Kyuss - Biography
If they had hailed from Seattle, they doubtless would have garnered as much popularity as Soundgarden and Screaming Trees. But without the sound-shaping mysticism of the California desert, where they played for free, party after party, their amplifiers powered only by generators which were powered by gasoline, Kyuss just wouldn't be Kyuss. And, as any follower of hard rock (or particularly, “stoner rock,” a sub-genre Kyuss is credited with pioneering) knows, that would be a horrible shame.
Sons of Kyuss were formed by John Garcia (vocals), Josh Homme (guitar), Chris Cockrell (bass), and Brant Bjork (drums). They had met in high school in Palm Desert, California, and decided to cull their various influences together to form this band in 1989, taking their name from a character in Dungeons & Dragons. After dark, in the small, desert-swept towns of southern California, as well as their uninhabited outer-reaches, Sons of Kyuss played at parties that would come to be called “desert parties” or “generator parties.” Playing at these gatherings, where friends and fans would drink beer as they watched the band, made the group tighter and more focused, as the gigs were free to attend and no one was shy about telling them how they sounded.
With a local following now formed, Sons of Kyuss released a self-titled LP that is now as rare as a California snowstorm. Cockrell left the band shortly after the LP's release, and was replaced by Nick Oliveri. The band decided to shorten their name to Kyuss. As the name was shortened, their audience was widened, and they were signed to independent label Dali Records in 1990. Their debut album proper, Wretch, was released in 1991 on Dali. The album, poor in its production and lacking in grandiosity, failed to capture the sound that fans knew Kyuss to be capable of from attending the desert parties. Thanks to a subsequent tour, however, the band were able to showcase the intensity of their live performance, and their popularity continued to grow.
The group were now gaining the attention of a few of their peers, and Masters of Reality singer and guitarist, Chris Goss, was among them, liking the band so much that he took on the task of producing their follow-up to Wretch. If that album gave the listener the effect of hearing the band from outside of a soundproof room, Goss' mission was to bring the listener inside that room. He pulled this off and then some with the recording of Blues for the Red Sun (1992 Dali), a highly listenable hard rock album considered by many to be a touchstone of stoner rock. To give too much credit to Goss' production would detract from the noticeable improvements of the band members themselves and especially the compositions of Josh Homme, who was now playing his guitar through a bass amp and tuning it lower, pervading the album with a muddy, sludgy hum.
Interest in the band picked up even more, and they toured the US in support of the bands Faith No More and Danzig. After that, Metallica welcomed them for a tour of Australia. Although things were going swimmingly for Kyuss, the Dali label was not faring so well, and the band signed with Elektra in 1993, leaving Dali on the verge of bankruptcy. Another shakeup occurred when Oliveri decided to part ways with the group, leaving the bass slot empty. Scott Reeder, formerly of the Obsessed, was quickly acquired, and the band pressed on.
Again teaming up with Chris Goss, the group recorded their self-titled third album (now known as Welcome to Sky Valley because of the sign shown on the cover) for a 1994 release on Elektra. It was a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, and the band displayed some artistry in divvying up the songs into three extra-long tracks, with the quick and hilarious one-off “Lick Doo” closing the album as the only stand-alone track.
After a subsequent fall tour in support of the new album, the differences that had plagued the band for some time had come to a head for at least one member. Brant Bjork, no longer finding the band to be worth the struggle, called it quits and was replaced by Alfredo Hernandez, a skilled drummer with a background in jazz. The new incarnation recorded one final Kyuss album, 1995's ...And the Circus Leaves Town (Elektra). The effort was ultimately a digression of the creativity and energy that the band had displayed on their two previous albums. One final argument between Garcia and Homme brought Kyuss to their end later that year. Muchas Gracias: The Best of Kyuss, which was actually more of a collection of rarities and live tracks than a greatest hits package, was released in 2000 on Elektra.
The members of Kyuss would turn up in each other's future projects, and some would stay with one another for a considerably long time before differences again quashed the arrangements. Garcia worked with a straight-forward desert rock band called Slo Burn for a while before singing for Unida, a band that reunited him with Reeder. That band is now defunct, and Garcia has since lent his voice to various, little-known bands. Brant Bjork started his own band for which he played guitar and sang. That band, Che, featured his former Kyuss replacement, Hernandez, on drums. Bjork also became Fu Manchu's full-time drummer. Josh Homme did a short stint for Screaming Trees as their touring rhythm guitarist, and then did a lot of production work and collaborative recording with other artists including Ben Sheperd of Soundgarden, PJ Harvey, Dean Ween of Ween, and Bjork and Hernandez of Kyuss. These recordings were released as Desert Sessions in different volumes throughout the late 90's and early 2000's.
Homme borrowed from those songs and wrote new ones for his next project, Queens of the Stone Age, which saw him reunited with Oliveri and Hernandez. The latter two musicians are no longer with QOTSA, but Homme remains at the helm, having achieved greater commercial success than any member of his now-legendary former band.