Interview: John Garcia

The legendary frontman of stoner and heavy rock bands including Kyuss, Hermano, Unida, and Slo Burn talks to Bearded about his long awaited solo LP.

Posted on Aug 15th, 2014 in Features and Interviews, John Garcia, Napalm / By Peter Clark
John Garcia Bearded were lucky to catch up with one of the most respected and influential singers in the stoner/hard rock scene. When his band Kyuss hit the scene almost 30 years ago, they changed not just the sound, but the scene of desert rock which they represented, forever. Now, after playing in so many bands, a very humble and proud John Garcia lets us know about his long awaited solo LP, and why he's loving being a musician right now.

Where are you at right now?
I’m in my house, I live about 15 minutes north of Palm Springs California. It’s pretty warm today, gonna get close to 100 degrees but that’s the way I like it..

How excited are you? It’s been 27 years you’ve been making music and you’ve now done your first solo record. Has this been a long time coming?

Yeah man. It has been. I’ve been wanting to do this for a really long time, and for it finally to be here, words can’t explain how excited I am. I’ve been passionate about this project from day one, and it’s finally here. The amazing group of musicians I’ve worked with to get me to this point, is just great, they’ve all been super fantastic, just a great slue of great musicians that have helped me with this project, and I’m just really excited to be here and to finally have it be done.

Would this be your proudest moment in your music career?

You know, it’s gotta be. I never really thought about it that way, but yeah it is, the proudest moment of my musical career absolutely. I’ve done a lot of these today, talking to people like yourself, people who have shown interest in it. It’s a proud day for me, it’s a monumental moment, it’s something that i’ve always wanted to do, it’s finally here, and I want to say thanks for wanting to at least write a little piece about it. You know, I’m not some fucking rock star guy, i’m a father and a husband and I my claim to fame is not being cool, i don’t wanna be cool, I just wanna be me, and I appreciate the fact that I can talk to a total stranger who’s name is Pete who’s calling from the UK, and talk about my project. It’s an appreciation thing.

How did the music making process differ making the solo record as opposed to recording as a band?
This process was really different. I had an incredible amount of help from my producers Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever, and the wonderful studio in Palm Springs called Thunder Underground. Them being the real conduits to organising the musicians, the tonalities of the record. We sat down long and hard about this and what direction we wanted to go in. It was soley our vision, my vision . To have each song, handpick each individual musician for each individual song, that was a little bit of a tricky part. With some of the other projects that i’ve done, you work with a group of band members. These guys, they were never in the same room together, it was done by a scratch guitar here to getting the final drum takes and getting the final guitars and the final bass parts. It was a different process, but in this day and age you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make the best possible record, and that was another growing experience, another learning experience for me. I wanna be able to have a band to go in the studio. It’s been so long since i’ve had a band all in the same room, even the Vista Chino record was done separately, I wasn’t even in the room when they tracked the majority of that stuff.

Your vocals have always been incredibly powerful. The record opens with the track ‘My Mind’ and your vocals are as powerful now as they were 27 years ago. How do you keep your voice fresh and not have it burning out all of the time?
Well i think my vocals are stronger than they were 20 years ago, I really do. I was still learning to sing back then with Kyuss. I put on Blues For The Red Sun, and I kind of cringed thinking I could run circles around that guy now. I’m a fan of singers. I love Terrence Trent D’Arby, I love Danzig, I love Ian Astbury, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. I’m a fan of vocalists, even Rufus Wainright. I genuinely still like to sing, whether it be infront of 5 people or 500 people, or 5000 people or 50,000 people, and i’ve done all of them, i’m still gonna be doing it. It’s still fun for me and I still have a passion for performing and creating on stage, and being on stage and performing live. I go to concerts to see the minor and major imperfections in singers voices, and i certainly have those myself, but that’s what live is all about anyway, and it’s still fun for me to get up there and perform.

You’ve touched on it a bit there, but your career has always been associated with the desert/stoner rock sound, but on your solo LP there are hints of classic rock and blues influences too. Are these new sounds which you’ll be exploring into the future, or is this another side to your personality which you are wanting to show off?
Well I would say so. For the next record I hear something faster and harder, but for this one I wanted to go back to bluesy, kind of classic rock type of stuff. I’m a rock and roll singer, that’s what i do, call it whatever you want call it stoner rock, desert rock, boner rock, cock rock, whatever you wanna call it, but to me it’s just rock and roll, and that’s what I do, what I sing. I sing low, I sing off the guitar, they’re T standard, a drop C or even D. I can’t sing super high, I still try to, take the song ‘Sweet Remain’ by Vista Chino. That song was fucking hard for me to sing, fun, but it’s hard for me to get up in that register. It’s all about exploring, and when i stay in one spot for too long i get bored, obviously, my track record shows that, I’ve played in countless number of bands from The Crystal Method to Kyuss and in between, but being explorative, and having that exploratory attitude and temperament is something i’ve always had.

You had Robbie Krieger from The Doors play on the track ‘Her Bullets Energy’. How did that come about and how did you find the experience?
It comes down to my producers Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever. When they heard the acoustic track they asked me "what do you think about Robbie Krieger playing Spanish guitar on this track” and i went Are you fucking kidding me? And they said “No, we can always ask him and the worst thing he can say is no” so the first piece of the puzzle was asking Robbie, the second piece of the puzzle was if he liked it or not, and he liked it. It was a great idea, i think Robbie did an amazing job. I’m a fan of The Doors, i’m a fan of Robbie Krieger’s guitar playing, and what an experience, holy shitballs, that’s big, and i was appreciative of the fact when i met him.

Danko jones wrote the song 5,000 miles. Have you been long time friends?

