“I moved out of the desert for a year once. As soon as I started unpacking that first box, I knew I'd made a mistake.”
So says KYUSS vocalist John Garcia, a native of California’s Coachella Valley and owner of one of the most instantly recognizable voices in rock n’ roll. Along with drummer Brant Bjork, bassist Nick Oliveri and guitarist Josh Homme, Garcia was one of four desert teenagers who laid the foundation upon which modern “stoner rock” was built. Only it wasn’t called stoner rock back in 1989, when the band recorded their debut (with original bassist Chris Cockrell) under the name Sons of Kyuss. Nor was that somewhat insidious genre tag anywhere to be found when KYUSS pulled their own plug in late 1995, after six years of desert generator parties, four mammoth full-lengths, and prestigious tours with the likes of Danzig and Metallica.
In fact, the KYUSS legend didn’t really take shape until well after the band split up. Soon enough, their unmistakable trademarks could be seen all over a generation of rock outfits that started popping up in the mid-to- late ’90s. From out of the clear blue sky, dudes from L.A. to Stockholm started playing thunderous detuned guitar grooves through gargantuan bass amplifiers. The Almighty Riff hadn’t seen so much action since Zeppelin and Sabbath ruled the ’70s with serpentine rhythms and iron power chords. Meanwhile, actual singers were suddenly back in style, in stark contrast to the tedious rap-rock and “nu-metal” that defined heavy music’s precipitous post-grunge decline. Others were even less subtle about where their influences lay: They simply named their bands after KYUSS songs.
Meanwhile, all the various members of KYUSS became worshipped as godheads among an ever-broadening base of fervent disciples. Every so often, Garcia or Homme would tip their respective hats and revive an old tune onstage with one of their post-Kyuss bands. In the summer of 2010, KYUSS Mania hit a fever pitch when Garcia toured Europe with a group of Dutch and Belgian musicians under the banner Garcia Plays Kyuss. Brant Bjork and his band, the Bros, were tapped as openers. From the first night forward, Bjork would join Garcia onstage for “Gardenia,” the Bjork-penned KYUSS tune that opens their highly-revered 1994 opus, Welcome To Sky Valley.
When the tour hit Hellfest in Clisson, France, Bjork and Garcia came face to face with Nick Oliveri, who was playing the fest with his band, Mondo Generator. Much to the slack-jawed awe and red-eyed delight of the thousands in attendance, history was made when Garcia, Bjork and Oliveri played two KYUSS songs— “Gardenia” and “Green Machine”—together with Belgian guitarist Bruno Fevery, who’d been manning the six-string in the Garcia Plays Kyuss lineup. “I know sometimes it can be silly or cliché, but I don't fear the word magic,” Bjork offers. “Certainly for us, KYUSS was a very magical band. We came from a magical place, and we had a magical friendship growing up. Nick, John and I were playing together when we were 14 years old. So to find ourselves in France in front of a couple thousand people, playing songs together that we hadn't played in almost 20 years, I don’t know what other word you would use.” “We had a blast doing it, and we had a couple beers afterwards, but that was it,” Bjork adds. “Two or three weeks later, I got an email from John.”
Enter KYUSS LIVES! Part resurrection, part celebration, it is the next chapter in KYUSS history. Featuring Garcia, Bjork, Oliveri and Fevery, the band initially embarked on an extremely well-received European tour in mid-2011. “Bruno is a fantastic guitar player, and he's an even more awesome human being,” Bjork enthuses. “He's really respectful in terms of playing the Kyuss material, and he's the real hero as far as this reunion goes. His presence has allowed me to do what I've always wanted to do as the drummer in this band—and have fun and enjoy the ride.” In April of 2012, bassist Billy Cordell joined Garcia, Bjork and Fevery, replacing Oliveri.
“The response that we've gotten has been so overwhelmingly good, that we decided to do another record,” Garcia reveals. “Obviously, there's a high level of responsibility to keep the standard of music—the class, the style and the integrity of the tunes. I don't know if Kyuss was the gold standard in rock n' roll, but it was certainly the gold standard in my life. And I’ll be damned if I ruin it. This record is literally the most important record of my entire life, so I'm going to make sure that we're all proud. I think this band is equal to the task. And anyone who gets in our way does so at their own peril.”
For Bjork, KYUSS LIVES! is very much about unfinished business. “Kyuss was my life when we were originally together,” he explains. “The whole reason I'm in the music business today, making records, traveling the world, is because I was part of Kyuss. I went into a year-and- a-half- long depression when I left Kyuss, and I didn‟t know if I was gonna come out of it. I was 19 years old, and it was a very dark, dramatic, painful time for me. But then I saw the tremendous impact that the band had on the rock world. For 15 years I had people coming up to me all the time telling me what a rad band Kyuss was. I'd always be like, "Dude, I'm the last person you have to tell that to. I knew we were an awesome band. That's why I was so brokenhearted when I saw it dissolving.”
For Garcia, it’s about attempting to take the untouchable to the next level. “Kyuss never had anything to prove, and we don't have anything to prove right now,” he clarifies. “We got our due at the very first generator party we played. This band doesn't measure the level of success by how many records we've sold or getting our faces on the cover of Rolling Stone. But I think Kyuss has a lot more to offer. We are not done yet, and I think the sky is the limit.”