Wednesday 21 January 2015

From The Desert To The Sky, A Chat with Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson

Music is a way of life, a funnelling of cosmic status and simply ensures a smile on your face when things are looming over you like a tsunami in a Walmart. When perfected, it is an extension of the heart and soul, gently reminding us why without certain players in the game, the rock would not roll.

Put yourself in the mood of 1986-87, generator blasting away and the sonic explosion is one dripping with so many wonderful influences that your mind is taking meticulous notes of the playlist. Cerebrally overflowing with joy as the best of punk, rock, Height Ashbury scene (Grateful Dead) and the guitar feed backed drench of Neil Young simmer in a pot of delicious musicality. Ladies and gentleman insert Yawning Man. Low and behold the Godfathers of Desert Rock.

Mario Lalli, Gary Arce, Larry Lalli and Alfredo Hernandez, the four founding members of this monumental influential quartet that changed the way people listened and approached the art of writing and presenting music. Simply put, it categorically re-arranged the approach taken when the needle hit the record.

Flash to 1994, the place is Rhythm and Brews, the nightclub of Mario and Tony Lalli. These 2 had already been legends of the scene, just happened to grab for my vote one of the most sinister backbeats in the universe of one Tony Tornay. These three for my buck brought the best of Mountain, Neil Young, the SST bands and the snarl of old school blues to a whole different level. If Mississippi Queen and Cortez the Killer had a child, the name is Fatso Jetson.

By the grace of the Sludgelord, I was able to be humbled in my existence and spend a few hours talking to:

Gary Arce, hands down a six string gun slinger of undeniable proportion in any domain of music, driving the echo and sustain in Yawning Man.

Mario Lalli, bass player, guitarist, vocalist, artist, you name it, he has done it and done it well my friends and has done it to a T with Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson.

Also, the man that leaves the four on the floor and just coming off the road with Brant Bjork, Fatso Jetson percussionist Tony Tornay.

We spoke regarding the tour that will be happening in February and the recording process that they have taken and our taking to give their loyal fans a new taste of ambient, Yawning Man and a delicious helping of straight up groove via Jetson.

If you are lucky enough to catch one of these acts you are smiling, throw in the two of them, excuse me is this thing on, that is right amigos, both in the same venue. You do not have to drive across town, fighting traffic, weaving the perils of rotary bullshit; you grab a cocktail, a smoke, a Fresca, whatever gets your shang tanged.

Simply said your auditory system is in for musical sangria. Excuse me Flo that was scrumptious, can I get another? If you are in overseas in February then yes you may. Sit back and enjoy as I get a lesson in the art of real musicianship by musicians that still do it for all the right reasons.

Gaff- Thanks so much for sitting down and speaking with me.

Gary - No problem

Tony - My pleasure

Mario - Thank you for taking the time

Yawning Man

Gaff - Can you bring me back to starting Yawning Man in the late 80’s

Gary - Mario, Alfredo and I were playing in a band called the Breed before Yawning Man. high school days, hard core punk rock. I ended up moving away to San Diego for a year or so and Mario, Alfredo & Scott moved to L.A. They started playing shows as Across the River and eventually moved back home to the desert. Mario’s family had a house in La Quinta that they all moved into and converted the garage into a studio space.

Larry Lalli eventually moved in shortly before I moved back home from S.D. and into the house as well. Across the River was winding down at this point. Scott Reeder had been offered a tour and album with The Obsessed (Wino) and moved out to L/A to peruse that. Mario, Larry and Alfredo were messing around with some jams but not doing much, playing once in a while. When I moved in, Alfredo and I started jamming and when Mario and Larry got home from work we would all just jam all night. Our sound grew out of this free flowing jamming.

The band played alot, especially in the garage & generator jams, we did record a couple things on 4 track cassette “The Birth of Sol” 1987-88. It was way different back then. None of us had jobs or were in school so we had time and being from a small town there really was not much else to do but play music and drink beers. We had the time to be creative and being from the desert, we were not affected by the happenings in LA at that time. Looking back, it really helped us to come up with our own sound.

We did not fall for any of the trends or the flavor of the months that were occurring in LA. The band morphed into “the Sort of Quartet” around 89 with the same line up we played alot more live and recorded 4 LPs, The first three for SST records and the last was on Crippled Dick Hot Wax. Yawning Man flame kept alive though and the flowing jam and spacious vibe brought us back to basics again. Myself, Mario & Alfredo began writing new material to be recorded in 2005.

