John Garcia and
The Band of Gold,
The TVD Interview

When we last spoke with John Garcia in 2014, he had just released his first solo album. He was an artist in a state of flux, stepping out of the shadow of bands Kyuss, Unida, and Hermano and making his own mark. In 2017, Garcia linked back up with guitarist Ehren Groban for an acoustic album, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues. Featuring a blend of new tracks and reimagined Kyuss classics, Coyote was effective at tipping the hat to the old, while previewing what was to come. 2019 has arrived, and Garcia has returned with a new band, a new album, and a hot desert wind in his sails.

After a European tour and a lone US date in Las Vegas, Garcia and the “Band of Gold” stopped by Palm Springs for an intimate, acoustic show at the Palm Canyon Roadhouse. Supported by old friend and former bandmate Nick Oliveri, the show was a chance to preview some songs from the forthcoming album and spend an evening jamming with the locals before the holidays.

Before the show, we had a chance to catch up with John and the guys to talk all about the new album, and a bit about former bands, his solo career, and what lies ahead for the Band of Gold.

TVD: We last chatted back in 2014, when your self-titled album dropped. Now you’re back with a new band and a new album. I want to rewind just a bit first—you recently revived one of your old bands, Slo-Burn. How did that go for you?

John Garcia: Those guys had been reaching out to me for quite some time in regards to getting back together again and doing another record. There was a little bit of down time where it made sense to do some stuff with them, so they came out to Palm Springs and we went to a rehearsal place, Ehren’s rehearsal joint, and it was making sense. All it really was, Jon, was four old buddies getting back in a room together, man. That’s essentially what it was, nothing more, nothing less.

There was no long-term plan there?

JG: They wanted to do another record, and they had presented a bunch of songs, but it’s tough. It’s tough when you have the Band of Gold, and you have plans because you commit to that, and you’re committing for a year and a half. It’s not just as simple as “let’s make a record.” You’ve got to take a couple of years out of your life and make it happen. The passing of songs, the studios, where you’re gonna do it, this and that, the supporting tour after it, it would eat up two years of your life really, really quick. That’s basically all it was, just four buddies getting back in a room again. Playing some tunes, then heading over to Europe for a small little run, that’s all it was.

That’s cool. So the Band of Gold—the wheels were already in motion for that to happen?

JG: The wheels were already in motion back in 2014 when I was doing the debut record. Those were songs that I had collected throughout the years, from my past, that I wanted to bring to life that had been sitting in a little corner of my bedroom. I wanted to take some of these songs and bring them to life. At that point in time, this band had already been together. We were already together, weren’t we when I was doing that? [Looks over at guitarist Ehren Groban]

EG: The record was done, and you were putting the band together.

JG: It was around that time that I was looking for desert musicians that wanted to be involved in a project like this. There are some different tangents and different avenues I went down, like me really falling in love with this acoustic thing. I thought, “Eh, let’s do an acoustic record. We’ll just do it really quick.” [We all laugh] You can’t do a thing like that “really quick.” It takes up a lot of fuckin’ time.

Especially if you say, “It’s gonna be really quick.”

JG: Yeah, if you say it’s gonna be really quick, it never turns out that way. This one took a little while to do, but here we are, and these guys have always been the band. There’s never been one other person in this band, ever since the birth of me going off and doing my solo thing. This has always been the band. It just so happens now that they have the title of “Band of Gold.” When they come to the table with a song like “Space Vato,” or Ehren or Greg comes to a band meeting with songs to submit for the next record, it becomes more than just a “JG thing.” It becomes more of a group effort, and that’s the way it was for this one.

Tell us about the Band of Gold? Who have you got with you?

JG: You’re already familiar with Mr. Groban over here, we’ve got Greg Saenz on drums, and Mike Pygmie on bass, and they’re all desert locals. That was one of the prerequisites. First off, you wanted to be a part of this. Second, you have to be a desert local. Those were really the only two requirements, because I wanted to get together on somewhat of a schedule, where I could call the guys up and say, “You guys want to jam out next Sunday?” We all have jobs. We all work for a living, and we have families that are local.

These are all factors in the equation for the band?

JG: All factors in the equation. It has to make sense to get together and to write, and we find the time. We want to be with each other and get in there and write. It’s still fun for all of us to do this.

It’s interesting to hear that someone really wants that personal connection, the local connection. It’s almost 2019, I can record an album with a guy in Düsseldorf right now, if I wanted to. With the internet, it’s done, right there.

