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JOHN GARCIA – His Bullets’ Energy
Anthony Morgan
August 2014

John Garcia

Coachella Valley, California-based stoner rock frontman John Garcia cut his teeth in Kyuss, a tenure which lasted from 1987 until 1995 under various monikers, spawning four full-lengths; Wretch (September 1991), Blues For The Red Sun (June 1992), Welcome To Sky Valley (June 1994), and … And The Circus Leaves Town (July 1995). The past two decades, John has lent his vocal talents to the likes of Vista Chino, Hermano, Unida, and Slo Burn. Albeit musically active since the late 80s, it wasn’t until 2014 that a solo outing properly took shape.

“I’ve been wanting to do this record for many years – actually, since I was 18 years old,” John admits. “I got tired of saying ‘Yes’ to other projects. I finally decided to say ‘No.’ A band like Vista Chino wanted me to do another record, and I had to say ‘No.’ Hermano wanted me to do another record and I had to say ‘No,’ and Unida did as well. I just kind of got exhausted. I had this group of songs that I had been collecting throughout the years, ever since I knew I wanted to do a solo record. I got tired of looking at these songs every morning. I wanted to give them respect. These were songs that were really, really close to me and my gut. I wanted to stop neglecting them really, and really stop neglecting this project. Out of pure exhaustion and out of just pure love for the songs, that’s what the driving force behind the solo record was.”

John Garcia’s oldest composition happens to be ‘Her Bullets Energy’. “This is an extreme, but I wrote ‘Her Bullets Energy’ when I was 19 years old living with Nick Oliveri in Palm Springs,” the composer informs. “They’re not obviously all that old, but they range from throughout all of my career. Like I said, these are songs that are not B-sides, that are not leftovers. These are not songs that are just scraps; these are songs that were very personal to me. I just knew that these were songs that would not fit into some of the projects that I was doing at the time, whether it be Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida, or Hermano, or whatever it may be.

“I kept these for me because I knew that eventually one day I was gonna get to it, and here we are. When I wrote that song at 19 years old, if someone were to tell me that at 43 I was gonna release it and have Robby Krieger (guitars) from The Doors play on this track, I would’ve told them ‘You’re fucking out of your mind,’ and that that was absurd. Here I am at 43 though, and just got done finally letting that song see the light of day.

“It feels good, and I’m very appreciative of the fact that I still can be doing it, and somebody like Robby Krieger being involved just made it all that more special. Then you have a song like ‘5000 Miles’ which Danko Jones wrote specifically for me and this record, and that song’s about ten years old. Then you have some songs like ‘My Mind’, which is literally just a couple of years old. They range and vary from different parts of my life, but ‘Her Bullets Energy’ was the extreme at about a little over 20 years old.”

Robby Krieger’s guest appearance on ‘Her Bullets Energy’ came at the suggestion of producer Harper Hug. “He said ‘I hear a Spanish flamenco guitar on this track,’” John remembers. “I said ‘That’s great. I agree with that. Let’s talk about it more,’ and as the conversation progressed he suggested Robby Krieger, and I just about fell over in my chair. I said ‘Yes. Do you think he would do it?’ He goes ‘I know Robby. Let’s get him the song, and let’s see if he likes it. Let’s see if he would do it.’ Lo and behold, we got him the track. That was the first piece of the puzzle, and the second piece was if he liked it and if he would do it. The next thing I know, we’re in his studio recording his track for that song. I got to tell you, what a moment for me, and again a moment I will never forget. I can’t thank him enough.”

The singer has accredited Robby’s guest appearance with having improved the solo outing as a whole. “I give credit where credit is due Anthony,” he submits. “Harper had this great idea, and what an honour. It’s the only acoustic track that I did on the record, and look. I wasn’t looking to change the face of rock ’n’ roll – I wasn’t looking to become the new Doors at all. It was just a great idea that my producer had, and I definitely think it added something. It made the track that much better.”

