JOHN GARCIA: Mark Hunt-Bryden Interviews The Legendary Desert Rock Vocalist
I can’t remember exactly when I first heard Kyuss, but the fact is that Blues for the Red Sun and Sky Valley unwittingly became a large part of the lives of my friends and I growing up. Despite only having heard of the cult buzz surrounding them after they had called time on the band, John Garcia’s voice has been on my stereo for the best part of 18 years and having gushed over the release of his debut solo album, the eponymous John Garcia, I was handed an incredible opportunity to get to speak to the man himself. Calling him at home whilst he was doing a Press Day and looking after his two children, whilst his wife was at work running their local Palm Springs veterinary hospital, we discussed his song writing process, his latest release, his roots, touring, family life, the future of Vista Chino and tried to clarify an urban legend.
John, first off congratulations on your debut solo album. As a long time fan of yours it was good to hear you consolidate a number of the styles you have used in various projects that you have been involved in and having got the opportunity to review it I was blown away.
Thank you for the kind words, this is a very personal record for me and I have been wanting to do this for many, many years and to have it finally come out and to have this group of songs finally see the light of day is a special moment for me and I am excited. I’m in a good place and it’s not for everybody you know, but it feels good to finally liberate these songs.
As you say it has been in the pipeline for a long time – I had read rumours on the internet going back years now when it was slated to be called Garcia vs Garcia and I guess the big question is why now? Are you finally happy with everything you have got together or was it just a fortuitous moment in time?
You know I have always wanted to do this since I was 18 years old and whilst I have said yes to a lot of projects throughout my career, I have hand picked these certain little songs that I had a person relationship with, that I liked and I knew that eventually, one day when the time was right, I would get this solo record out and the time was perfect.
These songs needed to have me sing them at my age and where I am at with my voice and on the flip side I kind of got tired of saying ‘No’, I felt bad because I actually had a personal relationship with these songs and I felt bad for them – why were these songs always scheduled to be on the back burner? Why can’t I release them? And I finally said ‘No’ to everybody and I made a promise to myself and here we are and again, I am very fortunate to be talking to you about something that has taken so long for me to create.
So you haven’t approach this album with a mindset of what to write, these have been moments that you have collected over time?
Yeah, you know again this is not a collection of political songs or anything, it is just a collection of songs that were close to me, but you know there was a concept behind it and the concept was simplicity. It was passion, it was explorative and what an unbelievable time we had breathing new life into these songs when we were in the studio, it was a time I’ll cherish forever, I was very lucky to have had Harper Hug, Trevor Whatever be my producers and help this dream become a reality and very fortunate to have surrounded myself with such great musicians that helped me create this and they showed equal amount of passion and love for the project. I give credit where credit is due and they definitely deserve a ton of it.
You said that you have used a number of guest stars who are friends of yours and have done projects with you before, was it a case that you came up with the concept of these songs and felt that these people who help deliver that vision because of the common bond you had or was it a case of calling in favours to help make the project real?
It wasn’t so much calling in favours as me hand selecting different players for different songs for their specific talents and which musician I thought would shine on this individual composition verses another individual composition.
And you know if I asked a guitar player and got (adopts disinterested whiny voice) ‘Well you know, I don’ t know…‘ I would be like ‘Thank you very much, appreciate your time, we leave in peace that’s all I need to hear‘ but the people who genuinely wanted to be a part of this project and that I asked, it was because of that (passion), that they genuinely wanted to be a part of the project – there was no pulling favours, it was because they wanted to be there.
Again if there was one inkling, one iota of ‘Well I can do it but how much is in it for me to do it? How much would you give me to do it?‘ I would be like ‘Hey man you have got to do this because you want to do this so thank you very much, appreciate it, later.‘
The sound of the record has a great vibe and it obviously must have helped having such great people backing you up and such camaraderie, to deliver the project with more soul and passion as opposed to any other pressures.
That’s exactly right and they bought that, they bought passion and they were equally as passionate about it – we hit this on a united front, we were all for one, all together, we were on a mission!
