Hotel Wrecking City Traders and Gary Arce: The Crushing Ambience

Posted in Reviews on March 11th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

It’s a cross-continental collision of sounds, and aside from being into both the Aussie noisemaking brotherly duo Hotel Wrecking City Traders and the work of landmark desert guitarist Gary Arce of Yawning Man, what most drew me in to the idea of their collaborative studio project was how different the two sides are. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, who’ve been releasing music on drummer Ben MatthewsBro Fidelity Records since 2007, are a fittingly tight unit. The sounds on their Black Yolk full-length and follow-up Somer/Wantok 12” were rife with intensity and an impatient mathematical feel. By contrast, Gary Arce is considered one of the founding figures of desert rock. His laid back, airy tone and improvisatory will have been a key inspiration for bands literally all over the world, and when it comes to jams, there are few guitarists out there who can add as much personality to a piece of music as he can. It’s not like one’s playing polka and the other death metal (although I hear those go together nowadays too), but it’s a short list of commonalities between Arce and Hotel Wrecking City Traders. Apart from working instrumentally, they seem to be driven by completely different musical ideals.

And maybe that’s what makes their joint Hotel Wrecking City Traders and Gary Arce 12” (released on limited 180gram vinyl via Bro Fidelity and Cobraside Distribution, who also put out Yawning Man’s 2010 album, Nomadic Pursuits) so damned interesting. The two-song, 20-minute release combines the disparate elements at work in the total three players involved for a double-guitar brew that’s based as much on improvisational noodling as it is on noisy crunch. It works, too, which is the miracle of the thing. The first track, “Coventina’s Cascade” (10:19) is content to wander in its midsection, Ben providing pulsing bassdrum kicks while his brother Toby Matthews adds to the build on guitar and Arce spaces out for what’s probably the busiest payoff on the release. Hotel Wrecking City Traders showed off some atmospheric tendencies on Somer/Wantok, but Arce takes it to do a different level entirely. One can hear during a break about seven minutes in how the duo constructed the track before sending it to Arce to add his guitar lines, but that’s not at all to discount the flow of what the collective trio come out with as a result. As he does in Hotel Wrecking City Traders proper, Matthews proves capable of holding down a rhythm section, and Toby wisely leaves room to allow for interplay with Arce – who also contributes bass to both cuts, adding further dimensionality to both sides A and B.

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Top 20 of 2010 #4: Fatso Jetson, Archaic Volumes

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I didn’t realize it until just now, but Archaic Volumes was also my number four album for the top half of 2010. Sheer coincidence, but it should say something about the quality of Fatso Jetson‘s latest work that it has held its position while other albums have fallen out of favor or gotten shelved. The core trio of guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli (also Yawning Man), bassist Larry Lalli and drummer Tony Tornay, joined on Archaic Volumes by saxophonist Vince Meghrouni, crafted probably the year’s most solid rock album. In every move it made, it was assured, mature and blindingly confident, and like a guy who says he can walk sideways up a wall and then does it, all of Fatso Jetson‘s showiness was backed by chops.

As the year has worn on and my appreciation for Fatso Jetson‘s Archaic Volumes has transcended the honeymoon period one often has with killer records, I’ve sat and admired each single performance on the album. The two Lallis, Tornay and even Meghrouni all delivered in a huge way on these songs, be it the sax-soaked instrumental “Here Lies Boomer’s Panic” or the underrated desert vibes of “Back Road Tar,” and the resulting total listening experience was stronger still. It was a striking balance of hard-fought talent and creative songwriting.

I’ve said before that I knew going into Archaic Volumes that I would like it. That was no mystery. The album still took me by surprise, however, in that I didn’t know I would dig it as much as I did, and moreover, that I would return to it as much as I have throughout the rest of the year. But the more I hear these songs and the more familiar I become with the turns Fatso Jetson makes — as from the aggressive gutter punk of “Garbage Man” (a The Cramps cover) to the soothingly psychedelic closer “Monoxide Dreams” — the better I want to know them. Even with as much time as I’ve spent hearing these Archaic Volumes, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.

