Vista Chino Transcending the Past

Vista Chino Transcending the Past
In 2010, several founding members of legendary desert rock band Kyuss, including drummer Brant Bjork, bassist Nick Olivieri and singer John Garcia, reunited to once again perform and breathe new life into the thick, oppressively hot stoner rock that had once defined their careers. This revitalized version of Kyuss' music was first presented as "John Garcia Plays Kyuss," and later Kyuss Lives!, and soon began to gather momentum. As much as fans were overjoyed to again hear Kyuss' classics played live, Garcia and Bjork were even more eager to create new music and release it under the Kyuss banner after so many years of dormancy (the group originally split up in 1995).

But a lawsuit filed by original guitarist Josh Homme (who has gone on to superstardom with Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist Scott Reeder, blocking them from using the band's former name in some capacities and preventing them from releasing new music as Kyuss, effectively quashed Garcia and Bjork's hopes of a full-scale reunion. With new guitarist Bruno Fevery, and recently joined by bassist Mike Dean (Corrosion of Conformity), the group have re-christened themselves Vista Chino, and with legal struggles finally settled, have released the appropriately titled Peace. While Peace cannot legally or, indeed, aesthetically, be called a Kyuss record, it nonetheless does an excellent job of effectively occupying the strange, liminal space the group finds themselves in, both heavily beholden to their musical heritage but also taking a strong step forward. More broad and exploratory, with a masterful sense of space and a few moments of blessed coolness to offset the desert rock heat, Peace is a worthy follow-up to the members' collective and individual legacies.

Exclaim! interviewed Vista Chino vocalist John Garcia to talk about putting the past behind them and pushing forward with their strong debut, Peace.

I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me, just as you are about to start a slew of European tour dates.
Not a problem. It's a stressful day, but I also speak for Brant [Bjork] and Bruno [Fevery] as well myself when I say we're excited at the opportunity. We're glad that there's an interest and we're grateful that, shit, that people even want to talk to us.

Of course! While the music stands on its own, the story of Kyuss, and the way that Kyuss has become Kyuss Lives! and then transformed now into Vista Chino, is an extremely interesting one. There is a fascinating narrative there.
Hmm, you say "interesting." Interesting is a…

Perhaps the wrong word?
It's an interesting word [laughs]! Yeah. I've gotta say that, you know, in the past I stressed out over a parking ticket, let alone a speeding ticket, so when somebody slaps a federal lawsuit upon me it's not, it's not the most delightful thing in the world. And I'll tell you, a lot of people expected Brant and I to fold. But we didn't. We didn't fold. What we did was, we trusted each other and we knew that nobody has the right to take our joy away, or our freedom away. Nobody has the right to do that. It was a stressful time but we got through it. The process took a little bit longer than originally anticipated because you we didn't want to be in court doing depositions, what we wanted to be doing was to be in in Joshua Tree, singing in Brant's vocal booth, looking at Joshua Tree National Monument and being inspired. I'm inspired by Brant, by Bruno, by my two wonderful children and my wife. That's what we wanted to do, and we did it. It just took a little bit of a left hand turn, but now it's over and we're stoked and we're excited to be here.

So what is important to you, then, is that the record exists, regardless of what's it's called or what banner it is released under, and that it still sounds like it was going to sound. You've created something very much in the aesthetic that you wanted and put out in the world.
I agree. When you listen to songs like "Dragona Dragona," and then the record ends it with a song like "Acidzie" and with "The Gambling Moose," I think it's clear there're a lot of Kyuss-esque nuances and attitude and temperament. But then, I also think that this band is more than that, in that we're meant to explore. For example, to pick a song like "Barcelonian," it was an exploration. It was our responsibility to explore and go off on different avenues and tangents. When you have a singer for Kyuss, and the drummer for Kyuss, one half of the writing team, it's almost impossible not to sound a little reminiscent of the band. We're just happy to be in a good place with the record coming out at the end of August. Today is the very first show where we're showcasing half the record live.