After that the band got some offers to tour as the desert scene had become better known through Kyuss and QOTSA. The first tour, actually Mario was not able to perform with us. There has been a few bass players in and out (Billy Cordel, Zachary) but mostly Mario, myself, Alferdo then Bill Stinson. I met Bill through Gregg Ginn. We collaborated on projects such as Ten East, Dark Tooth Encounter, Perfect Rat. So it was a natural fit with Mario and I.

Mario - I grew up with all these guys Gary, Alfredo, my cousin Larry we lived in the same house together for 10 years and we kicked out a lot of music together in the late 80s early 90s. I love playing with Gary and am really excited to tour and record with Yawning Man. I am doing both bands and really love doing it. We were into so-many different things musically from Latin Jazz, to Black Flag. We loved radical musicianship by musicians that could split skulls. There was never a thought of looking or sounding a certain way, it was always about the music and also the art that surrounded our music.

We had this whole re discovery of music as we listened to as kids. Zep, Mountain, Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Frank Marino, Jeff Beck, the Yardbirds, and Hendrix. Then, the natural progression was into punk rock, up the dosage. We obsessed over the SST bands like Black Flag, Minute Men, Saccharine Trust, Blind Idiot God, Meat Puppets, The Ramones for me were huge, Dead Boys, Richard Hell, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, Germs, Adolescents, and Butthole Surfers. Then we got into collecting more obscure psychedelic stuff and as we got older we wanted to play and write from instinct, feeling dynamics, volume, time, we jammed endlessly. A lot of it was noise and a lot was fucking insane, which eventually became songs and parts that would roll into each other.

We discovered Jazz, Bebop and really loved the improvisational quality of music. Got into the experimental guitar players such as Marc Ribot, John Abercrombie, Nels Kline, Sonny Sharrock and realized that Yawning Man could play whatever we wanted.

Fatso Jetson

Gaff - So in terms of being in Jetson since in 94, looking back, are you in awe of where the musical scene has taken you?

Tony - Starting in the desert it was just something you did for fun, you never thought it would be a career, just getting out of the garage was a sort of like a triumph. Let alone starting to play shows regionally, nationally and then internationally. The idea of recording a record was insurmountable, let alone just doing anything. For me, I am glad I have been able to make a bit of a career out of this.

Mario - When it came time for Fatso Jetson, I wanted to play stuff that made me feel like when I first listened to ZZ top. I didn’t want to do math albums on the fret board. Now we have math, but the writing was from your balls, like early Neil Young, whom I have always loved and admired.

Gaff - I always thought that the Jetson stuff had a backbeat like Neil Young and the alpha maleness of Mountain.

Mario - I played those Mountain albums out. I saw Lesley West a few years ago and he was playing a Steinberger guitar and gone was the reverb drenched vibe, the guy that championed dumble amps, I wanted to hug him and tell him everything will be ok. That first album, the double bass, cow bell, that riff, it was like a heard of buffalo. The tone knob completely rolled off, what tone.

Now in Fatso Jetson we have trimmed the band down to a power trio as my son and I are both playing guitar and bass. Tony has an interesting role playing with father and son. We are both pedal freaks so the songs I write guitar on, I play guitar on it. Dino and I have a very similar way of playing bass and guitar. We have a cool A/B set up so we just trade instruments when it is time and it will be great. I am truly blessed to be able to play with my son and do this tour with both bands. Dino is 18, but sounds 40, ha. He gets along great with the guys so it will be fun to play and clear the room with one of our long jam sessions at the end. We will bring guys from each band up.

Gaff - How was it starting off, working with Gregg Ginn of SST

Gary - Yawning Man played a lot with Gregg’s bands and I have played with Gregg over the years.

Tony - That was a weird, we literally played our first show opening for Gregg, and after we played he came up to us and asked if we wanted to do a record. WE said sure, most of the stuff we loved as kids came out on SST. We did 2 records on SST.

Gaff- speaking of recording are you a player that likes the recording process or live.

Tony - yeah, over the years, when I was younger, I hated the recording studio, there is a weird finality to it, what you do is what everyone hears, you get no second chance. The thing I love about playing love, if someone fucks up, 30 seconds later you have redeemed yourself. So, I love them both but for completely different reasons.

Gaff- Are you a technical guy or just like to sit down and play.