‘Her Bullets Energy’ isn’t to be confused with the similarly titled ‘His Bullets Energy’, it should be noted. “There’s two songs,” John clarifies. “One of them is ‘His Bullets Energy’, and the other one is ‘Her Bullets Energy’. The relationship between the two is after playing that for so many years, it eventually morphed into something that was much heavier, and that’s where ‘His Bullets Energy’ came into play. I like them both equally, and that’s why I put them both on the record.”

The lyricist was an ardent fanatic of The Doors. “I was very lucky, very fortunate, to have seen Ray (Manzarek, keyboards) and Robby share the stage together with the Doors Of The 21st Century,” he muses. “That was with Ian Astbury singing (The Cult), who just happens to be one of my idols as well. So yes, I was a fan, a 100%.”

Of The Doors’ six studio platters, John cannot select a favourite. “Whether it be LA Woman (April 1971) or Morrison Hotel (February 1970)…,” he ponders. “LA Woman’s gotta be right there at the top, but I’m just a fan of their entire catalogue, so I really don’t have one favourite.”

The interviewer’s favourite happens to be The Soft Parade (July 1969). “Nice,” the mainman responds. “When you have an incredible group of talented musicians between John (Densmore, drums), Ray, Robby, and Jim (Morrison, vocals), it’s almost impossible not to like if you’re a fan of music.”

The Doors arguably achieved quite a lot during their 1965-71 tenure, especially when one considers the untimely passing of singer Jim Morrison in July 1971 at the age of 27. “Yeah, exactly,” John agrees. “They weren’t around very long at all. I’ve gotta tell you, Anthony. To even be in the same room as Robby Krieger was pretty amazing; it was again, just a moment that I’ll never forget.”

Guitarist Robby Krieger is 68 years of age, but “seemed very healthy, and very much into his craft,” according to the solo vocalist. “He looked and sounded amazing.”

John Garcia and Robby Krieger

In light of the passing of keyboardist Ray Manzarek in May 2013 at the age of 74, hopefully Robby will see a few more years. “Yeah, that was a shame,” John laments. “Like I said, boy, I was lucky enough to see Robby and Ray share the stage together in the desert up in Lancaster. That was really cool, really awesome.”

Returning to the topic of the frontman’s solo outing, meanwhile, the composition of ‘5000 Miles’ emerged roughly a decade ago following touring commitments with Danko Jones. “We had long conversations about family, and long conversations about me wanting to do this solo record,” he recalls. “Once the tour was done, I don’t know. It must’ve been about a month, a month and a half, maybe two months later. He sent me this song called ‘5000 Miles’. He goes ‘I wrote this song for your solo record, and it’s about how you always used to talk about getting back home, and seeing your family.’ What an honour, what a privilege. What an unbelievable show of kindness and love. I love that guy. He’s an amazing friend, an amazing individual. He’s a great singer, a great songwriter. Of course, I knew immediately upon hearing it that it was gonna go on the solo record, so big thanks and massive props to Danko.”

99.9% of the record’s cuts are fictional in nature. “They’re love tragedy stories, because they’re so personal to me,” John divulges. “There’s a little bit of my life in there, so technically that wouldn’t make them a 100% fiction. Technically that would make some of it non-fiction, but I think that’s true – at least for me. When composing these songs and when writing these songs, when I write the first line down, I just become the song’s slave and the song writes itself. I have nothing to do with it; once that first line is written, it just comes out.

“They’re tragic songs, though. They’re about inner conflict with one’s self. A lot of it is tragic love – like I said, 99.9% of it. I’m not a poet; I don’t claim to be a poet. I’m not a Jim Morrison – I don’t do that. I write what comes out, what comes natural to me. I wouldn’t ask the listener to sit there and try to decipher, because they’re abstract stories. Did I print the lyrics? Yep, absolutely. I printed the lyrics. I want people to take what they read, and take what they listen to, and make it their own. That’s what I want.”

Erstwhile Kyuss and Queens Of The Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri lent parts to the tune ‘All These Walls’. “‘All These Walls’ is an old Slo Burn song originally called ‘Cactus Jumper’,” the musician tells. “He came in, and he just put a brand new bass line to it. It’s a pleasure to have Nick onboard, and all the musicians that have played on the record. I’ve been very fortunate to have surrounded myself with really good ones, and Nick was part of that. I’m very honoured and thankful that he was able to come in and do a bass line on a track. It was great. He was in and out of there; he came in, knocked it out in about an hour or two, and then played a show down in Palm Desert that night.”

