“There’s no definition of what makes a great musician a great musician…” A lot of times it’s an art and it’s just authenticity.”
Chop hops on one of the plushest tour buses he has ever seen to interview founding member, chief songwriter and, all round general good egg, Mr Brant Bjork from Vista Chino.
Chop: Good evening Sir and welcome back to the UK.
Brant: Hello, hello, hello. Thank you. It’s always a pleasure to be here in the United Kingdom.
I know you’ve been around Europe for a week or so already, but the first night of the UK tour was last night up in Manchester and that was a good show I hear?
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. The crowd was really positive and we all had a good time. Yeah it was great. Nice venue!
And Birmingham tonight – then obviously you’ve got a jaunt around the rest of the UK. You’ve got a few dates here actually – about another week to ten days and then around Europe.
Yeah, it feels good to be hitting the UK with extensive dates you know. I mean the UK is an important country to get your music out there and especially our kind of music with the heavy rock and stuff. The UK has a very rich history of creating and accepting and supporting and tolerating (laughs) heavy rock music.
Yeah… it’s the birthplace of Metal, and I suppose it’s nice to tread in the city, but history’s history and it’s a question of moving things forward isn’t it?
Yeah, contributing and evolving and yeah moving forward.
Speaking of contributing and moving forward, we know roughly speaking of what you do, kind of Doom, Stoner and… Desert Rock has often been a term that has been used to describe yourselves. How do you feel about that term?
It’s interesting. I mean I like it. I don’t know if what it means to me is what it might mean to someone else. I had an epiphany in 1991 while I was on tour in Canada with Kyuss opening up for The Dwarves and it just hit me that we were a band from the desert and I didn’t really think about it like that because we were just a product of our environment and there wasn’t a whole lot of consciousness relating to that. We were what we were. We were from where we were from. But once we got out and started touring, I started to recognise that people found that intriguing and kind of unique. I thought wow and it was then that I was able to sense that this is part of our identity and part of what might – not that we needed to – but separate ourselves – but the necessary separation in order to have the individual effect that we could potentially have. And really to just really tap into the heart of what might be our authenticity and the response to all of that was ‘Blues For The Red Sun’. I think that kind of enabled people to say “Hey… this might be ‘Desert Rock’” on a certain level. But you know, in terms of where we came from and what we were experiencing ‘desert rock’ would mean all of the bands we played with growing up in the desert and none of them sounded like Kyuss. We were all different in our own way. And ‘Desert Rock’ might relate to a lot of the bands that came from Arizona too – The Meat Puppets and bands like this and stuff – you know what I mean, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well go all the way to Texas and then ZZ Top’s ‘Desert Rock’. So it can start to become a bit of a rabbit hole. So ‘Desert Rock’ relating to Kyuss and Vista Chino, sure that’s where we’re from – the desert man.
For those not in the know is Vista Chino the street you’re originally from or very close by?
No, not necessarily. There’s no specific relation to the street other than that it’s just a street that we grew up with and like “Hey man, I’ll meet you out at the place opposite Vista Chino.” kinda thing. It was just a working title for what was to be the Kyuss Lives record and then when we changed the name we were decided yeah oh it’s a cool name that kind of just represents our root and you know… we just went for it man.
Well it works! Obviously people will associate with you in time.
Yeah, of course it’ll take time.
As Vista Chino you’ve had the debut come out album earlier in the year – it’s only been out a month or so on Napalm Records.
Yep. It’s pretty fresh man yeah.
And we’ll be hearing some works off that tonight along with some old classics?
Of course! Yeah, we’ll be doing both.
There is always a danger of looking over your shoulder and looking to the past. Let’s face it, really it should be about moving forward. What’s gone is gone and you can’t affect that. In light of what’s been going on recently with talks of reunions over the years. I should imagine that’s pretty much akin to Pink Floyd with Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour. I mean that’s clearly not going to happen. It must be an odd position for you as the founding member and driving force behind the band, it must be quite strange in a way.
