Riffs are the order of the day for the UK’s upcoming metal bands, and who more qualified to express Strong Positive Opinions on riffs than ex-Kyuss drummer Brant Bjork?
Known for his work as a founding member of Kyuss and more recently for his work with John Garcia in Vista Chino, Brant Bjork has had quite an eventful career as a founder of record labels (El Camino and Duna Records) and world-renowned producer.
Before his headlining set at Bristol’s Exchange he sat down with Metalmouth to talk Marshall amps, John Bonham and the similarly-named Icelandic singers…
Hi Brant! Thanks for coming down. How was the drive?
Good thanks, the drive was fine – actually it was an exciting day, out tour manager surprised us and took us to John Bonham’s grave!
That was really exciting, we weren’t expecting that so that made the drive extra-special today.
So – obviously people know you from your work with Kyuss. Here you’re fronting a new band. What would you tell someone who was familiar with your work previously as an introduction to this project?
I call it the Low Desert Punk Band. It’s essentially me returning to my roots and starting my ideal band of guys I’ve known for many years – great guys, great musicians, and also have similar punk background; to me it’s just a punk band and we’re just rocking and having fun.
So how did the band come together?
I just conceptualised what I wanted to do and figured out who I thought would be the people to do it and I stared making phone calls.
So it’s people you’ve known for a while?
Yeah of course. I’ve known Tony from the desert for years and Dave I’ve known for years. Bubba I’d met and we’d hung out enough to know he was a good guy so it all worked out.
So you guys are about to put a new release out..
The new record comes out next month, yeah.
Have you had much press reaction to that so far? Any reviews?
Yeah, I haven’t read any reviews ‘cos it hasn’t been properly released yet – from the interviews from people who have heard copies of the record, they all seem to enjoy it.
Has there been a focus on any particular part or any particular instrument on the new record?
Nah, I’m just playing guitar and singing what is what I do when I do my solo work – yeah really its just me and the band y’know?
So there’s been no change to songwriting?
Nah, I just wrote a load of songs with the guys and they just did their own thing and we recorded the record as a band live so it has that characteristic to it.
Quite organic then?
Yeah! Very organic.
Recently in the UK we’ve seen a comeback of ‘The Riff’ – bands based around songs that feature really prominent riffs – bands like Orange Goblin. We’re also seeing festivals like Desertfest and Temples festival pop up. You’re obviously part of the legacy. Since having done your previous work, do you see more bands coming to respect Kyuss’s work retrospectively?
Yeah, y’know I sometimes wonder if it’s not because of specific bands but because of a specific… I think people just wanna rock and roll. They just wanna sink their teeth into something that’s just kinda gratifying, y’know. And musical trends come and go and people push musical envelopes and try new things and pop music – that’s the nature of pop music, to kind of popularise all kinds of new ideas and rock and roll is just what it is and I think every 4-5 years people just want that rock again.
Why 4-5 years?
I don’t know if there’s an actual number – I don’t know if it’s that scientific, it’s just cyclical for generations. I don’t think rock ever went away, it just sits there. It takes new generations to discover and like it and then start bands again.
There’s such a huge range of things available to people just getting into rock too – now basically every band’s discography is available on the internet in some form..
Yeah with modern technology the access to music is unbelievable really. As much as the consumer market is kinda flooded with just information I think it allows the creative people to rise to the top at the same time. It just takes a little longer now as the glass is a little deeper.
What kind of new stuff have you guys been listening to at the moment?
I really like the new Tom Petty record, I like him a lot. That’s probably the only new record that I’m familiar with and listening to a lot.
Are there any new or unusual influences on the band?
Well we love the classics. We all come from classic rock and classic punk rock – Ramones and Black Flag and Black Sabbath and Motörhead and Jimi Hendrix and Cream.
How has the tour been? Have you been anywhere particularly outstanding?
Yeah we’re almost done, we’ve got about three more shows. We’ve been out for about four weeks. The record isn’t out yet, but people have been responding really well to the new material, like they already know it; it’s been really positive.
I watched a lot of the show on Youtube and the crowds seemed like they were really into it. Is there anywhere in the UK you’d particularly like to play? You mentioned Bonham’s grave; are there sites of interest that are especially poignant for rock and metal history?
Well, I dunno. I’ve been in the UK quite a bit over the years. Not much of a sight-seer but I like to enjoy a lot of the culture, I love rolling into cities and to see the scenery and the people and just kinda – I like to experiencing things from the big picture, to sit in a pub and have a beer y’know?
