- 09 Jun 21
Best known as a founding member of legendary metal crew Kyuss, Brant Bjork is back in action with STÖNER, where his bandmates include ex-Queens Of The Stone Age man Nick Oliveri. He talks pioneering music, controversies, bust-ups, The Ramones – and more. Photo: Don Flood
Having spent almost three decades in the music business, Brant Bjork is perhaps best known as the drummer and founder of influential Californian stoner rock band Kyuss. But the multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and producer has also released an astonishing 14 solo albums.
His new outfit, STÖNER, traffic in the kind pulverising riffs that are the stock in trade of the Palm Desert scene, whose alumni also include Queens Of The Stone Age, formed by Bjork’s ex-Kyuss bandmate Josh Homme (who was rumoured to have clashed with Bjork in Kyuss before the outfit split in 1995).
Bjork is in relaxed mood when he calls Hot Press from Palm Desert. With STÖNER having just dropped the Live In The Mojave Desert album and DVD, the band have pencilled in an Irish tour for April 2022. Then again, Bjork has visited the auld sod on numerous occasions.
“I’ve been to Ireland many times, but it’s been a while,” he notes. “I’ve been itching to get back, and I think I speak for the other guys as well. I only have fantastic memories – the Irish love rock and roll, so it’s always a positive energy. One of the things I’ve been really fortunate to experience as a touring musician is the responses elicited by rock as an art form.
“If you’re playing an honest type of music that comes from the gut, from the heart and from the soul, it moves people in the same way, regardless of what country or culture you’re in. The irony of the pandemic was that I had been experiencing serious doubts about touring, and I was thinking of taking a long break.
“I was really missing my kids – I have two boys aged nine and 10. They’re at an age where they need me to be around more, not to mention my wife. All of a sudden, four months later, I got to spend quality time with my family that I might never have otherwise. It’s a bizarre blessing.”
STÖNER comprises Bjork on guitar and vocals, ex-Kyuss and QOTSA man Nick Oliveri on bass, and Ryan Gut on drums. Bjork having known Oliveri since they were playing Ramones covers in their teens, it was a natural alliance.
“I’ve been playing music my whole life, whether in bands or as a solo artist,” says Bjork. “It was probably halfway through the lockdown when I got a little nostalgic for the days where my friends and I weren’t in the industry – when we were just jamming together without any business pressure or fans. We didn’t have egos to contend with; it was all about the pure love of music.
“I wanted to get back to that essence, where we didn’t overthink anything, we just felt it. I shared those thoughts with Nick about getting back to our 13-year-old selves. Instantly, STÖNER was exactly what I needed it to be. And Nick figured that if we were going to revisit our origins, we may as well call it ‘stoner’! I wanted to grasp hold of that magical, local spirit, like we were in high school again.”
Since first making a splash in the late ‘80s, Bjork has borne witness to the continued evolution of rock and metal, against a backdrop of radical technological changes in the music industry. It’s no mean feat to have maintained a loyal audience during that time.
“Honestly, it’s tough,” Bjork muses. “The music business changes constantly. I’m now one of those artists from a generation that bridges the gap between the analogue and digital worlds. I write and play music the exact same way I did as a teenager. My love of the form has never changed, but I’m not a computer person. My job as a musician is to create and I’m just doing whatever I can to accomplish that.
“I was well out of Kyuss by the time I realised that I was an actual musician. I had to get used to doing interviews and photoshoots and hearing my name – it was really bizarre the first time someone asked me for my autograph. Fame and fortune was never part of my agenda. It was more about healing, so when you become ‘successful’ during your personal rehabilitation, stardom is trippy.”
As for regrets, Bjork suggests he has only one.
“In the mid-’90s, I met CJ Ramone after one of their concerts at Lollapalooza,” he recalls. “We really hit it off, and he invited me to see The Ramones in LA the following evening. He told me that it would be their last show, and I didn’t believe him. Turns out, it actually was their final concert. That’s a hard pill for me to swallow, because when I was a kid, they were my first concert outside of the desert. I snuck backstage when I was 15 and hung out with Dee Dee and Johnny. ”
Many Kyuss fans are now familiar with the reported tension between Josh Homme and Bjork, which was reignited in 2012 when Homme filed a lawsuit against the members of Kyuss Lives!, a reunited incarnation of the original group. Naturally, fan fascination with Kyuss and its various in-fights and rumoured reunions has never wavered.
“I come from a genre background which harbours a unique story and lineage,” says Bjork. “Like a lot of rock families, Kyuss are very dysfunctional. When listeners discover our music, they also uncover the arguments. As much as I view myself as a pure artist, there’s a high level of entertainment in rock bands like ours. That’s what makes it juicy.
“The Ramones were riddled with drama, but it made them human. For the generation before me, it would have been the Stones or The Beatles. It’s all part of the rock ‘n’ roll circus. My truth begins and ends in my music, not the media.”
Considering the ever-growing list of both active and disbanded rock outfits Bjork has played in, what are his expectations for STÖNER?
“That’ll unfold in an organic way,” he says. “Nick and I were out watching Los Lobos in the desert last week. They’re one of my favourite bands, and they’re still incredible, despite pushing 70. They’re the same guys and they’re still crushing it.
“Nick and I understand that feeling of connection, when you’re creating music with your friends. Whether the audience is there or not, you’re still going to play. You need it, you want it, and you do it for as long as you can. You do it forever. We’ll see where STÖNER goes, but right now it’s healthy and it’s happening.”
• STÖNER’s music and DVD are available on Bandcamp. Tickets for their Irish tour can be found on Ticketmaster.