Q&A: The Band Formerly Known As Kyuss Lives! On Losing Their Name To Josh Homme And Life As Vista Chino
Kyuss Lives! recently joined a club that no rock band wants to join: bands that end up in court over a name dispute. The band, originally known as Kyuss, formed in Palm Desert, California and released several pivotal stoner rock albums in the early ’90s, including Welcome To Sky Valley and Blues For The Red Sun. Kyuss broke up in 1995. Guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri later found fame with Queens Of The Stone Age (check out our list of Homme essentials here); founding drummer Brant Bjork played with Fu Manchu; and vocalist John Garcia was involved in many projects. In 2010, Bjork, Garcia, and Oliveri started to play gigs as Kyuss Lives! The band invited Homme to participate, but he declined. Soon afterward, Homme sued the band over their use of the adapted Kyuss moniker. That suit led to Oliveri parting ways with Kyuss Lives! late last year. After a court battle, Bjork and Garcia recently decided to abandon the name Kyuss Lives! and go forward as Vista Chino. Their first album, Peace, will be released this fall. Bjork talked to us about the lawsuit and what’s next.
STEREOGUM: Why Vista Chino?
BRANT BJORK: Vista Chino is the name of a street in the desert where we’re from. It’s a name we grew up with. It was initially going to be the title of the new Kyuss Lives! record but when that whole thing happened we just shifted it over to the name of the band. It’s really random, to be honest. I can’t say that the street is significant. It’s more just a name of a street that you hear often in the desert because people need to go places. It’s a name you hear growing up.
STEREOGUM: Does it feel comfortable to go with it as the band name?
BJORK: Yeah. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought to it. It seemed natural to embrace it as the name of the band. And we’re very comfortable with it. It has meaning for us and it rolls off the tongue. We don’t think much about it.
STEREOGUM: Were you disappointed that you had to retire the Kyuss Lives! name? Or after all the stuff that happened, were you happy to retire it?
BJORK: It was both. I was fighting to just be Kyuss. The organization, if you will, wanted to come up with a play on the one-word band name. I went along with it because I thought Kyuss Lives! sounded good. It was very difficult to let the name go. I didn’t really know what else to call it. When John asked me to put the band back together, it felt like Kyuss. I understand everyone has their opinion, but to me it was a no-brainer. So, it was difficult — like if you had child named Mike and you’d had to change the name to Jeff 20 years later. It was obviously an extension of a super big bummer. But these things happen. It did feel good to put an end to the conflict and get back to what it is that we do, which isn’t about a name or a brand. We’re musicians.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any animosity toward Josh [Homme]? Or, given time and space, do you think you could deal with him on a personal level again?
BJORK: That’s an interesting question. It’s hard not to feel a certain emotion after what we’ve been through. It affected me, it affected my family, it affected John and his family, and it affected our band. I think it was very unnecessary and everything could have been avoided through communication. But we’ve collectively had difficulty communicating over the years. It’s not stopping my love of making music. I’m way more excited and stoked than upset. In relation to Josh, I think [the problems] stem from the same root as when we were younger. We come from two different places and we have two different perspectives. It’s almost a philosophical thing. I can’t say that I’m right and he’s wrong. It’s good old-fashioned conflict. We just have to agree to disagree, which we have. Life goes on. He doesn’t stop me from living my life and doing what I love. He might make things difficult from time to time but that doesn’t stop me, man.
STEREOGUM: Were there any more legal options for you? Could you have appealed or gone back to court?
BJORK: We had a tremendous case. It really comes down to war. It’s a shame we have to use that metaphor but that’s what it is. We were attacked in the middle of the night; we were ambushed. We were immediately put in a position of defending ourselves. When you are attacked by an aggressor that has a tremendous amount of power financially, it’s no longer a situation based in principle, fact, or law. It turns into an economic situation. John and I spent every last dollar we had trying to defend ourselves. But we just didn’t have it any more and we had to fold.
STEREOGUM: Other underground bands have ended in court, like the Dead Kennedys, Gorgoroth, Black Flag … Something that started as very pure ended up in the court system.
