Another one I’m reproducing here due to some missing images on the original – plus, as you can see from the image above, I finally found the real Sky Valley sign (or at least its most recent replacement) when I rolled through the California desert a few months after this was published.
READ MORE: My full interview with Brant Bjork, mentioned in passing towards the end of this piece, plus the tear-sheet of my Drum Media cover story with singer John Garcia ahead of the first Kyuss Lives tour of Australia in April 2011.
It was some time in 1995 that Kyuss were the first band break-up that I heard about on the Internet. They were also the first band I loved who aired their dirty laundry on the Internet, the first band on the top of my ‘interview wish list’ until I ticked them off (twice), and the first (and only) band to ever record my favourite album of all time.
Kyuss are the musical love of my life – break-ups, make-ups and all.
“There’s a bond that we all share, if you don’t understand then I don’t care…”
Metallica at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Monday 29 March, 1993. It was a school night and Simmo, Stomper, Scollen and I had been chaperoned down the Toowoomba range by my old man, who took a seat up in the bleachers while we set our sights on the main floor.
After blazing up in some long grass out in the car park, we caught up with other school crew outside the entrance to shoot the shit… and then the whole building began to vibrate. We’d heard Kyuss getting spun by Francis Leach on Three Hours of Power on the Js, but couldn’t pick one of their songs out of a line-up before they were handed warm-up duties for Lars and co. By the end of the 20 minute sonic assault we encountered, I still couldn’t, though a cosmic jam I later ID’d as Freedom Run was definitely in there somewhere.
These cats just oozed cool. A drummer with hair that seemed to go down to the ground; a bassist doubled over his Rickenbacker playing what appeared to be a single, constantly evolving solo; a backwards-capped guitarist nonchalantly letting rip through a wah pedal between riff-mongering; a singer seemingly content to just pace the stage while his mates laid down those monstrous blues.
What was this music?
When the next issue of Hot Metal magazine was offering a copy of their Blues For The Red Sun to subscribers, my birthday present from the parents was a no-brainer. I can’t remember when exactly it turned up, but I would’ve removed it from the mailbox after school, put the disc in the CD player, and then…
“Crank it up I really like this bit, fuck that riff sounds really sick…”
Dust swirls at the dawn of the universe. A speaker hisses. A guitar lick flips the script on Black Sabbath’s Hole In The Sky. A subtle change-up in the 14th bar lets you know something’s brewing. Drums thunder in from another galaxy, and a beast begins to lumber across the cosmos.
But this beast is graceful, and it swings, and it’s the sexiest slab of detuned late-teen angst you’ve ever been steamrolled by.
And then comes one of the great rock voices of them all…
“I don’t understand the words on the album…”
I’ve been listening to Kyuss religiously since I was 15 and actually gave a fuck about memorising lyrics – and I still have no idea what John Garcia is singing, let alone what he’s singing about.
There are some deep, dark corners of the Internet dedicated to such analysis, but with all due respect to the throaty musings of Mr Garcia I don’t even think it matters. Song titles like Asteroid and Molten Universe and Spaceship Landing and, umm, Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop pretty much say it all.
Kyuss lyrics work as word pictures; the voice as an instrument that complements the ensemble; Garcia as content to sit back and let the grooves roll into the distance as he is to take the lead and belt out those sweet nothings like the fire of hell has just been unleashed. But let’s get analytical anyway…
As tectonic plates shift under the seismic power unleashed by Josh Homme on Welcome To Sky Valley’s titanic opener Gardenia, is Garcia singing about a flower, a woman, blazing up, or a car?
Is Green Machine an unlikely tribute to the early ‘90s form of the Canberra Raiders? A fuck you to the LA suits trying to buy a share of his band’s desert rock myth? Or the internal monologue of a man who’s concerned about the greenhouse effect, but really, really likes his gas-guzzling car?
And though Whitewater could be about the 1992 investigation into Bill and Hilary Clinton’s failed investment in the Whitewater Development Corporation in the 1970s and ‘80s, to me it can’t be about anything other than the open expanses of the Whitewater area on the fringes of Kyuss country – just west of Palm Springs and Sky Valley in the California desert.
Driving through that desert, the sun setting behind you, and feeling like you were home…
By the time of their 1995 break-up, original creative force Brant Bjork had already left and that year’s …And The Circus Leaves Town was a scattershot effort anyway. Fortunately, in 1994 they’d delivered Welcome To Sky Valley – the aforementioned top of the pops in my music collection.
I was already an evangelist, but spreading the Kyuss gospel was now a life quest. And of all the bands I’ve enthusiastically forced down people’s throats over the years, Kyuss are the one with a 100 percent strike rate, with reactions ranging from a bassface grimace and knowing nod, to “this is the music I love”.
Kyuss begat Slo Burn, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Desert Sessions, Unida, Mondo Generator, Brant Bjork (and the Bros), Hermano, et al. Even gurners got a shot at the title with Garcia on the mic for The Crystal Method’s club-smasher Born Too Slow.
And it might’ve been the drugs, but I still didn’t know what he was singing and I still didn’t care.
Then the Kyuss Lives reunion was announced in 2010, sans Homme/Reeder, and I expressed my reservations.
Then an Australian tour was announced, and I went to two shows, and I was singing the wrong lyrics like it was 1993 and absolutely loving it.
Then the lawsuits about trademark infringement and consumer fraud threatened to piss on the band’s legacy. Then Bjork spoke out against his estranged bandmates in Rolling Stone.
Then I interviewed him late last year for this very site, and told him how that he-said/she-said exchange had bummed me out as a fan. Brant’s reply was an eye-opener.
“It is a bit of a bummer, but sometimes I have to separate myself and my experience with the band from the fans and what they need and want. Kyuss is my life, a very big part of my life, and I’ve had my own individual experience with it.”
As have I, and the thousands of other fans who’ve dreamt of having the Welcome To Sky Valley sign in their house – and the many, unlike me (sigh), who’ve gone looking for it and found something remarkably similar still standing.
It’s all coming to an end at Soundwave this month, where Kyuss Lives will sign off before their rebirth as Vista Chino – almost 20 years to the day since they forever changed the musical headspace of a kid from Toowoomba.
But as all Kyuss fans know, Vista Chino isn’t really the end, but the beginning of what’s about to happen.
I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this week’s blog title and sub-headings, The Fauves, and their 1996 love song, Understanding Kyuss. Immerse yourself in its beauty below…