I think we did it, WE pulled this off and again Robby Krieger, Nick Oliveri, Dave Angstrom, Marc Diamond, Tom Brayton, Dandy Brown, Damon Garrison, Danko Jones, Ehren Groban all of these musicians were just fantastic to work with and they were really passionate about it and were a pleasure to work with and I wouldn’t change a thing.
You mentioned Robbie Krieger, obviously THE Doors legend Robby Krieger. Were you a fan of his before getting the chance to work together and how did that whole collaboration come about?
I was a big fan and as a matter a fact I don’t know anybody in the entire world who has said to me ‘You know, I don’t like The Doors‘, I don’t know anybody… I love The Doors, I grew up to them and to have Robby Krieger playing on Her Bullets Energy was an honour.
How it came about was my producer Harper Hug and I knew that Her Bullets Energy was going to be a part of this record and he said to me ‘Hey man, I’m hearing Flamenco guitar on this track’ and I said Harper I think that’s a good idea, who do you know that plays Spanish guitar and he said, ‘Well I know Robby Krieger’.
And I fell off my chair and I said do you think he would do it and he said let’s give him the track. So he gives him the track – that was the first piece.
Second piece was if he liked it – he liked it!
And the third piece was if he would play on it and the next thing you know we were in his studio in Glendale, Los Angeles and he was laying down some swipes on it and I can’t thank him enough. Unbelievable moment and one I’ll never forget for the rest of my life and he made not only that song better, but the entire record better.
Sound like a fantastic moment and if I understand this correct you were the first person to record in his new Horse Latitudes studio?
That’s exactly right and you know talk about a double honour that I was the first guy to go in there and record an actual piece of music in that wonderful studio is just the cherry on top.
How do you write songs? Is it based on the guitar and coming up with riffs or does a vocal melody pop into your head?
Typically I will right with one of my many guitar players that I have a working relationship with and usually the first thing we come up with will be a melody and whether it be a vocal melody or a guitar melody. After that I need to get in my frame of mind where I sit down in my comfort zone and my turtle shell and shut everything down and lock myself in a room to be able to create.
I have to get into that frame of mind, that’s extremely important and it comes and goes. Sometimes it’s hard to summon, sometimes it’s easy to get in the frame of mind. Each song is different, there’s no one formula that I have, but I become the songs slave. After the initial idea comes the song will then just write itself.
After I write that first line sometimes it’s suicidal, sometimes it thrives and lives to see the light of day but I don’t force it. That’s a big question though and I can talk for an hour about that! But that’s a general and a quick version of how it goes down.
So these days you tend to gravitate towards people who share your musical vision and understanding as opposed to a band where it’s more combative in that relationship?
Every project has its own energy whether it be united or combative or just debatable. Every project, every band, every song has a life of its own and I consider them to be living breathing pieces of property. So it ranges and it differs in so many ways for me and everything is a little bit different. Every band, every song has a different energy.
The record is coming out on Napalm Records who released Vista Chino’s Peace. Was doing that record with them part of the reason you signed to Napalm?
When I signed up to Napalm they had the option to pick up the solo record and I have a great relationship with them. They’re a good label and they share the passion and they are equally as passionate about this project as I am and that’s refreshing. It’s good to know that someone is passionate about you and is on your side, a lot of bands, a lot of artists think the record label is the enemy and they’re not.
They are there to promote you, they are there to sell your records, to help you along the way and that’s what they are supposed to do and as long as they are doing their job there shouldn’t be a problem. Napalm has gone far and beyond the call of duty when it comes to the support of this record and they are doing a great job so in short I like my label!
Could you talk a little bit about the artwork, I didn’t catch who did the cover for the record because it is very unique and striking. Did you have any input or was it inspired by anything in particular?
I ran into this artist down in Melbourne, Australia called Sam Yong. I was doing this meet and greet down there with Unida and he showed up and started throwing around these pieces of artwork and I just fell in love with it so I commissioned him to come up with this ram idea but he already had it!
