What a Bong, Headbanging Trip It's Been
The Blazing Return of Stoner-Rock Gods Kyuss Lives!
Why the hell am I talking to lead howler John Garcia of Kyuss Lives!—the reincarnation of Kyuss—at 9:30 a.m.? This isn't very rock and roll, for fuck's sake. But the volcanic-piped singer behind stoner-rock pioneers Kyuss is a married 42-year-old family man now. He's an early riser who's not allowed to swear in the house.
"A lot of people think I wake up and take a bongload and throw on High on Fire on vinyl and kind of trip out for the rest of the day," Garcia says by phone from LA, where Kyuss Lives! have been rehearsing. "In fact, I do the complete opposite. I'm up before the sun rises. I don't think about what I'm going to listen to tonight; I think about what kind of bait I'm going to use when I go fishing later on this afternoon. I might listen to Adele or Maroon 5. I'm a fan of all types of music. It's not a guilty pleasure."
Along with bandmates Brant Bjork (drums) and Nick Oliveri (bass), Garcia felt compelled to alter Kyuss's name because original guitarist Josh Homme—now in Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal—opposes a re-formation, preferring not to retrace his steps, though he respects what his former mates are doing. Belgian ax man Bruno Fevery has replaced Homme.
Garcia stresses that there's no bad blood between Kyuss Lives! and Homme; he recently blasted a British journalist for insinuating that there was. "I think that people are so bored with their own lives that they need drama in other people's to make their lives feel more complete," Garcia says. "We're all calm and cool and cordial with each other. We all saw Josh earlier this year in France, and the whole Queens of the Stone Age came up onstage, and we're all getting hugs and high fives."
If you're worried that Fevery won't be able to match Homme's gravid yet fluid guitar tones, Garcia allays your fears. "A lot of people can get on guitar and play Kyuss songs, but a lot of guitarists who try to duplicate our songs lack character and attitude. Bruno has those things. When he plays Josh and Brant's songs, he does it with an incredible amount of respect, but he also puts his own personality into it. On solos like 'Freedom Run,' I won't hear him play the same thing twice. Moving forward, when we do this next Kyuss record, I expect Bruno to bring something completely different to the table."
Kyuss began in 1989, but they didn't emerge fully formed as the stoner-rock gods who've been enshrined in their fans' THC-laced minds. The Palm Desert, California, quartet's raw, furious 1991 debut album, Wretch, displays a traditional, earthbound hard-rock muscularity that only hints at the glories to come. When Kyuss dropped their genre-defining classic, Blues for the Red Sun, in 1992, true heads could sense a paradigm shifting like tectonic plates in rock's geology. Welcome to Sky Valley and ...And the Circus Leaves Town round out a powerful canon of psychotropically intense rock. The Oliveri/Bjork rhythm section possessed the ruggedly sexy thrust that animated legends like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but very few other heavy-rock acts. Homme's girthful guitar riffs hit you like an avalanche while often flaming out with rococo, upper-register filigree. Kyuss walked that tightrope of balancing oppressive metallic pressure and beautifully soaring melodies with more grace than did their contemporaries. At their best, they made you bang your head while also elevating your body to places their less psychedelically inclined counterparts couldn't.
Out in Palm Desert, Kyuss's members used the stifling heat and the boredom of cultural isolation as a fulcrum to create a sound that's inspired hundreds of bands. "We were four very hungry individuals in high school that played the music that was missing in our lives," Garcia declares. "We didn't try to mirror any bands."
Perhaps Kyuss's most notable trait is Garcia's distinctive timbre, a kind of clenched soulfulness, which at times morphs into a monomaniacal howl. He readily admits he modeled it after Ian Astbury and Glenn Danzig. "It's almost like a curse; when I heard the Cult's Love record in '85, when I was a freshman in high school, my life changed. No more plans of military, no more plans of veterinary medicine. It was all thrown out the window because of that band."
But surely age has taken a toll on Garcia's formidable cords? Nope. "I'm singing better," he claims. "Typically, as you get older, a singer's voice will deteriorate a little bit. My voice has aged very well. I'm able to explore more. I'm able to really dig in and still have the attitude and temperament of when those songs were recorded, but now it's about keeping it in the same vein, but doing some exploration.
"Kyuss was a band of exploration and we never played the songs the same way from night to night. There were always some hills and valleys that we traveled on. Now more than ever, I'm exploring different parts. It's very enjoyable for me to sing these songs again and to celebrate the past. If you hadn't seen Kyuss before, this is as close as you're ever going to get to seeing Kyuss again. Because chances are that Josh Homme isn't going to call me up and say, 'Hey, dude, I want in.' There are more chances of Josh calling me up to have a beer than he is to jammin' out again. Which is totally cool with me."