Brant Bjork gets his music to the people



By Steve Newton

When Brant Bjork calls the Straight from a Southern California town named Joshua Tree, the first thing that comes to mind is U2: The Joshua Tree was the ’87 album that made the Irish quartet tops in pop music. But apart from acknowledging that “the trees are here,” Bjork isn’t sure of the connection between the title of that landmark disc and his high-desert home base. And he doesn’t really care. Unlike the multitudes who’ve snapped up tickets for U2’s imminent world tour, Bjork’s not particularly interested in the group.

“I can’t say that I’m a U2 fan,” he explains. “I respect their longevity, and I think they have some very cool credibility as far as what they do, but I can’t say the music moves me.”

So, who is this guy who dares defy the world’s most popular rock band? Turns out Bjork-no relation to the scrap-happy ex-Sugarcube from Iceland-has “some very cool credibility” himself. While still in high school he was the drummer for Kyuss, an early-’90s group that spearheaded a musical movement known as “stoner-rock”.
After recording three albums with them, Bjork left Kyuss-which also included Queens of the Stone Age mainstay Josh Homme-in 1993. “I think the term stoner-rock started getting thrown around a year or two after that,” he recalls, “so I wasn’t really around to see the initial tagging with that whole thing. I definitely don’t run around with a stoner-rock flag, but at the same time, I like rock music and I like to smoke pot.”

After Kyuss, Bjork spent plenty of high time slamming the skins with his surfer buddies in Fu Manchu, touring the world, and recording several albums with the underground skate-rock outfit. He released his debut solo album, Jalamanta, in ’99, and his third, Local Angel, last year. Unlike the electrified racket of his Kyuss and Fu Manchu days, Local Angel sees Bjork in a much mellower light; it’s laid-back to the point of being Jack Johnson-like.

“At the time what inspired me to write those songs was a kind of melancholy,” he relates. “I was maybe even a little depressed-but not in a bad way; in an inspiring and beautiful way. I didn’t want to compromise my true feelings, so I just made the record the way it should have been made for the vibe.”

The music on Local Angel and its rockier 2003 predecessor, Keep Your Cool, was performed entirely by Bjork. He also wrote the songs on both CDs himself, except for two Local Angel covers: Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” and “I Want You Around”, a semi-obscure Ramones number.

“It’s one of my favourite, if not my favourite, Ramones songs,” he says, “but my version doesn’t sound anything like the original track. The structure and the arrangement are totally different; I think the words are the only thing that are the same.”

Bjork’s fondness for the NYC punk legends runs deep. He dedicated Keep Your Cool to a young black kid he met while skateboarding at Venice Beach one day. The youngster’s Ramones T-shirt was what caught Bjork’s eye and led to a casual, but inspiring, exchange.

“Maybe I am a little out of touch,” he wrote in the CD’s liner notes, “but last I remembered you didn’t see 10-year-old black kids wearing Ramones T-shirts. That kid is cool and I hope he keeps it. This one’s for him.”

Bjork has been performing with his band the Bros-guitarist Cortez, drummer Mike Peffer, and bassist Dylan Roche-for about a year and a half. He’ll bring the quartet to the Brickyard on Wednesday (March 16), on a bill with Vic du Monte’s Idiot Prayer, which is led by another Kyuss alumnus, guitarist-vocalist Chris Cockrell. Bjork & the Bros will be previewing tunes from a CD they just cut and hope to have out by June on the L.A.-based indie label Bjork helps run, Duna Records.

“It seems to be working so far,” he says of the three-year-old label. “We have good independent distribution here in the States, and all over Europe and Australia and Canada. We’re slowly but surely getting the music to the people, without having to compromise on any level.”

Brant Bjork sounds off on the things enquiring minds want to know.On giving a special shout-out to Thin Lizzy leader Phil Lynott on the back of the Local Angel CD: “He’s just one of the many singer-songwriters that inspired me. I have a special place in my heart for Phil.”On the validity of a quote in an Aussie mag that describes Bjork and his band as being “the closest thing we’ll get to seeing the [Jimi] Hendrix Experience”: “Well, being on-stage and not in the crowd, I couldn’t really say. Seeing how Hendrix is obviously one of my favourite artists, I’m flattered as hell. It’s a pretty bold statement.”

On what the CD title Local Angel refers to: “Just tryin’ to take the beauty of an angel out of the religious connotations and more into a street-level thing. Just common faith amongst people, people being righteous and cool and following their hearts.”

On Queens of the Stone Age, the group led by former Kyuss bandmate Josh Homme: “They’re probably one of the more effective rock bands right now, and I’d say by the end of the year they should be pretty much the biggest band here in the States.”

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