Additional personnel who performed on John Garcia include Tom Brayton and Mark Diamond. “Tom Brayton, what an amazing drummer, a fantastic drummer,” John compliments. “Mark Diamond from The Dwarves, he’s a great writer. I love playing with him – he was a big, instrumental part of this record. I had Nick Oliveri, Dave Angstrom from Hermano – he was a big, big part of this record – Dandy Brown from Hermano, Damon Garrison from Slo Burn, Chris Hale from Slo Burn. You know about Robby Krieger and Danko Jones. So again, the musicians on this record were handpicked for each specific song. Again, just very lucky and very fortunate to have been in the studio with such great musicians.”

Recording sessions took place at Thunder Underground in Palm Springs, California. “Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever have a great, great studio,” the songwriter enthuses. “I’ve known Trevor for over 20 years, and I’ve known Harper for about five years now – five or six years. They are the producers of this project, and they’re just amazing individuals – very talented and very passionate – and they cared. They cared about the album. I love Thunder Underground, and I’ll tell you why I love Thunder Underground. It’s a real recording studio; it’s not a house with a ProTools rig in it, and you call it a fucking studio. It’s not that. Everybody and their mother now will say ‘Come on up to my studio. I’ve built this studio.’ What’s your studio? It’s a fucking room with four walls and a ProTools rig in it, and maybe a tape machine and some decent equipment. That’s fine. Call it your studio.

“Thunder Underground is a real recording studio specifically made for one reason and one reason only, and that is to make records. That’s what they do; they make records. To be able to leave my front door, go to Thunder Underground, and be there in 20 minutes – downtown Palm Springs – stay there from ten o’clock in the morning until five or six o’clock in the afternoon just in time to get home for dinner, barbecue, jump in the pool, and then hang out with the kids, that’s fantastic. I didn’t have to go to Los Angeles – I didn’t have to go to anywhere else.

“A lot of people think I’m from Palm Desert, but I’ve never lived in Palm Desert. As a matter of fact, I hate that fucking city. It’s lame, it’s not the desert. Palm Desert is not the desert; it’s the Beverly Hills of the Coachella Valley – that’s what it is – and I’m not Beverly Hills material or Palm Desert material. That’s not me. My claim to fame is… Not claim to fame, but what I love is Palm Springs; I lived there, and grew up there. I grew up anywhere from Indio to Palm Springs and everywhere in-between, so to be able to leave my front door and be in Thunder Underground in 20 minutes was a big plus, and it was a real recording studio. It was just a pleasure to work with Trevor and Harper.”

Trevor and Harper’s major contribution was generally caring about the project. “They cared about the songs, they cared about me, they cared about tonality, they cared about drum takes, they cared about the sound of the cymbals, they cared about the positioning of the microphones when we recorded solos, they cared about the lighting, they cared about the sound,” John lists. “That’s it, man. They were passionate. They wanted to make this record just as good as I had envisioned it, and they did. I’m very happy with it.”

Understandably, John Garcia bears similarities to the singer’s previous musical concerns. “There are some similarities there,” he recognises. “Obviously as the singer for Kyuss, Hermano, Unida, Slo Burn, and all of those different acts I’ve been in throughout the years, there’s gonna be the similarity of the voice there. It’s just a different type of energy. I think every record that I’ve done has a different type of energy, including all of the Kyuss ones that I did. It’s just a different part of where I’m at in my life. The engineers and producers have a lot to do with it, and so I go back to the verbiage of giving credit where credit is due, having Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever be a big part of how conceptually this record was done.

“We wanted it to be a very simple record. We didn’t want it to be this progressive rock record; we wanted it to be a very simple, classic rock record. Again, I wasn’t looking to change the face of rock ’n’ roll or anything like that, but how it differs? I think that for me, there’s a sense of freedom in it – freedom that I’ve never had before. There’s a sense of liberation in there. It’s another sense of being exploratory and being explorative. I’m not gonna write a thesis on how I think it differs from Kyuss’ Wretch or … And The Circus Leaves Town, or Welcome To Sky Valley, or … Only A Suggestion by Hermano (July 2002), or anything like that. I think it’s just a different energy – that’s it.”

