Ex-Kyuss Maverick John Garcia Talks Stoner Rock, Life As A Veterinary Tech And The Endless Quest For Gold
It’s been a long and winding road for John Garcia. A prolific singer-songwriter who first came to prominence with desert-rock icons Kyuss (alongside Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, their erstwhile bassist Nick Oliveri and stoner legend Brant Bjork), Garcia has grown to be the genre’s reluctant figurehead. Curiosity hangs over Kyuss’ 1996 breakup – the limitless possibilities lost and those that followed in its wake – but John has only ever had eyes for the road ahead.
A slew of subsequent outfits – Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano, Vista Chino – expanded on his sun-beaten worldview and laidback sensibility. Since 2014’s self-titled solo release, there’s been an unmistakable maturity and experimentation bleeding through, too, with 2017’s The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues mixing original compositions in with campfire acoustic reworkings of older songs.
As latest LP John Garcia And The Band Of Gold arrives on the horizon, however, there are hints that the journey could be coming to an end. “After a year of heavy stress, starting my own studio, shutting it down, hiring and firing, the drama is finally over,” his statement read. “It is unclear if I will ever be doing this again, so this is it.”
Indeed, speaking on a sleepy Sunday morning in Palm Springs, at the onset of the mild Californian Winter, focus flits between the past and present, his public and private life and the oft-conflicting interests of music and family. An easy, intelligent conversationalist, however, still bristling with love for his art, it’s impossible to believe there isn’t still more to come…
The Band Of Gold feels like a title with much to read into. What’s the inference there?
“It feels like this is my first true solo record. I look back on my first [2014’s self-titled] with a little bit of regret. I wanted to make it a little harder, a little faster. When starting to make this record, I had a very specific direction I wanted to go in. I wanted to make a very rock record. I wanted to not fill up the songs with vocals to let the music – the band – breathe. You’ve got to let things breathe. [That debut] wasn’t such a band effort, either. The Band Of Gold is bassist Mike Pygmie, guitarist Ehren Groban and drummer Greg Saenz. It’s not about a band of gold you’d wear on your finger. It’s literally my band from the Low Desert.”
Where does [2017’s] The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues fit in?
“Along my path, I had decided to try out an acoustic tour, just for fun. I love to tour, I love to sing, I still love to perform. When Ehren and I had played a couple of European acoustic tours, we’d found it really fun and just decided to go in and record a quick little acoustic record. Reaching back into the Kyuss back catalogue is always fun. Well, I don’t know if fun is the word, but it can be good to revisit those songs at where I’m at now in my life. It’s good to find a little redemption – Space Cadet was a song I never really liked when it was done, so I re-did it. But that was really just a blip in my career, a very little thing. It was much easier to record than this new record, too…”
John Garcia And The Band Of Gold, Jim’s Whiskers
You’ve hinted at that difficulty in getting Band Of Gold made. What happened?
“Between November 2017 up until September 2018 it was hell trying to organise under a tremendous amount of pressure. First of all, two studios in Palm Springs shut down. Where was I gonna record it? How was I gonna record it? I decided to open up a little place of my own up in the high desert sandwiched between where I’m at in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree in a little town called Yucca Valley. Actually, the room sounded quite nice, but a couple of the guys I went into this with weren’t equal to the task – not fully committed. I closed my place down. Meanwhile, I’ve got the record company breathing down my throat. My career as a veterinary technician – a hospital manager – taking a toll. Everyone in my family took a back seat. But I had to finish this record. I was committed to it – contractually committed. [Producer] Chris Goss came on-board and we moved production to Rancho De La Luna. There were some great parts in there. Writing the music with the guys was great. But the logistics are not what I do. I sing, I write. I don’t open studios. I found that out the hard way. We’ve just kind of barrelled through it all. I’ve never had a record cause as much havok in my life as this one. Making records is supposed to be fun, it’s not supposed to be stressful.”
It seems strange that a legendary musician like yourself would have such difficulty…
“I think that word ‘legendary’ gets thrown around a little loosely. I think of real living legends like Robby Krieger [guitarist] from The Doors, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with. There’s a lot of normality about that guy. He’ll be like, ‘Hey, you want to play a round of golf and smoke a joint?’ And I say, ‘Sure!’ I can’t say no to that – because it’s Robbie Krieger. I appreciate the being associated with a word like legendary. But I don’t tale myself that seriously at all…”
With that grounded sensibility, what were your ambitions for Band Of Gold?
“I set out to make a very simple rock record. That’s what I wanted. If you like rock music, if you’ve had a bad day at work and need to unwind, I want this record to be one that’ll take you to another place. I’m not gonna say, ‘If you like Sabbath and Zeppelin and Hendrix you’ll like this…’ I can’t say that. I can never be compared to real, true legends like those. But if you like rock, trip out. For the people who have known me, who follow me, and who continue to support me, this record is for them. If they want to pass this onto their friends, then by all means. If you take the record and throw it in the fireplace, film it burning and post it all over the net, have at it. Overall, generally, I think people who like rock will like this.”