JG: To be able to get together with these guys on a summer Sunday and barbecue and jam out, that’s really rad. We all want to be there. This is something that’s…I don’t know if it’s a dying thing, but it’s a necessity for us. It’s a necessity to be in a room with one another, and write and jam out, and bring ideas to the table, and just to bro out for a little bit. All my spare time is devoted to it, because I’m either at the vet clinic, which I run with my wife, or I’m with my kids and my wife, and we’re doing some family stuff. After that, it’s Greg, Mike, and Ehren. That’s all it is, that’s all I have time for in my life. It may seem selfish, but family is important to me. They know how I feel about my son, my daughter, my wife. I was just texting them, last night, pictures of us picking out our Christmas tree. Don’t get me wrong, Jon, we’re not a bunch pussies. [Laughs] We’re here to bring the rock, listen to this shit at your own peril, you know? Here I am saying that when we’re doing an acoustic show [Laughs]. Let me tell you something – this shit ain’t no joke either.

I saw you here last time, you bring it acoustically.

EG: Oh, right on! That’s cool.

JG: This is my redemption to that show. That show, to me, was…the soundman was really fuckin’ tweaking me, so we brought our own P.A. for this.

So what was the motivation for tonight’s show? A spur-of-the-moment local gig for the holidays?

EG: An end of the year gig. JG had brought it up a couple of months ago, just a way to put a nice end on the year, because it’s been such a long, arduous year with the recording process, getting the record done in a timely fashion, in a professional way. That was a bit of a daunting task. This was just a way to kind of relax, see some friends and family, and do an end of the year holiday show right before Christmas and the New Year, and just end the year on a positive, high note for us. Get the band up here and do a bunch of the new material acoustically, which we’re really looking forward to doing. Do some old stuff as well, really just have fun, bring friends and family out, and have a nice night.

JG: It’s the end of the year, it’s December. We still love to be onstage and perform—why not do it in our hometown? It’s exciting, it’s cool. I still get nervous. I’d be nervous if I wasn’t nervous.

On the road you’ve got the fan pressure. Here, you’ve got the home and the fan pressure.

EG: Oh, man. It’s so much more stressful to play in front of family. My mom and my sister are coming tonight. I’m like, “Oh, man! [Laughs]” It’s not that you don’t give it your best on the road for fans, you obviously give it 110 [percent], but you really want to show your friends and family that this is us, this is the best of us, we’re really bringing it for you guys and we’re just very happy that everyone is coming out to support us.

I think any show where you know a loved one is in the crowd, no matter where you’re playing, you automatically have to go up a couple of notches.

JG: We don’t play in the States very often.

Greg Saenz: This is probably our third show ever in the States, or the fourth.

JG: We did one show recently in Vegas, at the Hard Rock [Hotel & Casino]. We’ve done a couple here and there, but we don’t usually play the States because it’s not as well-received as say, Munich, for instance. Munich, that show is almost sold out, and we’re well over a month away from that show. It’s refreshing to have this show be sold out as well, and it’s great that it’s not just Ehren and I doing the acoustic thing—it’s Mike here, it’s Greg here—the full band.

EG: That’s another cool aspect of it. We really wanted to showcase these songs and everything they entail. We’ll have two guitars—Mike’s gonna be doing some tasty leads, some rhythm. I’m just gonna try to hold it down. Greg’s setup tonight is this beautiful Frankenstein mishmash of percussion—bongos, congas, half of an electric drum set, just this quirky, percussive variety, bringing some new light on old tunes but also showcasing the songs off the new electric record in a totally different light as well.

We are definitely going to get into those songs, I want to dig in a bit, but first, now that you’ve had a couple of weeks to look back on that special Las Vegas show, the big [US] unveiling of the Band of Gold, how do you feel about how that went down? Are you happy with the reaction to the band, how you guys played, and the show overall?

JG: I always—and I think I speak for the Band of Gold—when I say that we always strive to have a good show, and to play well. How we did in Vegas, including having three other guitar players involved: Chris Hale [Slo Burn], Arthur Seay [Unida, Death in Pretty Wrapping], and Dave Angstrom [Hermano, Luna Sol], I thought the show went pretty damn good. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, it was a great time. It’s always great when my family gets to come out as well. My wife, she never usually gets to see us play, because we play over in Europe or Australia or South America and she doesn’t get to go to those shows. It went really great.

We’ve got to talk about these songs. I was pretty well-versed on The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, the acoustic album that had reworking of some old stuff, and some new songs. Then I heard the new album, and was like, “That’s the song!” Was your intention all along to give these songs the full treatment, or was Coyote just the demos for these songs?

