Yawning Man Interview: Gary Arce Updates on Progress of New Double Album, Gravity is Good for You, Lineup Changes, the State of the Desert, and More
Talk about unappreciated. Not even under-appreciated — which a lot of bands are — but almost completely passed over in the discussion. Yawning Man never had the PR campaign to prove it, but they formed in 1986 and were part of the very beginning of what we now know as desert rock. Led by guitarist Gary Arce, the band wouldn’t release a studio album until 19 years later, when the full-length Rock Formations and the EP Pot Head surfaced, but by then their desert-party jams were long since legendary, and their praises sung by everyone from Fatso Jetson, whose Mario Lalli has been a member of Yawning Man from the beginning, to Kyuss, who famously cited their influence and covered the song “Catamaran” on their final album in 1995.
Over the course of their 26 years, Arce has remained the constant figure behind the band. His signature tone — derived from surf, but thicker and more expansive — leads Yawning Man‘s sprawling instrumental works, and in his time doing so, he’s incorporated a host of luminaries from the California desert. Lalli, of course, has been present for the most part and still plays a large role in the band, but also the likes of Bill Stinson — who’s also worked with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag) and has been a part of Arce‘s Dark Tooth Encounter and Ten East side-projects — Alfredo Hernandez (Kyuss), Mario‘s cousin and Fatso Jetson bandmate Larry Lalli and Billy Cordell (Unida, Kyuss Lives!) have been through the ranks, and Arce seems to relish the possibilities each new player brings.
In 2010, Yawning Man released their most solidified album to date in the form of Nomadic Pursuits (review here) on Cobraside Distribution. Then the trio of Arce, Lalli and Hernandez, the band seemed poised to collect the respect long overdue to them. Songs both resided in the realm of a “desert rock” sound and provided a reminder that it was Yawning Man who helped shape those ideas in the first place, and the album as a whole had a flow that was remarkably consistent and evocative (a recent summer revisit found it no less so) while also boasting an organic, spontaneously jammed style. The band toured Europe to support it sans Lalli (he tells the story here), and actually had some momentum working in their favor if they could make the best of it quickly.
It’s a quick interview and details are vague at best, so I’ll keep it brief, but the upshot is it didn’t pan out. Hernandez is out of the band, Lalli‘s aboard part-time. Arce, however, is almost defiant in his push to make Yawning Man work. With Cordell and drummers Stinson and Greg Saenz (The Dwarves), it’s the guitarist’s intent that the next Yawning Man release will be a double album, titled Gravity is Good for You after the Raymond Pettibon artwork they’ve secured for the cover (included below; click to enlarge), and featuring half with Lalli and half with Cordell. A pretty wild idea, but it wouldn’t be the band’s first in that regard — I think probably the first was, “I’m going to plug into this echo and see what happens” — and if anyone could pull it off and make it work, it’s Arce. The rest of us will just have to wait and keep our fingers crossed.
Please find the complete email Q&A with Gary Arce after the jump, and please enjoy.
The status of the band ties in with my idea for a double album. Yawning Man, not by choice, has had this revolving cast due to distance, jobs, other bands etc. Currently myself and Billy Cordell have a good foundation of music for a full-length album, We’ve been jamming and piecing together songs for a while now, bringing in Greg Sainz (The Dwarves) and Bill Stinson (Ten East) on drums when Billy’s not busy with Kyuss Lives. We’ve recorded a few of our sessions as not to forget were we left off, but this method seems to work given our situation. I gotta say I’m really happy with the direction the new songs are going… Very dark, brooding stuff. We’re even talking about bringing in Greg and Bill simultaneously to give the percussion parts more of a heavy tribal feel. We’re really concentrating on more songs/experimenting rather than jams. That’s for the first part of the double album.