Can you tell us more about your life outside music?
“My wife Wendy and I help run Palm Springs Animal Hospital. I’ve been vet-teching for 30 years. My wife’s been doing it for close to 20. The Garcia family enjoy normality, and calm, in our lifestyle. Both of us are incredibly reclusive people. We turn away from drama. We don’t even like to go out to bars. We just love each other and want the best for our family. That’s where all my efforts are committed: my wife, my 9‑year-old son, my 15-year-old daughter. The holidays are a good time for us!”
John Garcia featuring Robby Krieger, Her Bullets’ Energy
Do you have a special relationship with animals?
“It’s work. I’ve got a job to do. I’ve got my clients and we have X number of surgeries a day. We get the doctor the correct diagnostic tests so that they’re able to make the correct diagnosis. That’s very important to me. I love that part of veterinary medicine. But doing that, you have to detach yourself from a certain amount of emotion. The doctor can’t save them all and we have to deal with euthanasia on a daily basis. We have empathy. We have compassion. That’s the main reason we’re there – that we love animals. But we have a job to do in taking are of my doctors.
As such an important part of your life, does that find its way into songwriting?
“Not a lot, to be honest, but there are some parts. My wife wrote some of those lyrics for a song on the new album called Chicken Delight in relation to a patient she had who had a long journey – 25 miles, then the same back – in a car engine. This patient, this cat, had travelled close to 75 miles before they ever found where she was. This story of this cat surviving this journey, losing her leg, then finding the most amazing home is something that rarely happens. For a song like that, it made perfect sense.”
You released a lyric-video for Chicken Delight on YouTube. Some of the comments seemed to wilfully misconstrue those lyrics as something much darker. Do you pay attention to that stuff?
Looking at the imagery of that video, it feels like your influence is shifting from the desert towards the sea…
“I’m done with the desert. I think the desert is overplayed. The devils and cars and naked chicks are way overdone. This record feels like a culture-change. This is the direction that I’m going in, with the surf culture that I love. Do I surf? No. But I body board and I enjoy getting up there with my son. I’m two hours from some of the best beaches in the world. We do visit them. Down in Australia, I have an affinity towards that culture, too. You have the album cover, with my father when he’s about 12 years old. You have Carlos Ramirez from Coachella who did the artwork. Four guys from Southern California with the huge surf culture down here. It’s not all desert and Joshua Trees….”
John Garcia And The Band Of Gold, Chicken Delight
Is it fair to say that you’re a geographically rooted artist?
“The desert is a beautiful place. It’s inspiring. I don’t think I could do what I could do in the middle of Australia in that very different desert. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, though, and I think that I’d still find time to write in some of those other places. But this is home to me. I look out my living room window and see one of the most incredible views in all of the desert: literally a five million dollar view. I love it. Living in Southern California, we’re spoiled by a lot of things: the cuisine, the heritage – especially Hispanic heritage, of which I’m part. I don’t speak Spanish, I was raised by my white German-Polish mother who, thankfully, is still around to help this family out. But it’s still something I want to explore.”
You’ve suggested this album could be one of the last – or the last – of your career. Do you feel your musical life is incompatible with your family one?
“I do. I absolutely do. I don’t wanna scare the my guys in the band, or the record company, or my booking agent, but I need to be here for my family more. I don’t want to regret music. Generally, as I get older and my kids get older – my daughter is gonna be 16 and my son is gonna be 10 – I don’t want to miss them growing up. This is important stuff. If you’re not there to be a father – a good father – the internet and the world will have a way of raising your kids for you. I’m very conscious of that. Education is high on my list of priorities when it comes to raising Marshall and Madison. In the Garcia residence, there are no guitar or piano lessons, no extra-curricular activities, until the homework is done. No videogames! I made the mistake of telling Marshall that if he got straight As through 2017/2018 I’d give him $1,000. He got all As and he was like, ‘Pay up!’”
How have you changed, as an artist and as a person, as your career has progressed?
“I continue to grow up. I’m a late bloomer. It’s taken me a lot of mistakes to get to where I am right now. I continue to make those mistakes. But I want to be a good person – a good father, a good husband, and sometimes that can be challenging.”
Kyuss, Green Machine
Which are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
“I feel like the best thing that ever happened to me was Kyuss breaking up. I mean that, truthfully. I found out really quickly, who I was and who my friends were. It was a big blow to my ego, but very good for me to have a massive slice of humble pie shoved down my throat by the big man upstairs. ‘You think you’re cool? Swallow this!’ There’s nothing worse than false modesty or humbleness, but it is good to be pounded down to the ground to the point where you have to get up and acknowledge that you want to be a better person. It’s happened to me a lot. It’s my path. I’m totally okay with it. From the time I was 17 to being 48 now, singing all those years, I can say that I appreciate music, I appreciate life, and I appreciate all the musicians I have gotten to play with. I’m very, very lucky. It’s been me continuing to grow up and me continuing to find better ways to be there. It’s a big thing to continue to grow and develop as a person.”
