As the frontman of Kyuss, John Garcia helped define stoner rock. Since their breakup he’s had success with the likes of Slo Burn, Hermano, and last year’s excellent Peace (Napalm Records) album with former Kyuss bandmates in Vista Chino. Finally, after 20-odd years in the business, he’s putting out a self-titled solo album. Ghost Cult’s Dan Swinhoe talks to John about how it feels to get a life-long project off his chest.
I heard you put everything else on hold for your solo album?
“That’s right. I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time, and I’ve literally have put this on hold myself for years. My former managers didn’t want me to do this, they wanted me to put it on hold, and I got tired of saying no to these songs. I had this collection of songs that I literally looked at every morning. I had this cardboard box that I kept of songs that were very close to me, they were very personal songs that I liked and had a relationship with, and felt bad for them. I was exhausted of saying yes, yes, yes to fucking everything else and I finally had to say yes to this group of songs. And I got to tell you, you talk about a sense of freedom and a feeling of being liberated – those are not even the words to explain how happy, excited and passionate I am about releasing this record.”
“I’ve been working very hard on this project for a long time and it feels good to be where I’m at right now and all these other bands, all these other cars if you will, are parked in the garage. The Vista Chino car’s parked in the garage, the Unida car’s parked in the garage. Hermano, Sloburn, all these little projects that I’ve got going, they’re all parked. And this car that I’m in right now is fuelled up and she’s purring like a kitten. And I’m gonna take her out for a nice long drive, and I don’t plan on parking her any time in the near future, and it feels good.”
So how long have you had this solo album in the works?
“I’ve been wanting to do this since I was about 18 or 19 years old, and I’m going to be 44. You talk about pent up energy and pent up feeling and emotion- that’s a long time to have held on to some of these songs. I wrote ‘Her Bullets Energy’ while living in Palm Springs with Nick Oliveri, and if someone were to tell me that at 19 years old, “Hey kid, you’re going to release this song and Robby Krieger from The Doors is going to play Spanish guitar on it,” I would have told them, “You’re out of your fucking mind, go jump in a lake, there’s no possible way.” and here we are, me at 43 that song’s about to be released, it ends the record and Robby Krieger is playing Spanish guitar on it. Talk about a special moment that I will never ever forget.”
‘All These Walls’ is a rework of an old Slo Burn demo, ‘Cactus Jumper’. How did you pick which songs to put on the album and which to leave off, and how many are left in that cardboard box?
“When I co-wrote ‘Cactus Jumper’ – now ‘All These Walls’- with [Slo Burn bandmates] Chris Hale, Damon Garrison and Brady Houghton, that was special to me. We got together at this little Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs about 5 years ago and I told them that I wanted to put this song on my solo record. For some reason I felt a connection with that song and I thought, you know what, I’m gonna redo this one, this is a song that speaks to me, that’s personal to me.”
“I have a total of about 44 songs, and I picked out 14, and only 11 of them made it. So there’s quite a bit more. There’s no rhyme or reason behind this collection. I didn’t get methodical. It just made perfect sense to have this group of songs be sequenced the way that were and have them be given a shot to have new life brought back into them at my age. This group of songs is a collective thing but songs that were very special to me and I knew eventually I wanted to release, and if I ever were to release a solo record this group of songs needed to see the light of day.”
This is obviously a very personal project but you’ve got a cover on there and Danko Jones wrote a song for you – was it difficult to give up places on the record if you’ve got others waiting to be heard?
“Danko Jones wrote ‘5000 miles’ specifically for me about 10 years ago. What an honour and privilege to have someone like Danko write a song specifically for me. We always had these conversations when were on tour together of me releasing a solo record and so he took our conversations and recorded this very crude demo while he was on his balcony and he sent it to me. I immediately fell in love with it and there it went on a CD in my little cardboard box, and there it sat. I knew I was going to get to it and eventually I did.”
