Interview with legendary vocalist, John Garcia
Written by David Locklear
If you are a fan of heavy metal, you know it began with Black Sabbath.
If you’re a fan of stoner rock, you know its genesis lies at the dusty boots of the mighty Kyuss.
In the early nineties, Kyuss- consisting of drummer Brant Bjork, guitarist Josh Homme, bassist Nick Oliveri and vocalist John Garcia-perfected a fuzzy, swaggering rock-blues-metal sound mixed with a technical ability that may have been lost on the casual listener. But when you stopped and put in a little extra listening effort, your ear was rewarded by surprising time signature changes, subtle chord arrangements and an unmistakable, unique vocal howl that held the growling, sexy monster together.
Since their demise in 1994 with the swansong album, ...And The Circus Leaves Town, the members of Kyuss have gone on make their own individual mark on the music world with various solo projects (Homme and Oliveri formed Queens of the Stone Age, Bjork put together Che and Brant Bjork and the Bros.) while watching the legacy of Kyuss grow. And when I speak with him over the phone from his office in California, former vocalist John Garcia prefers to shy away from words like ‘Legacy’ when he discusses his musical past.
“I try to not live in the past,” he tells me. “It’s humbling that our music has meant so much to so many of our fans, but I personally don’t like to use words like ‘legacy’ to describe it. It feels like I’m being kind of self important.”
Like his former band mates, Garcia’s post-Kyuss resume also offers impressive and influential credentials: Hermano, Unida, Slo-Burn-all heavily influential bands with their own distinct sound, while retaining the tattoo of the desert vibe. His upcoming solo album, The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues, is an idea almost 20 years in the making. It is an eclectic acoustic offering of both original material and cover songs, and one that is decidedly different in tone from his last release, 2014’s rock-heavy John Garcia.
“It was just something I wanted to try that was different from most of what I’d written before. It wasn’t something to check off of my bucket list,” he says with a laugh. “I really have to give credit to [guitarist and songwriter] Ehren Groban. He really did so much heavy lifting on this record. He is a classically trained guitarist and if it weren’t for his talents, I don’t know what the record would have sounded like...he really wasn’t familiar with [Kyuss] when I met him, and we just really connected. I think in a lot of ways it was good that he wasn’t familiar with Kyuss, because that way he and I could view each other as collaborators, and not have our creativity intruded by fandom.”
When Garcia and the band sat down and began whittling down which songs were going to be on the album, it was a long process. Originals like “Kylie”, “Give Me 250mL” and the acoustic closer, “Court Order” were surprisingly streamlined. But a few covers proved tricky to reinvent, such as the speedy Kyuss classic, “Green Machine”.
“[Studio engineers, Steve Feldman and Robbie Waldman] really made sure to help us get a lot of the tunes right,” Garcia says. “With ‘Green Machine’, we did it over and over and over. Every time it would be like: ‘make it slower, make it slower’ until we finally got it the slow tempo you hear on the record now. And it’s awesome. We also decided to leave a lot of the mistakes we made in the studio on the album, you know, instead of polishing every sound. You can hear the strings rattle on the neck [of the guitar] or where one of the chords didn’t get played clean. I think that gives the album more personality, makes it more real. We would just let the song ring, let them breathe and not finger fuck them to death. It’s easy to overdo a song and harder to just let it be.”
Crafting The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues was a process that took about three years to complete. Finding a way of lining up the rehearsal and recording time with his family life proved to be a challenge, but Garcia has solid secret weapon in his arsenal that helps him make it happen.
“The planets all have to be aligned in order for me to make this work, and my wife is the real hero in this scenario,” he relates with an unmistakable tone of gratitude. “I can’t do what I do without her. She’s the one making the sandwiches, getting our kids to school, taking care of our home. Being a good dad and a good husband are the most important things to me. Helping my kids get their homework done, telling them and telling my wife that I love them are what helps me stay creative. If those things aren’t being taken care of, I can’t concentrate on my music because it’s a distant second to my family.”
Do the kids think it’s cool that their dad is a famous singer?
“My kids don’t give two shits about who I am!” he laughs, “They see me as dad, and I sing for a living. To them it’s like: so what?”
Garcia knows that The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues will possibly be off putting to some fans out there, and he accepts that reality, but hopes they will still give it a listen.
“This album isn’t for everyone,” he says. “It’s not supposed to rock out-it’s something to listen to when you’re driving through the desert at sunset. It’s something to put on when you’re about to drink a bottle of wine or when you are sitting back with your girl. Just enjoy it, brother.”