Brant Bjork shakes off Kyuss spat for NZ show

By Chris Schulz

After lawsuits and band upheavals, Brant Bjork is bringing his latest heavy mob to Auckland. He talks to Chris Schulz.
Brant Bjork.
Brant Bjork.

Brant Bjork isn't supposed to be in New Zealand. By rights he shouldn't be performing at the King's Arms tonight, where he'll be breaking in an all-new band of stoner-rock showmen.

And as for the new material he'll be showcasing from a "really heavy" solo album, set for release later this year, well, he probably shouldn't be playing those songs either.

Here's what Bjork should be doing: having a beer or two. After a lengthy, high-profile lawsuit with his former Kyuss bandmates, including Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, he's definitely earned them.

Here's a quick recap: several members of long-defunct desert-rock legends Kyuss - including John Garcia, Nick Oliveri, Bruno Fevery and Bjork - reformed in 2010 and toured for several years, performing Kyuss material under the name Kyuss Lives!

But a lawsuit from former Kyuss members Homme and Scott Reeder alleged "trademark infringement and consumer fraud", halting tours and the release of new material.

Tense court proceedings ensued, and a war of words between Bjork and Homme played out in the media.

As Bjork puts it: "It was a real shame and a real embarrassment."

The result saw Bjork and co - Oliveri left in the middle of the lawsuit - change their name to Vista Chino, releasing the aptly titled album Peace last year. They played all Australian Big Day Out shows this year but skipped New Zealand.

Bjork, the band's drummer, says the plan was to celebrate their successful reincarnation and continue the momentum with a second Vista Chino album, demos for which had already been recorded.

But there was a problem. Frontman Garcia didn't want to, choosing instead to focus on a solo career.

"We were all ready to record a new record," Bjork says mournfully.

"John in the 11th hour decided he wanted to pursue a solo career. We were shocked by the timing of that. Bruno and I had been conceptualising and discussing a new album. We had recorded demos while we were touring the States.

"It's still a mystery to us today - no one understands more than me about wanting to pursue your own music. But the timing was awkward, and there really wasn't any communication.

"It was really strange, but John's his own person. What can you do?"

Bjork suspects the row that erupted with their former bandmates may have had something to do with it.

"One theory we have is that, regardless of our victory, John is exhausted from that experience. You'd have to ask him."

Bjork, a softly spoken, wild-haired family man with two boys at home in Palm Springs, says Vista Chino's future is "up in the air".

But that's allowed the desert-rock veteran to reignite his solo career. Like a mini Dave Grohl, Bjork has led a double life while drumming for Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Vista Chino, recording seven solo albums since 1999.

Bjork promises his eighth, due out this year, will be his heaviest yet, and he's promising to play some of those new tunes tonight.

"We're really excited about the new music we're recording right now. We're taking a break from the record to come and play, and we'll be breaking in some new tunes. We're excited to break in the new band and try out the new songs - I couldn't think of a better way to do it [than in New Zealand].

"This album was all about me going back to my original influences: punk-rock, The Stooges, The Ramones, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, so it's all wrapped up and it's really heavy stuff, man. But as much as I love heavy music it's not dark - there's a really good combination of energies going on. It's groovy."

Although he says he'd never write specifically about an event, Bjork admits the heavier vibe of his new material could be an indirect result of the legal battle.

"Songs are like worlds to me, and to confine them to one specific event seems like a wasted opportunity. I haven't been motivated to write about the experience itself, but I'm emotionally charged for sure.

"I'm venting and releasing a lot of confusion, anger and frustration and it's exciting, really, because going through that experience with those guys made me feel good about who I am and what I do and how I do it.

"It made me want to do more of what I do. It kind of lit my fire in a way."

Who: Brant Bjork
Where: King's Arms, tonight
Essential listening: Blues for the Red Sun, Kyuss (1992); The Action Is Go, Fu Manchu (1997); Gods & Goddesses, Brant Bjork (2010); Peace, Vista Chino (2013)

- TimeOut

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