As you are about to step into performing a new record under your new name for the first time, does that feel more exciting or strange? Having played as Kyuss for so long, and knowing that your fans have such a deep relationship to that music, how does it feel now to be bringing forward new material?
You know, back when we were playing under the Kyuss Lives! banner, we got an opportunity to play one new track, and that felt fantastic. It felt strangely familiar, and reminded us of the way it used to feel when we were showcasing a new single. For tonight, about to play half the record, it's an exciting time. We're all professional musicians here, and the feeling and the vibe of anticipating playing new songs is very exciting. To be quite honest with you I'm, nervous as all hell, but I'd be nervous if I wasn't nervous. The day that it becomes mechanical and that I lose passion is the day I'll hang it up. But I've got to tell you, there's a excitement in the air and and excitement between the band members, and when we've rehearsed over the past few days in Antwerp, Belgium, the songs [have sounded] good. They sound fine. So we're also going into this with a high level of confidence.

You're in a very interesting creative position at the moment as well, on one hand putting out a new branch on your creative tree, but also acknowledging the new material is still part of a larger and older creative organism. You're creating a new project, but it's deeply informed by the ashes of the old one. Vista Chino and Kyuss are deeply intertwined, and I am not sure that it is desirable or even possible to separate them.
I couldn't have put it better. What it comes down to is Brant, Bruno and I have a high level of trust in one another. Without that trust it would be possible. Not having that trust is a sadly familiar feeing I wouldn't want to re-experience. But now there is a tremendous amount of trust between us, and that makes all the difference. That same trust is there too between us and the good friend of ours and legendary bass player currently filling in.

It's Mike Dean who's currently on bass, yes?
Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity, yes. He's amazing, and it's going to be an amazing experience playing with him. We're immensely grateful to have him. Along those lines, the other thing I wanted to mention is that everything that we do in Vista Chino is very natural. We don't overthink anything, or act out of any sense of righteousness. We just want to play music, and whether it be in front of five people, 500 people, 5000 people or 50,000 people, we're still going to be doing it anyway because we need our fix. That void in our guts needs to be filled, and to be doing it with each other again in this environment and in this arena is an amazing feeling. I'm stoked to be a part of this, and very, very honoured. I keep going back to the word "excitement," but there's an excitement in the air and we're all getting amped up and revved up. We're in a good place.

As very established, professional musicians with a heck of a history behind you, it must be novel to feel like you're at the starting block again, about to embark on a new project. What does to feel like to harness that fresh energy at this stage in your career?
It's an incredible opportunity. When I first I reached out to Brant Bjork, I said, "Hey, I want to talk to you about this idea, will you meet me at this restaurant in Hollywood?" I sat down and I told him my intentions, that I wanted to do another record, I wanted to do another record with him, and with Bruno Fevery. Luckily, they both said yes. So you're right, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and that's the part that I didn't grasp onto at first, because they could easily have said no. Brant could have said to me, "Dude, you know I've got three solo records I'm working on right now, can we revisit this in ten years?" I was prepared for anything.

You would have to be.
But luckily they both said yes, and here we are. I'm lucky, and I'm super appreciative to be up on stage with with Brant and with Bruno and Mike Dean. Lucky's not even the word; I'm blessed.

Now moving forward, with such a strong group behind you and with you in Vista Chino, how do you see Peace as a musical evolution for you, a creative step forward for you and your work?
Well, when you have half of Kyuss out to make a rock record, there are automatically going to be some similarities.

Of course!
As I was saying before, being in the studio with Brant after fifteen or twenty years, there had to be a renewed trust in in one another, and we're learning to trust each other anew. That also allows for experimentation. For example, when Brant came to me with a melody and lyrics for "Barcelonian," I had to get very personal with it to make it my own, and that takes experimentation. We'll still be looking at the back catalogue of Kyuss and reminiscing, but we're also moving forward with Vista Chino. That's going to be the departure of it, and it's something that's inevitable.

We're still gonna be playing songs like "Green Machine" and "Gardenia" and "One Inch Man," and for those who haven't seen Kyuss, we're still as close as they're ever going to get. But the differences and the similarities will be ever growing and ever changing and evolving constantly. It's impossible to stay in one place, and besides, it would be fucking boring. There's a lot of different waves to ride on this thing, and the similarities and differences are going be ever evolving, including the way we play live.