KYUSS EARNED A REPUTATION FOR LEGENDARY DESERT PARTIES AND WINDSWEPT RIFFS. BLUES FOR THE RED SUN WAS THE ALBUM THAT SPARKED STONER ROCK
Armed with serious riffs, Kyuss broke out of the desert and took stoner rock to the world.
it’s 116˚F in California’s Palm Desert today – 46˚C in real money – a stifling, debilitating heat into which only the foolhardy venture. Not that there’s anywhere to venture to unless you like golf or antique shops. And it was here, in this most unlikely environment, that rock music – stoner rock, in particular – was changed forever, with the birth of a band called Kyuss, and their second album, Blues For The Red Sun.
The seeds were planted five years earlier, when 14-year-punk-rock-loving skateboarder and drummer Brant Bjork decided to form a band named Katzenjammer – German slang for hangover – with his best friend and budding bassist Chris Cockrell. Brant knew a kid from school, a Black Sabbath fan by the name of
Nick Oliveri, who was selling a bass to take up guitar, so he and Chris went to his place to see what was up. The trio jammed for a few months, and at the end of the summer recruited another local kid, Josh Homme, as their second guitarist.
“It was a tiny scene,” says Brant today. “That’s why it’s funny when there’s all these guys going, ‘Each little village in the desert, Palm Desert, Palms Springs, Indio, had their own little scene’, but even when we came together it was a small scene. So when you’re putting a band together, there were basically no options; we were the only guys who could have joined a band.”
When another local kid, John Garcia, joined as vocalist, they changed their name to Sons Of Kyuss, named after a character in the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, and released an eponymous EP in 1989. Thanks to YouTube, you can check out the EP, and it’s not at all bad for a bunch of young teenagers. The same can be said for their debut album, Wretch, from 1991, the band having shortened their name to Kyuss (Nick Oliveri, who had quit as guitarist before the EP, rejoined as bassist in time for the album, replacing Chris Cockrell).
More than 100 miles away from Los Angeles and the width of a continent from New York, Palm Desert had no outlets for young bands. Kyuss decided to take matters into their own hands. Setting up makeshift stages in the desert outside of town, they would play gigs to ever-growing crowds of friends. Part gig, part alfresco revelry, they became known as ‘generator parties’, due to the electrical generators used to power the band’s amps.
“Back in the day it was just punk rock, DIY, or our version of it,” says Brant. “DC, New York, and LA all had their scenes, and in the desert we had ours. There were no clubs to play at, especially back in the 80s. You’d go and hang out at McDonald’s because there was nothing to do, so we’d put bands together and just go and play out in the desert.”
These semi-legendary gigs have become part of the Kyuss myth over the years. But according to Brant, the reality was less glamorous than the idea.
“It was like Altamont every weekend,” he laughs, referring to the infamous 1969 Rolling Stones gig. “There was no security, no nothing. That’s what’s so ironic about people romanticising those parties. You had a lot of fun, but it was primal and dangerous.”
As word of these generator parties spread, so did Kyuss’s fame. But no one saw what was coming next. In 1992, while the rest of the world was either preoccupied with grunge or crying over the ashes of hair metal, Kyuss released Blues For The Red Sun. Heavy as lead but with a punk rock spirit, it sounded like nothing else around at the time.
Kyuss themselves knew they were sitting on something special with Blues For The Red Sun, even if they weren’t entirely comfortable with the ‘stoner rock’ tag that swiftly sparked up around them.
“We were definitely smoking pot,” affirms Brant, “and that was definitely a big part of our chemistry. In fact, I was smoking a joint when I came up with the whole concept for Blues For The Red Sun. Josh and I used to smoke a lot of weed together, and I think that’s what connected us, because we were very different as people; our ideologies, our background, our sense of humour, we couldn’t have been more different, and the weed really brought us together.”
Kyuss themselves had a bigger gripe with the fact they were perceived as a metal band when they considered themselves punk. Josh Homme frequently argued that despite their slow, heavy riffs, he was more into Black Flag than Black Sabbath.
“Josh was being honest when he said he wasn’t ever really a Black Sabbath fan,” agrees Brant. “He was always very comfortable with his punk rock roots. Heavy metal is a big genre; it has a tendency to pull everything in, and there’s not much you can do about it.
“WE gOT A lOT OF gunS
AnD STAbbingS” KYUSS’S DIY DESERT GIGS TURNED INTO
Nick Oliveri quit the band just prior to the release of Blues…, and was replaced by Scott Reeder (second from right), who’d remain in the band until their break-up
John Garcia: desert dreamin’
Dimebag Darrell proved that groove would outlive grunge