Fatso Jetson Interview: Mario Lalli Talks the Restaurant Business, New Yawning Man, Touring Europe, Not Touring Europe and Much More
It’s nearly midnight Saturday night on the East Coast when Mario Lalli calls from the land-line at Cafe 322, the restaurant he co-owns with cousin and Fatso Jetson bandmate, Larry Lalli (bass). Mario talks quickly and says much, which is a relief. After trying to make the interview happen for a couple days, I’m glad he’s a talker, though from what I understand, you have to be in his line of work.
Eight years have passed since the 2002 release of Fatso Jetson‘s last studio album, Cruel and Delicious, but their newest work, Archaic Volumes (review here), is perhaps their most vital, balancing their love of Southern Californian hardcore punk with the staple rock of the desert in which they formed and bringing to it all a sense of maturity that can be heard in more than just the saxophone playing of Vince Meghrouni.
As we speak , I can hear the hustle, sundry crashes, conversations and millings about at Cafe 322. Just past the halfway point in our conversation, a live band starts up. But if this is the chaos out of which came Archaic Volumes, the rampant go-go-go of which is ceaseless from front to back, it’s well matched.
In the interview that follows, Mario Lalli opens up about owning the restaurant and how it has changed his life both practically and creatively, in Fatso Jetson (rounded out by Tony Tornay on drums) and in the trio Yawning Man, in which he joins guitarist/vocalist Gary Arce and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, playing bass. Yawning Man also has a new record up for release — more on that to come, hopefully — and we get to the heart of making it all happen while also charged with keeping a life together.
Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.
What caused the long stretch between Fatso Jetson studio albums?
We were living in the desert together when we made Cruel and Delicious. We had a house where we could practice all the time, and we had a whole different regimen for the band. We were all very close together. We had that creative space right there in the house, so it was a lot easier to rehearse, practice, write, and just get together and play and jam. When we took on this adventure of moving to Los Angeles to open a restaurant, it really screwed up this balance of music for me, and for my cousin, and Tony, and it was just an upheaval. So we had to find a place to play, which I did relatively quickly. The rehearsal studio we found when we first moved up to L.A. is now Donner and Blitzen Studio, where Mathias Schneeberger does his thing. He ended up moving his studio into our rehearsal space, but it was just harder to do up here. It was harder to get together and to play and to write. The biggest difference was me and Larry, my cousin, the bass player in the band, we started running a place, and that means working at night, very late, every night, six to seven days a week, so our music suffered because of it. We continued to play. We played live whenever we could. We played a thousand 1AM shows. Whenever we got off work, we’d jam down to Hollywood or Silverlake and play a gig, and we kept that going, but the writing and really getting into being a band in the practice room doing stuff and writing stuff and jamming, that suffered greatly when we moved to Los Angeles and opened this business, because it was overwhelming for us. The time that it consumes (laughs). It proved to be a huge challenge, so we just chipped away at it. We lost focus on the band as far as writing and recording; we never lost focus on playing live. We did that continuously, religiously we tried to play and play as much as possible within the confines of running a bar and restaurant. You’re kind of stuck until the wee hours and you gotta get in here and start prepping and making pizzas and setting up the stage. We have live music here. It kind of fucked up our music life, and we both are frustrated because of it. It was very frustrating for us. But we’re all the more excited about our new recording because of that, and the lapse of time, and all this pent-up stuff. You know, we used to walk from the kitchen to the garage. We all had day jobs, but the focus was music. The job was secondary – a way to put gas in the tank and burritos in the fridge. Now, I gotta worry about payroll and taxes, other people’s livelihoods. It’s the main player in the lack of recordings and releases from Fatso Jetson, is this business we took on. That’s the main thing. We tried to stay creative whenever, and I personally always tried to make time for music, whether with Gary and Alfredo or other people recording in the studio, whether with The Gutter Twins or bands from France and Italy, just whoever would like to correspond and like to make some music together. With the internet, you can shoot files across the Atlantic and be jamming on somebody’s record in Russia. Did lots of that. Stayed creative and stayed in the mode, but we just didn’t have the time to focus on it like we used to and that’s basically it.
Is there a different kind of satisfaction you get from running the restaurant that offsets some of that frustration?
