Interview: John Garcia

Some people might take offense to 'Green Machine' being played this way, but that's okay. That's the exact type of sentiment that I want to evoke from the listener; first going, "What the hell is this?!", and then listening to it again and going "Wow, what a departure."

Towards the end of last year, Matt T.A. Smith caught up with part-time veterinary technician and full-time stoner rock legend, John Garcia, who had recently finished recording and mixing his second solo offering; The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues. Entirely acoustic and comprising of an intriguing mix of new songs and laid back takes on some old Kyuss classics, the album’s a far cry from Garcia’s fuzzy usual. Ahead of its January 27th release, they chatted about pissing off Kyuss purists, the challenges of making an acoustic record, and bobcats…

(((o))): Hi John. First and foremost, congratulations on your second album.

John: Thank you very much, I appreciate that. I wasn’t expecting to do an acoustic record, and after everything in my career, it’s unexpected. You go down one path expecting to stay on that path, and then all of a sudden you go down another road. But thank you very much.

(((o))): The album is called The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues; where did the name came from? Is it a specific reference to anything in particular?

John: Well, it’s kind of an ode to where I’m from, and what I’m surrounded by. I’m still right smack dab in the middle of the desert and I love it. I have these animals all around me. Ever since the last Kyuss record that was put out, every single one of my record covers has had some sort of animal on them. I’m a veterinary technician by day, and a musician by night – as well as a father and a husband! The title is really an ode to where I’m from and how proud I continue to be of the desert, so it made absolute perfect sense that I name this record that.

This is only the second time that I’ve been asked “Where did you get that name from?”, and when I thought of the name I wasn’t thinking of how I was gonna explain it to journalists! It was really between my son and I; we had this movie that we were watching and there was some verbiage that was said that gave me the idea. I put one and one together and thought to myself “that makes perfect sense…” I’m not always the clearest when it comes to answering or explaining things to people; my guitar player says that I sometimes speak like a weird Gandalf. But it’s an ode to the desert, an ode to my son, and it just made perfect sense for this acoustic record.

(((o))): For someone who says they don’t explain themselves well, that was pretty clear.

John: (Laughs) I’m working at it! But names are tricky, y’know? I’m sure I’m gonna get a lot of that. But I’m very proud of where I’m from, Matt, and I hear coyotes on a nightly basis. The way that they communicate with one another is phenomenal. For the first time in my life just yesterday I saw a pack of five. It was amazing. My wife and I are animal people anyway; we work at Palm Springs Animal Hospital where I’ve been a veterinary technician for 25 years, and my wife has been there as a technician for close to 20 years. So, we’re animal people! And all the more reason to name it something absurd like that.

(((o))): Living in Manchester in England, the closest I get to seeing coyotes is spotting a fox in my back garden…

John: Nice! Yeah that’s something we don’t have. We don’t have foxes, but we got plenty of coyotes and bobcats and all kinds of other critters running around here.

(((o))): So, the album is a mix of new songs and acoustic renditions of some classic Kyuss songs. Why did you decide to include the older Kyuss tunes as opposed to creating an album of entirely new material?

John: Well it was challenging for me; that’s one. And two, I still enjoy singing these songs. We never really recorded ‘Space Cadet’ the way I wanted to record it, so that’s another reason why; to do it the way I think it should be sung. I wish I would’ve done a better job the first time around! I didn’t like the way I sounded, so I wanted to re-record it. Recording songs like ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Green Machine’ like this in a very, very mellow way was a challenge and, again, I still enjoy singing those songs. Brant Bjork is a great songwriter, and those are two of his standout tracks. As far as ‘El Rodeo’ is concerned, it was a challenge and an enjoyable song to sing as well. Having those four songs on there, along with an instrumental and some new tracks and a couple of live ones, I thought it made for an interesting record. Y’know, this record and my music in general is not for everybody. Some people are gonna dig it and some people aren’t gonna dig it, and that’s just a part of being a musician. There are bands I like and bands I don’t like; there are records that speak to me more than others. This was quite a departure though; I was supposed to do an electric record for my sophomore solo record, but it wound up being an acoustic one. But that’s just par for the course of my career; every time I think about going in one direction, something will come along and pull me in the other direction! I’m used to that. It’s not something that you’re gonna put on when you’re having a raging party, but probably when you wanna make your woman dinner or twist one up and relax, then it’s a record that you’ll wanna put on.