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Top 20 of 2010 #9: Yawning Man, Nomadic Pursuits

Posted in Features on December 16th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

When I interviewed Yawning Man guitarist/mastermind Gary Arce earlier this year, he told me that when he was first beginning to develop his tone it was the likes of Bauhaus and Lords of the New Church who were his principal points of inspiration. Listening to Yawning Man‘s latest studio effort, Nomadic Pursuits, it seems an unlikely source for such sonic sweetness, and let there be no question that Arce — one of the most central figures in the birth and growth of desert rock — has made the sound his own over the course of Yawning Man‘s decades together.

Nomadic Pursuits reunited Arce with bassist Mario Lalli (also of Fatso Jetson) and drummer Alfredo Hernandez (also formerly of Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age), and from front to back, it was one of the most complete and engaging atmospheres I heard all year. The album had texture for days. I remember taking it with me up to Vermont when I stayed there July into August, and it was like my fallback position. I must have listened to it every day at least once. “What’s for lunch?” Cheese and Yawning Man. Who could complain?

Of course, Arce is prolific as ever, and 2011 promises offerings from collaborative projects with Sons of Alpha Centauri (Yawning Sons) and Hotel Wrecking City Traders, plus there’s the new Big Scenic Nowhere project with Lalli and Fatso Jetson drummer Tony Tornay, and Arce is also rumored to have moved to Oregon and started working with new players there, so who the hell knows what’s coming next? Whatever it is, and whatever happens with Yawning Man from here on out, the appeal of Nomadic Pursuits is bound to last longer than just this one year.

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Frydee Yawning Man

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 26th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

You know all those other Frydee posts the past couple months where all I did was bitch about how much I didn’t want to spend the weekend doing homework? None of them even compares to this weekend. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much what I’ll be doing the whole time. To help me find some Friday inner peace after a long work week (even one that was short by a day) is this clip of Yawning Man playing on the street in France. The song is “Blue Foam” from their excellent Nomadic Pursuits record, released earlier this year.

Speaking of excellent records released this year, can you believe it’s almost December? I’ve got a month-long “best of the year” countdown that’ll be starting next Wednesday and running through to New Year’s (holidays included), so definitely stick around for that. This coming week we’ll also wrap up November’s numbers, have an interview posted with Virginia doomly upstarts Cough, and I’ll have the Kings Destroy full-length, And the Rest Will Surely Perish, for sale on Tuesday. The Roareth sold 12 of the total 50 copies in the first 24 hours. Think we can top that?

And, who knows? Maybe that Electric Wizard CD will show up and I’ll finally get to review it. I gave in and ordered a copy from All That is Heavy, which I’m reasonably certain will be here before the one I bought direct from the label, and there were a couple other goodies in there as well, so I’m sure I’ll get a Buried Treasure post out of it one way or the other.

Good fun to come. Have a great weekend and be safe — and don’t forget — Kings Destroy is for sale on Tuesday!

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Yawning Man Interview with Gary Arce: The Intuitive Chemistry of the Desert

Posted in Features on September 3rd, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce doesn’t consider his long-running outfit a stoner rock band, but they’ve certainly inspired enough of them over the course of their time together. Their sound, and in particular his pastoral, spacious guitar tone, has launched a thousand riff-happy players on long and sometimes blatantly derivative careers, yet Yawning Man‘s own output has been limited over their over two decades together.

Thus, their 2010 album, Nomadic Pursuits (Cobraside Distribution) is all the more special. Not only does it mark a new beginning in Yawning Man for Arce — who has been plenty prolific outside the band in projects like Dark Tooth Encounter, Ten East and the stunning Yawning Sons — but it also reunites the guitarist with bassist Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson) and drummer Alfredo Hernandez (ex-Kyuss), and their chemistry together makes for one of the year’s most gorgeously woven albums. Stunning to realize, as Arce describes, how much of it was improvised.

When we spoke for the interview, Arce was recently returned from a Yawning Man European tour which Lalli had to sit out owing, as alluded to in the conversation, to health problems. Filling the bassist slot was Zach Slater, who by all accounts held the position as best could anyone other than Lalli himself. As the likes of Billy Cordell (Brant Bjork) have filled that role in the past, he’s in good company.