Second part obviously is with Mario. We as well had some ideas we were working on that popped up in jams when we toured with Karma to Burn last year. Bill Stinson played drums that tour. There’s an undeniable chemistry between me and Boomer (Mario) and it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to know what you can do musically with your friends and how rad it can be but the daily life grind gets in the way. There’s days I wish I could just drop what I’m doing and call my friends and say, “Fuck it!! Let’s meet at the studio and for the next 48 hours let’s play and record.” But I guess it doesn’t work that way anymore. But yeah, me and Boomer talk every week and were just trying to get together and get a plan. It’ll happen. The beauty of the double album is we get to have both Boomer and Billy and Yawning Man running the spectrum from songs to jams to ambient bliss. We’ve even talked about Tony Tornay possibly doing some drums with us. The instrumental Waterways (Big Scenic Nowhere) stuff me, Boomer and Tony recorded is my most favorite music me and Boomer have ever done together. There’s something endearing and thoughtful about it and the pace of the drumming is incredible. It just worked so well. I’m hoping for part two of the double album that we start where we left off that day in the studio. About Alfredo, I guess we wanted different things from the band and he went his way and we went ours.
With so many different people involved over the years and you being involved in so many other projects, is there something particular that still makes Yawning Man separate from everything else at this point?
Yawning Man has always been my main creative outlet and it’s the one thing I’ve devoted most my time to. Projects like Ten East or Dark tooth Encounter are me basically clearing my brain of the clutter to make room for Yawning Man. I’d like to think it stands apart from everything else.
Where are you at in terms of new material? How has it been for you jamming out new stuff with different players?
I’m constantly writing parts, riffs, licks, whatever, and in my head I have these trashcans labeled Cool, Okay, and Trash. All are filled and there’s plenty of Cool to complete a new Yawning Man and working on more for the double album. It’s really an awesome thing playing with different players. Having different players, the same piece of music is approached from other angles and I’m lucky that everyone involved has a good ear for what they think the song or jam needs or [where it] wants to go.
Do you have a timeline on when the next album will be done? What are your plans for recording and when do you think you’ll have a full-length ready to go? Will you work with Cobraside again?
Should be finished by the end of the year, We will probably do some of it at Brant Bjork’s place, and yes, it will be coming out on Cobraside.
How did Raymond Pettibon get involved with the art and what went into the process of getting the piece for the cover? How do you think it ties in with the music that will be on the album?
We actually got the art from our friend Jack Brewer (Saccharine Trust). I was talking to him one day and mentioned a new Yawning Man and how I’d love to use some Pettibon art for it and he said he had some drawings of his from the early days and he contacted Raymond and got the okay and here we are. When I first saw the art I was blown away. I’d always admired Pettibon’s drawnings from the early Black Flag flyers. I think the words “Gravity is Good for You” have a weird connection with our music. Again a huge thanks to Jack and Raymond.
What’s the status of your other projects, Ten East, Waterways, Dark Tooth Encounter, or even the Yawning Sons collaboration? Will you go back to working on other bands and jams when this Yawning Man album is finished?
Waterways just came out on Bro-Fidelity Records in Australia. It’s a three-way split with Sons of Alpha Centauri, Hotel Wrecking City Traders. There’s been mention of a new Yawning Sons late 2013 as well.
You must have seen it at Duna Jam, but desert rock has had a kind of worldwide boom the last couple years. Can you talk a bit about some of the bands who’ve made a mark on the sound past and present and maybe a few whose names have gotten lost along the way?
Yeah, I would have never thought in a million years that this tiny little town is the southwest desert would make such an impact 25 years later. Personally I really only consider a few groups “true” desert (generator party) bands – that being Across the River, Yawning Man, Unsound, and the obvious, Kyuss, who brought attention to this one-horse town. Sure you had your influx of ‘90s transplants coming into town… But the past was already over and gone by then. I think it’s cool that the desert connects with people in a certain way. Maybe it’s the thought of solitude or freedom and endless night skies combined with music and friends. Some bands I think deserve mention are Black Math Horseman, Karma to Burn (Rob kills on drums), The Entrance Band and My Sleeping Karma, who really surprised me with their uniqueness and sound.
Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
As Willie Nelson says “Can’t wait to get on the road again and make music with my friends.”Gary Arce, Gravity is Good for You, Raymond Pettibon, Yawning Man, Yawning Man Gravity is Good for You