John Garcia Talks New Acoustic Solo Album The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues: ex-Kyuss frontman discusses new solo album in our exclusive interview.
John Garcia is a stoner metal (or desert rock, depending on your preference) icon, fronting the landmark group Kyuss along with other acts including Unida, Slo-burn, Hermano and Vista Chino. But lately, the mighty lunged vocalist has focused on his solo career, which kicked off with his self-titled 2014 début.
Garcia is back with his second solo effort, an acoustic affair entitled The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues, (released January 27th 2017 on Napalm Records) which features several original tracks along with reinterpretations of classic Kyuss tunes and re-workings of his earlier solo material.
I recently spoke to Garcia about his latest album, upcoming tour and how he balances his life between family, music, and his other passion–veterinary medicine.
Enjoy the full interview (edited only for content and clarity) below:
SLIS: So what made you decide to do an acoustic album? Was that something you’ve wanted to tackle for a while? What started the process?
JG: It’s not a big secret or some long drawn-out answer–it’s merely because I just wanted to do it. The conduit to this record was being around Robbie Krieger from The Doors and playing an acoustic track together on my first solo record. So it was a really cool experience and I like going off on this different tangent–being intimate and exposing Ehren (Groban) and myself in a way that people aren’t accustomed to.
But it’s not something I had to check off my bucket list…like I’m getting older and I’ve got to do this acoustic record. It’s not any of that BS at all. It’s me wanting to hang out with Ehren as a new writing team together…after we did the acoustic tour we wanted to get it down on tape and that’s exactly what we did.
SLIS: You’ve got a variety of covers on the album, from Kyuss to your solo work. Did it take some time to figure out which ones would work best in that environment, or did those choices come to you spontaneously?
To turn Green Machine into what it is now–that was a challenge but an enjoyable one. That was an intentional thing, the same with Gardenia and Space Cadet. Those are songs that I’ve wanted to re-sing forever.
Doing El Rodeo, acoustically that was a challenge and something we collectively decided to do. The other ones: Kylie, Give me 250 ml, The Hollingsworth Session, those are all newer tracks from Ehren and I sitting down in his studo in Palm Springs and just writing and it’s a direct result of that.
A lot of journalists like yourself have asked me why are you doing these things? Well it’s a chance to revisit these songs where I’m at in my life. Nothing more nothing less…it just so happens to be I sang on some of the original tracks so we just kind of took it from there.
SLIS: I had to admit I was intrigued to see how you’d attack Green Machine acoustically. That’s such a heavy, driving song: did that mellower aspect take a while to arrange, or did it come naturally?
JG: We went from one end of the spectrum to the other on that one, so that was intentional and challenging. We tried to do some other Kyuss songs, but they didn’t turn out quite as well as we thought they would. I mean we didn’t even know if Green Machine was even going to work because it’s so slow.
You know this record is not for everybody: people who hear it may say that I’m butchering the song or whatever. But throughout my career I’m used to those critiques and criticisms and that’s okay. But how we went about working on these songs, especially Green Machine and Gardenia and putting them on the opposite end of the spectrum from something being so hard and heavy to something so melodic and pretty –it was challenging but that was the fun part of the process…and writing new songs as well. That was all a fun part of the process.
SLIS: I love the new version of El Rodeo, it still sounds very aggressive, even in an acoustic context. I’m just curious, do you now have a preference on which version of your classic songs that you like best? Acoustic or electric?
JG: I’m kind of hooked on the acoustic versions: (1) because we just got done doing it and (2) it’ll be part of our live set when we go on tour in April.
El Rodeo was just a great song that in my eyes Josh (Homme) initially wrote and it’s still just really enjoyable for me to sing to this day, and that’s why we put it on the record and that’s why we continue to play it live. It was kind of different because we tried to keep it as close as we could to the original piece, but stripped down.
SLIS: So you mentioned you’ve been working with Ehren: when did you two first meet? How did that collaboration come about?