BJORK: It’s natural to have this experience and then reflect on other bands that had this unfortunate experience. I did go through that – thinking we’re now part of this crew of bands that have dealt with this. The universe has an extreme sense of humor. I never thought we’d be one of these bands. It’s still kind of shocking to me, really just unbelievable. But I’m a spiritual dude and I need to accept the fact that things happen and you have to roll with it. It’s a shame, but what can you do? I’ve been in bands since I was in 13. Only band members know how difficult it is to maintain a harmonious situation. Most bands consist of super sensitive, tweaky, imaginative artists who are kind of dysfunctional to begin with. Managers have their work cut out for them [laughs]. And Kyuss … we were teenagers.
STEREOGUM: What you started with was friendship and a desire to create art together. You probably didn’t even think about commerce.
BJORK: Absolutely not. I was an artist and I am an artist. I can’t say that about all the members of Kyuss. That’s what being in a band was about for me. I could have gone to art school and was accepted in fantastic places and I blew it off to play in a band. I knew we were making quality art.
When authenticity turns into something profitable people change. It has an effect on them. That intoxication is the same thing that fueled this lawsuit. That’s what is so bizarre. My passion is creativity and art. And yet I’m experiencing this BS in the legal world and the business world, the square world if you will. That’s what I was trying to avoid! All of a sudden you are 40 and you are swimming in it.
STEREOGUM: What did the lawsuit do to you emotionally?
BJORK: The only way to describe it is to say you need to experience it. It had a tremendous effect on me and my family. My wife’s been stressed out all week. With lawsuits, it’s financial and psychological. It drained us financially. Psychologically, the stress is unbelievable … sleepless nights and sleepwalking and trying to figure things out. I studied up and down — all the legal jargon related to our case. I had notebooks. I finally threw it all out.
STEREOGUM: It sounds like a guy in prison trying to plead his case poring over law books…
BJORK: We were wrongfully accused. We didn’t do anything wrong. I make it a point not to deal with the online world. I have kids and stuff and can’t be bothered. But there are moments when you catch wind of stuff and it’s a bummer. You feel like you are in a political race and you are a professional musician! It was a real drag, man.
STEREOGUM: I thought it was interesting that you mentioned war earlier and yet the new album is called Peace. Coincidence?
BJORK: No, it’s very direct and specific. I think I speak for John as well when I say we never wanted war. We just want peace and want to make music.
STEREOGUM: Was all the material written while all of the extracurricular stuff was going on?
BJORK: We signed the record deal and I’d gone to work writing in my studio. Literally a week later the lawsuit happened. This whole record was conceived, written, arranged and recorded while we were dealing with that.
STEREOGUM: Did you want to go in a completely different direction and use this to redefine who you are as musicians?
BJORK: Well, we wanted this to be about going forward and going backward. We’re here today making music. But it’s always been about celebrating my love of music. I was excited about celebrating all the things that inspired me to be a musician. This record is about celebrating our love of rock.
STEREOGUM: How are you going to divide sets considering that a lot of folks come out to hear the old material?
BJORK: We knew before we started this record that we’d be playing Kyuss songs along with the new material. John and I look at this as Kyuss. We’re rebuilding a beautiful car in the backyard. We don’t have all the original pieces so we are using our imagination. When we play live this Chino material will blend beautifully. We’ve already been playing the first song and it feels great live and sits well with the Kyuss material. It’s all kind of coming from the same tree.
STEREOGUM: Your music is always associated with the desert. Can you think of any pieces of art that perfectly captures it?
BJORK: Music isn’t the only thing that inspires us. We’re all into movies. As for the desert, I guess the first movie that comes to mind is Easy Rider. It perfectly, at least in the first half, captures not just the essence of the desert but also of Southern California. There are amazingly awesome beautiful deserts. Our specific desert is the Coachella Valley, which is the southern Mojave. I think of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on their choppers. Driving on the 10 East really captures what it’s all about for us. There’s energy and a vibe here and colors. It’s a powerful place and it happens to be where we’re from.
STEREOGUM: I always think of No Country For Old Men when I think of the desert…
BJORK: That’s a good movie. It is like that, although we are from a specific place. We’re from a valley and that’s big land. A desert is a place where you feel heavy nature and are one with the elements. You are far from the city but you aren’t surrounded by the forest. The desert is a hardcore environment. You definitely see that in No Country. Those elements also happen to be part of where we’re from. It’s all part of how we grew up.
We’re premiering a song from Peace today, too. It’s called “Barcelonian” and you can spin it right here.
Peace is out 9/3 via Napalm Records.