No. It’s a job. It’s our legacy. Both of our fathers started this restaurant. They had restaurants starting in 1952, and it was always music and Italian food. We worked in them growing up, we worked in the kitchens. There came a time when we opened a club in Indio called Rhythm and Brews, and that was our first time diving into running a place by ourselves, staffing it, managing it, owning it, running it. And I learned then – and I don’t know why I forgot this lesson – that I’d much rather be playing the place and working a day job than running the place that everyone plays. It’s been hard on both of us. It’s a tough business, right now especially with the way things are, economy, etc. Here’s how I make it work for me: We feature live music five days a week. Some of it’s really amazing, top notch, creative, badass music, and some of it is stuff that we book to pay the bills and get people in here to sell some drinks and sell some food. There is a satisfaction there. People have a great deal of respect for our place because the music we bring to the community, it’s looked at as a little cultural microcosm. We’re proud of that. We bring some of the best jazz musicians in Los Angeles here. You can walk in, have a beer and a pizza and hear some really amazing music, but at the same time, it just comes down to making drinks. My cousin’s back there making pizzas and steaks, and we’re running around, fielding customer requests, and it’s a tough gig. It’s a tough gig. Both of us are kind of beat up from it (laughs). I think there is a satisfaction that’s maybe beyond the typical day job, sitting in a cubicle. That’s not for me. I’ve done everything.
How did you manage to get the time to Europe for Roadburn and the other shows?
I basically said, “Fuck it.” Since we opened this restaurant, I’ve turned down, every summer, and opportunity to go and play, and I just got tired of doing that. We got tired of turning down these amazing experiences going and playing music over our fear that someone else couldn’t run the soundboard and make drinks, keep an eye on the employees and make pizzas and pasta. We had to learn how to delegate and just plan it so we could be away. I just said, “Fuck it.” I got an email from a booking agency in Italy, and they offered us first a Roadburn performance, and a suggestion they could book a small tour around it. They said, “Go as long as you want, but knowing your situation with the restaurant,” blah blah blah, and I just said, “Fuck it. Yes.” I didn’t even know how I was going to do it, I just said yes. From there, I had to work it out. It was insane. It was hard. We hired someone to fill Larry’s spot – that was the hardest part – and a friend of mine came in and did sound every night. I pre-booked well in advance and did all my emails and all my promotions, my listings in the papers and all the jazz websites and all that crap. I just did it way in advance. I just prepared and we said, screw it, we’re gonna go. Of course, when we got back, there was a thousand fires to put out and my wife was completely exhausted from covering my ass while I was gone, just fielding all the bullshit that I deal with. I was supposed to be leaving in a couple weeks to tour with Yawning Man, and I had to just say no, I can’t do it, because it was so hard on my family while I was gone, that to do it so close together – my wife is barely recuperating from the onslaught while I was gone. 16-hour days every day, every day, every day. There’s only so much I can lay on other people’s shoulders where I gotta be responsible. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long time, to tell those guys I wouldn’t be able to go. They have a wonderful tour planned, and they’re playing festivals, but I just couldn’t put my family through it so close together. At the time I thought I could do it, but I didn’t realize what a toll it was going to take on them, and when I got back, it was like, “Holy shit!” It was hard for them to cover me. We just said, “Fuck it,” and went for it. We really tried so hard to get the record done in time for the tour, and some little things came up about the artwork and about this and that, and we couldn’t get it done in time for the tour. As a matter of fact, when I got home, I was looking for my wife. I actually walked in the door from the airport, and I go, “Oh, where’s Nana?” and 15 minutes later, she walks in the door with a box of records in her hands. I’m going, “That is so perfect” (laughs). The day I get home the records show up. But that was that. Just had to do it, had to go for it.
So what was the process of recording the album itself? Was it done in pieces? I know some of the material goes back a few years.
Yes. Some of it was recorded with just me, Larry and Tony. We did that, but had two different studios actually. We did some of it at our friend Eddie’s studio, Total Annihilation. We also did some basic tracks and stuff at Donner and Blitzen. I would go in and work on it when I could get away from work. I’d go down there late at night and work on it. Then we brought Vince in to record some of the newer stuff that we had been playing live. In our live performances around L.A. we had gotten that stuff pretty tight, so we wanted to capture that. We recorded that stuff. It was such a long process, and not because we were finger-fucking it or tuning to the perfect tones or anything, it was just a time issue for us. That’s where it pulled together.
When you hear the finished product, did it sound piecemeal to you? It doesn’t to me.