I wanted this different ram and one that had this desert, cholla cactus in its horns and I wanted it more regal and I really wanted it to represent me. So he hand drew this amazing piece of art for me – what an honour! – And then I gave that to another amazing artist, Jerry Conner. I gave it to him to do the layout and I am from the desert, I am very proud of the desert so I wanted to make it somewhat of an indigenous piece of where I am from. When I saw it and we went through several different version of it, it was immediately striking to me that this was the cover so hats of to Jerry Conner and Sam Yong.
I had told him about my thoughts and about the desert where I live, how proud I am of the desert and he took that and he ran with it and I think it’s the perfect visual of what the songs represent and it definitely represents me. But what great artists, Sam Yong you can find him on Facebook and Jared Conner you can find him on Facebook also and at www.mexicanchocolatedesign.com.
The album itself it’s quite a bold statement that goes to help cement your legacy as the most distinctive voice in the stoner/desert rock scene, but if we could go back to when you were in what became Kyuss playing out in the desert, at parties etc where you ever aware at the time that you were creating something special?
No. Never. Never in a million years would I have thought that this would have taken me to where I am talking to you on the other end of the line. In all those old times I never would have thought about it, we were young kids and we knew what we wanted. We knew there was a void to be filled and we filled it the best way we could. Necessity was the mother of invention like that old saying is and it was a necessity for us to play, to find those places in those canyons to release that pent up energy and that’s exactly what we did.
The flip side of the coin is that we had no idea of the impact that the band was going to make, nor did we care. And that’s what gave it that… (Freedom? MHB) to get to that little bit of underground cult status and we all appreciate it but to answer the question, no we didn’t.
That environment clearly influenced you and the desert imagery and theme seems to have stuck with you throughout your career in its many guises, which to me in rainy England does seem to transport you to that desert environment. Is that the case? Has it unknowingly influenced you?
For the singer I, everyone in Kyuss might have their own ideas, but this is my view. I was looking for something anyway – I knew I wanted to become a singer, I knew that I wanted to create and that’s what I meant by necessity, so whether it be in the south of London or the deserts of Melbourne or the cornfields of Omaha, Nebraska I was going to be doing it anyway. I appreciate the desert has taken on this life, this magical legendary place, but it’s where I grew up; I was born and raised here, I love it here and I’ll be buried here.
I once tried to move out of the desert and move to Los Angeles and I immediately knew upon unpacking my first box that I had made a tremendous mistake and I turned around and I came right back. That’s what the desert means to me and I am very happy creating here but that said, I would have been doing it anywhere.
So when did you first realise you wanted to be a singer?
I first realised I wanted to sing when I heard She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult. That’s when I really knew that my life course had changed and it changed where my plans of going into the military and veterinary medicine in the military were gone. I stopped and I changed my life.
I was a fan of music from ever since I can remember so again to be able to talk to you about something that I created so many years ago and something that I am still able to do these days blows my mind and I appreciate that and I don’t take it for granted. It’s special to me and I hold it dear and I hold it close.
You mentioned She Sells Sanctuary and that is one of their most memorable tunes and you have said that you are doing this past and present package; what is the song or songs you would most like to be remembered for?
I’ll always be known as the singer from Kyuss and I don’t look at it individually, I look at it as a whole from the beginning of my career to where I am right now, but honestly I would love to be able to really stay right where I am at and concentrate on my solo record.
I am really happy with where I am at and it is super personal so I am just happy to go where the music takes me. I like how it makes me feel.
I don’t have just one thing that I want to be remembered for. Not just music, I want to be remembered for being a father, a husband and my kids knowing that. I’m a husband and a father first and everything else is secondary and I am just really happy to have the chance to give this group of songs the freedom and liberation they deserve.
Obviously today you are at home doing a PR day but I understand you have toured Australia recently. is that right?
Vista Chino played our last run over there about six months ago but we are getting ready to go over there in September.
We have a few shows coming up in September, we have a few exclusive shows – that’s where the world tour kicks off and in November we’re coming over to Europe and the United Kingdom and I’ll be doing four exclusive shows in the United Kingdom December 2nd through the 6th I believe and it’ll be good to be back in the UK, so excited about that to get to play these songs and not only these songs but some Kyuss songs and I have recently injected some Slo Burn material into my set, so it is me playing past and present and I am really excited about that.
