The Coachella Valley today is home to a healthy, growing music scene—but it wasn’t always that way. In the 1980s, young local musicians were forced to basically create their own music scene.
These kids had no idea they would one day be considered pioneers.
One of these pioneers is Brant Bjork, the drummer for and one of the founders of Kyuss. He’ll be appearing at Coachella on Friday, April 10 and 17, with his latest project, Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band.
In 1987, while in high school, Bjork got together with Josh Homme and John Garcia to form the band that became Kyuss. Of course, Kyuss went on to become one of the most influential rock bands of the early ’90s, putting Palm Desert on the map for desert rock—or stoner rock, as some people called it. In 1994, Bjork left Kyuss due to a conflict with Homme.
During a recent phone interview, Bjork said he’s proud of what Kyuss accomplished.
“I’m most proud of Kyuss because we were offered a once-in-a-lifetime shot, at a time and a place where it was highly unlikely that shot was going to come to us,” Bjork said. “I’m proud of the fact that we were true to where we were from, and we took that shot and went out in the world and said, ‘We’re from the desert, and we’re a desert rock band.’”
What does he think about the “desert rock” and “stoner rock” labels?
“Being an artist or a member of a band, you don’t really get the luxury of deciding what people are going to call your band. I’m not in the business of coming up with genre names,” he said. “I can’t argue with either term. Desert rock is pretty obvious and appropriate. As for stoner rock, (the term) certainly wasn’t around when we were in Kyuss—but we were stoners. A big part of what we were doing involved marijuana. I think whether people like it or dislike it, it’s pretty authentic.”
During his days in Kyuss, he formed a bond with the band Fu Manchu, another big name in the “stoner rock” era.
“Through a mutual friend, I met the Fu Manchu guys while I was in high school,” he said. “… They were beach guys, and I went out to the beach one weekend, and I met them, and we kind of became friends. They were kind of different but had a similar spirit. … We were tapping into returning to rock music—shameless rock music, like ’70s rock music. We were like brother bands.”
Bjork joined Fu Manchu in 1996 and played drums in the band until 2001.
“After I left Kyuss, Fu Manchu signed a solid record deal and started touring,” he said. “Then the drummer and the singer-songwriter in Fu Manchu parted ways, and Scott (Hill, guitarist and vocalist) called me up and asked if I wanted to join the band. I said yes.”
Bjork later decided to release albums under his own name. He also took part in the Desert Sessions series at the Rancho de la Luna recording studio, which reunited him with Josh Homme.
“Desert Sessions wasn’t really about the desert. That was something that was conceptualized by Josh Homme, and it involved musicians who weren’t from the desert,” Bjork said. “I can’t speak for Josh, so I don’t know what his idea was, but he asked me to take part in the first one, and even though I was questioning the concept, as a musician, it’s hard to say ‘no’ to playing with some accomplished musicians like John McBain from Monster Magnet, or Ben Shepherd from Soundgarden. These were great bands I admired and respected, and this was an opportunity to play music with them.”
In 2010, Bjork got together with John Garcia and Nick Oliveri to play and tour as Kyuss Lives! However, they changed the name to Vista Chino after a lawsuit from Josh Homme and bassist Scott Reeder. The project dissolved after several years.
“For the people who were there and for those of us who were involved, it was beyond a success, and it went way beyond everyone’s expectations,” Bjork said. “We never sounded or played better, and the music was wonderful. In fact, that’s why it stopped—it was stopped because it was so awesome.
“As far as going into the future and getting back together with Kyuss again involving Josh Homme, who willingly didn’t participate—I don’t know. I don’t plan on it, that’s for sure.”
Bjork explained his current project, Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band. Last November, the project released Black Power Flower.
“I returned to my solo work, and I just felt like I wanted to rock,” he said. “… It’s been years since I put out a solo record, and in returning, I felt I wanted to make a solid rock record—and sort of scream and shout.”
Bjork said he and his fellow desert-rock founding fathers back in 1987 would have never dreamed the Coachella Valley would once be home to a music festival as prominent as Coachella.
“No,” Bjork said with a laugh. “I think I can count on one hand the artists who came through the desert when I was growing up. It’s a bit crazy. When you break it all down, as crazy it is, it makes good sense, too. It’s a beautiful area; the weather is great; you’re a couple of hours from L.A.; and I think the powers that be hit it out of the park as far as the location and concept—so hooray for them.”