Stöner—the recently-formed trio of guitarist Brant Bjork (ex-Kyuss), bassist Nick Oliveri (ex-Kyuss, ex-Queens of the Stone Age) and drummer Ryan Gut (Brant Bjork)—are having a great time. Coming out of the gate with a live album, Live from the Mojave Desert, in April 2021 and their debut album, Stoners Rule, in June.
Running on momentum and love for the music they play, Stöner are back with their second record, Totally… Bjork and company wear their influences on the band’s sleeve—Blue Öyster Cult, MC5, The Stooges, Blue Cheer, the desert and whatever they were smoking during the writing process. The final product is 40-odd minutes of classic-sounding stoner rock and energetic punk rock, never taking itself too seriously.
Decibel caught up with Bjork to learn more about the new band and scored an early stream of Totally…, out tomorrow, May 6, on Heavy Psych Sounds.
Totally… is your second studio album in two years and you also did a live record in 2021. When you started the band, did you have a lot of ideas or did it just happen that you have organic chemistry and music just flows out?
It was both. I had been sitting on a batch of songs that I didn’t want to just throw on a solo record. I felt like they were the kind of songs, and I was going in a direction, that warranted a band. And I kind of wanted a band.
I’ve been recording, working and performing as a solo artist for 20 years and to be perfectly honest, I’m burned out on that. I wanted to get back into the band situation and the collaborative effort and then this event popped up and it was the perfect opportunity for me to put a band together, which I did.
Just to get the ball rolling downhill, I took all these songs that I had, threw them at the rhythm section, which I knew they would crush, and then we got our legs and we’re up and running.
Now that you’re up and running, would you say that you just keep up that pace?
Yeah. Those songs are the foundation from which the band can just “become.” It was just the foundation of it all. Now that it’s laid down and we went and recorded that first record, which we had no intention of releasing. It was just us documenting where we were at at that moment. When we recorded that first record, I think we’d played those songs a total of eight times.
Now that we’ve got our thing together, our foundation, it’s all about collaborating and throwing stuff at each other and having fun with it.
You and Nick have played in some pretty high-profile bands in the genre. Do you feel any pressure to reach a certain standard or is this just you guys having fun?
Nick and I coming together and playing this music and going back to our roots and calling this band Stöner indicates that we’re done with the pressure. We’ve been doing our thing for many years. Some efforts have been more high-profile than others, but the bottom line is, what do you get as a reward for doing what we’ve been doing all these years? You get together with your oldest bro from growing up and you get to make music and have fun with it, man. That’s what we’re doing. There’s no pressure, man.
All of the songs seem to be about playing rock music and they’re fun, not really breaking any new ground.
I think that’s perfectly warranted. Our ambitions are to have fun. And that’s not to say that we don’t want to put out the best music that we’re currently working on. Of course Nick and I will always have the standards that we were raised on with our influences but we also know that, as far as those influences and all that good stuff we were raised on, a lot of that stuff, we don’t want to overthink it. That’s where it starts to lose a lot of its magic and its primal energy.
I guess keeping that intact is as important as any musical ideas you go in with.
It’s a challenge in itself. It’s a full circle thing. I had heard this interview not too long ago where Mike Watt described how when the Minutemen were coming together, him and D. Boon had serious chops. They were schooled on playing Zeppelin and Blue Öyster Cult and stuff, so they could fucking play but punk rock made them reassess what they were doing musically.
It’s an art thing, man. It’s like going back to the root. It’s like, “Alright, you’re an amazing painter, but if you only had three colors, what would you do?” I like that. I can’t say it’s that philosophical for Nick—I would guess that’s not something he ultimately cares about and rightfully so, but for me there is a little bit of a philosophy to it, where I just want to do a 180 and go back home. That itself is a challenge too.
Were there certain bands you were jamming a lot when you were working on these songs?
You have literal influences that might inspire you to go in a particular direction with your music and then there’s inspirations that inspire you in terms of vibe. I think, for me, I remember driving my family to Baja during lockdown and my boys were on a trip where they were listening to a lot of Beastie Boys. I forgot how much I love the Beastie Boys.
What I took from that was they just wanted to have fun, man. Their whole trip was “if it feels good and it’s fun and it makes us enjoy our trip, then we’re going to pursue that” and that’s exactly what Stoner’s all about. So I did take that as an influence going into new music.
Direct influences are as I mentioned. That’s how Nick and I became friends when we were kids in the mid-80s. He was into metal and I was into metal, then the unthinkable happened and punk and metal started to collide. It’s interesting because that’s how Nick and I became friends. Music brought us together and we’ve been bros ever since. Those bands we loved and shared with each other when we were young, those are our influences. Ramones and The Damned and Black Flag and Motorhead and AC/DC and all that shit. We still love that stuff. When Nick and I get together, we’re still rocking out to the same old shit.
Totally… has that feeling of “We’re just friends playing what we want to play. This is what we listen to, so this is what we want to play.”
That was my understanding of what people were starting to refer to as stoner rock. That, to me, is what I always assumed it was. Obviously stoner rock wasn’t a term that was around when we were in Kyuss, but as years rolled on and I started to hear this term more and more, I didn’t have a problem with it. I thought, “Well, alright. A lot of us are just smoking doobs and getting together and playing the music we love.”
There wasn’t this ultimate plan or message. We’re just celebrating getting together and jamming out the kind of rock you enjoy.