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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Brant Bjork: The Heavy Planet Interview

Through all the fuzz and beneath all the sand, Brant Bjork gives his strongest nod to his punk roots. You'd struggle to find a more impressive synopsis of work than his, from the dusty origins of Kyuss through his Low Desert Punk Band's debut, Black Power Flower. For the better part of three decades, Bjork has ceaselessly crafted innumerable landmark sounds of a species of rock music he helped to create. Outlining the measure of his influence and the magnitude of his contribution to stoner rock would require more than a write-up on a blog.

Heavy Planet recently chewed a little fat with Bjork, touching on his new band of buds, his inner punk, and the status of his various projects. Hell, he even offers an explanation on why some desert folks use meth.

Heavy Planet: Black Power Flower is being released this month. It seems meatier, it's got a different vibe than some of the other stuff you've done. It seems like there's a throwback element to it.

Brant Bjork: Yeah, there's a return on this record, for sure. I've kinda gone back to my primal, more adolescent root as a musician. I think I've full-on returned to the simplicity of my primal love for rock music. Simple and easy sometimes get confused, because it wasn't exactly an easy task. But I really wanted to get away from... sometimes when you play music and make as many records as I have over the years, you start to over-intellectualize something that's really simple and pure and primal. So this is a record to return to a place where it was just, like I said, primal and pure.

HP: About that title, there are a couple different ways to interpret it. What's your take?

BB: It depends. Like you said, there's many ways you can interpret it. It could be literal, it could be metaphorical, it can be symbolical. I like the concept of combining words, just from a wordsmith perspective. Like I said a minute ago, not trying to over-intellectualize what it means. Symbolically, I think it represents consciousness and awareness. In a more literal sense, my biological parents... My mother was a white hippie and my dad was a black power guy. It's literal in that sense, in terms of who Brant Bjork really is at the core of my being, my DNA. Those things combining... My music is biracial because I'm biracial. Throughout my career, I've consistently worked with that the way someone like Phil Lynott would work with it. I hear that in his music with Thin Lizzy. It's constantly a bridging of this gap, of these two bloods, and making sense of it. Also, it's just punk rock, y'know? This is my punk rock record. Punk rock is my root. This is my punk rock band and I wanna just throw shit out there that makes people move around and figure shit out. Push some buttons.

HP: What's the chemistry like between you, Dave, Bubba, and Tony?

BB: The chemistry began before we started playing music. Conceptually, to get back to that beautiful, innocent place after many years of playing music with various people and various situations I've come to accept the fact that it's important to play music with people that are down with each other, they're on the same page as human beings. The chemistry starts there. If you can hang out in a room and have a beer together and laugh and bullshit and have fun, that's going to carry over into the musicianship. So the chemistry begins before the music. And these guys are my friends. I grew up with Tony in the desert, I've known Dave for twenty years, we've been dearest friends. Bubba is a guy I've known for years. He's always been super down-to-earth and cool and I've always been a fan of his guitar playing. So I deliberately assembled a group of guys where there was vibe before we even picked up our instruments.

HP: You've been doing this since you were a kid. You've been writing, performing, recording... What's been most important in your success as a musician?

BB: What's been most important is what's happening right now. I look at this record as a return, kind of a full circle. I also feel it's a record you can only graduate to if you survive and last this long in the business. Therefore it's a real important record for me. I think it's my most important accomplishment because it's the result of many, many years of discovering and learning and exploring. Victories and failures, all that stuff. I feel really excited about it.

HP: You guys were in Australia, Europe, you did some dates out West. How's the new material being received? Around the world and across continents, what's been the response?

BB: Well, this music is live music. It was written and executed live in the studio. It's music to be performed live as much as it is to be listened to on another source as a recording. In all honesty, I was really shocked at how fast people responded to the new material, enthusiastically and almost participated with it. It was kind of shocking, especially since none of these people were familiar with the tracks. We made a point early-on to get onstage and start playing the new material even though the record wasn't coming out yet. Together we decided that we wanted to jump straight into a new trip, The Low Desert Punk Band. Like, "Let's get this punk rock goin'!" And even in Europe it was pretty amazing. You would've thought they'd already heard the record, it was pretty amazing.

HP: You guys taking it out again, anything in the works?

BB: Absolutely. I feel that we haven't even begun to tour to support the record. I feel like we were just exercising a new band, gettin' the band out on the road. Gettin' the live chemistry working, gettin' the fans back in the house and excited about a return to doin' my own thing. We've got new action happening. It's all about that. Now we've got shit on the stove and it's cookin'. I think when the record drops next week, we've already got plans next year to go out and support the record specifically. That'll be another adventure.

HP: You guys comin' out to the Midwest at all?

BB: Yeah, absolutely. I love the Midwest. For me, it's probably the best part of the states in terms of what we're doin' and having people come out and participate. So the plan is definitely to go out and hit the East Coast and the Midwest together at some point.

HP: You're pretty well cemented as a notable pioneer in the stoner rock, desert rock scene, whatever you wanna call it. Where do you see the state of that now in terms of what you're involved with and other bands. What's your take on the whole scene as it stands right now?

