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By: Matt T.A. Smith
Following the release of his debut solo album earlier this year, and ahead of his European tour starting in November, I got the opportunity to speak with legendary desert rocker and stoner rock pioneer John Garcia about the histories behind the songs on the album, balancing being a rock star with his responsibilities as a family man, and his surprising love of ’70s disco.
(((o))): Hi John, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. How are you?
I’m good. It’s a beautiful day out here in the desert, although believe it or not, it’s only 11:15am. The weekend’s coming up pretty quick and I’m grilling some vegetables for some homemade salsa, so things are good!
(((o))): (Laughs) The life of a rock star…
(Laughs) I was up at 4:00 this morning making lunches for my kids and my wife, so my day is already halfway over!
(((o))): So you’ve just got back from touring Australia. How do you feel that the shows went?
I felt they went good. Y’know, we’re a new band; I’ve got Mike Pygmie on bass, Greg Saenz on drums, and Ehren Groban on guitar. This is a brand new four piece, so it was great for us to get some experience and go over there, but all in all I think the shows went good.
(((o))): As you’re not just playing songs from your solo album, but also tracks that you recorded with Kyuss and Slo Burn, how do you go about deciding upon setlists for these shows when you have such a wealth of material to choose from?
Well the majority of the set is songs from the new record, which was a no-brainer. One of the songs on the record is called ‘All These Walls’ which was an original Slo Burn track called ‘Cactus Jumper’, and y’know, I’m a fan of Chris [Hale] and Brady [Houghton] and Damon [Garrison], and I’ve always wanted to do some Slo Burn, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to say “Why the fuck not?” So we’re doing ‘Pilot The Dune’, ‘July’, and, of course, ‘All These Walls’. With Kyuss, I’m very proud of that band, and if it wasn’t for that band then I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m able to do today as far as touring and records and whatnot; they really gave me a jumpstart in my career. We’re playing songs that even Kyuss really never played live. ‘Gloria Lewis’; never did that one live. ‘Tangy Zizzle’ we did every once in a while but not a lot. We’re still playing songs like ‘Thumb’ and ‘Supa Scoopa’, but song submissions are still coming in. Greg mentioned that he wanted to do some Hermano, a song called ‘5 to 5’, which I think is a good idea. It’s all about feel and emotion and just wanting to explore a little bit, and that’s what it’s about right now for me; it’s about being explorative and testing the waters. I’m playing with a very talented group of musicians and we’re still working on the song selection, but that’s the fun part.
(((o))): You must approach touring very differently these days now that you’re a family man with an established career, compared to, say, when you were playing with Kyuss in the early days out in the desert to smaller crowds?
Yeah, it’s a tonne different. There’s a lot more responsibility, it takes an incredible amount of communication, and I just can’t hop in a van or in a bus and go “Woohoo! I’m gonna go, fuck responsibility!” Those were great times, but now it’s gotta make sense. It’s gotta make sense financially, it’s gotta make sense for the rest of the guys. We’re gonna be gone for close to 6 weeks, and they’re all family guys, so it’s gotta make sense in every single way possible. And that means, like I said before, and incredible amount of communication, and the numbers have gotta make sense. You’ve gotta take care of yourself too; I’m very fortunate to be 43 years old and to still be able to get up there and do what I do with passion, emotion, and feeling; it’s great. It’s just, realistically, I think there’s a shit-tonne more responsibility. The passion’s never left, but I think responsibility and communication is key. I mean I have two kids, an 11-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy, and a wife that holds down the hood when I’m gone while running a veterinary hospital – she’s the real rock star! She’s the person that we should be asking the questions: “How do you do it? When John’s off doing this, how do you handle all this stuff!?” She runs a pretty tight ship, she’s a great mother and a great wife, and I give credit where credit is due, and she certainly deserves a tonne of it.
(((o))): Going back to your solo album; you’ve been on record as having said that you had plans to release a solo album for around 6 years. Why did you feel as though now was the right time to bring it to fruition?
