BRANT BJORK – Luvin’ Stoner Life
Palm Desert, California-based stoner rock musician Brant Bjork, formerly the drummer of Kyuss, spent roughly nine months authoring and co-penning tracks for September 2016 solo full-length studio album Tao Of The Devil. Brant and company sifted through batches of compositions, selecting those deemed appropriate to record for the follow-up effort to November 2014 foray Black Power Flower.
“For me, it was all about organising the band and also the studios that we were gonna work at, the engineers, and the production concept,” Brant remembers, vocalist and guitarist of the namesake solo outfit. “Then we just had a batch of songs, and used them to kind of get ourselves in shape; to see what was working, what sounded good. A lot of the songs, we put on the shelf. Some of them made the record, so it was a long process.”
These aforementioned leftover compositions will likely be resurrected in future. “There’s some that we’re thinking about revisiting for the next record, which we wanna quickly follow up with another one next year, so yeah,” the singer confirms. “We were stoked on all the material, but it wasn’t about just presenting songs. It was about presenting a vibe and a sound, so we just kind of went with whatever worked with what we were trying to achieve with this record.”
Helping the axeman achieve his aims was fellow axeman Bubba DuPree. “Bubba and I co-produced the record, and we did a lot of writing together,” he accredits. “We have a really good musical partnership, which we discovered when working on the first record that we did together – Black Power Flower. Our goal was… We love late 60s and early 70s rock; that seems to be the era that we both cherish the most. We wanted to kind of capture that spirit, but in the context of being contemporary, modern – the way we’re living now. Using analogue gear but also using a little bit of digital technology. We wanted to kind of make a record that sounded good, but sounded organic and raw at the same time and yet not too polished and not too hi-fi and not too low-fi. We wanted something right in the middle, which is what we came up with.”
What Brant and company came up with was in contrast to predecessor Black Power Flower. “It’s an entirely different record,” he discerns. “There’s a different mood, a different mindset. I think Black Power Flower was the sound of frustration; I just kind of wanted to spit that record out, and I did. It served its purpose. I feel like we bonded as a musical unit with that task, and then we were rewarded with the opportunity to get back into the creative process together and create this record. This kind of represents getting through that first go-around.”
That first go-around was birthed in the wake of a lawsuit surrounding the Kyuss moniker, the lyricist in collaboration with vocalist John Garcia having been touring under the Kyuss Lives! banner. “Obviously, I had just gone through some massive frustration, resulting in the lawsuit regarding Kyuss and all of that stuff,” he laments. “It was a very painful time, and so I was excited to get back to my solo work. There was a sense of kind of returning home, and I was surrounded by my good friends who were great musicians, and also my band. They helped me to kind of, like I said, flush, get rid of, and express all of that energy. Black Power Flower was just a ball of energy that I needed to kind of blow off some steam, so that was what that was all about.”
Tao Of The Devil is perhaps resultantly a more positive record in comparison to Black Power Flower. “Yeah,” Brant thinks. “They’re both positive. I think all of my music is positive; it’s all about getting to that positive place and maintaining that positive mindset, but life is meant to push you around and it certainly does. There’s room in my music to talk about the good times, and the bad. I think that’s what art and music is all about.”
Tao Of The Devil will inevitably be critiqued against the frontman’s solo catalogue in general, as well as Black Power Flower. “There’s two elements to my solo career,” he explains. “There’s the part where I’m kind of by myself recording records or arranging music, and then taking that music and later on putting it in front of a band and taking it to the stage. The other part of my solo career is where I actually have a band that I involve in the creative process and the recording process. I love working by myself because I have complete control, but I was born into playing in bands. I love the spirit of playing with a band and I love the collaboration, and that’s where I’m most happy.
“After all these years of doing this, this is the band that I feel like I’ve rewarded myself with for all of the hard work. I’ve got the band that I’ve always wanted, and so I took the freedom of being a solo artist and kind of put myself back into the band format. That’s kind of what I choose to do with my freedom as a solo artist (laughs). That’s to kind of inject myself back into the band situation; that’s what this record and this band represents, and I’m very content.”
The band situation naturally sees Brant leading a horde of like-minded musicians. “Bubba DuPree is the lead guitar player,” he begins. “Like I said before, he helps me arrange. We write together, and he co-produced this record with me. He’s just one of my heroes; he’s one of my favourite guitar players, and it’s an honour to play with him. We have a great musical connection. The bass player is Dave Dinsmore, and I’ve played with Dave many times over the years. We’ve been dearest friends for over 20 years; he’s one of my favourite people, and definitely one of my favourite bass players.
