I gotta jump on the desert rock bandwagon for this week. Also called stoner rock, it’s a style that’s been doomed to fester in the music underground. It’ll never be hugely popular; no way, no how. The biggest act to come out of the Orange County/Joshua Tree scene of the 90s is Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age, who only really got big the moment that Dave Grohl taught him to write a pop song (and he kicked Nick Oliveri out of the band). Nothing he’s produced since Songs for the Deaf can even remotely be considered anything but pop rock.
So yeah, it’s heavy, it’s most often pretty slow, and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy it. But the reason I feel compelled to contribute to our weekly obsession is because stoner rock musically saved my ass. I’m pretty sure I would’ve quit playing drums in the late 90s had I not been obsessed with the likes of Kyuss, Fatso Jetson, Fu Manchu, et al. In fact, the baddest motherfucker in the whole bunch is also the only real influence I’ve ever had in my drumming. Sure, when you’re a kid, you start playing an instrument in a fashion that sort of reflects the style you listen to the most. I did that with punk rock. Fuck lessons, just picked up sticks, put on some DOA in my headphones and banged away (poorly). But it wasn’t until I heard Fu Manchu’s The Action is Go! that I sat down with a record and took the drums the fuck apart. I soon bought my first kit with an oversized kick drum to mimic Brant Bjork’s huge sound, and started to figure out all his powerful fills.
Ever since then, Brant Bjork’s gone on to a modicum of success as a solo artist, recording the most grooved-out rock ever put to tape, and touring with a revolving door of legends of the desert rock scene year-in, year-out. To me, he remains the most defining part of that scene behind the skins. He’s the only drummer shy of Alfredo Hernandez (Kyuss, QOTSA, Yawning Man) whose sound I can pick out after a single phrase. So, here are my 5 must-hear/see Brant Bjork moments:
Evil Eye by Fu Manchu
This is the moment that Fu Manchu was put on the map. Sure, Reuben Romano and Eddie Glass laid the foundation to provide a bit of distraction from Scott Hill’s slacker vocals, but it Romano’s style never really held the punch needed to put the band over the top. Brant joins the band, and BAM, instant fucking hits. I mean, just listen to those toms at the end of the intro. It’s a hell of a choice not to hit a cymbal there, one that most drummers wouldn’t even hesitate on. But there he goes smacking the shit out those toms, and it feels like your bowels just dropped out. Want more of the same? Just put on the Fu’s next record, [Godzilla’s] Eatin’ Dust (that’s the version with the BOC cover on it), and revel in the thin line that is this entire record being in the fucking red.
Welcome to Sky Valley by Kyuss
Look, Josh Homme played a mean wah pedal, and John Garcia can belt out “motherfucker” or “son of a bitch” real good. But you better believe that the genius of Kyuss resides heavily in its drummer. Kyuss’ third album, the last with Brant Bjork, who was there since the beginning, was the start of something bigger. Then he left, they put out one more and the whole fucking thing flamed out with a few Australian Metallica dates in 93 the apex of the genre probably to date. It’s kind of set the template for stoner rock in general. Bands produce amazing shit toiling in obscurity; get a small shot at the big time, then flame out, to be revered (loudly) by the underground. I don’t think any of us would have it any other way, though.
“Gonna Make the Pony Trot”, off Saved By Magic, Brant Bjork and the Bros
All of Brant’s solo output (don’t be fooled by those band names, he plays pretty much everything on every record, except for small guest appearances) is baby-making music, but Saved by Magic is off-the-charts groove mixed with just enough psychedelia and silliness to not take itself too seriously.
Jalamanta by Brant Bjork
His crowning achievement. The balls it took to record every single instrument on an almost entirely instrumental album after playing with the two biggest bands in the genre; I can’t even imagine.
Che’s Sounds of Liberation
In 2000, Brant teamed up with Alfredo Hernandez, the guy who took over on skins in Kyuss. The record takes over where Jalamanta ends, and it’s over way too quickly. This band only ever produced 7 tunes and a short tour, but it eclipses all the other supergroup collaborations to come out of the scene by far.
Bonus – “Brant Bjork Buys Beer”