“I was just kind of tired of saying yes to everybody else and saying no to these songs so here I am, and let me tell you, it feels really good to be where I’m at.”
So says the man of the hour, the legendary John Garcia, via phone in late July just before the release of his debut solo album (Which is out now through Napalm Records). With the Vista Chino record barely a year old, a John Garcia solo record seems to come from out of left field until Garcia expands on why a solo record was exactly what needed to happen now:
“I’ll give you the straight to the point answer: I was exhausted. Exhausted of looking at this collection of songs that I’ve had for so many years. I felt bad for ’em. I had a personal relationship with these songs. These songs were not B-sides or leftovers from any of the other projects. These songs were plucked from my career and I kept them in a dusty old cardboard box and every morning I’d look at ’em. And I actually felt bad. I was, like, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get to you. Hold tight!’ But I was committed to other projects. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to do a solo record. Ever since I was 18. Before I was even started playing in a band I’ve thought about it and that’s when the collecting started. I collected 44 songs throughout 20 years that were special and very personal to me.”
As if finally putting some of those songs to tape wasn’t already a career highlight for Garcia, the studio brought a few more surprises in the form of an appearance by the on and only Robby Krieger of The Doors:
“When selecting the songs for the record it became very apparent that “Her Bullets Energy” was gonna be one of the songs [used]. Harper Hug, my producer, said to me ‘Hey man, I’m hearing a Spanish Flamenco guitar on this. What do you think?’ And I thought it was a great idea: ‘Who do you know that plays Spanish guitar?’ And he says ‘Well, I know Robby Krieger.’ After falling over off my chair and picking myself back up again I said ‘Well, do you think he would do it?’ We got him the track. The next piece was if he liked it. He liked it. The third and most important piece was us asking him if he would play flamenco guitar on it and he obliged us. Next thing you know I’m in the studio with Robby Krieger at Horse Latitudes, his brand new recording studio in Glendale, and he was throwing some swipes down to it. It made the song better not to mention the entire record better. Talk about a monumental moment. Being in a room with a legend is a moment I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
With any recognizable vocalist branching out into the world of solo albums, though, the question becomes: What sets this apart from any of your other bands? In Garcia’s case, that’s an illustrious career that’s included stints in Kyuss, Unida, Slo-Burn, and Vista Chino to name a few but he’s quick to point out the biggest difference now:
“This is another direct result of me being explorative and exploratory in my career. I mean, anybody who knows anything about my career knows that I don’t like to stay in one place for very long. This is a direct result of that. Nobody goes in the studio with an intent to suck. You wanna go in there, and you know, you have passion! You want to omit your feelings and open up and expose yourself (Your gut, your heart). You put them down on tape or a hard drive or wherever that may be…it’s feeling, it’s passion, it’s emotion. It’s all those things. This one, for me, I wouldn’t say is a little more emotional for me. It’s A LOT more emotional.”
And emotion is definitely the driving force of this new record and what gets Garcia though it all at the end of the day with a career that’s had its share of ups and downs:
“The biggest challenge of my career is right now. Right here with being a solo artist. For lack of a better word, not hiding behind a band name but exposing yourself a little bit more and it’s a little nerve wracking. This is the biggest move of my career. To go through some of the bad things of having a record be swept from underneath your feet to having some ex-band members sue you. You’ve gotta detach yourself from that. I try to keep my eye on the ball and what’s important.
What’s important to me is not two kids sitting on each side of a chain link fence poking a fucking stick at one another and me being caught in the middle. That’s not what’s important to me.
What’s important to me, and I’ve said this a thousand times, is my family. My 4-year old son, my 11-year old daughter, my amazing wife (my best friend) who allows me to continue to follow my passion. While she’s running Palm Springs Animal Hospital I’m sitting here playing Mr. Mom. This is enjoyable to me to spend time with my two kids. I just got back from a three day camping trip. My manager for Vista Chino, we talk often, says to me: ‘You go camping?’ and I says ‘Yeah!’ and he’s, like, ‘Camping camping?!?!’ and I’m, like, ‘What other type of fucking camping is there?’.
That to me is important. My family. You have to detach yourself from that other stuff and move on. With this project I’m on a mission and my mission is: Zero drama. And my life is much happier with where I’m at and my career and the route that I’ve taken. I’m in a good place.