Not really, no, because there was so much work done on it. There was always work done on every song, with the exception of “Play Dead,” there was one song that we finished, then we put it away, and we said, “We’ll put this song on our next record,” and we were gonna re-record it, and I didn’t want to, because I just liked the way it came out. So with that one, it was done, we went into the studio one day and banged that song out, and I left it that way. The other songs, we constantly messed around with. We’d experiment with guitar, we’d experiment with some of the horn stuff, keyboards. Always going back to it, so it kept going. We kept hitting the “refresh” button on it.
How did recording the new Yawning Man album compare to doing Archaic Volumes?
The new Yawning Man was recorded in two days, three days. It was some music we’d been working on. I’d been driving down to the desert, to Alfredo’s house, and we were working on tunes, jamming. Lot of jamming. And then those guys would come up here, to Pasadena, and we’d just head up in the practice room and jam and work on the new stuff. We just kind of set a date to go in and record, even though we really hadn’t completely sketched out the songs. They were still forming, and that turned out to be a good thing, because there’s an energy there that sometimes when you work something to the point where there’s too much planning, and it loses some of the spontaneous combustion. There’s a few that we really pulled back and tried to be very delicate with, and then the majority of the record is pretty blasting and we’re really jamming. It was refreshing, because of all the going back, going back, going back, going back, with the Fatso Jetson record – which I love to do; I love that whole process – it was refreshing to show up and put on my bass and go through these rough sketches and dial it in from there, go back and make some changes, try it again. It wasn’t written in the studio, but it was definitely formed there. We took these basic ideas and formed them there. It was a pretty quick process. We recorded in two or three days.
Do you have a preference in terms of process, one over the other?
No, I don’t. I love recording in whatever shape or form. I gotta say, when I record, I don’t like when you’re recording a real record, as you know, someone’s gonna invest money in making the product, I like to take my time – not ridiculous time like seven years (laughs) – but just take my time and not be hasty about things. I would rather work it and form it and shape it until everyone’s really, really stoked. But other times it’s kind of cool to just go, “You know, this is what we did and this is the time we had to do it, and this is what came out of it,” and you just accept that. It depends. I’m grateful to be recording and have somebody that wants to help us put the music out, however that happens and whatever the situation is with it. It’s all groovy for me.
With the Fatso Jetson record out and the Yawning Man coming out, do you feel you’ve found a way to better balance the work time with creative time?
Yes, absolutely. That was a big eye-opener, when we took the step to go on tour, was just realizing, “Hey, we don’t have to be here babying this thing. We can take time to do this stuff that’s really important to us and makes us who we are.” It’s very important – I speak for myself, but I know for my cousin, and I know for my friend Tony, and my friend Vince, and my friend Gary and my friend Alfredo – I know all the dudes that I play music with, it’s very important that they are able to do it and continue to do it, or else they’re not who they are. They’re suffocated. So we realized that we can do this. All we gotta do is have the balls to delegate. Balance is the exact word. That’s the perfect word for it, because without it, I was out of balance for a very long time, neglecting this thing I need to do to be happy. It was an eye-opener that we could do that, and the place didn’t burn down. It’s still here. We still have the keys. It’s still running. The timbales are playing (laughs). It was huge. It was terrifying, I gotta tell you. I’m a total anxiety freak, so I was like, “What’s going on?” Every night, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” I was scared to check my email because I didn’t know what was gonna happen. It turned out everything worked smoother than when we’re here to be the zany stress freaks we are. It went a lot smoother handing it over to somebody else. But we realized that we can balance that stuff and do these things now. The Yawning Man thing was a little much, so close. That would have been balancing in the other direction, and I don’t know if my wife would have survived that, so you have to be conscious of those things too. But we’re already thinking and excited about recording more and getting back to Europe to play and playing up the coast here. We were hoping to get up the coast here to Vancouver and play NXNW, and my cousin’s got a baby coming Tuesday. Him and his wife are having a baby in the next week, so that’s pretty crazy. That’s on the horizon too, so lots of things to balance, but the first thing we talk about is music, all the time. Even before we’re talking about the restaurant, or families, it’s, “What’s the next thing we’re gonna do? We gotta keep practicing.” You get off tour and you’re kind of played out, and we’re like, “We gotta keep the ball rolling and keep that fire going.” Even with the baby coming, he’s still fired up to do that, so I’m stoked about that.
Special thanks to Pat Krausgrill for the use of the Fatso Jetson live photos. Please check out more of Pat‘s work here.
Tags: California, Cobraside, Fatso Jetson, Los Angeles, Yawning Man