Gary - I do not know how to read music, I play with my fingers. I like dark and dissonant chords and equate major chords as being happy and minor as being sad. I think we as a band are unorthodox and never wanted anything to be boring. We like to jam, maybe play one riff for an hour, really into liking the way certain things sound

Gaff - Mario, I have to say thank you as you penned my favorite Queens tune, Millionaire, so really being able to chat with the three of you is an absolute mind blowing experience.

Mario - Thank you so much, that really means a lot to me.

Tony - Somewhere in between, I am not the type of guy who will obsess over thing, I do want it to sound good, so I will take the necessary steps to get the sounds we are looking for.

Gaff- in terms of recording are you more of a tape or pro tools guy or does that not bother you.

Tony - Well, I mean I am much more a fan of tape, but you know the best analogy I can use, I am a bigger fan of vinyl but listen to my IPod all the time.

Gaff - so obviously you have the Fatso Jetso thing, but you played on Brant Bjork’s Black Flower, how was that experience, as I think it was one of the best albums of the year.

Tony - The recording and touring was great. We laid down a bunch of songs; it really was a good experience

Gaff - So 2014 was crazy busy for you, how is 2015 looking?

Mario - Touring with both bands and recording. I have to remember that sometimes when playing with Dino, I have to separate that I can’t get mad at him for not taking out the garbage and that we are bandmates.

Gary - Playing a lot of music, touring will be great and also a lot of recording.

Tony - Hopefully even busier. The plan for us when we get back from this tour is to record a record and spend the rest of the year touring.

Gaff- Are you guys going to be touring the states and overseas?

Tony - that is the plan, we just got a great booking agent here in the states and we are very hopeful.

Mario - I have never really toured much in the states. I did the tour with Kyuss and a tour with Queens when I was filling in for Dave Catching’s. It was when Queens was opening up for Smashing Pumpkins. In terms of touring, I love handling logistics and am in it fully. Europe is so different. I am definitely blessed as there is a special place right now for where we are from. I am truly blessed to be a part of it.

Really the hard work gave us a chance to play. I am so grateful for guys like Josh, Brant, Chris Goss, Queens, Kyuss. We are playing rock n roll and those guys would come to see us play when they were like 13 years old. It was there work, playing out beyond the desert that made it a reality. We never knew how to book a show, call a club. We were happy to play at the local Mexican cafe in Indio or play in someone’s garage. We are now spoiled. I never dreamed of playing Europe, this will always be a big deal for me.

Gaff- Do you like playing anywhere special

Tony - no, I just love to play

Gaff - What else is going on musically?

Gary - I just did 2 albums. One is with ZUN. I would go in and lay down loops, the engineer was a huge Yawning Man fan and Harper would make songs out of the loops. I sent John Garcia some songs and he sang on half of the record and Sera Beth Timms sang on the other half. It will be coming out in March on Smallstone Records.

Gaff - Your style has been emulated by many people, who are the guys that you get off on?

Gary - I like the Grateful Dead a lot. We are not deadheads at all. I also loved Bad Brains, DOA, Gang Green, loved the anger of punk. We just liked hanging with our buds, listening to music, we were freaks. The thing about the Grateful Dead was that it was so open and free, what the dead did was punk rock, what is more punk than keeping it open, letting it happen. Yawning Man embraced the punk and dead scene and put it into one big jar and out it came. I am also a really big fan of Bauhaus and try to bring in the drums of Bauhaus into Yawning Man. It is like Gothic Grateful Dead. Also, heavy into African music like Fela Kuti. He was the African James Brown, very political lyricist. Also, Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye. Marvin has such heaviness to his music, not like a metal heaviness but certain darkness a sadness to it, draws you in.

Mario - Jazz, rock punk, also the Grateful Dead. So many different musical influences.

Tony - now I really dig Red Fang, the newest Earth record is so good. A lot of old Neurosis and I have always been a huge PJ Harvey fan.

Gaff - Are you someone that when playing on someone else’s album, are you given the freedom to do what you think is best.

Tony - the way I feel about playing on other peoples albums is that Fatso Jetson is my home but I love to go on vacation. It is always good to play with other people and see what they are doing.

Gaff - Well you have had some good vacations.

Tony - ha, I know

Gaff- So you have been able to play with Jetson and other people, looking back on the scene, from generator parties to where you are now, what are your thoughts as to where things are now and what they have become

Tony - As far as our local, I am really proud, when you realize that we pulled it off, it is kind of awesome. We didn’t know what was going on elsewhere so all I had to go on is what we were doing.