“Then we have the young guy on the drums, Ryan Güt. I manifested this guy, if I may say so (laughs). He came from a small town up in northern California, but what I was really interested in is I wanted to get back to having a drummer that had swing capability. I got directed to this young man, Ryan Güt, who is actually jazz trained, and so I was very, very excited to play with him. The first time I jammed with him, I knew immediately that he was my guy. He has chops and he has jazz skills, and so I’m able to able to keep that swing and keep that groove in my music.”
Tao Of The Devil is solely accredited to the composer, whereas Black Power Flower was accredited to Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band, although any differences are difficult to decipher. “There are a little bit, but not really,” he clarifies. “I’ve always had a respect for my collective musicians. I’ve always kind of given them a name, to give them their own kind of identity out of a place of respect. That was certainly the case on the Black Power Flower record. I called those guys The Low Desert Punk Band, but that’s all rooted in kind of good fun. We all had a sit-down though, my band members and my manager, and we just all agreed that it might be unnecessary for this next record and maybe records to come. It was just unnecessary, and everyone was definitely okay with that. It’s not super-important, and it might just confuse people and get in the way, so we just went with my own name.”
Irrespective of it being released solely under the Brant Bjork entity, Tao Of The Devil is nevertheless still a Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band affair. “Yeah,” Brant admits. “It’s the same band as last time, except for the drummer.”
Stepping behind the drumkit previously had been Tony Tornay. “Tony Tornay is a person that I grew up with in the Low Desert,” the axe-slinger remembers. “We grew up together since we were kids. Tony is a great guy, and we knew going in that even though we had been friends for many years, we had never really played serious music together. We kind of always knew that our styles weren’t super in-sync, but we chose to work together mostly out of just friendship. He was going through some hard times and I was going through some hard times, and so we looked at it as almost like a support group. In the end though, nature kind of took its course, and what I kind of always knew definitely surfaced.
“He’s a great drummer for what he does and what he does in his other bands, but I knew in my heart that I needed a certain drummer to get to a certain place with my music. I’m very grateful to have played with Tony on that particular record and it served that record for sure, but I knew that I needed a different kind of drummer to get to this different place that I was planning on going.”
Composite elements form the lyrical content featured on Tao Of The Devil. “All of the lyrics on my records are kind of a combination of reality and fantasy,” Brant elaborates. “Some of my songs are about the world that I live in and some of the songs are about the world that I wish I lived in sometimes, but that’s generally speaking. My words are always kind of about relationships with human beings, and love, and frustration with the ways of the world (laughs). I don’t know what to say. They’re just kind of like… I don’t know. Just my life, huh?”
In addition, title track ‘Tao Of The Devil’ delves into the mainman’s life. “That’s like a blues song,” he describes. “That’s like me singing the blues. It’s about me; about being a young kid in the desert, and just being kind of frustrated.”
Much of Tao Of The Devil was recorded at Brant’s home studio. “I had my studio assembled out here at my house in Joshua Tree in the desert, and that’s where we did all of the live tracking,” he informs. “Then Bubba took some of the tracks up to Seattle, and did some post-production work up there. We also did a little bit of work in LA, but mostly it was done in the desert, yeah.
“Bubba co-produced. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do creatively with each record. He has more technical capabilities than I do, so it’s great because there’s a great balance. He understands where my creative direction is and what it is, and he technically has a good idea of how to get there. So yeah, it’s a really good combo.”
The “really good combo” of the vocalist and Bubba DuPree penned the majority of Tao Of The Devil’s compositions. “Dave wrote a little bit; that’s the outro jam on ‘Dave’s War’, hence the title,” he acknowledges. “Bubba wrote ‘Biker No. 2’ and ‘Humble Pie’, and I wrote the rest.”
Albeit authored by several individuals, Tao Of The Devil is very much a collective offering. “I’m not trying to showcase anybody, or any particular thing,” Brant underlines. “It’s all about just the music and the body of work, and having really a seamless vibe. That’s what allows me to work so closely with Bubba and this band in particular, is that we do create an organic, seamless musical thing. It feels good for people to get recognised for their contributions, but it’s not something that’s necessarily spotlighted or needs to be. It’s really a collaboration on every level, and the songs just are what they are. Whether I wrote them or Bubba wrote one, the songs are what they are because of the result of all of us.”
Tao Of The Devil was predated by a studio opus sandwiched between itself and official predecessor Black Power Flower. “We recorded a whole record before this one, using a different engineer,” the guitarist divulges. “We were trying different things, and that record’s still sitting on the shelf. I think we only used a couple of songs, like maybe one or two off of that whole record. So yeah, there’s definitely some great stuff on that. It wasn’t exactly what we were trying to achieve, but it’s still respectable in its own right. Whether or not we ever release some of that, I don’t know right now, but it’s definitely right there in the icebox so to speak.”