Because I’m selfish and need to ask about some of my other favorites he’s been affiliated with at one time or another, the conversation switches to West Virginia’s own Karma To Burn and the possibility of those fabled recordings he’s done with them over the years seeing the light of day:
“I certainly hope so. Boy, let me tell you they’ve been through a little bit of turmoil. I love Rich (Mullins, bass) and Will (Mecum, guitar). You know Nathan Limbaugh, the original drummer, he co-wrote “Argleben” with me (off the solo record). Karma To Burn is one of my all-time favorite bands. I still listen to those records and the most recent record on Napalm. My song’s on there that I wrote all those years back when I was in my early ’20’s. I often thought about a project where I just take those recordings, I don’t remix them, but I sing on top of those. Just the way they are. I often thought about that. Who knows? Like I said, I don’t like to stay in one place too long but on the flip side I don’t see me deviating from the current position that I’m in any time in the near future.”
As for current bands at the forefront of a scene he helped build, Garcia has a few faves like Steak from the UK with whom he recently recorded vocals for their upcoming Napalm Records debut (“I do like Steak. They’re the real deal. They’re mean. They’re lifers. They came out to Palm Springs and recorded here and they’re into the desert scene.) Other stand outs include Black Mastiff out of Edmonton, Canada (I cover one of their songs on the record, “Rollin Stoned”. Love them.) and Black Pussy from Oregon (Black Pussy’s a cool band. I dig them.).
He’s quick to point out, though, about his taste in music:
“Something that has feeling and emotion and brings you someplace. I dig it. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if it’s Earth, Wind, and Fire or The Ohio Players or whatever.
But honestly, I listen to a lot of radio. In Southern California I’m pretty spoiled. We love our radio here. I know I certainly do. There’s a station out here, KDES, and a DJ by the name of Art Laboe and he does requests and dedications to all the homies and stuff like that. He plays good tunes. A lot of R&B stuff. Old. School. I still listen to classic stuff. Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Doors…that’s on regular rotation on my turntable but I’m also a big fan of Terence Trent D’Arby. All of his stuff, his entire catalog. Really dig that guy. Amazing singer.
Touching on the future of Vista Chino after I mentioned Mike Dean’s gushing comments of his experience with the band during a recent interview with us, Garcia offered this in response:
“Let me tell you something about Mike Dean: What an amazing bass player and an amazing gentleman. The guy is super intelligent. To share a stage with that guy with Brant Bjork and Bruno Fevery: Wow! That’s an experience I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. Great band! Even without me, I could just listen to them just jam.
I don’t see another Vista Chino record happening anytime in the near future. I’m very happy with where I’m at right now. There’s no bad blood. Nothing happened. I gotta go where my heart and gut tells me to go and I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and it feels good to be here. But I’ve also learned ‘never say never” so maybe one day but not anytime in the near future.”
As for the “near future”, Garcia has it all mapped out:
“Touring, writing recording. Touring, writing, recording. That’s it! And in that order. My tour starts off here in Palm Desert and starts September 5th at this place called The Hood. Then we head to Australia for a run there. We get back home and continue writing rehearsing and then we’re headed over to Europe for an extensive, heavy, heavy tour for November/December, come back, do some more writing, recording, get the record done, tour Europe again next year for a summer festival run and then start the process all over again.
I’m very pleased with my live band. They’re all local guys. For the first time in many, many years I have local guys and it feels great to be able to call them up and say ‘Hey, I got this riff. Let’s get together for a barbeque and jam out at the rehearsal space down in Palm Springs.’ We had rehearsals last night. Feeling good about playing Kyuss songs. Even songs that Kyuss never played live: “Thong Song”, “Gloria Lewis”, “Tangy Zizzle”, “Catamaran” Stuff like that I’ve injected into the set along with Slo Burn and, of course, my solo stuff so it’s me playing a lot of past and present.”
Getting back to the record at hand, Garcia concludes with this:
“It might not be a monumental moment for rock ‘n’ roll (I wasn’t trying to change the face of rock and roll by any means) but a little bit of a monumental moment for me and that’s something I’m very proud of.”