Gary - The desert has certain energy, you can see the mountains, and it is really different than LA. We were all friends and that really had a lot to do with how things were. We would be in Europe and see guys from our hometown and it was a great. It was like a little homecoming to see each other on the road. Coming from the middle of nowhere, and not being affected by what was going on in other areas, it really has a good feel being from here.

Gaff - When you all started, who were the first few bands you played with, obviously Kyuss.

Gary - St Vitus and a lot of SST bands.

Tony - Yeah Kyuus and regional bands like Fu Manchu and bands form the desert that no one has heard of.

Gaff - Do you still enjoy seeing bands form that era.

Tony - yeah, when I was on tour with Brant we did a festival with Fu Manchu and they are still kicking ass, it was so great to see them. We bump into each other once in a while so it is a lot of high fives and good times when we see each other.

Gaff - It seems like there is not a lot of competitiveness with you all

Tony - I was never into the competitiveness thing at all. If I throw a party I want a bunch of people to come, I do not the same thing with the same 3 people to come.

Gaff - So you guys started off as friends, would you say that has been a key to having a a long and gratifying career.

Mario - Because where we grew up was so small and tiny and really not much happening, something people were doing really turned us on. Kyuss was the ground breaker, they had elements of punk rock, a thunderous sound and an accessibility that punk had. When you looked at DOA or Black Flag, you did not see fantasy or mythical creatures. You saw bros that lived down the block from you. These were people that you could identify with, not record labels, not trends, but people that were your friends and on top of it all, they fucking rocked.

Gary - Yeah that has totally helped.

Tony - I would say that is a huge part of it. I mean Mario and I hung out yesterday afternoon, we will probably go to a show together. When we play together it is awesome because there isn’t any competitiveness, there is no hey, check out this is better than what you did, we can create as friends together and be on the same tour is like going on vacation with your best friends.

Gaff - It's so great that you are guys are friends as it appears now a days a lot of guys hire players to be a part of their band, such touring with hired guns.

Tony - I know a lot of bands that do it and I trip out on that. It is like being in The Monkees. I like to vibe and grow with a band.

Gaff - I think it shows on stage, as there is not the spontaneity as seeing someone like you guys. It is almost harder than being married and the fact that you guys have been doing it so long is incredible.

Mario - I take things one day at a time, keep the vibes good and the music will happen. I find that we are shitting songs right now as it is becoming super easy. We can nail songs now in rehearsal.

Tony - We have been doing it a long time so thank you.

Gaff- So going back all those years, were you friendly with a lot of the guys in your scene.

Tony - Josh and I have known each other since we were 5 years old. We all went to grade and high school together. It is weird that all these years later we are still connected.

Gaff- So in your area, the amount of musicians in your area is crazy, is that due to you all loving music?

Tony - Yeah, we all music lovers and also it was really fucking hot in the summer, you did not go outside, you sat in your room and played because you had nothing else to do.

Gaff - Do you still get home often.

My parents are still there and my wife's family is there, we went to school together so we go back for holidays.

Gary - I still live in the area.

Gaff - So talking about music and recording, as your groove is pretty infectious, are you someone that lays back and feels what the song needs

Tony - yeah, I was working on a song with Mario, he thought I should lay back and he was right. Obviously I have my own opinions but I definitely do what is best for the song, and Mario was totally right.

Gaff - So Gary, can you talk to me about your use of pedals, type of guitars you are playing and amps.

Gary - I play Ayers guitars. They are made by David Ayers in Arizona and they are beautiful. The guitar I am playing now is a cross between an SG and a Strat. It is hollowed out and gets a great Neil Young type of feedback. For amps I am using my Music Man and also a Zinky combo. I love pedals, I go through different pedals often but my main sound is part reverb boss delay and an overdrive. Right now I am using a Joyo overdrive but just played the other day a Brad Davis overdrive that I really liked. I told Brad what I was thinking and he nailed it. I have a problem cutting through at times because of the volume we play. Sometimes Mario and I will be in the same frequency so I need a pedal that will help cut through. I was also looking at a Hovercraft amp and talked to them about a Falcon. Don’t you use a Hovercraft?

Gaff - Yes, I love mine, great amp by a genius of a builder, Nial.

Gary- yeah he was a very nice guy. I am hoping after tour to maybe get one. The thing about pedals is that I have about 10 overdrive pedals. You start going on forums and looking at web chats, it can be an addiction.

Gaff - I know, you are at home sweating, I need to get that pedal.