“The icebox” contains additional material, besides the aforementioned. “I’ve got quite a bit, yeah, as far as my solo work goes,” Brant discloses. “I’ve got a couple of live records mixed which just need to be mastered from 2008. I have numerous live recordings – I mean, many, many live recordings from throughout the years. I’ve probably got about two solo records’ worth of material that are on the shelf, and my Jacuzzi record. I’ve got quite a few records backlogged. It’s hard; it’s hard to get them all out, especially now that I’ve been working with Napalm Records.
“They’re a serious record label that likes to take one step at a time, and they do well taking one step at a time. So, I don’t throw too much at them, but my manager and I are talking about trying to make an effort to going backwards and seeing if we can… We’re just waiting for the right time and the right avenue to start distributing some of my archive, but we feel confident that that’s something that’ll probably be happening pretty soon.”
The distribution of the singer’s archive will likely be devoid of Napalm’s involvement. “I think it’ll probably be more of an independent thing,” he agrees. “I think Napalm does a good job at just concentrating on a formal release, but as far as my archive, that’s probably something my manager and I are gonna wanna oversee in an independent fashion or maybe with another label that specialises in bulk releases. There’s some research to do (laughs). We’ll see.”
Nevertheless, Napalm Records is involved in the issue and promotion of Tao Of The Devil, whose front cover consists of a photograph by Karl Hahn. “Karl Hahn is a good friend of mine, a very dear friend,” Brant enthuses. “He’s a professional cinematographer. Actually, that’s his trade. He shoots film, and TV, and movies, and stuff, but his hobby is shooting photographs – still photographs – and so he took that shot. He was very sick when we went out on that photoshoot together (laughs). He was physically having a hard time, but he snapped away some fantastic shots. I think it’s a great shot, and he’s taken many great shots of me. So, I’m very lucky to have Karl involved.”
Staring at Tao Of The Devil’s front cover, one wonders as to the message which the axeman hoped to convey. “There wasn’t any specific detail or concept with anything on the record,” he stresses. “It was all kind of a general vibe, just anything that kind of represented or captured the vibe that I felt we were really going for. The photo is just a picture of Twentynine Palms, and that’s where I’m currently at right now. I’m literally looking at the same landscapes right now, as we speak. That’s on the front cover, and it just represents an environment that I come from. I like that it’s at night, because a lot of people might identify with what the desert looks like during the daylight hours. At night, the desert is an entirely different kind of beast, and I think that’s what that kind of represents – when the sun goes down.”
Tao Of The Devil sports an emblem which includes a cannabis leaf at its epicentre. “I designed that with an artist,” Brant shares. “A very, very well known and respected artist from Los Angeles, and he goes by the name of Axis. We together wanted to come up with what we consider to be a classic rock, kind of timeless, shameless, tongue-in-cheek, rock ’n’ roll kind of image. It’s important to me to start… I’ve been more blatant with my use of the cannabis leaf, because I’m definitely an advocate of cannabis culture and marijuana in general, and have been since I was very young. I’m not really into politics, but if I was, I would have to say that marijuana is probably where my politics begin and end. In the current state of affairs, to me, I think it’s important to put the beautiful leaf as a stamp on what I do right now.”
The wordsmith favours sativa-based cannabis strains. “I’ve got kids, so I can’t smoke too much indica or I won’t get up in the morning,” he chuckles.
And as well, specific cannabis strains exist which Brant especially favours. “I have a handful of people in my area that have been taking care of me for years,” he mentions. “They kind of know what I need to feel, and so they always kind of point me in the right direction. I do enjoy a strain that I was referred to out here called Green Dragon. I do enjoy the Green Dragon, for sure. It’s like a sativa / indica blend, which is quite common because of the yield factor. It’s always a nice, little combo, but it’s a sativa-dominant plant, and it’s good. It helps me focus, and it doesn’t put you on the couch. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in my day-to-day life, so it’s nice to have something that can help you get through the day, but also be pro-active and work, and get a lot done.”
Smoking cannabis but additionally being pro-active is important for the frontman. “I went through my recreational years when I was younger with marijuana, and then started to understand the medicinal properties of it and what it does for me,” he states. “I’m definitely a person that could use the assistance of cannabis to kind of get my day going, so I kind of have more of a medicinal perspective on it nowadays and less a recreational, party thing. That’s another element to my being more open with my marijuana and my marijuana support, especially in the context of stoner rock. As much as I’m a part of this, I want to make sure that there’s also the idea that marijuana is something important.
