all jive.” He’s one of the few people who can use the word ‘jive’ without sounding like a dick. He’s such a mellow cat.

I ask about the pain of creative constipation and, fortunately for Brant, he doesn’t suffer from it too often, and he notes in his sand-filled desert drawl “By nature, I’m an introvert and I internalise the world; I’m constantly perceiving and analysing the world around me and music is the way that I release all that I’ve digested. It’s always comin’ outta me and authenticity is the key for me; to just let it come out so I haven’t had too many issues where the door was open and nothing came out…”

Enough of these bowel movement analogies! We touch on the fact that Brant’s music is always on the boundaries of the mainstream but never in it. He assures me that it’s not a conscious decision, admitting that “I’ve never found inspiration in being attached to anything that’s kind of mainstream. I like things that are very deep and things that are just floating about that no one really cares about. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy pop music, I can appreciate all kinds of music and I can appreciate pop music, it’s just that popular taste is just not what I do as a musician.”

Regarding touring on Black Power Flower, he mentions a recent return from Europe, a few weeks gigging around the States and a huge schedule for next year, which will include returning to Europe “a couple of times”, some North American shows and “hopefully we’ll get to Japan and then go back down to Australia and New Zealand.” I mention that he was out in Australia earlier this year and he laughs when I suggest his frequent visits down here should earn him some kind of honorary citizenship. “Yeah! The last few years, I’ve made it down there more than once or twice and it’s always nice to go down to Australia; the Australians definitely seem to appreciate and understand rock music and it’s a beautiful country so it’s not a bad deal for me.”

And with Black Flower Power; do you have favourite tracks or do you love the whole thing in its entirety? “I don’t really have favourites; the record is a body of work and represents where I’m at right now as a person and as a musician. It’s where I’m at right now, man and I’m quite content with what it is.” Quite content? That’s putting it mildly. I mention the opener Controllers Destroyed with the introductory bass and then the drums kick in; it’s sweet stoner groove, baby. He laughs, adding a spicy “Right on, man. Right on…”

Regarding live performances, it’s one thing to play to a big crowd but how can you put everything into a show where the audience consists of two old men and a dog? “There’s an entertainment factor to getting on stage but I’m able to mindfully put the entertainment factor in its place, and what I mean by that is that the priority is for me to get out there and perform as a musician and it doesn’t matter if there’s five people there or 5000; I’m always going to go deep and execute the music on a level that I do every night, which is an honest, authentic performance of the material, of the song, of the meaning of the song, of the groove.” Brant mentions the exchange of energy at a good gig but highlights that all gigs are good in their own way: ”It changes every night. I think if I went and performed live and it was always the same, it would, on some levels, become kind of meaningless. I think if you climb mountains, you do just that; you don’t just climb one mountain – you wanna climb many for different experiences…” And the dynamic with the rest of the band? “That to me is the golden mark of performing with a band and working with musicians – that brotherhood of sound – that’s what it’s all about, and I discovered and tapped into that at a very young age. That ‘high’ was something that I experienced very early on and so playing in a band, and playing off each other, was something that I was doing with my friends long before setting up shows and even dreaming of puttin’ out a record or touring was ever even in the mind. It was all about that communication of ‘we all start at A and go B, C, D, E’ and along the way we really start playing off each other and really pushing each other; giving and taking, and that’s the pleasure of playing music with other musicians. It’s something that I don’t think people who don’t play music will ever fully understand but I think I can see them watching it and they appreciate it as observers – and that’s what this band is all about. This is a very close group of guys, we have history, we have roots, we have a shared essence and philosophy and understanding of what we’re doin’ and we’re veterans and that’s what it’s all about.”

And what about Jacuzzi, the album of break betas and jazz madness that you’ve been promising us (me, in particular) for years? “It’s interesting; it’s just a record that I made about four years ago and I shelved it because John (Garcia) called and asked if I’d be interested in puttin’ Kyuss back together [fortunately this evolved into Vista Chino] but it’s just been one of those things that for no particular reason it hasn’t been released, probably mostly because of scheduling. Hopefully I’ll be able to drop it next year; it’s just an instrumental record and mostly revolves around my funk and jazz influences. It’s cool man – I’ll have to get that thing out…” Yes! Yes, you bloody will have to…

As a last topic of discussion, we touch on his diverse instrumental skills, switching from the guitar to the drums and back again, do you have a preference for playing everything? For Brant, it’s more about that communication with other musicians. “Playing all the instruments on records in the past was really kind of a necessity, it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to do – it was something that I had to do because I had to stay busy, keep work comin’ outta me and it was time management; I didn’t have time to go and get a bunch of guys and teach them the material so I just started makin’ records on my own. But just because I can do that, it doesn’t mean that I should, or even want to, it’s all about what we just talked about; getting a bunch of guys and executing music and playin’ off one another, and lettin’ it build and develop and developing chemistry. And to lead a band, I like to be out front tellin’ my story and singin’ my songs with my guitar.”
And that’s exactly what will be happening when Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band continue the touring with Black Flower Power. Right on, brother. Right on.