Honestly Matt, I got tired of saying yes to every other fucking project that was thrown at me. I mean that with all due respect, because I love Slo Burn and Hermano, and the other acts that I’ve been involved with; I’ve done a lot of guest appearances, whether it be Danko Jones, or The Crystal Method, or Mad City Rockers, or Steak, or Orange Goblin. After these one-off deals I wanted to embrace the group of songs that I’ve been sitting on for so long, and it was really just pure exhaustion that made me say “Fuck, I don’t wanna do anything else right now, I just wanna concentrate on my project”, and honestly it feels good. There’s a tremendous amount of freedom; I feel liberated. Not that I was enslaved in any of the other bands before, but this is different. This is my thing, and I do what I wanna do when I wanna do it and how I wanna do it, and I can sing any song I wanna sing when I want, where I want, and however I want, and it feels good to do that. I don’t mean that to sound selfish, but it just means a tremendous amount to me, and it was just time.
(((o))): I don’t think that sounds selfish at all. As you said, you’ve done enough work with so many other bands that I think a lot of people were glad to finally hear you do your own thing.
Yeah, well I’m glad. You know, Matt, I’ve said this before, but I wasn’t looking to change the face of rock and roll. I’m not trying to make a movement with these songs, I’m not. These are just simple rock tunes that I had a personal relationship with. These songs got me through something; they got me to some place, they’re part of me. They’re like my tattoo, and these songs were tattooed on my mind and my heart and my gut, and I had to show ’em. I had to roll up the sleeves and show them off a little bit. Like I said, I’m not trying to change the face of rock and roll, these are just very simple songs. I think we’re rehearsing well, and we’ve got the big tour ahead of us, and we started writing this week for the next record, and it feels good.
(((o))): You actually stepped on one of my other questions there; I was going to ask what was next for you; whether there were any plans for another solo record, or if you were going to go back and do another Vista Chino album?
I’m very happy with where I’m at right now, and for now VC’s kinda parked in the garage, if you will. We’re taking a break because Brant [Bjork]’s doing his thing, releasing his solo record, so when the time comes we might do another one, but right now I think Brant and I are really happy with where we’re at in our careers.
(((o))): You said that some of the songs on the album have been around in some form or another for a long time; did these songs change at all during the recording process, or did you largely have the ideas for the structures and instrumentation down already and it was merely a case of going in to the studio and recording them?
The song selection was done, but to look at these songs in a new light with where I’m at right now in my life, and to breathe new life into ’em, and to look at ’em a little bit differently, that was fun. Getting in the studio with Dave Angstrom and not rewriting them, but, again, just breathing new life into them, was fun. For instance, the song called ‘Confusion’ was originally an acoustic track, and we turned it into this weird interlude where it was just drums, guitar, and vocals. That part of creating in the studio, or recreating something that was old, that’s always fun to do.
(((o))): I’ve got to say, ‘Confusion’ is one of my favourite songs on the album. I remember thinking when I first heard it that it was probably the furthest departure from anything that I’d heard you do before out of all of the tracks on the record.
Cool, thanks. Like I said, it was fun to get back in there, in the studio. Every project of mine, and every time that I go in the studio, has a different energy. You go in there with a set mind frame of what you think conceptually this record is gonna be, and this record did have a concept; it was to make a very simple rock record, and I think Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever, both my producers, did an amazing job. I had a lot of great musicians backing me up on this; Danko Jones, Nick Oliveri, Robby Krieger from The Doors, Mark Diamond, Tom Brayton, Ehren Groban, Dave Angstrom, Danny Brown… just an incredible amount of musicians that helped me do this record, and they had an equal amount of passion as I did when coming into this project, and that was awesome to have their full attention on something like this. Again, I gotta give props where props are due, and all of the musicians fully deserve a tonne of it as well.
(((o))): Was there anyone else in particular that you wanted to work with on the record but couldn’t arrange it? Or anyone that you’d like to work with in the future?
