Interview with Brant Bjork: How The Former Kyuss And Fu Manchu Drummer Came To Embrace The Classics

Interview with Brant Bjork: How The Former Kyuss And Fu Manchu Drummer Came To Embrace The Classics

—by , April 14, 2010

…And by “The Classics,” in the headline, I mean Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath (are there any other kind?). Brant Bjork, who just released his ninth solo album in 10 years, Gods And Goddesses through his own Low Desert Punk label, has gone back to his roots to create a highly-structured and surprisingly produced collection of songs. In so doing, he’s taken the best elements of the high-grade grooving desert rock for which he’s become known and blended it with funk, soul, jazz, surf and a host of other styles to craft a blend uniquely his own. His growth as a songwriter, complemented by the intricate production of Ethan Allen (The Afghan Whigs, Galactic), is evident in the cohesiveness of Gods And Goddesses and the flow that carries the album quickly from each memorable track to the next. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to interview Brant Bjork via telephone, the bulk of which conversation follows:

The production seems much more elaborate this time around. Is that something you were really shooting for, or did it just come from working with Ethan Allen?

Well, it’s both. I definitely decided not too long ago that I wanted to up the production level. I’ve actually enjoyed making lo-fi records, but I’ve been doing it for so long that I was excited to do it at a different level. I’ve known Ethan Allen for a while, I’m familiar with his work, and he’s a good guy. We always talked and I knew when I was ready to take it to a new level, he’d be the guy to do it. So we just finally decided to do it.

How do you feel about the different representation of your songs? Like you said, you’d done lo-fi records for a long time. How do you feel about the material being presented differently?

It’s exciting for me, just because I enjoy making records of all kinds. To be honest, a lot of the reasoning behind the creation and enjoying lo-fi records is financially, that’s about all I can afford to do (laughs). With this particular record, I stepped it up, got a couple bucks together and worked with Ethan. I wrote and arranged songs knowing I was gonna go in and step it up. There were some songs that I’d been sitting on for a couple years, because I wanted to wait and then throw them into more of a produced situation, where it’s more—I don’t know how to explain it—but not lo-fi, if you will. It’s cool. I enjoy it. It’s a fun experience.

How long were you in the studio, and how does that differ from when you’re making a record by yourself?

We still worked very fast. I did basic tracks with the band live in two nights, and then did the overdubs and vocals at a different studio in about a week, and mixed it the following week. It’s about a 14-day record.

That feels awfully quick. It’s pretty in-depth sounding for 14 days.

I’ve made quite a few records, and so has Ethan. When two guys get together who don’t fuck around and know how to get down with what they’re trying to accomplish, you can move quick. I like to move fast in the studio, I don’t like to hang around.

Why’s that?

Just a certain spontaneity I enjoy in rock records, and I feel like if you try to sit in the studio—like I’ve said before, I don’t really believe in masterpieces. Get in, get out and what it is is what it is. Come back and do another one in the future. It’s about making records, not a record. That’s just the way I look at it.

Have you always felt that way? It seems like you’ve taken a lot of different approaches to your various solo albums.

Yeah. For me, I love making records, and I love playing music and performing. I’m not looking for the big break or the big record or the big show or the big song. To me, the whole thing is a journey. It’s just about creating. I just want to create. That’s what it’s all about. It’s nice to just get in the studio, have a couple weeks and see what you can come up with. Then come back next year and try it again, learn from your prior experience.

You mentioned writing with the production in mind. Have there been any other changes in your writing process over the course of these albums?

My writing process is generally always the same, but when I’m doing a record like Saved By Magic, I’m just throwing everything against the wall and making a double record. I’m not worried about time. I’m improvising on the whole concept of making a record. This was a really focused effort, Gods And Goddesses. I went back to the early rock records that I loved and grew up on, Deep Purple and Sabbath and Zeppelin and stuff. It was always eight songs, four on a side, each side was under 17 minutes, because the 16-minute side to vinyl is about what you want, so I did that around the vinyl release. I wanted to take it back. A CD holds a lot of information, and a lot of people just download songs one at a time now, but I come from the generation where I grew up on side A and side B, so that’s what I’m going back to. CD format, you’ve got yourself a 32-minute record that’s just rock. Every song’s a little different. I tried to give every song its own character. I just trimmed the fat and tried to get right to it. That’s a big part of what the arrangement and production direction was for me.

Was there something in particular coming off Somera Sol that made you want to do that this time around?

Ultimately, I always want to do something new every time I have an opportunity to make a record. I don’t want to keep reinventing the same record. I know I have my own style and that’s what it is, but I don’t want to reinvent the same record. I just knew it was time. I’ve made a lot of records that some people are gonna find more interesting than others. I take the liberty and the freedom I have, being an independent artist, to do what I want. People like Neil Young really inspire me as solo artists, to exercise the freedom I have. But I haven’t really, to be honest, taken some songs and deliberately made what I consider to be just a basic, no bullshit, classic-formatted rock record. To put myself in that box and say, ‘Alright, you have to do this,’ give myself limitations and boundaries. That was exciting for me. That, to me, was a whole new challenge.

There is a lot going on with Gods And Goddesses. There are a lot of different styles and elements coming together.

Growing up on Sabbath records and Deep Purple records. There’s a lot of jazz and funk going on with those records too. I love jazz. I probably listen to jazz more than anything. And I love funk, Motown, whatever. I think rock and roll’s always incorporated, whether it’s MC5, The Stooges, Sabbath or even The Ramones, there’s always gonna be classic elements of other music included in that rock and roll. That’s what makes rock and roll what it is.

Do you experience music differently now, as both an artist and a listener, than you did when you were starting out with Kyuss?

I think so. I feel there’s that 13-year-old in me that still hears music with 13-year-old ears. Then there’s that part of me that’s a more experienced veteran of performance and writing and producing and that element of my art, and that part of me doesn’t necessarily listen to music the same as when I was younger. That’s just an interesting thing that I have to balance. Music’s my work now, and has been for most of my life, so I listen to things and I study and I listen to the production and I go deep, but there’s times when I enjoy taking a song or a sound for what it is and not digging too deep, just keeping it surface and trying to enjoy it. It’s a balance.

Making this record, did you enjoy the process of taking the new approach?

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. A big part of it was working with Ethan. We just really had a good time making this record. From beginning to end, it was just a super-good time. In my experience—I’ve made a few records—when the recording process is enjoyable, the record’s usually a pleasure to listen to. At least for me it is.

Any chance of shows in the U.S.? I know you’re doing a couple warm-up dates before you go out to Europe, but any chance of U.S. touring?

We just picked up a U.S. agent a couple months ago. I’m definitely not the top-grossing act in the country, but our goal is to get back out there and start working the States again. I’d like to say there’s about an 80 percent chance that this year I’ll be doing some American dates. I definitely want to go back to the East Coast and Midwest, that was always good for me, and of course down in the South. I basically want to hit as much of the States as I can this year, but we’ll see how it works out.

Brant Bjork’s Gods And Goddesses is available now via Low Desert Punk. More info at brantbjork.com.

JJ Koczan would love to put something clever down here, but he’s too busy grooving out to this record. Check back later, or visit theobelisk.net.


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