Gary - yes, I know exactly how you fell. I had a great pedal that I went on tour with and lost it in Europe. I would go on eBay and look for it, come back and it would be gone. You go crazy over them, ha.

Gaff - Are you still playing your tele?

Mario - I am. I have bought so many guitars, Gretch, American made tele, Jazzmasters and I have sold them all. I traded a Charvel for that tele.

Gaff - Was the Charvel from your Ratt cover band?

Mario - Ha, you know I bought a Vineyard 335 knockoff. It is creamsicle orange, I bought it for my son and he did not want to play it. So I started playing the thing and it sounds amazing. Has such a mojo, sounds like Crazy Horse. When I play me tele it feels like a 2x4. My tele is more refined, scooped mids. This thing is vomiting distortion and is hard to control but I am bringing it to Europe. I also just got a Jazzmaster to use from Davis Ayers and it is beautiful. It is chambered, purple. I might be leaving the tele behind on this tour

Gaff - Tony, one thing I have gotten from your playing, it seems that some of your playing is a bit behind the beat, like Neil Young’s Harvest, it sits back but holds the song, where you a friend of songs like Out on the weekend.

Tony - Awesome, I am a huge Neil Young fan

Gaff- For the amount of riffs, the drums in Jetson appears to have a Levon Helm, Crazy Horse back beat

Tony - there is so much craziness in Fatso Jetson that it is my job to simply hold it together. My approach to things is that it is not the notes you play but the notes that you do not play.

Gaff - Yeah, at times it is more moving with space than do something in seven or some wacky time signature.
Tony - yeah, there are guys that are great guitar players but they have never wrote a song that I like. I love the Cure, technically not great guitar playing but I want to read a book and not do math.

Gaff - So, in terms of playing looking back, anything that really hits you as to where you came from and to where you are now?

Tony - One night I think in 98 Josh and I were on tour in Europe and everyone else had gone to bed in their bunks, we were having a beer and we just looked at each other and said who would have thought that we would be grown up, travelling all over the world and getting paid to play music. I really trip out on that as it is really more about friendship because we were able to all do it.

Gaff - That really hits back to where you guys are from and where you are now. I gotta say, Thank so much as sonically you get you the A t test as your groove simply makes you wanna boogie and what you and your bandmates have done have truly put a smile on the fans face and makes them wanna boogie.

Tony - Thank you so much.

Mario -Thanks so much

Gary - That means a lot.

Gaff - So as we wrap it up, what is the recording process when you get back?

Gary - We started recording and would put dates and say we will need to get it done by this time. Music is not our first priority as we all have jobs and I have 5 kids so things would always pop up, dad remember we were going to do this today? You cannot say no to your kids, so I wish it was done, we will play some new songs on tour but will finish the album when we can. There is no date set for it for now. Maybe we can set up a tour with your band and ours.

Tony - Well, we will end up writing and finishing the songs, then we are gonna do our best and getting to many places as we can and play and again thank you very much and hope to see you at one of the shows.

Mario - When I am an old man and have nothing left but my saggy nuts I can look at pics of me and my son in Europe. It will be interesting, when I am sleeping on my son’s couch it will be a different discussion. I really want great things to happen for us and my son has a great two piece he is doing, just he and a drummer. I was working a ton and would we would put dates on the recording process and I would get home from work and would be so tired I did not want to even think about the dates we put on ourselves. We will finish the album when we get back.

Gaff - Mario, you have been blessed to be in 2 bands that really have the best of both worlds.

Mario - Thanks so much man, I am really happy to be in both.

During this chat, I have laughed more than I had in a long time. It is when you revere bands and find out that the said players in those bands just happen to be the nicest guys on earth is when the sun, moon, all things vital are on the axis point and all meet in the middle, the world is a better place to be in. Anyone can sit down and answer questions, it is when you can converse and feel as if you are talking to your buddy over a pop and truly feel on an emotional tip that people care about art, music and above all rest, being a nice fucking person.

These cats paved a way for unbelievable musicians and had nothing but the utmost respect and sheer joy when discussing their upbringing and the area that is now known as the home of desert rock. These guys are not just the Godfathers of the Desert Scene, but the true ambassadors of a magical place that has spawned rock that rolls and rolls like a motherfucker.

I truly want to say Thank you to Mario Lalli, Gary Arce and Tony Tornay. You all have made a fans day brighter.

Eat a peach, Gaff.

Thanks to Mario, Gary and Tony for speaking to Gaff for Sludgelord HQ.

Fatso Jetson

Yawning Man