What state is your tour bus in at the moment?
Like, is it clean?
Yeah, do you keep it super-clean?
Yeah, we’re not messy! (laughs)
I asked that question to a bunch of bands at a festival and it fell flat every time as they’d literally just hired it out and driven from the airport (laughs)
Yeah, ours is just really a van to get us around.
You see a lot of bands get really attached to their van – like a few years ago I think Black Flag’s old van went up for sale and there was a huge fuss about that..
Oh wow! The stuff of legend (laughs)
Coming back to the riffs you’ve mentioned a lot of really classic groups. Do you think there are any specific riffs that you think are really essential to an appreciation of what you guys are doing at the moment?
Nah I don’t think there are specific riffs – I don’t know if specifics are necessary. I think it’s more the spirit of things, y’know? The spirit behind the music, the sound and feel. I think if you have to study a specific riff to understand – I think it’s down to the individual, certain music hits people in certain ways.
So by extension are there specific bands that you think have a certain feel behind their riffs that really impact people?
Well there are so many! Yeah there are so many. I think there’s music that’s being played right now that has a tremendous impact on people. As long as its coming from a place of honesty and authenticity, emotions and soul then it’s gonna have an impact on people. For me personally I like the music from the 60s and 70s and a little from the 80s – that seems to be music that moves me.
You spoke about being authentic – that’s obviously very important for the punk part of what you’re doing..
Well it’s always been a part of what I do. That’s what makes music effective.
With your live sound, how important is it to get a specific sound? I noticed you’ve got your own sound guy. Is it important to have a specific sound or do you just plug in and play?
My sound is just my sound. I just – the sound that feels like an extension of my playing. I don’t even know how I would define my sound; I know what it’s not. I know when I don’t have my sound! I think that goes for anybody. If you’re not gonna play the sound that represents you then there’s no point.
Exactly, yeah. So do you have specific amps you bring on tour with you?
Uh yeah, we do bring our own amps. All Marshalls.
Again, authentic – I definitely get what you mean. I’ve seen people spend ages try to get a very exact sound. Obviously it depends between venues.
Every show is different, every night. Every room sounds different. I know what I have technically. But that’s part of the fun – I don’t want it to sound the same every night, it’d be boring. That’s why the knobs turn.
Are there any venues you’ve played that have particularly excellent sound?
Well really every club I’ve played – some stages are very cold and compressed and you get a real stiff audience you need to liven up. Other stages and rooms are very electric and alive and shit just starts happening. It’s a bit like getting on a horse that starts haulin’ ass or a horse that keeps whippin’ around a bit (laughs). But you get used to it and it’s part of the fun.
What plans have you got for the future? Are you looking to record after this new release?
Yeah the new record comes out next month. I’m just gonna tour and eventually make another one.
So is this the only project you have at the moment?
I’ve always got stuff on the go; right now I’m focussed on this one.
So when you record in the future, would you look to do anything particularly different?
Well I’ve always done something different – once you’ve done something once there’s no need to do it again. Just carrying on, you build houses, hopefully you build a different house every time. It’s exciting. So yeah – I plan to make more records in the near future and they’ll be different to this one.
So is there a certain philosophy when you write stuff? Do you turn up and jam or do you have stuff pre-written?
I don’t have a formula for creating music or the creative process. For every rule there’s an exception so it just depends where I’m at in that time in my life when I begin that new creative process. It’s always different.
You share a name with the infamous Icelandic singer Björk – I imagine you’ve heard that before. Have you ever considered what you two might do if you were to collaborate?
(Laughs) well it’s just coincidence that I share a name with her; it’s not my real name, I don’t have Icelandic origins at all. It’s just the name of the man who raised me. But I’m not super-familiar with the music. I know she’s a very, very gifted, super-effective artist. I don’t know what I’d do if I were to collaborate – probably leave it up to her! (laughs)
She did some stuff with Mike Patton which was quite interesting..
Oh yeah! Mike always does interesting stuff.
I saw him recently; it’s amazing that he’s still on incredible form, coming back to doing Faith No More stuff again. They’re doing a new album next year which is always cool. To finish – if there anything you’d like to conclude with or to sign off on?
No, that seems pretty good.
How do you feel about playing in the next couple of hours?
Well, that’s why I’m here! Ready to go to work, do my thing.
On November 14 2014, the new album “Black Power Flower” by BRANT BJORK AND THE LOW DESERT PUNK BAND will be released on Napalm Records. Pre-Order: www.shopbenchmark.com/lowdesertpunk