JG: We met a couple of years ago. He’s a younger cat, local, who plays in this band called War Drum in Palm Springs. I was introduced to him by a couple of guys: Robbie Waltman and (producer) Harper Hug. It was Harper’s idea to have a sit down together. So I met him in this little bar in Downtown Palm Springs and we bonded and chatted for a bit.
I was looking for a local band…I really missed playing in a band. So I wanted all local guys who I knew had enough chops and were willing and wanted to be a part of this project.
(Bassist) Mike Pygmie was an obvious choice. He came up to the house and we hung out. Ehren and I were jamming out to Demon Cleaner and he came up with his bass and played it perfectly. And then he introduced me to Greg Saenz who was the drummer for The Dwarves and Excel. They were already a rhythm section, so it made perfect sense.
And these guys don’t get enough credit especially Ehren. He’s a great songwriter, a classically trained guitarist and he’s really kind of this untapped diamond in the rough guitar player. He’s always willing to be there whenever we want to play. Anywhere, anytime, anyhow, it doesn’t matter…I like that about him…he just wants to play, he just wants to jam, he just wants to get together and write.
I mean we did it yesterday, we wrote a new song called Moscow for the electric record which is coming out hopefully by the end of this year. Things are behind schedule a little bit. But I have two kids, a wife and a full-time job and Mike has a family and a full-time job and so does Greg. So it’s tough to be able to balance all of that and be a father and a husband and hold down a job at the animal hospital and then try to get off work and do homework with the kids. And then to be able to rehearse on top of all that stuff? It’s tough.
These guys are great. They’re super committed and I can’t thank them enough. I’m very lucky to have them.
SLIS: You’ve had several albums with “Coyote” in the title: does that animal have a specific meaning for you?
It made sense Michael. This morning I got up, had the day off, and I woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning and made myself a Bloody Mary and 10 feet from my front door I heard a pack of coyotes ripping up a cottontail. This happens on a daily and nightly basis–this is merely just an extension of where I grew up. I literally live in the middle of the desert about 20 minutes north from Palm Springs. I’m sandwiched between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree.
You just take a dirt road a couple of miles up to get to my place, up in this little canyon. There’s 4 of us who live up here. There’s a Vietnam vet, a hippie, some other artist guy that lives up here. It’s part of who we are. The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues is the title for these songs, and the songs are merely chapters of my life both past and present. So it made perfect sense. My boy and I actually came up with that title. We were talking about things that go on in the desert, and coyotes. I have a certain affinity for animals and help run an Animal Hospital for fuck’s sake. It’s part of who I am.
SLIS: You mentioned you worked with Robby Krieger a while back, and you’ve mentioned in the past that The Cult’s Ian Astbury was a big influence on you. Do you still take inspiration from artists who influenced you at an early age?
JG: I’ll always draw from that guy. I’m a fan of singers. Chris Cornell, Ian Astbury, Glenn Danzig, those are some of my favorite singers. I’ll even throw Frank Sinatra in there–and for that matter even Terence Trent D’Arby! He’s one of my all-time favorite singers. A lot of people don’t know that, but he’s an unbelievable vocalist. I’m just a fan of singers and lyrics. So it can go from me watching Terence Trent D’Arby in Paris back in 95, or watching Ian Astbury playing alongside Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek (as The Doors of the 21st Century) 10 years ago in Lancaster at the fairgrounds.
I definitely still draw from all these vocalists but I gotta make it my own. I never try to mimic any one of those guys nor do I want to. Am I influenced by them? Did they motivate me? Absolutely. I was coming home from rehearsal yesterday and I found myself almost blowing my wife’s speakers out of her car because I just wanted to listen to loud music.
It can be Sinatra, D’Arby or even CeeLo Green for that matter. That guy is an unbelievable singer! He can sing his ass off. I don’t get up in the morning and take a bong hit and listen to Monster Magnet every morning. That’s a common misconception. I listen to all types of music. But can Dave Wyndorf hold a tune? Fuck yeah! He’s another one of my favorite singers. I hope that answers that question.
SLIS: Definitely! When you talk about Monster Magnet or The Cult, Danzig, as well as Kyuss, there was a heavy element of the blues merged with metal that just isn’t heard in a lot of modern metal. Why do you think that is?