I really would have loved to work with Mario Lalli from Yawning Man and The Sort Of Quartet, he’s just an awesome musician but unfortunately it didn’t work out. Ian Astbury from The Cult would have been the tits if I could have got him to sing a tune with me, but there’s always next time. I never say never, and I’ll keep trying.
(((o))): The album features a cover of Black Mastiff; were there any other songs that you considered covering for the album? Or any that you’ve always wanted to cover and just never had the opportunity to?
Danko Jones wrote ‘5000 Miles’ for me and that was great, it’s one of my favourite songs on the record. Black Mastiff… what a great song, what a great band… just awesome guys. But for this one I really just wanted to concentrate on the solo stuff that I’d collected throughout all the years. There’s plenty of songs that I would have loved to cover, but I can’t fill up the record with covers otherwise I probably would’ve had an Earth, Wind & Fire cover on there! But hey, if I like a song then chances are I’m gonna cover it, I don’t care who wrote it. I’m a fan of song, I’m a fan of music. I mean, I can’t get Santana’s Abraxas off my turntable right now, and that’s a great record, so maybe next album there’ll be a cover from Abraxas on there, who knows? But right now, I’m very happy with just writing with the guys.
(((o))): What still influences you to write music? You’ve had a long and successful career in music now; do you still find that it comes from listening to other bands? Or do you feel as though other aspects of your life such as your family or your veterinary work influence you as well?
I’m influenced by the guys that I’m playing with right now, as well as my family here, but I’m still heavily influenced by Ian Astbury from The Cult and, of course, Glenn Danzig. I’ve been listening to a lot of old rhythm and blues stuff, and, believe it or not, a lot of ’70s disco tunes because there’s great melody in some of that stuff. Matt, I don’t have any guilty pleasures, I just don’t think that way, my mind’s not wired where I care what people think. Believe it or not, there’s a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that’s awesome. Barry and Andy Gibb from The Bee Gees, they have awesome melody. I listen to all kinds of stuff, I’ll throw on Bob Marley tonight. I’m influenced by everything but I guess the main thing is my family and the guys I’m playing with right now.
(((o))): I just have one more question for you. You start your European tour in November; do you have anything special planned? I know you mentioned earlier that you were looking into playing songs that you haven’t played live before.
Matt, hey man, I’m really looking forward to coming over to Europe. I mean this may not be a monumental moment for the rock and roll community, but it certainly is a monumental moment for me. I am just looking forward to getting over there with Waxy and Steak and we’re gonna put on a show. We’re gonna get over there, we’re gonna put on a show, we’re gonna play some Kyuss, we’re gonna play some Slo Burn, we might throw in some Hermano, we might throw some Unida in there, we might do a little bit of everything. The last night of the set in Byron Bay in the Gold Coast of Australia, we had to cut our set short. We were playing 26 songs, and we’re up to like 20 songs, it’s feeling good, and the tour manager came back and said: “Hey man, we gotta cut it short.” I was like; “What are you talking about, we got 6 more songs we gotta do”, and he’s like; “No, you got time for one more. What do you wanna do?” So we looked at the setlist and we were like “Well, we gotta do ‘Whitewater’!”, and that’s what we did, and everybody left with a big smile of their face, so we’re just looking forward to spending as much time as we can on stage and doing what we do. Like I said, these guys, they’re all local guys so we’re able to get together on a Friday night and barbeque and get in the rehearsal room and jam out or write new material. We’re having a blast doing it all and there’s zero drama, man. There’s zero drama and we’re having fun, and we wanna bring all of that to Europe.
(((o))): I plan on coming to the Manchester show, so I’ll hopefully see you there.
Awesome. Well thanks Matt, thanks for taking time out of your day to shoot the breeze. I appreciate it, and with journalists like you showing interest and stuff like that, it really helps the tour and it helps the record, so I appreciate it. Thank you very much and enjoy the rest of your day.
(((o))): Thank you very much, I assure you the pleasure was all mine!
Take care and thanks Matt, have a good one.