It’s strange in a lot of ways and then I can shift my perspective and then it’s not so strange in a lot of ways. It kind of depends on my frame of mind and my mood. But to people on the outside looking in, I would assume it to be nothing but strange and that’s sometimes the experience for people who develop as fans – an intimate relationship with any particular artist – and where there is an relationship with an artist a lot of times there’s a lot of love and where there’s love there’s a lot of fear. A lot of that fear can be generated and expressed due to expectations and desires and when those expectations aren’t met or you have the feeling they won’t be met, it turns into a snowball of frustration.
Sometimes the fan doesn’t always have the ability to understand that as much as the artist or particular band is very grateful to have people who enjoy what it is they do, for me speaking as a person who’s part of this particular band, as much as I love to entertain people and make people feel good, I’m also an artist who’s walking a path of creativity in this life. I have to take responsibility for my past work and I too have a relationship with this thing. I’m not a linear guy, so sometimes going backwards is the best way to go forwards and I looked at it as an opportunity to go back and finish something that wasn’t kind of fully realised and I had to do that with disregard of what people’s expectations are.
I can’t hold myself responsible for fulfilling people’s expectations number one, and number two, love was the motivating factor and not fear. We had no fear of having the inability to accomplish what we were setting out to accomplish. So it’s quite an adventure. And for those people that are willing to keep an open mind and an open heart and go along with us, I think they’re going to be really excited and have a great time. And those who choose not to, that’s totally fine too man.
I suppose you say it was part of an unfulfilled legacy almost. You look at the four albums that were done with Kyuss. There is clearly an influential and legendary status and influential. They’re big shoes to fill and big things to live up to. With Vista Chino, you’ve got the opportunity to express that.
Yeah absolutely. For me it’s more about returning to a spirit and a soul as opposed to a song and a sound and breathe new life into it; to have it take us places we always hoped it would, or needed or wanted it to take us. And at the same time, simultaneously give back to those generations of fans who weren’t able to ever experience it back in the day and so there’s a real basic supplying of the demand as well.
It’s kind of a really good deal for everybody; once again, if you’re willing to get involved and be ready to go along for the ride. I think it’s a pretty good deal.
As much as everyone is entitled to an opinion you would hope that people would be open minded enough to understand your expression as an artist…
I think for a lot of people, they want all or nothing and I think with all due respect to the fantastic musicians that John and I have played with in the last couple of years, I think I speak for John and I as members of Kyuss in saying that it would have been nice to have those guys involved that were originally there. But sometimes people don’t want to do things but we collectively decided that we weren’t going to allow one person’s decision not to participate to keep us from wanting to jump in the car and go for a ride.
I suppose it’s a pity it ended as acrimoniously as it did and with sways of litigation… if nothing else it was so long winded. At least it’s settled now and at least you can move forward.
Yeah, yeah. I mean there’s ways of just not wanting to participate and that’s a respectable thing and I don’t have a problem with that. But to go out of your way a great deal to punish on multiple levels those who chose to move on without you… to me that just shows a lot and kind of confirms, the original imbalance if you will, that kind of led to an early demise in the first place.
A band works on its chemistry and if it’s not firing on all cylinders, it’s pretty pointless. As much as this is a plush tour bus, after several weeks in it, it acquires its own character. And it is tough on the road however how luxurious this is.
It’s very tough. It’s very tough. It’s not easy to create a band and maintain it and make it effective. To get four people on the same page in a creative experience – that in itself is an art, regardless of what you’re able to create and come up with. (Laughs) It’s a very, very difficult thing and then you throw the whole concept of business on top of that and the expectations of people who are spending money and wanting something. It becomes something that allows you to look at any band that’s been around for a long time and be like wow man that’s quite a respectable thing to be able to accomplish that.
It was interesting looking at the merch desk, seeing that lovely vinyl is a big change that’s happened over the years and the routes to market that we’ve got now. The changes you must have seen over your time since ’87 must be phenomenal.