“Marijuana is very important for our mental and physical health as people, and not just something to party and be mindless. I think this is where marijuana sometimes gets a somewhat compromised stereotype; as something kind of novel and kind of adolescent, or just a party drug that makes you kind of passive and dumb. That’s just simply not the case, so if there’s anything I can do… I feel like I’m doing what I can to enlighten people to the real qualities that cannabis have to offer. It’s far beyond a party.”
Generally candid, Brant is nevertheless coy with respect to how he personally uses cannabis. “I have my own little ways of…,” he laughs, stopping short. “There’s certain things I’d just like to keep private, if you don’t mind, actually. Generally speaking though, I think it’s pretty well known that I am a supporter of cannabis.”
Returning to the topic of Tao of The Devil, two music videos were filmed to promote the effort in the form of ‘Stackt’ and ‘Luvin’’. “That was my manager and one of his other partners that he works with for this custom fan magazine here in California called Rolling Heavy,” the songwriter notes. “They together came up with that concept. Part of the reason why he’s my manager is I trust him, and so he just put it together. It was a good time; we had a lot of fun. He came up with the concept, him and the director, and I said ‘Yeah, alright. This sounds good.’ I’ve never been super-excited to do videos. I’m more focused on the music, but videos serve a particular purpose. I thought for what videos are, it was a pretty pleasant experience. I had a really good time. I’ve only seen them once, but they seem to be pretty cool, and I hope people are enjoying them.”
‘Stackt’ and ‘Luvin’’ both hearken back to older musical flavours. “‘Stackt’ is just kind of like what I would consider a good old-fashioned American blues tune,” Brant judges. “It’s just about celebrating the female species, and I think that that’s the only track of the record that I pulled from the icebox, as we were saying. I pulled one out; it’s a demo I had from probably about three years earlier. I just felt like where the band was at at that particular moment, it might make sense to take a crack at that song, and it did. It came out great. The other song, ‘Luvin’’, that’s another tune celebrating the female species. I have kind of a shameless love for 70s FM rock. I love Kiss, Alice Cooper, and shit like that, so that’s kind of me tapping into my more nostalgic influences from when I was a kid.”
Further video clips might be created to accompany the release of Tao Of The Devil. “That’s a good question,” the axe-slinger ponders. “I do have some friends that are interested in doing kind of like their own concepts and getting creative with a couple of songs, but we’ll see. We’ll see how that pans out.”
A successor to Tao Of The Devil is already in the works, meanwhile. “We’re already kind of in pre-production for the next record,” Brant imparts. “We’re in the pre-production of pre-production (laughs). So, we’re in discussions right now about how, and where, and when, and what. We’re asking those questions right now, so the next record has already kind of officially begun.”
A musical direction for the forthcoming platter is yet to be revealed. “Too early to say,” the mainman reckons. “I have a couple of ideas, but I’d rather not say yet.”
Nevertheless, the forthcoming platter’s musical direction will make itself known in due course. “We feel like we’re on kind of a creative roll, so we want to strike now,” Brant figures. “I’m hoping to release something next year. If not next year, then early 2018, but I’d like to get something out next year.”
Throughout November 2016, the vocalist and company will be gracing European shores in a touring capacity. “We’re actually out here in the desert rehearsing for that right now,” he affirms. “We’re gonna leave here on Monday, Tuesday I believe, and we’re doing three weeks. We’re doing one show in the UK; we’re playing London (Garage, the 7th). So yeah, we’re excited. I think it’s the first of a handful of tours we’ll be doing around the world to support the new record.”
Brant’s setlist will comprise a conglomerate of material, but have a central focus. “I do have quite a catalogue, but I’m really focused on what I’m creating with this band – the Low Desert Punk Band, as some would refer to it as,” he highlights. “That would be the Black Power Flower material, the Tao Of The Devil material, and then of course we have a couple of my old classics that we’ve kind of tailored for this band that we celebrate quite often. So yeah, it’ll be a little bit of those three offerings, for sure.”
A live DVD has yet to document the guitarist and the Low Desert Punk Band in full flow. “I don’t know how exciting a live DVD would be,” he confesses. “We don’t have much of a stage show, and we don’t really jump around and do flips. Maybe a live record – I would definitely be interested in a live record. That is something we’ll talk about, yeah. We’ll see how that pans out.”
Tao Of The Devil was released on September 30th, 2016 via Napalm Records.
Interview published in October 2016.
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