DATE OF INTERVIEW:
16th June 2014
John Garcia, the one-time frontman of Kyuss until their disbandment in 1995, and current vocalist of Vista Chino, Unida, and Hermano, has long tantalised fans with the promise of a solo album. Finally, after many years of said project being resigned to the back burner to prioritise his band work, summer 2014 will see the release of the legendary singer's eponymous debut. And it seems he's now got the solo artist bug, as he revealed to Metal Discovery during a half hour chat on the phone...
METAL DISCOVERY: How you doing?
(John Garcia on his long-awaited debut solo album)
"...I’ve been talking about this for so many years and to have it finally come out, and to see the light of day, it’s...a little bit of a monumental moment for me."
John Garcia - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2014 Uncredited
Interview by Mark Holmes
JOHN: I’m doing well, you know. I’m just trying to keep it all together and whatnot, but things are good.
MD: Marvellous. Well, I have to say, it’s a fantastic solo album; really, really great stuff. How pleased are you with how it all turned out?
JOHN: Hmmm, Mark, this has been a long-time coming from when I started this thing and I’m happy with it. I really am. You know, Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever – I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due, and those guys really did a fantastic job on the production of the record and producing it. They have a beautiful studio in Palm Springs, which is my hometown. So I’m very pleased with it. This is a monumental moment for me because I’ve been talking about this for so many years and to have it finally come out, and to see the light of day, it’s going back to that word – a little bit of a monumental moment for me. So I’m excited about it.
MD: Obviously it’s a very personal project for you, being a solo album, so do you have different feelings than you otherwise would have when releasing something in a band context? Are there a few extra nerves as to how it will be received?
JOHN: Yeah, there are, absolutely! [Laughs] You talk about a spotlight; I mean, there’s no hiding behind this. There are extra nerves but it’s so much better with me being truly in the driver’s seat, and not having another three other guys being part of that driving seat. There’s a sense of liberation, and there’s a sense of freedom, and there’s a sense of pride. But, Mark, you know, the flipside of the coin is that some people will like it and there’ll be some people who don’t like it. And that’s fine; I’m okay with that. When you’re in the business that I’m in, there’s always that, but I don’t let any negative reviews… I haven’t heard anybody bad talking it, or saying that the record sucks, or anything like that. But there’s always people that are gonna critique and criticise and whatnot, and that’s fine, but it feels good to be fully in the driver’s seat.
MD: Do you feel like you’re making yourself more emotionally bare by creating music in a solo context?
JOHN: Yeah, you know, this record was really personal for me, and it is exposing yourself. And that’s okay; that’s good. I just applaud all the players that were involved, from Nick Oliveri to Chris Hale from Slo Burn; to Damon Garrison from Slo Burn; Dandy Brown from Hermano; Dave Angstrom from Hermano; Mark Diamond; Tom Brayton; obviously, Robby Krieger from The Doors. The musicians really made this record, and how great to expose them as well. I mean, let’s face it, without them this record couldn’t have happened. And so, not to expose them would be a real shame and, again, I give credit where credit is due. And the musicians have taken my song that I’ve held onto for so long and turned them into what you’re hearing right now. So it’s great to be able to expose them as well.
MD: Definitely. I gather the project originally existed under the name of ‘Garcia Vs Garcia’, so why did you decide to abandon that moniker and just go with your name?
JOHN: Yeah, erm, good question. I’d talked about ‘Garcia Vs Garcia’ for so long, it had become almost a curse, in a way, and I wanted to have a fresh start. Once I was contractually obligated to release this record, it was a perfect time to have a fresh start. That ‘Garcia Vs Garcia’ had become my ‘Chinese Democracy’ and I just could not get this thing out. So, you know, I just had to say “no” to Vista Chino. They wanted to do another record, I said “no”. I said “no” to Unida; they wanted to do another record and I said “no”. I had to say “no” to Hermano; they were pushing me to do another record and I said, again, “no”. And it was finally good for me to say “yes” to this project and I’m glad I did.
MD: In terms of production, there’s a really nice organic feel to the music through what sounds like a more analogue-based, vintage production, which gives the album a lot of character. Did you always have it in mind that you wanted the record to sound very natural and alive?
JOHN: Yeah, you know, you’re right. First of all, the location was very important. I could not go to Los Angeles and record this record. There’s only really two real recording studios in Palm Springs and Thunder Underground is one of ‘em. People might think they… I’m gonna go off on a different tangent here… people might think they have a studio at their house, but I don’t think by having a Pro Tools rig in a house qualifies that to be a proper recording studio.