Yeah we were really part of an interesting generation. We bridged the gap between the analogue world and the digital world. We were probably one of the last generations to. I grew up on buying vinyl records and cassettes and when we made our first recordings they were made on analogue gear and pressed up on vinyl and all these things. And then slowly watched my record store shift from vinyl to CD and buying my first CD player and my first CDs and being super disgruntled and frustrated because they sounded terrible. (Laughs)
It’s a very different sound.
It is! And then to watch the entire industry fall victim in my opinion to this kind of really crazy leap in technology that really had no concern for the greater good of creating music or listening to it. I think it was just all about moving things into the future world real quick and us musicians and music listeners and consumers just kind of had to desperately respond and keep a positive attitude which was difficult for me at times.
It has shifted back a little, I think that’s the nature of things. If one thing nature teaches us is that even with our super ambitious technological ways, I think nature’s always there to keep things in check. There was nothing wrong with analogue recordings and there was nothing wrong with the format of vinyl. In fact there was a lot of stuff right about it and so I think the natures that be with everyone in the world of music it has slowly over the years shifted back. It has been kind of cool to see that and actually even kind of contribute to that I think in a lot of ways.
There is definitely a vinyl resurgence…
Yeah, yeah. And even with a lot of the bands certainly in the heavy rock underground scene, I think there’s a lot behind these bands that are truly trying to preserve what everyone is hoping doesn’t become a lost art. Maybe even the art is just even appreciation for liking the classic sound, the classic format, the classic belief system in what rocks.
Very true. Speaking about the classic system, as the main lyricist of the band, the writer of the majority of melodies and presumably the songwriting as well, it puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.
Yeah, you know I work very closely with Bruno and the music and I work very closely with John with the lyrics and melodies. I work really hard and I do have a creative work ethic that just always goes back to my youth. I love what I do so I work hard at it, but I’m definitely not alone. This is definitely a group effort. To be in a band and to achieve certain results you have to work together. That’s part of the fun. That’s part of what makes it what it is and developing a song, writing chemistry with Bruno Fevery the guitar player was essential because back in the day when I was in Kyuss, Josh and I had a songwriting partnership that was the force behind the band. So I knew that it would be essential to move forward and develop.
John asked me in 2010, “hey let’s get the band back together” and I thought, wow that’s great. I never thought it would happen, I think that’s part of why I was so excited because I thought wow I never expected that. At the same time I had been doing my solo work for a darn near 10 years and I thought now couldn’t be a better time to take a break and I felt like getting back into a band situation. So it all just sounded fucking awesome and he said hey man, well we both know that Josh isn’t/doesn’t want to participate, how about Bruno Fevery? Well I just watched Bruno Fevery play the Kyuss material live with John in Europe and he was amazing. So I thought yeah let’s give it a shot. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
So the first day I started jamming with Bruno, I instantly within 2 minutes – I’ve jammed quite a bit over the years with a lot of different musicians – and I instantly knew within the first minute or two, this guy is an exceptional guitar player. It’s not just about being able to perform the Kyuss songs. He’s an individual musician on his own and he’s very accomplished. We were just playing some classic blues stuff and I was like okay, yeah! I knew right then and there, and we discussed that day that we were going to make new music.
I’ve played music long enough to know when you have a natural chemistry with someone, as musicians you want to expand on it. It’s rare, so it’s an opportunity to create and that’s what we did. We fell into a really nice, comfortable, effective song writing chemistry between Bruno and I and then John and I just worked on lyrics and melodies and pushing him to do things he has not done before or, was really good at doing in the past, and him convincing me that he’s going to try some new stuff and proving to me that he can.
The lyrics were just all stream of consciousness relating to a lot of what we were experiencing in those moments and a lot of our beliefs from the past and, a lot of our hopes for the future.
Well it’s great when you’ve got that chemistry and you know instantly. Look at Ozzy when he found Randy Rhoads or Jimi Hendrix and you could see people from all over the industry, were just like awestruck when they saw him play. You’ll see a musician play and it’ll be like “Ahh!” and it’s different and you just know.