JG: They were meant to be electric songs, full-blown electric band songs, then Ehren and I turned them into the acoustic songs, and it just gave a little taste of what was beginning, what was about to happen, which was this record. You got a little taste acoustically, then of course on this record you get the full-fledged “Kentucky,” “Don’t Even Think About It,” and “Cheyletiella.”

EG: We’d been doing those live, actually, for quite a bit before the acoustic record came out. We’d been doing them electrically, then we transitioned over to doing them acoustic, then when we finally came around to doing this new electric record it really showcased what the true intentions of the songs were.

Those damn lucky Europeans!

[We all laugh]

GS: We were playing “Jim’s [Whiskers],” “Kylie [Cheyletiella],” “Don’t Even Think About It,” and “Kentucky” for quite some time. Before we had even recorded, we were trying them out, and hey—they had never heard it, so why not?

So by the time you recorded the album, you all were already in the pocket with these songs.

JG: We didn’t have an intense writing session where we needed more than just those four songs we were playing. We got a little room up in Yucca Valley, and just started writing new material. We had sat down several times and talked about song submissions, and sifting through them all, then Ehren and I getting together and writing some new fresh ones with Greg and Mike coming in and adding their personality and adding their take on where the song should go, whether it was “Apache Junction,” “Chicken Delight,” or “Lillianna,” all of this record is done collectively.

I’m very pleased in the direction that we went. I had a theme for this record. The theme started off with a song by the name of “Jim’s Whiskers.” Keeping along with that theme, and having some other burners in there, as Mike would put it, even including the artwork—keeping it simple. That’s a picture of my father as a twelve year-old, then having the back cover with some family photos of Greg’s family, and my family. You look at the video for “Chicken Delight”…

The lyric video that you released?

JG: Yeah, the lyric video. You see the Southern California culture all over that. Then you look at “Jim’s Whiskers,” in that video you see Southern California all over that.

Absolutely.

JG: There’s African-Americans, there’s Italians, there’s whites, there’s the ethnicity, the culture of Southern California is deep into this record. I always looked at this record as making a simple, classic rock record. Sometimes that’s hard to do—holding the reins back a little bit, not filling up a song completely and totally with vocals. That was hard for me, because I will do that. Then, telling Ehren, “Don’t get too bitchin’ right there,” or telling Greg, “Don’t fill up the songs with a bunch of fills.” We’re gonna go them tastefully, and having those conversations and being open about it, and going, “This is the direction that I think we should go because this is what I’m feeling, what we’re feeling right now.” They responded with flying colors, and it was really, really cool to be in that room writing with them.

That’s awesome. The way the album starts out, with that cool groove, then it kicks in, I thought, “What am I in for?” “Space Vato” kicks in and the bass just takes off.

JG: I know there’s bands that have done stuff like this before. I can’t remember them right off the bat, but I thought to myself, “Who starts off a record with an instrumental and then this crazy fuckin’ bass solo? What’s in this thing? Who does that?”

GS: Oasis! [Laughs]

JG: I love the fact that there are no rules in this band when it comes down to the writing process and what should be expected of us because this is the way a proper rock record should be. Whatever we feel, that’s what’s going on tape, and I didn’t want any crazy interludes between songs. I wanted some silence in between the songs, I just wanted to make a classic, forty-five-minute rock record, and that’s exactly what it is, exactly forty-five minutes long. I’m very pleased with it. Some of the standout tracks I love playing are “Jim’s Whiskers” and “Chicken Delight.” I love singing in those. “My Everything” is really hard, “Lillianna” is really hard, but we’ll be doing all of those tonight. I’m stoked. Ehren, what are your favorite ones to play right now?

EG: Phew, my favorite ones to play… “My Everything” is fun to play.

That’s such a great track.

EG: That one, you know, you never really know what you’re going to gravitate towards. That one, for me, after it was done and now that we’ve done it live, that one’s fun to play. I like doing that one. I like the groove in “Kentucky [II],” I come from a blues background, so that kind of groove is really fun for me to play. “Don’t Even Think About It” is really fun. We’ve actually kind of reworked that one live now. It’s got a couple of tempo changes. I really enjoy all of the music—I think we all do. At the end of the day, we put out those songs because we like playing them. We liked the way they felt to play, we liked the way they sounded sonically. We didn’t want to put anything on the record that we didn’t actually enjoy, or didn’t feel strongly about, or brought out emotion in us.