(((o))): How did it come about that you decided to do a completely acoustic album, then?

John: It’s funny, a year and a half ago I called up my booking agent with this idea to do an acoustic tour and he goes “Yeah, I think it’s a good idea. Let’s see who’s interested”. So once the offers started coming in, I presented the idea to my guitar player and said “People are interested in seeing me do an acoustic tour; what do you think? Do you think it’s a good idea?” And we sat down in his living room in Palm Springs and started doing the songs acoustically, and all of a sudden it was not a very good idea at all! (Laughs)

We immediately thought, “What did we agree to?!” ‘Cause we thought, “Oh it’s simple, it’s easy. It’s acoustic, just a guitar and vocals. Easy peasy.” But it proved to be a lot more difficult, and I’ll tell you why; there’s really nothing to hide behind. You’re naked. One vocal, one guitar. You have to be able to sing; you have to be able to play, and you have to be able to do both well together. Fortunately for me, I still think that my voice is better than ever, and Ehren [Groban]’s guitar playing is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The whole purpose, really, was not to be perfect; to get in the studio and record these songs raw, kind of very ‘six band EQ’; very basic, nothing special. We don’t have electric guitar or electric bass, we don’t have any drums or cymbals ringing around the vocals, so you can’t hide anywhere. The musician at hand has to be up to the task, and I think that Ehren and I were equal to the task of doing this record.

Y’know, some people might take offense to ‘Green Machine’ being played that way, but that’s okay. That’s the exact type of sentiment that I want to evoke from the listener; first going, “What the hell is this?!”, and then listening to it again and going “Wow, what a departure.” I like challenges like that, I like when a song will actually challenge me, and that’s what we did and it was a lot of fun. Matt, it took a lot out of me to do this record, physically and emotionally, and when it was done it was like someone had hit me over the head with a jackhammer. It means a lot to me, this record, and I want to give it the opportunity it deserves to be available to people who are fans of mine that still collect some of the stuff that I do. It’s just another road that I’ve decided to go down. It took a lot out of me, but I enjoyed doing it, and I’m going to go out and support it. Come February and March of next year [2017], Ehren and I are gonna go out for three weeks over in Europe and do the exact same thing we did last time, and then I’ll be back with a full-blown electric band to try out some of the new material that we’re getting ready to write for the next electric release. And then after that, me and the guys in Slo Burn are going to get back together for a handful of shows and tour in Europe just for about a week, and I’m really looking forward to it.

(((o))): The future’s looking busy then…!

John: Yeah, busy. Not so much in the studio, but touring live. I’d like to be in the studio at the beginning of next year [2017] or the end of this year [2016] to at least start the electric record, but we’ll see what happens.

(((o))): I think the aspect of challenging oneself when making a record is extremely important, and I’m glad to hear that that’s one of the main reasons behind your decision to do an acoustic album. I can think of more than one band that have released acoustic or cover albums at later points in their career through either laziness or lack of imagination in a naive attempt to keep fans interested, whereas you’re at a point now where you, arguably, don’t have to pander to fans, or even release any new music at all. You could also argue that any purists that take umbrage at songs like ‘Gardenia’ being played like this can always just go back and listen to the original Kyuss albums…

John: Agreed. The whole process was challenging, but enjoyable at the same time. As a matter of fact I’m still working on some of the final, end-of-the-year paperwork for it; it’s taking me forever to finish this thing! It’s crazy.

(((o))): At least the songs are recorded.

John: (Laughs) Yeah!

(((o))): You just mentioned getting back together with Slo Burn; did you consider revisiting any Slo Burn songs for the album? Or any of your other projects like Unida or Hermano? Or did you purposefully stick to the Kyuss tracks?

John: Oh, I thought about it. I thought about doing an Hermano song called ‘Dark Horse II’; we tried it and it didn’t work out. There were several songs that challenged me so much that they actually won. And by ‘won’, I mean they got the best of me and I could not make it so that they were listenable to, to me. There were quite a few songs like that that just weren’t good to do acoustically, and quite a few songs that we tried but didn’t make the cut. But mainly it was just the one Hermano song and some of the Kyuss pieces, because people like Kyuss! People still listen to Kyuss, and these renditions of the songs are reflective of where I’m at in my career and life right now.