“I’m a fan of songs and I’m a fan of music. I don’t care who wrote it. If I like it, I’m going to most likely cover it. I got a chance to see band called Black Mastiff out of Canada when Vista Chino rolled through town and I fell in love with one of their songs [‘Rolling Stoned’] so much that I had to put it on the record. If I could sing like Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind and Fire chances are there was gonna be an Earth, Wind and Fire song on this record. My next record could be 100% full of covers. If a song touches me and it moves me, chances are I’m gonna cover it and I’m gonna sing it. I personally don’t seen anything wrong with that.”
Was it different recording as a solo artist as opposed to a band?
“Yeah it was, because each musician was hand-picked for a specific song. I’m not a guitar player, my guitar playing is very primitive, but my ideas come down and if I give my ideas to Dave Angstrom [Hermano] like I did with ‘My Mind’, it turns it into something that’s special. There’s not just one group of guys that I worked with, there’s 10 or 15 guitar players and it was an honour to work with every one of them. Dave Angstroms, Eric Belt, Danko Jones, Robbie Krieger, Nick Oliveri, Chris Hale, Damien Garrison, Mark Diamond [The Dwarves]. These are great players and I’m very honoured to play with them in the studio for this collection of songs and I think record would not have been nearly as good without these guys.”
Was it hard to get that continuity throughout the album?
“The conducive part of it was obviously my voice and the percussionist Tom Brayton. Those two pieces made it more conducive because all these collection of songs were from spread out throughout my career from 20 years old to 10 years old to 5 years old to a couple of years old so it had to flow, so we tried to make it sound it wasn’t recorded in different eras. It was a very conscious thing what we wanted to sound like something with flow, and conscious of keeping it simple.”
“That’s where the producers and the passion came in. the musicians were just as passionate about the songs as I was, as the producers were, so that made it really, really easy to go in and record. Again credit where credit is due, Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever at Thunder Underground made it all happen. I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s great to have producers that are equally passionate about the songs and the music as I was.”
How long did recording take?
“It took a year in the planning to due scheduling the players, but start to finish, once we started tracking it took about 30 days. I could have stayed in there for another month but at some point in time you lift your hands up. At that time we were going, “What about this other mix, what about this mix,” and we were thinking if we keep on finger fucking this thing we’re gonna ruin it, and I think at the end of the sessions we looked at each other we went, “Ok, let’s just get it out.”
Does the personal nature of the album mean there more pressure or less pressure than normal?
“Super excited is not the word. I feel like I’ve got handcuffs off me. Not like I was being held hostage by anybody else or another band, but in a way like why haven’t I done this before? A big monumental moment is upon me and I’m basking in it. I’m nervous, but it’s a good nervous. I’m exposed, not under a cloak of a band name, but just my own first and last. But there is an excitable nervousness back behind it. It’s good, if I wasn’t nervous about it, I would be worried.”
“Some people are not going to dig it, and it’s not their thing, and that’s alright. I’m not looking to change the face of rock and roll with this record, I’m not looking to become a rock star, I was never one to begin with, I don’t want to be one, and I’m not backstage thinking I am one. That doesn’t interest me. What interests me is creating and being on stage.”
It’s been about a year since Vista Chino’s album Peace came out – was worth all the legal troubles you had about the name now you’ve got some hindsight?
“Let’s reword it- would I do it again? No. Because the shit I had to go through behind the scenes – I don’t want anybody to go through that. If I would have known the amount of hurt and heartache that I was about to embark on, no fucking way I would have done it. Absolutely not a chance in hell, I would have went in the other direction and never looked back.”
“But we did it. All the shit we went through, we pulled it off and nobody was going to stop us. We were on a fucking mission. There was no question about it, we knew we couldn’t just say, “Ok, later, I’m done.” We knew we were on a mission and had to do it, there was no turning back. We were on a strict hard-core mission to get that record done and we did.”
Is it still hard to think about?
I don’t even think about it anymore. All of that stuff is in the past fully and I’ve moved on a long time ago.