Was there any significance in the name changes on those songs?

EG: That’s a JG question.

JG: Creatively, I wanted to really keep the names “Don’t Even Think About It” and “Cheyletiella,” but because they were going on the electric record, we got a little bit of kickback from the label. They thought that maybe we shouldn’t do that, maybe we should change the name. It’s obviously a different variation of the song, so hence the names “Give Me 250ML” and “The Hollingworth Session.”

It’s funny, because you would expect an album like …Coyote to come after this one. Not, “Let’s kind of introduce you to these acoustic songs, oh wait, now we’re going to kick you in with the full versions.”

EG: That’s kind of cool, right? Totally the opposite of what you would expect.

It definitely upped the “wow” factor, if you’ve been listening to these acoustic songs.

EG: You already know, you have an idea of what they sound like, and “Oh, ok, this is what the electric version sounds like.” You go into it not know the true potential of what each song is going to sound like, then you kind of get knocked in the teeth with it.

I honestly didn’t even read the press release—I just started listening right away, I just wanted to hear it. So my first reaction was a surprised “Oh, that’s the song!” I didn’t even know that you were doing these songs on this album, and you’re right, having that opposite reaction of knowing what the song is already like and it’s down a notch. Now taking it in the other direction is a weird feeling, because that doesn’t happen too often.

JG: You’ve done your research, because I’ve been doing a lot of press lately, and not too many journalists catch that. Maybe they haven’t listened to it, maybe …Coyote wasn’t their cup of tea. It’s not for everybody, that record, that’s for sure. This one is not for everybody. I look at some of the comments—the very first comment on “Chicken Delight” was “What the fuck!” [Laughs] Ok, alright, well you don’t get it. That’s ok. This is the direction we’re going in, and I’m ok with it. You know as well as me that sometimes people are not going to like your article, or like my stuff. Being in this business for so many years, the amount of emotional intelligence that you have to detach yourself from those comments is so minute. It just rolls off. You’re gonna be used to not being liked by everybody, and that’s ok.

Sure.

JG: That’s alright, and that’s not gonna change my course of the direction. Not gonna change the course for me being up onstage or getting together this summer with the guys. We’re going to be doing the exact same thing, and Ehren and Mike and Greg and myself had an hour-long conversation in regard to some ideas that we already have, some directional ideas for the next piece, It’s going to be really interesting to see how it all plays out.

I think part of it is—and this is coming from someone who was a Kyuss fan starting back in ’92—when you have a history like that, you have the contingent that’s like “I’m with you, I can’t wait to see what you do next, then you have others that put it up on the scales with the past. How does it weigh out? You just can’t do that.

GS: The people who respond negatively, I see them as myself around the early ‘80s when I was saying stuff like, “Well, you know, the old Sabbath with Ozzy was better than with Dio.” I wasn’t even there. I see these comments sometimes in social media, and I think, “I understand.” They weren’t there in ’92, they want to be there in ’92, and they want what ’92 represents to represent now. And they’re not gonna get that. They want to see a cactus, they want to see a generator, they want to see a keg of beer and long hair and sand in a video. That’s my take on it.

It’s funny that you mention Sabbath. I read a book recently about the whole history of Sabbath, not just the Ozzy years. One of the things Tony Iommi talks about, getting into Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die, he says [paraphrased] “Everybody was bitching because we weren’t changing, so we changed, but the way we wanted to change, and they bitched about how we changed. So fuck ‘em, I’m going to do what I want.”

GS: That’s exactly right.

EG: That’s exactly our mentality.

I think a lot of people have a hard time getting to a place where you don’t have to like everything a band does, and you can still love the band. You can have it both ways. I don’t have to like every single song that you ever made.

JG: That’s the same way with The Cult. I might not like the latest Cult record, but I still have it, because I love that band, I love the way Ian sings. You look at Blues for the Red Sun, you look at [Welcome to] Sky Valley, you look at […And the] Circus [Leaves Town], and those are all different parts of our lives, still. What’s going in my life right now could be different from this next upcoming summer, and that’s gonna change the course of the writing process for me.

I was talking to Mike and Greg about loops, and this vocal loop that I keep hearing in my head. Starting off with this vocal loop, and seeing where it takes us. It might take us somewhere, it might not, but trying stuff like that…look at Spirit\Light\Speed by Ian Astbury, his first solo record. That’s an amazing solo record, and it’s nothing like The Cult’s Love, but I love it. It’s one of my all-time favorite records. We’ll get in there again, and we’ll see where it takes us, but you’re not gonna hear anything other than rock coming from this band, so whether it starts off with a loop or not, we’re gonna bring it, cause that’s what we do.