John generally cuts material as part of a group entity. Within a group entity, each member tends to have an equal vote, whereas as part of this solo endeavour John has the final vote. “That’s exactly what I mean by freedom, and being liberated,” he reiterates. “This is all me. I’m very happy with where I am right now, really, really happy where I’m at. I’m not planning on deviating from this position at all. There will be no Vista Chino any time in the near future; there’ll be no other things that I’m doing in the near future.

“This car is running and I’m gonna take it out for a nice, long ride, and again, I love where I’m at. I love the freedom to be able to do this. I’ve got a long, super-extensive tour that I’m doing in November and December over in Europe – I’m doing over 25 shows in Europe. It starts off in Australia in September. I’m gonna be back over there the following summer doing all of the festivals and another summer run, and then I’m gonna do another solo record, and I hope to have it out… I’m in a good place right now. Like I said, I plan to stay here for quite some time.”

Cover artwork duties fell to two individuals. “The illustration – the actual ram piece – was done by a very talented artist out of Melbourne, Australia, a gentleman by the name of Sam Yong,” the wordsmith credits. “He’s just an amazing illustrator, a fantastic artist. The other artist that was involved in working with Sam was a gentleman named Jared Connor. He has a great website,

“They just pulled it all together. Once I saw the cover, I knew that it was a perfect visual of the music. I’m proud of my desert; I literally live up a dirt road where you have to take it a mile and a half to get to my place. This is where I was born and raised, so I’m very proud of my desert. To have an indigenous animal like the bighorn sheep be a part of that and an open desert road be a part of that was very fitting. Sam Yong drew that ram specifically for this, and he just did an amazing job. Just two great, great artists working together in conjunction visually. When you’re playing the music and looking at the cover, in my eyes it fits perfectly. Hats off to them, big thanks to them. They deserve every ounce of credit, so yeah, great artists.”

A music video was filmed for the track ‘My Mind’. “A director by the name of Douglas Quill did it, and I thought he did an amazing job,” John reckons. “Fantastic locations out here in the desert, filmed in the desert, so it was very fitting. There’s some performance, but it’s a concept. It’s a narrative; it’s inner conflict with one’s self, one’s ideas. So yeah, you’re gonna see some of me performing. It’s a narrative, conceptual record, of course. Like I said, inner demons if you will. Again, I think he did an amazing job. There might be a couple more music videos. We’re hoping that Robby Krieger will be involved in ‘Her Bullets Energy’. We might do one for ‘The Blvd’; we’re working on that and talking about that pretty much as we speak.”

On February 12th, 2014, it was disclosed that the mainman had inked a solo album contract with Napalm Records. “They had first option to pick up the record, and I like my label – I like Napalm,” he endorses. “They’re just as passionate about the record as I am. Some artists are in constant battle with their label over creativity issues and what not, but Napalm has given me a lot of freedom to do a lot of things that you see and hear on the record. It’s a great label to be on, and they treat me with a lot of respect. So yeah, a great label to be on, and again, they’re passionate about the record.

“Of course they want record sales, and that’s what I want too, or else I wouldn’t have released the thing. The flip side of the coin is that if I was into it for the money, I would’ve quit a long time ago, but it’s always great to be able to create something and to release it, and to have other people feel what you feel when you play these songs. That’s why I’ve been doing it for so many years, because I’m still passionate about it, and I still love creating and getting it out there.”

No compositions were penned following the album contract announcement. “I’ve gotta tell you, though,” John adds. “There was one particular song that I didn’t write that I wanted to cover, and that was this song called ‘Rolling Stoned’ by Black Mastiff. I loved that song so much that after the deal was signed, I said ‘I love it so much, I wanna do it. Let’s do it,’ and we wound up doing it. I’m a fan of that band. Bob is a great singer and a great lyricist. I like their style, and I love their tunes. They’re an emotionally heavy band, which is right up my alley. That was a last-minute submission if you will.”