We had a rehearsal last night and we’re rehearsing all the time and it’s sounding better and better – I have got a great live band and things are moving and grooving!
Are there any plans to try and involve any of the guests who played on the record at any point if schedule manage to align?
Ummm.. if schedules make it right who knows, but I am very happy with the band I have got right now, Ehren Groban plays on the record and he’s actually my live guy.
I have got my band, Greg Saenz he was the drummer for The Dwarves, Ehren Groban he plays in this other band called Wardrum and Mike Pygmie who plays in a band called You Know Who along with Greg Simms. They are all desert locals and great musicians and I am very lucky to have them and we can’t wait to get over to Europe, especially the UK and play these tracks so we’re stoked, ready and willing and ready to go.
Is the pressure slightly different at this point because it’s something that is so personal and you are going out under your name? I know you have toured under your own name before but does it feel different this time out?
Yeah! It’s not that I was hiding behind a band name before but this is exposing yourself in a completely different way where people are coming for one reason and one reason only and that’s to see me play with an amazing band, playing past and present. But to be quite honest with you I would be nervous if I wasn’t nervous and it’s an excited nervousness as this is the first time I am doing this.
So it is special and it is different, I mean I’m accustomed to being on stage before and I can hold my own I think, but we’re all just really excited to get over there and do this so the level of excitement is just off the charts. If I listened to any of the negative comments I would have given up a long time ago, but I would still be doing this and I plan on doing another one!
Bands tend to stay out on the road a lot longer these days, is it going to be quite gruelling or are you going to get a chance to relax at all? As you’ve mentioned you’re with your family right now and it’s got to take it’s toll over the time?
Yeah, I’m a family man and I’m a husband and a father first so it’s got to make sense. My family really allows me to be out here, to be out on the road, to do what I do and to let me be in the environment that I am in on a nightly basis and a lot of credit has to go to them. These days it has become a little easier to tour because I have got it down to a science where all it is really is about communication. Being able to talk to the kids and the family or else you can’t handle it, you’d go fucking insane and you have got to be able to fly the family over, which I do and you have got to be able to take a break and recharge your batteries and do it.
I can’t be out on the road for two months but this run that I’m going to be doing is over a month, it’s a month and a week and a half so for me it’s a big one but again this is a special time for me and I want to make sure that… I get a lot of requests to go to specific countries and I want to go to where I have always been supported and say thanks.
However clichéd that may sound, without the supporters I can’t do this and it’s because of them that I am able to, so I want to go and say thank you and don’t sweep me under the carpet just yet because this old man’s not done yet, I still have a lot more in my tank and I plan to be here for quite some time more!’
You have been involved in various projects over the years, Hermano, Unida and there are bits of those in the solo album and shows it has come from the heart of your career really. Are you open to anymore of those or is it now focusing entirely on your solo venture?
I am very happy with where I am at right now and honestly I don’t see me doing another Vista Chino record any time in the near future, I don’t see me deviating from my current path and doing any records with Slo Burn or Unida or Hermano.
People still talk about that stuff and I love those bands and I have spent a lot of time and emotion on those bands, but again I am very happy with where I am right now and I don’t see me deviating any time in the near future.
I do have one slightly strange question for you. There is an urban myth and I have tired to search for anecdotal evidence on the internet but found nothing, that you once took so much LSD you thought you were a horse.
Could you comment on that at all?
Oh. *Laughs* I don’t recall… I have got to say that I cannot confirm or deny that.
It’s an open ended thing and it doesn’t sound too far fetched, especially me as a young man but I have done a lot of mind altering things in my time and I’m just glad that I am still able to be a father and a husband and be around for that. That’s my drug of choice right now man and I am high as a kite on that so we’ll leave it at that!
John Garcia is out now via Napalm Records and available at the labels webstore, you can also read Mark’s review here and John Garcia will also hit the UK in December at the following venues:
03.12. UK – Southampton, The Talking Heads
04.12. UK – Manchester, Academy
05.12. UK – Sheffield, Corporation
06.12. UK – London, Islington Academy
Band Links: Facebook | Twitter
Interviewed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden