In-depth with BRANT BJORK: “Every record I’ve ever made is political.”

Written by Interview, Interview

BRANT BJORK is releasing his thirteenth solo album, “one more” you’d say. He stopped counting, and so have we, because what matters most is that Brant Bjork keeps treating us to his modern, heart-warming and unique 60s and 70s-infused soundtrack for a while. So when it comes to more personal questions, the Blues – his Blues – prevails. Every project in which Brant Bjork has taken part got instantly cool, certainly because he’s an inherently genuine artist. New album “Mankind Woman” is no exception: even though it is filled with nods to classic rock, the energy sticks to our time 100%. The fire and power that drive him not only come from the depths of his soul, it also has to do with outside factors such as Trump’s America – something he couldn’t disagree more with. In the end, in this retro-modern, personal and committed soundtrack, we found Brant Bjork’s own “What’s Going On”.
We’re at the beginning of September. A warm night breeze reminds me that the summer isn’t over yet, making this overseas conversation with the Low Desert Punk even smoother. The new album release is an excuse to discuss music in general, as well as his own vision of the art. And when such a learned man speaks, you listen and ponder. Everyone should do that. Lucky readers: The Heavy Chronicles unveils this in-depth interview with the desert rock pionneer in its entirety. (COVER PHOTO: Aija Svensson)

You have taken part to the Stoned & Dusted Party on Labor Day, a gig that was obviously close to your heart. Can you tell more about this party, for those who were born on the wrong side of the globe?

Brant Bjork: We decided years ago with my friend and manager that we wanna start having a yearly event out in the desert. A kind of a more organized desert generator party that we used to have back in the 80s and 90s. We tried to take a piece of that concept, put it together and bring it up to date. But it’s just all about going to the desert, playing rock music with friends, with beer, wine & good food. And have fun. That’s the whole point.

The desert remains at the center of your artistic and personal life. Do you still have the same connection with it? I mean as a kid, you had no place to gig and had to find a spot where nobody would bother you… What drags you in the middle of nowhere nowadays? 

BB: I spend a lot of my artistic time in the desert but I also spend a lot of my personal time in Venice Beach, L.A. This is were I live full-time with my family. But you know, the desert has changed in a lot of ways, just like a small town evolves over time… (thoughtful) I think it’s an interesting question you ask, as people mostly want to remind the romantic part about the desert back in those days, all these parties and music… But a lot of it was pretty scary and sometimes dangerous. And sometimes just bad things happened. People mostly forget that. It wasn’t the best environnement for security and safety, but it was an intense environnement to music, drug use… and freedom. Now the desert is just about the natural beauty, the peacefulness, and this is what Stoned & Dusted is all about. We removed the teenage angst, the danger, the fightings, the weapons… We removed all that and and we can now smoke a joint, have a glass of wine or a beer, just listen to good music and really enjoy it.

“A lot of these desert parties back in the days were pretty scary and sometimes dangerous. And sometimes just bad things happened. People mostly forget that.”

Photo: Kip Dawkins

A lot of your songs have become instant classics, but I particularly like the eponymous song on your previous album “Tao Of The Devil”. It perfectly summarizes the sound you have been crafting since your solo debut, like a dark blue lament over tantalizing rhythms. It’s an invitation to find our own Tao, as well as introspection…

BB: You’re certainly not wrong. Your opinion, it’s pure, I mean how you feel it, see it, hear it… This is your authentic reaction and that’s awesome. However, I do agree with you that when it comes to my solo music the blues is at the center of it. I’m not looking to play pure blues, I wouldn’t consider myself as a blues musician, but when it comes to my songs, my expressions, the blues is at the heart of it.

Many fans like to see you as the “Godfather of Desert Rock”, yet when it comes to personal subjects, I would rather describe you as a shaman. Do you relate?

BB: Yeah, I’d probably be more confortable with the shaman than the godfather of anything else, really. A shaman makes good sense, it’s someone who journeys, goes within and helps others.

And heals others …

BB: Right. I wanna help other people discover themselves, not just discover me. I mean, my music inspires people to play music and that’s a beautiful thing, you know. They should play their own music and I’m happy to inspiring them to do that.

We are talking about exploring our soul, as well as the desert and its vastness. In a way, could the desert help explore this secretive part of us ?

BB: We basically all are an extension of our environnement. When I discover an artist, the first question I ask myself is where this person is from. It allows me to understand the environnement of what this art came from. The desert, for me growing up, was just this huge open area… There wasn’t a lot of distraction but a lot of forced meditation, because you’re just in this secluded area, and it landed itself to creativity. I started out with skateboarding and punk rock, and I got burnt out on that. Then I decided that music is where I want to be and where I want to explore. The desert helped me to take my time. I just went deeper and deeper into myself and in any music I was attracted to, like jazz, blues, funk, Jamaican music and, of course, all the great music from the 60s and 70s.

“I decided that music is where I want to be and where I want to explore. The desert helped me to take my time.”

Photo: Karl Hahn

You have recently signed on Heavy Psych Sounds and announced the reissuing of almost all your discography on vinyl and digital. How did you get involved in that process?

BB: You know, I’ve been making records for a long time and when you do something to this long, you start to see opportunities like record labels better overtime. When they’re interested working with this kind of music, that’s a reward for me. I look at Gabriele (Fiori, Heavy Psych Sounds owner) and his label and I feel he’s providing a service for artists like myself. It was a no-brainer for us to work with him. And the idea was not just about putting out new music, it was also to go back and reissue and celebrate my catalog. That was something I wouldn’t be confortable doing with just any label. I’m always interested in doing it with the personal of a label that’s really focused on this kind of music, and who is really supporting this kind of movement. We’re excited to go back and I’m pretty sure we’re planning to re-release all my back catalog and new music as well, yes.

Let’s talk about your new album “Mankind Woman”. First single “Chocolatize” fits right in this 60s and 70s inspired “modern classic” vibe you’ve been talking about… What is the vibe you wanted to project?

BB: Well, the record kinda projects its own vibe. I worked really hard not to try squeezing this record too much or put it in some particular place. I allowed it to make itself, so I was just as excited to see the result as anybody else. All recordings represent a time and space, you know. It’s 2018 and there is a lot of heaviness in the air right now, especially in USA, and I think the record reflects that. I think when we’ll listen back years from now, we’ll be able to remember what were the energy and vibration like during this time. When I listen to a song from 1968, and I think about that this person created this in 1968 and I’m really lucky to be able to listen to it today.

You talk about the heaviness in the air in the USA: is this album political in a way? You never talked about it so openly before. As an artist, do you think the time we live needs to do something ?

BB: That’s really interesting… Well, ALL my records are political. Every record I’ve ever made is political. It’s not always blatant or direct in my creativity that I relate to politics, but they are definitely involved in everything I do. It’s a motivating factor. I mean, even a song that I wrote 25 years ago for Kyuss, “Green Machine”, is a political song. It’s about what’s happening right now. A lot of the music on this record is a little more direct because there is lot of political heat, there is a political fire burning and you know, things just get spitted out in such a way… If you look back and study my catalog – during the Bush years for example – I was really frustrated so if you’re listening closely, you’ll hear what I’m saying. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, but it’s all there.

“A lot of the music on this record is a little more direct because there is lot of political heat, there is a political fire burning and you know, things just get spitted out in such a way.”

A good reason to dive in your discography! So this record should be considered as a snapshot of the heat going on?

BB: Let me be clear: I’m an artist. The definition of politics is really abstract. The way we dress is politics, the way you walk to the store is political. A politician who is actually involved is gonna have an entirely different prospect of the term, what it means and how to behave. But me not being a politician and being an artist, I have my own idea of what politics is and could be. That’s probably why it’s so hard for towns and cities, states and countries to get well run. It’s difficult because everybody has it’s own idea of what politics are! Spirituality is all part of my records too. But yes, this record represents my feelings on what’s going on in my immediate world right now.

The album title sounds like an ode to all women. Before I listened to the record, I thought there was a reference to the Weinstein affair or maybe a word against this President – who is more likely to grab women by the pussy…

BB: I’m referring to all of it and none of it simultaneously. During 8 years we had this wonderful president, Barack Obama, he was the first Afro-American president in America, which was a tremendous gift and also an amazing victory. In our democracy, every 8 or 4 years, we change our leaders. Hillary Clinton was set and I think a lot of Americans were really prepared for our first woman president. Some might suggest that she might not be the best “woman option”, but I think we’re all shocked and stunned that she lost. I think some of us figured out where the mistakes were made, and how the mechanics didn’t lead to victory… but she lost. It’s sad that we lost the opportunity to follow up the first Afro-American president with our first woman president. We were so close to a wonderful jump and lead forward in an evolution as a country. But instead not only she loose: she lost DONALD TRUMP. I think a lot of the country is still in a state of shock and you know, I’m one of those men who loves women. They are gods gift to men (laughs).

Women are indeed a recurring topic in your discography.

BB: Man, I love women. I recognize them as the smarter of the two species. I don’t feel their pain but I try to understand it because, you know, could you imagine being a woman in America and watching Hillary Clinton loose to Donald Trump? Seriously??? I mean the thing he says…

It’s ugly.

BB: It’s just ugly, it’s terrible. So “Mankind Woman” was a celebration of women as a song, and if you read the lyrics, it’s my description to my belief that women actually run the show. And a fool like Donald Trump who would think he’s actually in charge of running things… It’s just a testament of how ignorant he really is. I didn’t plan on it being the name of the record but when came the time to find a name, people very close to me suggest this would be probably it and I couldn’t find a reason why not…

“It’s sad that we lost the opportunity to follow up the first Afro-American president with our first woman president. We were so close to a wonderful jump as a country. (…) “Mankind Woman” is a celebration of women, and if you read the lyrics, it’s my description to my belief that women actually run the show. “

Photo: Gaël Mathieu

You never played or recorded with women. This probably would be a good reason for a new project?

BB: I worked in the studio with women many times. I haven’t had women in my bands, but I wouldn’t be opposed to that. My wife might be! (laughs) She might be a little like “Hey what are you doing with all this beautiful women travelling around the world, huh ?” But I’m open to the idea for sure.

About bandmates, one guy is recurrent: Bubba Dupree, who was credited on your last two records. Is he a confidant more than just a bandmate? 

BB: Yeah, 100%. I have been a fan of Bubba’s guitar playing for many years even before we were friends, and then we became friends, and then bandmates. I think every great artist is likely to have a partner that you’re able to bounce ideas off, work together. He’s in a lot of ways my left hand now, we are really able to work close… and I’m that for him. I’m very lucky to establish this relationship and it’s probably the result of searching, working hard and being patient… If you pick the wrong person, it could be the opposite as a result. But Bubba IS the right guy ! We are not looking to be rock stars, I’m not looking to be famous, we are not looking to get rich: we are looking to make great music. That’s the house we try to build. A house made of great music.

According to your experience, what makes a good song ?

BB: It’s conviction. I’ve studied music my whole life. I never went to school for music, I don’t even read it but like Bob Marley said : “it’s not education, it’s inspiration“. You know ? I understand that. That’s kinda how I look music. That’s not to suggest you shouldn’t learn music and study it – everybody has its own way – but for me, it’s about inspiration. I hear a lot of music that is crafted, manipulated, exploited, and that doesn’t always move me, because I don’t hear any human element. I don’t hear conviction. Nowadays, it’s getting harder to find music that has the human element, because technology enables people to put beats and “songs” together… It’s really an extension of convenient technology. A song is a human expression. Great songs are timeless ; they get passed down to generations because someone actually spoke their truth, spoke their heart. I think that’s what make a great song and that’s what people hear.

“Great songs are timeless ; they get passed down to generations because someone actually spoke their truth, spoke their heart. I think that’s what make a great song and that’s what people hear.”

I find that most of the time, the role of a drummer is highly underrated compared to others band members. According to you, what is precisely the role of drums in a good song?

BB: Behind every good band is a drummer. I once saw a documentary about jazz and there was this comment from Branford Marsalis who went up to Elvin Jones (who played for John Coltrane) and asked him “How do you play with such intensity like that with the rest of the band?” and Elvin Jones said, “You gonna be willing to die with the motherfuckers!”. The way Brandford Marsalis told the story is great because he confessed he first laughed but then, he realized Elvin Jones was fucking serious! If you have a drummer that is willing to die with the band, then you’re on the way to making some good music, man!