JG: I don’t really know about all that stuff. I know that any chance that I get to find new music, like (Hermano guitarist) Dan Angstrom turned me onto this old band from the 90s called Sugar Tooth. Now I’d heard of them, I think we even played with them a couple of times at some festivals, but I never listened to their music.
I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 7-year-old, so when my 13-year-old gets in the car she wants to listen to Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake. And that’s fine. I don’t push anything upon them although Marshall does like Audioslave and he loves Chris Cornell, but they’re very unimpressed with my musical taste and what I present to them. They want to listen to what they want to listen to but I don’t know what’s going on.
Mike, I’m at work constantly and I’m at rehearsal and when I’m not doing one of those two things I’m taking the kids to Disneyland or to the beach or taking my wife out for date night, and going out for martini and a steak. So I don’t know what’s going on in the whole musical world right now, but I do try to keep up with it as much as I can.
But I still find myself going further and further back. I’m still listening to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Doors, or going back to listen to early Terence Trent D’Arby. Or finding new CeeLo Green b-sides. It’s kind of whatever I’m in the mood for. Like this Gnarls Barkley kick, I was listening to those guys for like 6 months– analyzing every single song…I love CeeLo Green, he has just such an amazing unique voice. So I don’t know what’s all going on in current music but there’s a lot of pop that I’m listening to because of my daughter. It is what it is!
SLIS: So are you guys going to tour for the new album?
JG: Yes. Ehren and I are going to head over to Europe–unfortunately the States aren’t too good for us. In the States I have to pay-to-play, and when you have 2 kids, and education is the most important thing to me, I can’t just go out there for a month because it just doesn’t make sense financially for me, I’m just going to be straight with you.
But over in Europe at least I can go over there and make a couple of bucks. I’m not rich by any means by going over there. But it makes more sense for me to still be able to do my craft and make sense financially for me and my family.
That’s important to me. I just can’t do it in America. I mean if I was 20 years old and had no kids, fucking pay-to-play no problem, any damn day of the week. I would do it. But I can’t do it that way now. Europe makes sense because I can actually pay my musicians.
So we’ll go to Europe in April for a couple of weeks. I can’t be gone for months at a time, because it’s not respectful to the doctor that I work for, for him and his business. And then come March, we’ll hit Europe for another couple of weeks with the full band and test out some new songs. And then I’ll head out with Slo-Burn for one week in June just for shits and giggles. After that we’re going into the studio to record the electric album and hopefully it’ll be out before the end of the year.
SLIS: There seems to be so much more of an appreciation for rock in Europe right now than in the States– which I find interesting. Do you have any clues as to why that is?
JG: That’s always been an ongoing conversation. Especially between Brant Bjork and myself when we were in Vista Chino. Like, why is our music so much more well-received over there, and people will buy tickets, when even in my hometown I can barely get half of a full house in a small venue? I don’t know why that is. But it’s always been that way. Europe just seems more open to the type of music that we play.
It’s an ongoing mystery. But I definitely appreciate how well received, even the acoustic material has been received over there. But it’s not like I’m selling out thousand seat venues by any means. Ehren and I will go over there and we’ll play in front of anywhere from 50 people to a hundred and fifty people. and that’s a lot more than we can do even in our hometown.
And the thing is Michael, I don’t have to do that at all. That’s fine. I’m very happy sitting in Ehren’s rehearsal place in Palm Springs and writing with him. That to me is just as enjoyable and I’m still playing music. Do I still love to perform? Of course I do. It’s great to be able to get out and tour and go over to Europe.
But it would be great to be able to play San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Des Moines, Madison,New York City, Raleigh, Dallas and Houston…but it just costs so much fucking money to be able to do it. And unfortunately I’m not rich, so I’m not one of those guys that can do that. That’s just how it is and I’m a realist and I’m obviously not doing it for the bread or else I wouldn’t be having a full-time job. So it just has to make sense the whole way around.
Thanks to John Garcia for taking the time out for this interview. The Coyote That Spoke in Tongues will be released January 27th on Napalm Records. You can pre-order via Amazon below.