You do. You do. You’ve been around long enough to know. Ozzy was definitely at that point in time qualified to know a great guitar player when he saw one. And of course Chas Chandler had been in the business long enough… it probably wouldn’t take… (laughs) just about anybody who probably saw Hendrix knew that he was good, but I think it took a certain type of man. I’ve read and seen interviews with Chas and he seems like a very wise dude and it was clear that he was an important part of not just seeing Hendrix and responding, but knowing how to effectively get him into a zone where he could do his thing and have it be communicated to the people in a way that was super effective.
Looking specifically at your role within the band as the drummer, what sort of warm-ups do you do and what sort of general practicing? How often are you on a kit these days?
I don’t really play at home, I never really did. I wasn’t really that kind of a drummer and I’m not really that kind of musician. I always looked at instruments as kind of like tools and when I need to build something I just pick up the tool and go for it. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy playing, I have a little jazz kit at home that I mess around with.
My kids probably mess around on it more than I do. It’s hard to find that time. We’re all busy with our own lives, with all these different things and responsibilities we have. It’s just hard to find the time to jam. On tour my whole thing is just about relaxing and conserving my energy. We usually jam at sound check and just get a feel for the room and how the room is responding. A lot of it is psychological and I approach live music the way maybe a jazz musician would approach it. You start at zero every day, whatever you did last night and however the crowd responded that’s history now and you’ve got to start from zero at the next night. I just try to stay focused and remind myself, just play the song man, play the song. I try to give myself a couple of songs in the beginning to get a feel for the communication that’s happening between the band and the audience and then just go for a ride.
You’re only ever as good as your next gig then!?
That’s it man, that’s it. That’s really what it boils down to.
In which case then I’m looking forward to tonight because that will be great I’m sure.
I enjoy what I do. I just have fun, if nothing else. I try to learn a little bit from every gig but also I want to do the best I can and I want people to enjoy themselves and feel like they had a good time and got their money’s worth. But also I want to have fun too. I enjoy playing music so it’s always fun.
As a drummer or perhaps musician or as a band, if someone was to come to you that was just starting on the game, with the wealth of your experience what pearls of wisdom would you give them?
Well I guess it depends on what the individuals dream or goals are. If their goals were to become a professional musician and really dedicate their life to it, my humble opinion would be that they really truly give their life to it. As Duke Ellington says, do not have a plan B. That’s really the only way you’re going to get the full experience and be able to fully contribute to the world of music. The great musicians that we all respect and love didn’t try things out and then decide when things were looking positive, then jumped in the boat. You commit at a time when there’s really nothing to reward you. You’ve got to really love it. I think the God’s are able to quickly know who truly loves this life and this lifestyle. So that would be my first concept of advice and then the nuts and bolts of things for a drummer or guitar player or whatever, I think you just need to be patient with yourself and don’t try to assume or expect to be a great musician in a years’ time. I think you just need to play and play with focus and passion and fire. And if you don’t have a certain quality that some other musician has, that’s okay. There’s no definition of what makes a great musician a great musician. It’s not just technique and it’s not just song writing skills or technicalities. A lot of times it’s an art and it’s just authenticity.
Yeah, there is a kind of magnetism or an aura isn’t there?
Yeah, just being real, being a real musician. I mean Neil Young is perfect example of a musician that might not be a virtuoso in anything he does but he does something that no other musician does and he has a lot of courage to do it and I think the world is a better place because of the music he makes.
Well I suppose at this point it’s a morbid subject of course because he’s just passed but look at Lou Reed.
Lou Reed is a perfect example. He created a lot of amazing music. I wouldn’t say he was a Mozart in terms of technical ability, but that’s not what makes… and a lot of times I’ve heard the philosophical expression that “true art is unsophisticated.” So with those things in mind, just love music, and just start having fun and keep at it – persistence.
Wise words indeed. Thank you. I really appreciate the time we’ve spent together – thank you very much. Onwards and upwards. All the success to you.