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Interview: John Garcia Of Kyuss Gets Down To Basics

Interview: John Garcia Of Kyuss Gets Down To Basics

Chris Cudby / Monday 23rd April, 2018 1:19PM

John Garcia is revered internationally as the iconic voice behind US stoner rock desert-dwellers Kyuss, whose landmark nineties recordings gave shape to the genre's obsession with heavy low-end grooves, searing Sabbath-inspired guitars, and seriously blazed seventies-inspired imagery. That band disbanded before the turn of the millennium, with members moving on to equally pivotal groups Queens Of The Stone Age (Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri) and Fu Manchu (Brant Bjork), while Garcia ploughed his own furrow as frontman for Slo Burn and Unida

Garcia has never stopped moving, releasing two solo records this decade, his eponymous 2014 album and 2017's The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues, which saw the artist move in an acoustic direction, belting out stripped-back reinterpretations of Kyuss classics 'Green Machine' and 'Gardenia' alongside new songs written with guitarist Ehren Groban (War Drum). Last here with Unida in 2013, Garcia is hitting our shores with Groban this week for two intimate acoustic shows at Auckland's Whammy Bar and Wellington's Valhalla. Chris Cudby couldn't resist the opportunity to chinwag with the legendary singer, read on for their conversation below...

How's things going John, what are you up to today?

Things are smooth, we played Geelong last night and that was fucking nuts man! People were drunk and it was crazy. It was great, got a good rest, I don't rage or party too hard so we got home at a decent hour. I got some sleep, woke up, spoke to the family like I always do, and then went down and visited a buddy of mine in St. Kilda, and just got back. I've got a day of press and just getting ready to do soundcheck, so it's just a day in the life y'know. I'm stoked to be down here, so is my guitar player Ehren (Groban), it's a really cool opportunity for us to be down here.

I was a massive fan of Kyuss when I was a teenager, I can imagine the audiences can be pretty psyched to see you play.

It's great to go back and to play songs like 'Green Machine' and 'Rodeo' and 'Gardenia' and 'Space Cadet', we're going to do all of those. Not to mention songs from my very first solo electric record, obviously songs from the acoustic record (The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues). To be down in Oz, and especially to be going down in New Zealand, this is special for me. I don't know how it is for the New Zealanders or for the Aussies, but for me it's something that I don't take for granted because it's something that I don't get a chance or an opportunity to do much more.

I'm a father, I'm a dad, I'm a husband. So any time that my family rarely allows me to come down here and do something like this... the appreciation level is jumping off the charts for me. And to be doing it acoustically, which is something I've never done before, this is something that's rad and special for Ehren and I. When my booking agent said "hey when you're down in Oz, do you want to hit New Zealand?" And I said, "Fuck yeah! I want to hit New Zealand absolutely, are you kidding me?" I fought for it... We only have two, but two's better than nothing, so I'm stoked.

What prompted the acoustic format for your current shows?

I think the challenge. And why these songs? "Why did you turn 'Green Machine' into this other take?" People say "oh it's a ballad, you shouldn't have done that". And I say "No no no no, it's not a ballad, this is just a different take." How do you take something so mean and heavy and turn it into something on the other side of the spectrum and make it something different? That was challenging, that was interesting. I still genuinely love to write and create and I thought, how cool what it be if we could change up 'Green Machine' and 'Gardenia', can we do it? Some of them it was very easy to do when we were in the studio. Some of them, they didn't lend themselves to the acoustic. But we did it. How do you play 'White Water' acoustically? Well, I'm going to show you.

To be able to see these songs acoustically with Ehren and I in a very intimate setting. We want to bring our living room to you... so we have couches, we have chairs, we have lamps, we have plants, we have drinks. Most likely I'm going to call up a couple or two on stage I'm going to personally pour them a drink and we're going to jam out, and we're going to tell stories. We're going to connect, that's the whole point of this acoustic thing is bringing our living room to New Zealand, and we're going to do it.

How long have you been working with Ehren for?