BB: That's an interesting question. Really, when I think about it, it's hard to understand the mechanics of the scene when you're kind of in the eye of the storm. So I really don't know. And it might not be for me to even know. I don't fully know what stoner rock is, and in some ways I wonder if I've ever known what it is. Stoner rock, for me, didn't exist when I was comin' up as a musician in what we were doing. For me, I was a stoner and I smoked pot for many reasons. Some of 'em didn't have anything to do with music. But I also loved music and I loved listening to records and going out and seeing my friends' bands play. And when I was at home I would smoke a joint and it was a way for me to get more meditative with a particular record. I would listen to that record deeper and I would hear it in a way that I'd never heard the record before, even if I'd heard the record a hundred times. So I took that into the music I was creating and the records that I was helping to create with Kyuss. That was kind of part of what I was bringing to it. So this whole stoner rock thing has become the name of a genre. But I don't know if these people even smoke pot, do they even care about smokin' weed? Is that even part of it? [laughs.] I don't know what stoner rock really is or means or how deep it goes. And as a scene, it eludes me. And desert rock, that was just something we called ourselves almost half-kidding because we were from the desert. And back then, the desert was a fuckin' trippy place that no one wanted to go to. [laughs.] So it's hard for me to say. In terms of rock music, for me, stoner rock and desert rock is synonymous with non-commercial rock music. I think rock music is really healthy right now. When I travel, I see a genuine excitement in the world right now. People still pick up instruments and get big, loud amplifiers and make loud rock music. I think people are excited about that and on some level they need it. I see a new generation of kids, it's cyclical, man. I think every ten to twenty years there's a whole generation of kids that are discovering it. And with the modernity of what's happening in the world now, kids need something tangible. They need something that pushes them around, they need something that scares them. They need something that they can hold and fear. I think rock music is doing that for a new generation.

HP: It seems you have such a connection with the desert and the Earth. It's strong and transcendent. What's your connection with the desert independent of the music?

BB: I like that you asked that, "independent of music," because that's really where it starts, right? In planetary terms, it's my planet. I come from Planet Desert. It's just my environment, it's my ecosystem, it's my life force. It's big space, time stands still. It's hot weather. Seasons are really shot. It's hot, it's cold, it's not complicated. The terrain is rough and it's mean. It's pretty intense. The beauty is equal. And it's a meditative place. For brain-trippers like myself, it really caters to us and is kind to us. It forces meditation on some level, it mellows you out. The drug of the desert is methamphetamine. I think it's because people freak out on the meditation out here. [laughs.] They don't wanna be sedated by the environment, so they do a stimulant so they can get up and make shit happen in their lives. I never participated in it, but I can totally understand why people do. That's my environment, that's just where I come from. Then you throw in Southern California culture; skateboarding, punk rock, BMX, Motocross, and all these things that we grew up with. A peacocking, if you will, of Southern California, the big Hispanic, Mexican, Chicano culture and low-riding. All that stuff, it's all out here too. So you just wrap that up, give a kid a joint and a Jimi Hendrix record and all of a sudden it starts happening.

HP: You're so proficient, you're always doing something. Whether it's Kyuss, Fu Manchu, your solo stuff, - the Bros, - the Operators, and now the Low Desert Punk Band. This Jacuzzi project, is it gonna see daylight anytime soon?

BB: Daylight, yes. Anytime soon, I don't know. It's all about time management for me, especially now that I'm married and have kids. So I've gotta really work on my time management, which is something I was lucky enough to have discovered early on, that it was important for me to execute what I do. And let's face it, there's only so much time in the day, only so many days in the week. I've gotta pick my battles. Jacuzzi is one of my most talked-about records and I've never even put it out, which is kind of interesting to me. I'm kind of enjoying it, though, because it's almost forcing me to not rush to put it out because I'm kind of letting this thing build. But really it's the result of getting back together with John and Nick and putting Kyuss back together, which was obviously consuming all my time. And right before that adventure took off was when I was tying up the loose ends of that session. So it kind of just sat on the shelf. I had no formal way of putting the record out back then anyway. No design, I didn't have a plan. It was a record that I just started recording, it was a knee-jerk while I was in the studio. But I really dig the record and I would like to get it out. I've got super-solid management these days and pretty much need to sit down with them and design an appropriate plan to put it out. That'll probably just involve timing. We'll see.

HP: I could watch Sabbia over and over. I could watch it without the sound, I could listen to the sound without the visual. It was such a cool project. Do you ever see yourself doing anything like that again in the future?

BB: Yeah, I would love to return to that situation. Back then, that was a combination of people having the right tools to do something at the right time to pursue it. I haven't been lucky enough to have those planets align, but I'm sure glad when they did align back in the day we were able to take notice of it and motivate, create, and release. It was a lot of fun and it was exactly what we aimed to do. As far as doing it again, I would love to. Next to music, my other passion is film and soundtracks and movies in general. I would love to get deeper into that. Actually, maybe even work on a full movie with dialog, screenplay, music. That'd be the ultimate.

HP: Peace was incredible. The record made a statement and seemed to establish you guys (Vista Chino) as a cornerstone act. Then Nick comes out and says "it's over." Is it?

BB: [laughs.] I don't know. Nothing's really over, is it? We could say the same thing about the whole Kyuss adventure, Kyuss Lives! and all that. If there was any one thing that we had all kind of discovered and established simultaneously, it's that nothing is over. So having said that, I look at Vista Chino as just another word describing this adventure that started a long time ago. And it'll probably just keep rolling down the road. But metaphorically, I see Vista Chino as a car that we parked for a while because we have to go do other things.

HP: Finally, be honest; what's one question you hate being asked in an interview?

BB: [laughs.] That's a funny question. I really hate it when people ask me what my favorite song or favorite record is that I've done. It's like asking "What's your favorite kid? Your son or your daughter?" It just doesn't make sense. I understand. I don't lose sleep over it because not everyone makes records and not everyone writes and records songs. But for me, it's a question that's just such a waste of time because I couldn't possibly tell you. I don't have a favorite, y'know?

I guess I don't either, man. Black Power Flower is available in the U.S. on 11/18. 

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