JOHN: There’s a lot of that going on in the desert and people calling their places studios, and I just don’t think it’s a fair example. Anyway, Thunder Underground is a proper recording studio with proper equipment there and the name of the game, yes, was not make it shiny and new but make it old school. Some of these songs are old; one of ‘em is over twenty years old; some of ‘em are ten years old. So there was even a little bit of that nostalgia going on in the studio. We wanted to keep it simple, clean, yet have enough balls to hold up to a John Garcia record. So that was all in mind.
We didn’t record anything to tape, believe it or not, and it was all Pro Tools. Vista Chino and all of Kyuss did it to tape, but not unless you really wanna give it a lot of warmth, typically, what you do is record onto tape and then you dump it down to Pro Tools, and that’ll give you a little bit of extra warmth. But, for this project, it was intentional that we did not use tape but, again… digital’s not what it used to be either where you could tell it was digital. If you were to A-B two songs that were done these days on tape to digital, you could be able to tell but, 99.99% of the time, it’s so close and Pro Tools has done such a good job of trying to mirror that, you wouldn’t be able to tell. So it was all, really, part of the plan to have it sound that way.
MD: I think that makes it even more impressive, the fact you’ve done that through Pro Tools, particularly with modern studio comforts where everyone uses Pro Tools to get a very overproduced, clinical sounding record. It’s good that somebody can use Pro Tools and still make it sound like an authentically vintage record as well.
JOHN: Oh cool, awesome, well, thanks for that. Yeah, that was important. That was the fun part, is that the creating part and not overthinking the project. There’s so many bands and so many people, I think, overthink that, and overplay. And, for me, it was all about simplicity and keeping it very simple. Don’t over-sing something; don’t fill up the entire song with lyrics. Don’t do that; it’s the less is more theory and it’s totally true. Even my producer pulled the reins back on me a little bit, going “no, it doesn’t need that”, and that’s what they’re there for. They had a great deal to do with this record. And I was on top of it myself… writing it, it was hard to restrain myself in keeping it simple, but it was all part of the plan, again.
MD: Some of the press blurb describes the album as “very close to his Kyuss roots” but also venturing “out with some experiments”. Is that how you perceive the record yourself?
JOHN: I would. I think it was exploratory. I think it was a little bit about exploration and my track record certainly speaks for itself where I don’t like to stay in one spot for too long, whether that be Kyuss, or Slo Burn, or Unida, or Hermano, or The Crystal Method, or Danko Jones, or Mad City Rockers, or Monkey3; whatever it may be, I like to explore, and this is a direct response to that. So it was all part of the plan - being explorative. And, of course, I’m always gonna be known for being the singer of Kyuss, and that’s cool, I don’t mind that, and I applaud that, and I’m actually very proud of where I’ve come from, and my roots, and I’ll be happy to wave that flag any day of the week. It was a big part of my life and, again, I give credit where credit is due, and being a part of that band was a great experience; it was a learning experience for me. So, yeah, it was being explorative, and I think it was healthy.
MD: Danko Jones wrote the track ‘5000 Miles’. Is that a song he composed specifically for your album, or is that one he had spare, or whatever?
JOHN: No, that’s one he wrote specifically for me. He wrote that ten years ago. When we were touring together… I wasn’t even touring in another band; he’d just invited me out on the road to sing on one track that I sing on – ‘Sleep is the Enemy’, that record, a song called ‘Invisible’. We’d always talk about family, and my daughter and how important she was to me, and it was about six months after that tour that he wrote this, and he knew that I was doing a record; he knew that I was talking about it. So he wrote that specifically for me and what a great song.
Another one that I just fell in love with and, of course, I’ll give credit where credit is due again, but this other band called Black Mastiff. There was a band called Black Mastiff that opened up for Vista Chino in Edmonton, Canada, and they played this song called ‘Rolling Stoned’, and I loved it so much I said to them, “I’ve gotta cover this song.” I switched it up a little bit but, you know, I was such a fan of theirs that they recently came out here and did their record which I was involved with. So there’s some newer, fresh stuff on there, a couple of covers, so yeah.
MD: I was going to ask about the Black Mastiff one actually – you’ve obviously been a big influence on their music, from what I can gather, so does it feel like you’re completing the circle by covering one of their tracks?
JOHN: Yeah, it does. You know, Mark, let me tell you something. If I could sing like Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind & Fire, I’d most likely do an Earth, Wind & Fire track on this record… [Laughs]… because I’m a fan of singers. You know, I’m a fan of Terence Trent D’Arby. I’m a fan of Rufus Wainwright. I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra. And Bob, the singer for Black Mastiff, he’s a great lyricist and a great singer, and I really loved what he did with that song. And, you know, we just started a relationship. Like I said, I loved ‘em so much, I told ‘em, “hey, I wanna produce you guys”, and, lo and behold, they came out to Thunder Underground and I did a record with them, and it was great. Again, I’m just a fan of music and a slave to songs that I love.