For about four or five years now. If you don't know who Ehren Groban is, the New Zealanders are certainly going to know who Ehren Groban is afterwards. If anything, to see his craft, the way that he plays guitar. He's an amazing songwriter, he's an even better guitarist. He's just fucking amazing, he's classical trained, kinda turned rock. He's just a really talented young guy from the desert. I'm very lucky to have found him, very lucky to have written this last record with him.

Thinking about the difference between playing an acoustic show, and travelling with a band, obviously there's a lot less gear that you have to travel around with?

The load ins and load outs are fucking simple, they're so easy. That's another reason it's great to do it. Chris there's one guitar and one vocal. Is there any effect on the vocal? Zero. Is there any delay, is there any reverb? Zero, nothing. Is there any effect on the guitar? Zero. Ehren has a looper sometimes, so he can kind of loop things a little bit, but that's as bitchin' as we're going to get. It's very very stripped down and I'm pretty much singing in your face. It's true, that's the way we wanted it. There's nothing to hide behind. When we stripped it down, we really stripped this fucking thing down.

It's not for everybody, but if you want to... hear this in a different studio environment where it's not a wall of sound, it's one guitar, one vocal and it's stripped down in its entirety and takes and it's to the root of the song, then this is it man.

You have another album coming out this year?

I do, if everything goes okay it'll come out in June. It's being mixed literally as we speak. I get these mixes sent to my computer, I listen down to them, we make adjustments and then it's off to mastering. So if everything works out okay... it's not an acoustic record, it's a full blown electric rock record. We wanted to keep it basic, we wanted to keep it simple and that was the direction of the record and hopefully if everything goes okay it'll be out in June. But it's done. The title of the record is John Garcia and the Band of Gold.

Who's the Band of Gold?

It's Ehren Groban, Mike Pygmie, and Craig Saenz. They've been my live band for years now. A talented, talented bunch of musicians, I'm stoked to be sharing he stage with them.

Are there any specific inspirations or themes to the new album?

Yeah there is a theme. I'm a family man, like I said I'm a husband, I'm a father and there's a lot of appreciation and a lot of love and a lot of inspiration that comes from family and keeping your eye on the ball. What's the ball? What's important? Family's important. I don't mean my family, but Mike Pigmie's family, Greg Sainz's family. If you've got a family, or if your family's tight. Y'know Chris I'm not singing about love, as far as "oh I love my family." It goes deeper behind that. There's deeper meaning behind some of these lyrics.

The theme is keeping your eye on the ball and knowing what's important in life. And two: keeping a simple rock record. Don't get too bitchin'. Keep the drums, keep the bass, keep the guitar and don't finger-fuck this thing. Just make a simple, classic, rock record. And that's what we made out to do... with me singing over this thing. So it's not a love record, it's a rock record stripped down, and sometimes being simple is hard to do. Especially with music. That's the theme.

Because your current performances are so raw, with no embellishments or anything like that, how do you look after your voice when you're playing so many shows back to back?

I rest, resting is the most important. Obviously, you don't want to start drinking at fucking eight o'clock in the morning. You don't want to start drinking at fucking nine o'clock at night. I'll have a cocktail before the show just to calm my nerves a little bit, and then you don't smoke. Maybe after the show I might have one or two cigarettes because it's one of my vices, and then I get to rest. I don't rage and party, I'm pushing fifty and I want to do well. I want to sing well, I want to perform well. I'm not out here to fucking rage. I've got a job to do and I don't want to suck, I want to do well and I want to sing well, or else I don't have a good time. With that comes staying hydrated and taking care of yourself, and just try to keep it all together.

John Garcia is playing at Auckland's Whammy Bar on Tuesday 24th April (sold out sorry) and Wellington's Valhalla on Wednesday 25th April (Anzac Day), for tickets and more info head along HERE.


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John Garcia
Tue 24th Apr 8:30pm
Whammy Bar, Auckland
John Garcia
Wed 25th Apr 8:00pm
Valhalla, Wellington