The vocalist’s interpretation of ‘Rolling Stoned’ bears similarities to Black Mastiff’s original rendition. “I think they’re very similar; I think they’re very, very similar,” he critiques. “Mine starts off a little bit different and is a little bit elongated, but that’s just my take on their song. I wanted to give it massive respect and I think that I did that, but it’s still very, very similar. There are a few slight little changes here and there, but I wanted to keep the integrity of the song alive, and I think I did that.”

John Garcia band (l-r): Greg Saenz, Ehren Groban, Mike Pygmie and John Garcia

John has pooled together a group of musicians for live performance reasons. “With the live band, I wanted to be able to rehearse in the desert,” he discloses. “I didn’t want a guitar player from over in Europe. I didn’t want a drummer from Canada, and a bass player from some place else. I wanted desert locals so I could rehearse with them like I’m going to tonight, where I don’t have to fly anybody in, or where I have to fly to Holland to fucking go and rehearse. It’s ridiculous, and I got tired of it quite frankly. It was a point to get all desert musicians, starting with and introducing guitar player Ehren Groban. If you don’t know who Ehren Groban is, you soon will. He’s a great, great guitar player from the desert, a local guy. Another local guy on bass, Mike Pygmie, he plays in this band called You Know Who – a desert local band, a great band. He’s on bass.

“Then we have Greg Saenz, who’s the drummer for You Know Who and The Dwarves. They’re all desert locals, and great musicians. Like I said, rehearsals have already started. We’re rehearsing Slo Burn songs, we’re rehearsing Kyuss songs, and obviously John Garcia – some of the record, obviously. When we go on the road, we’re gonna be able to play some older Kyuss songs that even Kyuss and Vista Chino never played. Songs like ‘800’ and ‘Phototropic’ and ‘Tangy Zizzle’, ‘Catamaran’, ‘Thong Song’ – songs that for some reason, Kyuss never even played. I’m very proud to announce that. I haven’t played any Slo Burn songs since 1997-8, so I’m going to inject those into the set. I’m really excited about it, and so are the guys. Again, all desert locals, all fantastic musicians, and I’m very happy to have them onboard.”

The frontman previously travelled to Holland as part of the Garcia Plays Kyuss project. “I had a Dutch drummer and a Dutch bass player when I was playing in Garcia Plays Kyuss, and then I had a guitar player from Antwerp, Belgium that had to make the trek there,” he shares. “Like I said, it’s nice to have all desert local guys, but that was back in 2010, early 2011 – somewhere around there.”

The chances of John’s live musicians performing on his sophomore solo full-length, and all of his solo outings from hereon in, “are good,” he views. “That’s what I’m looking for. I wanna be able to use these. I wanna be able to use Mike, Aaron, and Greg and not have to have the moons align just right to schedule, like with the musicians I recently had on the record. It was tough, Anthony. It was rough to schedule everybody according to everybody’s schedule. It was tough, so the chances of us being together as a unit is very good and that’s the intention, is to do exactly that. To have these specific three guys be exactly that; the guys that I go to, my go to guys. They’re great, they’re talented. That’s why I picked them, and so I’m very lucky. Very, very lucky.”

Tracks have been authored in preparation for a second studio full-length effort. “When I had that collection of songs that I was talking about and I kept them in my vault, my safety deposit box – which actually was literally a cardboard box (laughs) – I had 44 songs, so I’m gonna pick and choose,” the musician reveals. “I’m also gonna write some new ones with the guys that I’m playing with right now, so it’s gonna be a little bit of both.”

Although a fresh set of compositions of course, John’s second solo affair will not deviate from his signature musical style. “My career has always been somewhat rock-oriented, so it’s gonna be a rock record,” he assures. “I’ve gotta tell you, I’m curious. I’m curious in regards to what it’s gonna sound like myself, and that’s okay. It’s good to keep it fresh that way, so good things. Good things in store.”

The prospect of a second Vista Chino full-length is seemingly a number of years away, judging by the composer’s overall tone. “Probably, if at all,” he confesses. “I don’t know, I really don’t know. I’ve gotta tell you Anthony and you’re the first person that I’ve told this, but I doubt it. I doubt if there’ll be another Vista Chino record. I seriously, seriously doubt it.”

