The history behind Big Scenic Nowhere is nearly as complex as the desert ecosystem that gave birth to the project in the first place, and before I get into it, I want to send a personal thanks to Nick Hannon, bassist of the UK’s Sons of Alpha Centauri, who was kind enough to send me their demo. Hannon, who of course also plays in the just-reviewed Yawning Sons alongside Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce, and has appeared on split releases between Arce‘s WaterWays, Sons of Alpha Centauri and Australia’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders (who also had a collaboration with Arce out), as well as Yawning Sons and WaterWays, in different permutations of players working together and collaborating. Arce, whose guitar tone is one of the founding tenets of desert rock, is generally at the center, and that proves to be the case in Big Scenic Nowhere as well.
It seems unfair to call Big Scenic Nowhere a short-lived project considering that it involves Arce and bassist Mario Lalli, who’ve played together for over 25 years in Yawning Man, as well as drummer Tony Tornay, who doubles in Lalli‘s “other band,” Fatso Jetson, and could be heard last year propelling the formidable Napalm Records debut from Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (review here). But while these three know and have worked together for a long time one way or another, as Big Scenic Nowhere, their tenure was brief. The band was born out WaterWays, which featured vocalist Abby Travis in addition to Arce, Lalli and Tornay, when the recordings for their debut album got tied up in legal issues. Big Scenic Nowhere went back into the studio, re-recorded the tracks instrumentally, and set about releasing them on their own, posting them on YouTube, etc.
That was circa 2008/2009. In 2010, most of the WaterWays songs would surface on the aforementioned splits with Yawning Sons and with Sons of Alpha Centauri and Hotel Wrecking City Traders, so that material is out there. It exists. In the wake of that, Big Scenic Nowhere were just about done. Yawning Man, with Arce and Lalli, put out Nomadic Pursuits (review here) and Fatso Jetson, with Lalli (on guitar/vocals) and Tornay, put out Archaic Volumes (review here). That’s half a decade ago now, and the Big Scenic Nowhere CD was included as a bonus for anyone who purchased the splits. So far as I know, that and at shows were the only ways it ever officially came out, despite the fact that the original recordings of most of these songs, with Travis, have been released on those two split offerings.
Like I said, it’s a complex history.
But the end result is that Big Scenic Nowhere have wound up as this kind of hidden secret of Californian desert rock. The CD — you might note the shadow of the famous “Welcome to Sky Valley” sign on the dry cracked earth on the disc itself– contains all the dynamic turns one might expect from a Lalli/Tornay rhythm section and the signature bliss of Arce‘s guitar, and in addition to the six prior-recorded songs that would be later released by WaterWays, there are also the original “Bows and Arrows,” a cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and a live set from the Date Shed in Indio, CA, broken down into two separate jams and presented complete with a spoken introduction. All told, it’s a 57-minute collection that, particularly for fans of Yawning Man is probably worth being easier to track down than it is. Big Scenic Nowhere wound up in a strange position once the WaterWays stuff came out, but even instrumental, songs like “Waterways,” “Queen of the Passout Riders” and “Three Rivers” retain a memorable feel. Liner notes from Arce that explain the whole situation are included, so you can work your way through to how the tracks got to be what they are. Even out of context, however, they leave an impression, whether you heard the WaterWays splits or not.