Sunday, 15 September 2013

"Capturing Light In A Bottle" - An Interview with Brant Bjork

In this existence, there are people that play music and there are musicians. Musicians, encoded in their DNA, not only play music, they live, breathe and suffer for their art. It is a lifestyle in which they sacrifice everything for the beauty in which is delivered to our auditory systems.

They chose a craft that has many highs and lows, aches and pains and sometimes heartaches.
However, through all these emotions and obstacles the final result is truly what wins us over. What streams through our beloved speakers in the end is why they do it and some do it better than others.

Therefore, not only was I able to converse with a musician, I had the chance to speak with someone that I have revered for years. That person is Brant Bjork from Vista Chino.

During our chat, we discussed the process of recording, writing and producing. The challenges that rise along the way and the role spirituality plays not only in life but especially in the creative process of making music.  Also, the psychology of being a producer and truly how the Vista Chino album lets the rock, roll!

First off, there’s a certain comfort to this album. If you have ever been in a recording studio, some just feel right as soon as you walk in. This is so important to the vibe of the whole process. When you find a studio like this, the soul of the music glistens and vibes, while you are in the creative den.

This vibe is definitely present on the Vista Chino album as it was recorded at Brants’ home studio in the desert.  This studio was built from the ground up. Therefore, the natural feel of this piece of music can only be real as it was a labor of trueness and hard work that brought this analog space to life.

Brant was able to pick up analog gear, pre amps and mics that were all used on this album. It was gear that he wanted to use and not forced to use. The key word here my friends, is wanted to use. Not only a musician but a student of old jazz recordings and “capturing lightning in a bottle.” It has the warmth of an honest rock record and a familiar sound for people my age. The analog sound that was prevalent on the albums of our youth, the capturing of real instruments when 70’s rock records ruled the airways. There is no artificial flavor here comrades; this is a rich, robust flavor of 2 inch tape engineered by Harper and Trevor Whatever.

It was here in the desert, where it all started, back at the ripe old age of 19 when Brant recorded Blues for the Red Sky. Fast forward many happenings since then, Vista Chino has a piece of music that stresses musicality, tonality and spirituality. There is a feel to this album, whether it is from the analog recording, the use of mics, or the way a band knows when things feel just right. These elements mos definitely shine through.

Brant also produced this album. I had asked Brant if he had ever produced an album of this magnitude and he was certainly up for the challenge. I would say he not only rose to the challenge but levitated over the fence.

I had asked Brant about playing with Bruno and Brant said, “I have been playing music long enough and the first time I played with Bruno I knew there was a musical bond between us.”
This brings me back to being a musician. When 2 of this caliber, both of whom share a musical bond and unite, great things have to happen. The music might be constructed or just happen on the fly, what we hear is 2 becoming 1.

Bruno and Brant laid down the riffs and chord structures that thrive over percussion that makes the head bob and the foot tap. To my ears this album puts Bruno right there with the top notch guitarist in this genre. It is the riffs, the pure tone of a Marshall and an Ampeg v4b that have Bruno truly coming into his own. I told Brant that at times I could hear the tonality of the 70’s, via Hendrix and the Marshall Tone of Duane Allman from the Fillmore. Brant agreed there is that Marshall Tone, but there are other tones that shine through on the album. The sound is from Bruno going directly into these amps and letting his hands and feel do their thing. The only effects were used sparingly.

This too is different from a lot of music that has come out lately. Finding that precise tone can be at times very difficult and unforgiving, it is the trusting in not only yourself but the others joining you in the live room, vibing off one another. You know that when you see the smile on your mates faces that you have gotten it right. 

This leads us to the drums. Brant performed most of the songs on his original Ludwig kit, in which he referred to as his, “Kyuss kit.” This is the kit he recorded with Kyuss and Fu Manchu. As he was telling me this, I envisioned him wailing away to “King of the Road” by Fu Manchu.

He also used a jazz kit and we discussed some of the jazz influences that are present on the drums in this album. It has a bop feel at times, circa the 50’s recordings when a band would play live with one mic for all of them. Brant used 2 mics on the kit for most of the album. Nowadays, there are 2 mics just on the snare.

All of this came under the guise of him producing the album. Not only was he playing the drums but melding his voice harmonically with probably one of the best known singers to live and breathe in the desert, John Garcia.

When discussing vocals with Brant, he let me know that John really went out of his comfort zone on this album. You can hear it in the different tones in John’s voice and the phrasing. Brant said, “Obviously John is an amazing singer, but he came with some ideas to the recordings that truly blew me away.”

This is where I felt the album truly makes its mark. The vocal harmonies, the backups, the lyrics all add to the freshness of the Vista Chino sound.

Put that with the bass playing of Nick, running an Ampeg and an Orange head thru a 1x10 cabinet and going DI and transfusing the sounds together, it fits perfectly with the drums and guitar.

So, we have an album that is different from anything these 4 men had ever put out and yet it is such a cohesive listen. If you are in a band you know there has to be someone at the realm keeping the boat afloat, making sure the rock is rolling in its most wonderful form. This is the job of a producer.
The producer not only has to keep his finger on the pulse of the recording, the vibe, all the while thinking like a psychologist. When chatting about these many hats he wore, he was happy to wear them, and wear them well he did. As said before, this is evident after listening to the goods.

So, this leads us to the finished project. This album has a spirit of its own.  You can feel the emotions of each member, each chord, each snare hit and each vocal moment. Again, this helps when there is a trust of each member, coming together for the good of one thing, the music. This leads to spirituality, not only in music, but in real life.

This folks, is what makes the music shine through. It is the spirit that makes you feel good and makes you wanna do 80 in a 30mph zone.

The record has the lo-fi feel, the analog warmth and the communal spirit of 4 becoming 1.
When you can find that place, that Val Hala many strive to arrive at, not only are the musicians turned on, it is the lucky listener that enjoys being turned on. Turned on spiritually, musically, and emotionally.

So get out there and hear these tunes live, through a huge PA, with everything cranked and ripping. Feel it in your being, let the music for however long the gig is, tune out whatever is happening on the outside and let it take you on a journey of evolution that has become Vista Chino.

Brant let me know that they will be touring the states for 3 weeks, Europe for 6 weeks and then another 3 weeks in the states.

To sum up my chat with Brant, not only is he an amazing musician and now producer, but a man that has tackled the challenges of not just being in a band, and writing music, but music that makes you feel what the band was feeling while in his studio.

While being a gifted musician that is not the biggest thing I took from this interview. What I took is that even though he has played on some of the most monumental albums of this genre, he is an even better person. Brant has truly given his life to music and in return, has touched a lot of people, cares about his audience and was by far one of the most articulate and genuine people I have had the chance to speak with.

Thank you very much Brant and I am indeed a better person for having had the opportunity to be able to have spoken to you.

Eat a peach,


Words and interview by : Marc Gaffney

A massive thank you to Brant Bjork for taking the time to talk to us.  Also thanks to Marc Gaffney for his efforts in producing such an amazing article. Thanks brother. You can read our review of Peace here

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