John’s colossal doubt as to the prospect of a second Vista Chino platter causes one to wonder why. “Because I’m happy where I’m at, and again, I just feel this sense of freedom,” he replies. “I could get out of music altogether – I could go back into veterinary diagnostics. I just might do that as well, but then on the flip side of the coin, I’ve learnt over the years to never say never. That’ll have to be an open-ended question there, one we revisit maybe down the line.”

To clarify however, no internal strife exists within the Vista Chino camp. “That’s it,” the singer confirms. “No internal strife. I see drama, I turn the other direction, I go the other way. I’m too old for drama. I don’t want anything… You know what I’m concerned with? My drama in my life Anthony is what type of fishing bait I’m gonna use when I take my kids fishing next weekend. That’s the drama in my life, and I wanna keep it that way. It’s all good things and that’s what I try to do, is keep my eye on the ball. What is the ball? The ball is what’s important. What is important to me? My wife and my kids.

“Fuck drama. I don’t need any drama in my life. It’s better that way, isn’t it? It’s much better that way. I’m gonna be 44 this year, and I’ve got one more life ahead of me if I live to be, shit, 86. I wanna do that; I wanna be around. That’s what’s important to me – being onstage and creating is a bonus. It’s still a bonus, and my family and kids allow me to be able to talk to an almost complete and total stranger about something that I just created. On the flip side of that coin, I appreciate that, to be able to talk to you about something that I just created in the past and in the here and the now. That fucking blows my mind, man. I’m not a rock star. I don’t have a cool hat that I put on, and I’m not backstage thinking I am one.

John Garcia

“I’m a dad, I’m a husband. Family’s important, and I love creating. I love singing, I love being onstage in front of five people, 500, 5,000, or 50,000. I’ve done them all, and I’ll continue to do that. That doesn’t make a difference to me. I’m very lucky to have two things that I love to do; one, play music, and then two, being able to provide for my family in another form, which is being in veterinary medicine. I love both of those things. They’re fantastic, and to be able to provide for my family by doing some of these things is great. If I was into it for the money, I would’ve quit a long time ago and got back into veterinary medicine, but I still enjoy creating.

“Like I said, I’m gonna stay for a while. It feels good to create with the people that I’m surrounding myself with. I’m on a mission, and my mission is to stay right where I’m at – drama free – and just live my life as – guess what? – a simpleton. I don’t care about what people think about this and that, and whatever. People in this business will always, always, always talk shit and I would be stupid to think that they wouldn’t, but who gives a fuck? Certainly not me.

“You know who I care about? You know who I care about talking about me? My kids; that’s what I care about, that’s what’s important. Everything else doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference, and who will give a fat rat’s ass in ten years anyway, right? Who cares? I’m in a very good place, and I’m on a mission. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to get to this point, but unfortunately it did – for me, anyway. Again, I keep going back to that word, but I feel good.”

The 2012 Kyuss lawsuit which pitted guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Scott Reeder against John and drummer Brant Bjork must’ve theoretically caused a level of turmoil, in light of the fact that the solo artist turns the other direction in the face of drama. “That wasn’t all drama, but we went through the ringer to get that record done (September 2013’s Peace),” he concedes. “We were on a mission though, man. We weren’t gonna let anybody stop us from doing that record, and we did it. We pulled it off, but that isn’t why I don’t want to do Vista Chino. Brant, Nick, and Bruno knew from the very beginning Anthony that the whole reason I got back into music after my ten-year break or whatever was to do a solo record. That’s why I got back into music, so they knew from the very beginning. I don’t think it came to them as a big surprise.”

Speaking of Brant, John will not be appearing on the sticksman’s forthcoming solo effort, due for issue in late 2014 via Napalm Records. “I think he’s done with his solo record,” he observes. “I’m sure it’s gonna be a good one.”

John Garcia was released on July 25th, 2014 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, on August 1st in Australia and New Zealand, on the 4th in the rest of Europe, and subsequently on the 5th in North America, all via Napalm Records.

Interview published in August 2014.

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