You’re a talented drummer ; you must still kick some beats at home. Any chance to see you behind the kit on a new project?

BB: Yeah, I got a couple of different kind of projects where I’m playing drums, so… yeah that could happen.

Dave Grohl recently released “Play” – a 23-minute track where he performs seven different instruments. It seems to be more of a challenge than anything else, but would you be interested in such an experience?

BB: I made recordings where I played a lot of different instruments: drums, piano, bass, guitars… One time George Clinton said “just because you can play all the instruments doesn’t mean you should”. When I first started making solo records – “Jalamanta” is a perfect example – I made all of it and played all the instruments, because I just did not have the time to gather musicians or couldn’t afford them (laughs). Being a solo artist all these years has allowed me to assemble musicians that I wanna play with, because I love playing with musicians. That’s what I wanna do. Period.

Thirteen solo albums means a lot in today’s industry. You have built a varied discography, blended many genres and atmospheres, while shaping your own sound. This is a testament to your freedom – a common thread in your records. Is that what being punk really means?

BB: Yeah. My motive as a musician has not changed since I was 12 or 13 years old. When I was a kid, I loved The Ramones, Black Flag, The Sex Pistols… The music was important to me because it lit my fire, you know. Then I used that fire to smoke a joint, I started to listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and a lot of sixties music… I started exploring what was inside of me and looking for musical truth, you know… So yes, when I say “Low Desert Punk”, I mean, I’ll always be a punk rocker for sure.

At last, it was damn hot this summer in Europe. Maybe too hot for any metalhead. Mister Cool, as you were born in the heat of California, any advice for your fans to survive in the desert or when it’s hot as hell?

BB: That’s funny! When you’re a dedicated punk rocker or a heavy metal guy, wearing your boots, your leather jacket, you guys have your hair all done… (laughs) When it’s fucking hot outside and you have a hard time getting in your costume, stay inside, man! And come up at night, you know!

Have fun at night!

BB: Right, we’re skateboarding at night! We were used to bring a light and go skateboarding at 10pm during the summer. We found a lamp out in the street and we stayed around that lamp ‘til the morning. You have to get used to do your shit at night!

Thank you very much, we hope to see you in France in November during your European tour. It was an honor and a pleasure talking to you about music and your album.

BB: My pleasure!

New album “Mankind Woman” is out now on Heavy Psych Sounds

Brant Bjork on tour this fall:
05.10.18 CAN Calgary @ The Palomino
06.10.18 CAN Edmonton @ Free Mason Hall (DJ SET ONLY)
07.10.18 CAN Edmonton @ The Starlite w/ Earthless
09.10.18 CA San Diego @ Spacebar
10.10.18 CA Los Angeles @ The Redwood w/ Nebula
11.10.18 NV @ Vamp’d
12.10.18 CA Pioneertown @ Pappy & Harriets w/ Nebula
13.10.18 CA Long Beach @ Alex’s Bar w/ Earthless
16.10.18 MEX Hermosillo @ Pizza Del Perro Negro w/ Sgt. Papers
18.10.18 MEX Merida @ Pizza Del Perro Negro
20.10.18 MEX Mexico City @ Pizza Del Perro Negro/Rabioso
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
02.11.18 NO Drammen @ Union Scene
03.11.18 SW Stockholm @ Debaser Strand
04.11.18 SW Göteborg @ Sticky Fingers
05.11.18 SW Malmö @ Kulturbolaget
06.11.18 DE Hamburg @ Fabrik
07.11.18 NL Amsterdam @ Melkweg
08.11.18 BE Leuven @ Het Depot
09.11.18 UK London @ Garage
10.11.18 FR Paris @ Petit Bain
11.11.18 NL Tilburg @ O13
12.11.18 DE Wiesbaden @ Schlachthof
13.11.18 CH Zürich @ Rote Fabrik
14.11.18 CH Martigny @ Caves Du Manoir
15.11.18 IT Turin @ Spazio 211
16.11.18 AT Innsbruck @ Hafen (Heavy Psych Sounds Festival)
17.11.18 DE Munich @ Feierwerk
18.11.18 AT Vienna @ Arena
19.11.18 DE Dresden @ Beatpol
20.11.18 DE Berlin @ Festsaal Kreuzberg

Last modified: 18 September 2018