What are your favourite memories, looking back over your career?
“I really loved playing with the Kyuss line-up that featured Josh, Brant, Nick and myself. That line-up was really, really cool. We brought it. Once Brandt left, it was never really the same. Those early days are standout. Why? Just because we were so into what we were doing so, so much. We didn’t care about anything else. We didn’t care about what people thought or said. It was an attitude. It was a temperament. We were writing our own path and nobody was going to stop us. The music was incredible, as well. To see Brant and Josh sitting in a room writing together felt magical: in my garage or Brant’s room or Josh’s garage, sweating like a banshee in the heat with no air conditioning. And wanting to do that. Boy, I couldn’t do that these days. I’ve gotten spoiled. But those are the great, great memories. It feels great even to be given the chance to think back and have to answer these questions. They evoke answers that allow me to find things out about myself.”
Those last two answers clash somewhat. Is there a regret that Kyuss did dissolve?
“Yes and no. I don’t think about it too much anymore. I’m consumed by things other than regret these days. One of the QOTSA songs is about how the break-up of Kyuss was merely Josh and I sitting down together at a bar in the Palm Desert – the Red Barn – where Josh looked at me and said, ‘I think we should break up the band…’ and I just said, ‘Okay.’ It was over in about five seconds. Just like that. It’s not that I’ve never told anyone what happened. It’s that nothing really did happen. It wasn’t this big old fight. It was as simple as two friends sitting together at a band agreeing to break up the band and saying ‘No worries.’ After that, reality sunk in and I learned the lessons I spoke about earlier. But there are no big regrets. I’m very lucky to have played with Josh. He’s an amazing songwriter and guitarist. I just saw Nick the other day, actually, when he came up to my rehearsal place to get ready to play my only electric show this run at the Hard Rock in Vegas. He’s gonna come up onstage. Arthur Seay from Unida is gonna come up. Chris Hale from Slo-Burn. Dave Angstrom from Hermano, too. For the first time in my career I’m gonna be up there with all these guitarists – with the exception of Josh – and it’s gonna be a rad night.”
John Garcia And The Band Of Gold, My Everything
Is nostalgia something that you shy away from or something that you embrace?
“Let’s just say that if Josh were to ask me to do a Kyuss reunion, I’d say yes. But that’s something I know will never happen again. I love revisiting songs like Green Machine and Gardenia and Super Scoopa or Whitewater. The Band Of Gold has a massive respect for those songs and those songwriters. They do those songs justice, while adding their own flair and flavour and taste. But I don’t think I take that [nostalgia] too seriously. Do I think I’m watering down this thing I created by revisiting it with the people I play with now? Do I think I’m hurting it? I don’t. I respect Kyuss. I was the singer in Kyuss, and I can sing those songs better now than I ever could’ve back when I was in my late teens and early twenties.”
What are your thoughts looking back on Kyuss Lives/Vista Chino?
“Kyuss Lives was rad because it was the beginning of Vista Chino. Josh and Scott suing us over the name was all fine and dandy – no skin off my [nose]. That’s just two guys – Josh on one side of the fence, Brant on the other – poking sticks at each other. Out of Vista Chino you got songs like Sweet Remain, or Barcelonian or Adara. Those songs can be incredibly difficult and really fun to sing. And whether we were playing with Nick or Mike Dean from Corrosion Of Conformity, you always had that backbone of Bruno Fevery, Brant and myself. That was truly an amazing band to see and to play in. They were fucking tight! I loved how they would go off in these different musical tangents, just jamming. I don’t go back to listen to my catalogue very much, but I go back to revisit VC because I like the way those songs make me feel. I was just looking at footage of Sweet Remain from Dresden in Germany last night. I was cringing, wondering how I was going to sound, but I put a different twist on it and it sounded cool. I kind of nerded-out a little bit.”
So, what comes next?
“I have a big tour coming up in Europe from the end of January til the end of February. I love Australia, so I want to get back there and probably will around October, be that with the band or the acoustic thing. I love the acoustic thing, exposing myself like I haven’t done before with one guitar and one vocal. It feels like a frontier I have yet to fully explore. Beyond that, I want to enjoy life. I want to become that better husband and father. I love spending time with my wife. I want to hang out with my son, and I can’t wait to get my daughter to come back to California this Christmas. It’s mostly just about doing a lot of that…”
WORDS: SAM LAW
John Garcia And The Band Of Gold release their self-titled album on January 4. The band’s tour of Europe begins on January 23, culminating at Islington Academy, London on February 23. For more information click here.
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