By Darryl Mason
"You think of the Californian desert and you'd think it would be just sand as far as the eye can see," says Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder, "but there's this huge mountain, three four miles out of Palm Springs, and this mountain is like ten thousand feet high, or something. And on the mountain there is this...oasis, it's incredible. Sand, lakes, waterfalls, palm trees. They call that place Sky Valley."
Sky Valley is also the name this band of the desert chose for their third studio album, the visually-enticing moniker doing mighty fine justice to the jus'-jammin' man, free-form heavy rock, or stoner rock as it's becoming known, that flows and glows all across this disc.
As Reeder explains, growing up on the desert exposes you to an amplified version of the standard bored-beyond-belief monotony of youth. But this is tempered by the majestic sunrises and sunsets that crawl through the open desert skies most days, and the stunning natural beauty of the earth. Not a mall or multi-plex cinema in sight.
Sky Valley, the town, is not well-known and most of the locals would prefer to keep it free of swarming tourists. For Reeder, and the rest of Kyuss, the area is very much a private world they almost have to themselves. On calm Sundays, Reeder likes to head to the summit to laze by the crystal clear pools of water with his wife, his dog and a big bucket of chicken. "Just kickin' back for a few hours," says Reeder
The dry heat and lack of entertainment across the desert does, however, invigour remarkable creativity within the young desert dwellers in their search for pleasurable pursuits.
Skurfing is a popular Sky Valley sport now rapidly gaining momentum across the US.
Throughout the farmed areas of the desert, long wide irrigation canals run dead straight lines for miles. With a trustworthy friend in a car or on a motorbike (roaring along the access road running parallel to the canals), a pair of water skies, a boogie-board or a surfboard and a tow rope lashed to the back of the vehicle, you are ready to skurf.
More and more young desert bands, like Kyuss did, are finding an alternative to the crowded club circuits of faraway LA and San Francisco in Generator Parties. Food, friends, the stage gear and a generator to kick out the power, held loud and wild, miles from neighbours (and police) under the open desert skies.
For a band who create such heavy, relentless thunder rolls of music, as you'll hear all over the Sky Valley album, Kyuss lack the offstage intensity and paranoia of so many of the LA and New York street-spawned metal outfits.
Time passes slowly in the desert, plans are hazily made, life cruises along in the shade and that's just how Kyuss like it to be.
"A lot of the inspiration comes from just driving around," says Reeder, "without the stereo on, just making up your own thoughts....looking at just how fuckin' beautiful the desert can be, how beautiful the nights can be...."
Kyuss recorded Sky Valley in two weeks of casual sessions (and we mean Sessions), which Reeder prefers to call "just a jam, really."
"It's really free-form in the studio. There were a lot of ideas floating around in our heads before we went in, but not many of them really came into focus before we started. I think this is the best way we can work. We'd start recording in the early afternoon, have some red wine, whatever else, then we'd turn down the lights and just go for it till early morning....
"We tell people 'yeah, two weeks' and they're like horrified 'Wooahh!', but it was really relaxed in there, you have to be relaxed."
Sky Valley powers along on bass-pummelled, guitar churned heavy rock, owing more to the slower burns of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than anything current. Songs like the booming 100%, the fluid earthquakes of Supa Scoopa and Conan Troutman and calmer outings like the acoustic coastings of Space Cadet reveal Kyuss carrying on the sounds of their last album, the mammothic Blues For The Red Sun, insurging them with new thunder, scores of flickering riffs and plenty of surging, circling swirls of speaker-cracking lead-heavy rhythm.
The band has an instantly recognisable sound, though for the most part, and certainly not a bad thing in any sense, Sky Valley is more of a second chapter to Blues For The Red Sun than an entirely new creative beginning. Any who have previously been infected with the bombastic, surreal sounds of Blues For The Red Sun will be already drooling when Sky Valley slips into their player.
There is, however, no great secrets to their unique sound.
"That's just how we sound when we play," shrugs Reeder, "we didn't try to sound any certain way. Like when we play, we don't use a set-list, we just play what we feel and what the audience seems to want to hear. We just go out there and see what happens....same in the studio.
"These guys never had a guitar tuner before I fucked it up and joined the band. They'd go onstage and the first song would be The Tuning Song. And as they'd play the tuning would just drift lower and lower, and then when they finally lost tuning, it sounded right."
One secre of their sound, if you want a spoiler, is guitars are often played through a bass amp. That's some instant thunder.
Australian heavy rock fans got a rare live taste of Kyuss, when the band suddenly appeared as the opening act on Metallica's 1992 Australian tour. The Sydney Entertainment Centre was mostly empty when Kyuss took the stage, and blasted out their tunes, while the foyer bars were crush-crowded with thousands whipping down as many drinks as they could in preperation for Metallica. It didn't matter, Kyuss loved touring Australia with Metallica, and those who did actually see them open came away raving.
"We found out we were going to tour Australia with Metallica less than a week before we got there," laughs Reeder. "It was crazy, a total last minute thing."
Kyuss prefer to make the sort of ambient musical flows that help the listener escape reality, instead of ramming the real world straight into the face. This is music to blast loud and drift slowly along to. The lyrics sound mostly senseless and little of Kyuss' music is out to set any new precedents.
But Kyuss couldn't care less about meaningful wordplays, snappy choruses, the Big Radio Hit, pop/rock song structure in general nor do they give a hoot about MTV rotation.
"We haven't done a video," says Reeder, "they can be weird things...they can be cool too, but 99% of the time they're just commercials for your record.
"It's just weird....when I was a kid I was into Pink Floyd and once I actually saw a video, or even a photograph of them, it took some of the mystery away. I like Tool's videos, the ones with all the animation, the band wasn't even in the video.
"I hate it when there's some guy right in front of the camera singing....it's like 'Fuck Off! Get Outta Here!'"