In the Q&A to follow, Arce discusses writing and recording Nomadic Pursuits, working with and without Lalli and Hernandez, future projects (including a second Yawning Sons release) and the unforeseeable source of inspiration for his signature guitar tone. Please enjoy.

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Yawning Man Reach Out and Touch Some Sun

Posted in Reviews on July 15th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

With new releases by both Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson (both delivered via Cobraside Distribution), 2010 is shaping up to be a banner year for fans of true desert rock. As in, rock, from the desert. It doesn’t get much more so than the sweetly toned Yawning Man, whose latest album is the quizzically-titled Nomadic Pursuits. In what’s being billed as a “reunion lineup” boasting guitarist Gary Arce, bassist Mario Lalli (also guitar/vocals in Fatso Jetson) and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, the instrumental trio offer a glimpse into generator-party bliss, ringing out reverb into the open air as many bands try to do and almost nobody pulls off this well.

True, it’s been five years since Yawning Man put out the Rock Formations full-length and the Pot Head EP, which were compiled on vinyl in 2008’s Vista Point, but I for one am of the opinion that if Yawning Man happened every day it would lose some of the magic. Yeah, it would be cool to get a fresh batch of jams each year – I know I wouldn’t get tired of hearing Arce’s guitar tone, which if you want to get right down to it is more or less what launched the now-legendary Palm Desert scene those many years ago – but there’s something special about a release like Nomadic Pursuits. It doesn’t happen often, it serves a very specific purpose, and it feels special when you listen. Not every album does that.

And it’s not like we’ve been Arce-less. There was the killer Yawning Sons record last year in collaboration with the UK’s Sons of Alpha Centauri, and there was Dark Tooth Encounter and Arce’s contributions to Ten East and others that have at least somewhat filled a Yawning void. Nonetheless, once you hear the lively interaction between Arce, Lalli and Hernandez on “Far-off Adventure,” you’ll be forced to agree there’s nothing quite like the real deal. At 8:28, that’s the longest cut on Nomadic Pursuits, but not necessarily the most satisfying. The opener, “Camel Tow,” is warm enough to make me long for air conditioning, and as the jam is later revived and mutated on “Camel Tow Too,” it becomes something of a running theme throughout the album. A focal point, almost, but the music carries such a spontaneity and natural feel that to call something that feels like I’m saying it’s contrived, which would be grossly inaccurate.

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Top Five of the First Half of 2010 #4: Fatso Jetson, Archaic Volumes

Posted in Features on June 16th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Few and far between are the albums I’ll hear these days and have to listen to on repeat over and over again the way small children watch Disney movies. Not that I don’t like what I’m hearing, it just doesn’t happen that often. You get older, your tastes change and the way you listen to music changes.

Fatso Jetson‘s long awaited Archaic Volumes, however, is a record I just can’t enough of. I don’t doubt that it would be higher on this list had it come out earlier in the year, but even so, for the sheer amount of times I’ve been back and forth from “Jet Black Boogie” to “Monoxide Dreams,” I feel like my feet have worn in the path.

I’ve already reviewed Archaic Volumes and posted an interview with guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli, but I think if there’s anything left to be said about the album, it’s in the area of the tightness between players, especially drummer Tony Tornay and bassist Larry Lalli, who comprise one of the sickest rock rhythm sections I’ve ever heard. Not only are they in lockstep as regards the songs, but each player presents a unique personality in what they do that just pushes Archaic Volumes head and shoulders above other records that have come along in 2010.

If you haven’t heard it yet, consider this yet another recommendation to do so (that’s pretty much the point of this list anyway, right?), because Fatso Jetson‘s Archaic Volumes is one of those right-idea-right-time albums that you just won’t be able to leave alone. Definitely one of this year’s best releases, and well worth the seven years it took to get it out.

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Fatso Jetson Interview: Mario Lalli Talks the Restaurant Business, New Yawning Man, Touring Europe, Not Touring Europe and Much More

Posted in Features on June 10th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

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.

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