(((o))): The last time we spoke, you gave some insight into the plethora of contributors that helped to bring about your first album, John Garcia; people like Danko Jones, Dave Angstrom, and Nick Oliveri. Did you get any similar outside help this time around, or did you purposefully keep it between the four of you? [Along with Garcia and Groban, the recording party was rounded out the remaining members of Garcia’s live band; bassist Mike Pygmie and Greg Saenz on percussion.]

John: That’s exactly right. It was the ‘less is more’ attitude this time, and it was difficult even getting in the studio because of everybody’s schedules and the budget. Y’know, studios aren’t cheap, and neither are musicians because you need to pay people for their craft. I had a very minute budget and I locked down the studio for a month, which takes a lot of money. I actually went over a month, up to about a month-and-a-half doing this record. The only other guest that we had on there was a guy by the name of Ronnie King who did a lot of keyboards and synthesizers for the record, and he was an honor to work with, he’s a desert local guy. But yeah, purposefully.

(((o))): Your last album was produced by Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever, whereas this time you’ve gone for Steve Feldman and Robbie Waldman . Was there a reason that you decided to change?

John: Yeah; schedules. With Harper’s schedule, he couldn’t do it until over the summer, and I wanted to get the record done this year; it was imperative for me to get this record done. It actually started out over at Harper’s and then he couldn’t do it, so I moved it over to Unit-A and had Robbie Waldman and Steve Feldman help me produce it. I mean, I produced this record, and I mixed the record with the help of Robbie and Steve, and hats off to them, I definitely give credit where credit’s due and they certainly deserve a tonne of it.

(((o))): With regard to the new songs on the record, were they all written since your last album? I remember after John Garcia was released, you talked about a couple of songs that you had worked on that weren’t included on that album. One of those was ‘Little Marshall’, which was subsequently released on a split with Black Mastiff, but you also mentioned songs called ‘1974’ and ‘Swimming Pool’; were they considered for inclusion on the new album?

John: No, those are done. ‘1974’ will never see the light of day unfortunately, and that’s a great song. ‘Kylie’, ‘Give Me 250ml’, ‘The Hollingsworth Session’, and ‘Court Order’; those are all new songs and most likely are gonna go on the electric record but electrified, so I’m looking forward to that. But yeah, the majority of that stuff is all completely new. But that’ll be another challenge; maybe they won’t make it because maybe they’re meant to be acoustic, but we’re certainly gonna try to have those on the electric record.

(((o))): That’s an unusual element of crossover between albums.

John: Yeah, y’know the way that I do things may not go along with the traditional way that people put out records, but I don’t play by the book. I don’t play by any rules or regulations; I do what I wanna do when I wanna do it, how I wanna do it. And that’s the way it should be, y’know?! People can criticize all that they want. I’m not saying that I’m getting a bunch of shit for releasing Kyuss songs or two different versions of ‘Argleben’, or, going back to the first record, ‘His Bullets Energy’ versus ‘Her Bullets Energy’, but that kind of stuff to me is just flavor, that’s all it is.

(((o))): The new album cover was by the artist Jared Connor, who you’ve worked with before and who’s done some great artwork for other bands like Soundgarden and The Mars Volta; how much input did you have with the artwork?

John: Yeah, he also did the artwork for the first album. Him and this guy by the name of Sam Yong from Melbourne, Australia; they worked closely together for the first record. For the second record, I wanted to work with him again, and it’s a really interesting piece, very simple. I originally wanted it to be black and white but he popped some color in there and it’s a very fitting not only as the cover for this acoustic record, but for who I am and where I’m from and what I surround myself with. He has a website called www.mexicanchocolatedesign.com, but what a great artist and a cool guy. He’s a family man as well as a graphic artist, and he really helped me bring this vision to life. I owe him a big thank you.

(((o))): Well that wraps it up, thank you very much for spending your time talking to me; hopefully I’ll see you when you’re out touring next year [2017]!

John: That’d be awesome. Thanks Matt, I appreciate it dude. It’s good to talk to you again and have a good rest of your day. Cheers.

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