I’ve known Danko for probably close to 10 years now, and we have a relationship. He wrote that song for me about 10 years ago, we did a tour together and i was working as a vetinary technician here in the desert and i had a chance to take a break from that, do a little bit of music, and get my music fix with somebody like Danko. After the tour we did a lot of talking about family, and you know i’m a family man, so he wrote that song specifically for me. What an honour, what a pleasure. What a great guy, so soft spoken off stage but when he get’s up on stage he just turns it on, and he did all the guitars for '5,000 Miles'. Can’t speak highly enough about him, I’m a fan.

Is there any symbolism in the artwork of the record, with the desert road or the Ram’s head on the front?
Well i’m very proud of where I come from. Very proud of where i was born and raised. From Kyuss naming a song 'Highway 74', which is the street which we had to go up through to rehearse at, to Vista Chino, which is the name of a street up in Palm Springs. I love the desert. I’m still here. I live literally in the middle of the fucking desert, if my kids go out and play in the playground I’ve got to scan for rattle snakes first. I’m right inbetween the Joshua Tree and Palm Springs, but i’m right out in the sticks. So the open desert road and the future, that’s the theme of the open desert road. The Ram’s head, so inticatley hand drawn by Sam Young from Melbourne Australia, where he specifically drew this Ram’s head only for me, this is an original piece. You have desert in the Ram’s horn, you have desert verbena in the flower in the neck piece of the Ram, and Ram, it’s not a goat, it’s indigenous to my mountain range where i live, where my son and i go hiking, there’s Ram’s everywhere. It made perfect sense. It represents me, represents where i’m from, and what a great piece of art, as soon as i saw it i immediately fell inlove with it and i knew it was the one.

You like being busy, and you’re very busy at the moment with your solo record, and Vista Chino, but also Unida are touring again this summer. Are you fully booked up for the next few years or do yo simply take things as they come, whatever happens happens?
No, I’m 43, i have to have some structure, and i’ve got to have a plan. My obligation to Vista Chino has been fulfilled, Chino has been parked in the garage for a while. Last year i got the opportunity to take on a couple of Unida shows, and i knew that there was a free time before my record came out that i could do another farewell Unida tour, and this is it. Before i park Unida in the garage for a while. It’s not an extensive tour, it’s just a few shows. Vista Chino wanted me to do a new record I said no, Unida wanted me to do a new record I said no, Hermano wanted me to do a new record i said no. It’s finally time to say yes to me, and finally get this, i guess you could say my Chinese Democracy out from underneath me, and that’s what it’s about. I’ve done a little bit of downtime, i like to stay busy.

Are they always parked in the garage, there when you want them to be?
Well, it depends, i have to have a sit down and talk with them, they’re busy too, all the guys in Vista Chino, Unida, Hermano, so they’re not just sitting round waiting for me, i don’t think that’d be fair, i also don’t think it’d be fair for me to put my solo project on the back burner one more time, they understand that and i have their full support.

Bearded Magazine is all about promoting independent music. Youy’ve had major label experience before when you were with Unida, and trouble with your second record. Now you’re with Napalm records. What do you feel is important about being on an independent label as opposed to a major company?
It’s how personal it gets. The common goal is ... i’m a realist, i’ll shoot straight here. I’m an artist and if i wanted to just create my art i’d be happy here in just my turtle shell doing it. But the whole game, the whole record business is to go out there and sell records and perform, but if i was in this business for the money i would have quit a long time ago. it’s passion! You want to be able to have product out there, that let’s people feel what i’m feeling when i’m performing and when i record these songs. So getting back to the question, it’s how personal, it’s not Warner Bros, it’s not Sony BMG, it’s a smaller label, but it’s very personal, i speak to the vice president almost on a daily basis, and we like to work, there’s work to be done. We talk about every single facet of music administration to tours, and everywhere in between. It’s great to have a record label which is just as passionate about the record as you are. That’s what Napalm gives me, it’s on a shared risk. I’m not looking to change rock and roll, i’m not looking to become a millionaire off this record, i’d be doing it anyway like i said. But it’s great to have a picture disc, it’s great to have deep purple vinyl, it’s great to be involved in all facets of that, you know it’s fun. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

It’s been 27 years since you’ve begun making music. What have you learnt about the music industry in that time, but more importantly what have you learnt about yourself?

What have i learnt about the industry? Well there’s always gonna be hiccups, there’s always gonna be things that don’t go your way. I’m an emotional guy, so i’ve had to detach my emotions from some of the things that maybe not have gone my way, like when Unida had a full blown record, spent $350,000 on it and it get’s swept up from right underneath our feet, that type of stuff is disappointing, so you have to learn to detach from that. You have to take the good with the bad, that’s it you know, that’s all it is. What have I learned about myself? I’ve learned appreciation. I’ve learned to be more appreciative of the fact that here I am, talking about a project that i’m passionate about to a complete and total stranger by the name of Pete, and having somebody on the other line, want to be involved, I keep going back to the word but I appreciate that man, it’s something i don’t take for granted, you know i could hang up the phone and fucking have a heart attack, God forbid. I’m a family man, a husband and a father. It’s all about appreciation. I’m lucky enough to have a few things I love to do. I’ve learnt a lot about appreciation, patience, and respect. Everybody who i’ve played with in the past I respect.

I’m proud of my past. I’ll always be known as the singer with Kyuss, I know that, and give credit where credit is due. But hey, sometimes it’s not where i’m going that i’m writing about, it’s where i’ve been that i’m writing about. I try to keep it fresh

John Garcia is out now on Naplam.
John will be touring the UK in December:
Southampton, The Talking Heads
04. Manchester, Academy
05 Sheffield, Corporation
06 London, Islington Academy