The biggest thing I noticed, as a whole—and I am holding it up against 2014, because that’s the last full electric album we had from you—the 2014 album is so much darker in tone than the new album. You touched on it earlier, when you said those were songs from throughout the years, but is there more to it? Was it more about where your headspace is right now, or the people you’ve got around you, as it was more of a group effort on the 2014 album.

JG: There were more hired guns by the producer Harper Hug. I almost can’t listen to that record anymore, because the songs are slowed down so much. That’s what Harper did—he slowed those songs down so it’s almost unlistenable to me right now. When we started doing this record, I wanted to play these songs like we did live. There was not gonna be any clicks or anything like that. If there were they were gonna be true clicks, to how fast we play them live. This is a set that we can do, that we will do live. From beginning to end, with the exception of “Softer Side,” we’ll be doing the majority of these tracks. I think that’s the big difference, is the timing and the energy of the debut 2014 to this JG and the Band of Gold is the timing, and us keeping that time like we were playing it live. That was very important to me.

Ehren, you played on the 2014 album as well—how do you see it? What’s your angle on that, what do you see differently?

EG: I enjoyed just being a part of the process. That was when we had originally met, so I was just excited and stoked to be a part of that project. I had worked with Harper in the past, I had known him too, so it was kind of an easy transition there. Creatively speaking, there’s a whole lot more of that space on the new record, because it was a collective process where we were able to get into that, whereas the first record with JG songs we were working on. They were both really fruitful experiences, but this one we got to kind of open our wings a little bit, because we wrote it from scratch as a band. There were no rules, no anything we did it ourselves. Like JG was saying, we’re gonna play it in exactly what tempo we want to play it, it’s gonna be live, so the record does come off as organic, there’s not a whole lot going on other than live performances, and all the tones on the guitar are pre-mixing. I’m hitting pedals, you know, there’s not a whole lot of editing done. It’s almost a live record in that sense, that we just transitioned that material from the live show into a cohesive package just shy of actually being in the room together.

You can tell, that vibe absolutely comes across on the album, especially if you contrast the two albums. Worlds apart.

JG: Yep. Agreed.

So the album comes out when?

JG: January 4th

Will it have a vinyl release? Any special editions?

JG: We’ve got glow-in-the-dark, we’ve got blue, we’ve got gold, we’ve got black. We’ve got a really cool box set where you get the record—and it’s a surprise whether you get the glow-in-the-dark, or the gold or the blue or the black. It’s a surprise. You also get a slipmat, a bandanna, the CD, and it comes in a really, really cool box set. So yeah, we’re stoked on that.

[Bassist Mike Pygmie joins us at the table]

The other thing about the album I really want to touch on is that you’ve got a long, special history with Chris Goss. What was it like working with him this time around? Was it getting back on a bike, or was the vibe and your approach—both of your approaches—different years later?

JG: Both. You know, Chris and I rekindling our relationship was great, because I hadn’t talked to him in years. Getting in a room with him again was great, it was just like we were right back together, but the process—he didn’t start it from beginning to end. He came in after everything was tracked. The guy that was set up to mix it, we weren’t sharing the same vision, so it was on life support. I needed somebody I could really trust, that could do something miraculous with what we had. Chris and Martin did an amazing job, so it was both. Of course, Dave Catching was involved, because it’s at [Rancho] de la Luna, and he was gracious enough to let us go in there, he moved some things around to make sure it happened right, and we got it done. By the skin of our teeth, we got it done.

I love it. So we’ve got the acoustic show tonight, home for the holidays with family, then off to Europe in January, right?

JG: Correct.

Take us further than that.

JG: So, in August we have Muddy Roots in Tennessee, then if everything goes our way, we’re gonna head over to Australia and New Zealand in October. After that, I think it’s taking the summer and getting in that room and spending time with the guys, starting that process of writing the next one is gonna be a no-brainer, and no stress. Zero drama, have fun. I’m appreciative of the fact that everybody wants to be there, whether it’s in Mike’s rehearsal room, or the place up in Yucca Valley, it’s something that we still all want to be a part of. We’re all desert musicians. I don’t have to fly in a guitar player from Denver or from Belgium, or a bass player from South Carolina. We’re all here. We’ll get together, have the barbecues up there, throw the ball around, then get in there and just start writing, and I look forward to that.

John Garcia and The Band of Gold is in stores now via Napalm Records.

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