Busy few months coming up for desert instrumentalists Yawning Man. On March 15, they begin a round of North American dates supporting Sweden’s Truckfighters in the role that Greenleaf had to pull out of last month. That’ll take them through the rest of March. In April, they feature at the Stoned and Dusted pre-show for Brant Bjork‘s second Desert Generator fest. Then in May, it’s off to Europe to appear at Heavy Psych Sounds‘ Sonic Ritual fest for two nights in a row as part of a tour presented by the Italian label in conjunction with Sound of Liberation.
That runs through the better part of June, and then, after heading back to the West Coast, they play the pool party pre-show in August at Psycho Las Vegas alongside Conan, Pentagram, Sasquatch and an impressive slew of others. I’m kind of exhausted just looking at the schedule, to be honest with you. Hope they have some way of getting laundry done on the road.
They head out supporting last year’s Historical Graffiti (review here) on Lay Bare Recordings, which captured a short-lived lineup of the band live one night in Buenos Aires and can be heard in full at the bottom of the post. It’s a cause well worth getting out for, but as someone in a geographic region where they’re not hitting this time around, my only hope is they put some of their new t-shirts for sale somewhere online. Fingers crossed.
Here are the dates:
Yawning Man – Tour Dates
Yawning Man is beyond excited to be touring the United States and Canada, for the very first time! If you don’t already live on the West Coast or up North/Canada, then this will be a ‘destination’ tour for you all, our friends. So you’ll want to get some of your buddies together, pack yourselves in a van (or whatever roadworthy ride you have) and make a road trip for these shows. We will be touring with Truckfighters. We can’t wait to see you!!! We love you all.
SOL & HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS are proud to announce the first bunch of European tourdates in 2017 for the legendary Yawning Man (Official)! Get your tickets early & enjoy the imaginary trip to the boundless vastness of the Californian desert!
MARCH (w/ Truckfighters) 15 San Diego CA Brick by Brick 16 Los Angeles CA Complex 17 San Francisco CA Bottom of the Hill 18 Sacramento CA Starlight Lounge 19 Portland OR Ash St. Saloon 20 Seattle WA El Corazon 21 Vancouver BC Rickshaw Theatre 23 Calgary AB Distortion 24 Edmonton AB Starlite Room 25 Saskatoon SK Amigos 28 Denver CO Moon Room 29 Albuquerque NM Low Spirits 30 Tucson AZ The Flycatcher 31 Mesa AZ Club Red
APRIL 7 Pioneertown CA Stoned & Dusted at Desert Generator
MAY 17 Torino | Blah Blah 19 Athens | An Club “Sonic Ritual Fest” 20 Mezzago | Bloom “Sonic Ritual Fest” 21 Viareggio | Gob 22 Zerobranco | Altroquando 23 Bologna | Freak Out 24 Pescara | Scumm 25 Roma | Whishlist 26 Savignano | Sidro 27 Cagliari | La Cueva Rock 30 Paris | Gibus Live 31 Brussels | Magasin 4
JUNE 01 London | Black Heart 03 Deventer | Burger Weeshuis 04 Amsterdam | Winston Kingdom 06 Nantes | Le Ferrailleur 07 Bordeaux | Void 10 Olten | Coq D’or 11 Wuerzburg | Immerhin 12 Prag | Klub Famu 13 Budapest | Aurora 14 Zagreb | Vintage Industrial Bar 15 Ljubljana | Klub Gromka 16 Wien | Das Bach 17 Cottbus | Zum faulen August 18 Berlin | Badehaus (with Mothership) 19 Hamburg | Hafenklang (with Mothership) 20 Malmö | Plan B 22 Kopenhagen | KB18
Posted in Features on March 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
At this point in what might be generously called my ‘career,’ I’ve written biographies for the likes of Neurosis, Electric Citizen, Kings Destroy, Gary Arce of Yawning Man, Alunah, Mondo Drag, Conan, Egypt, Lo-Pan, Wo Fat, Alexander von Wieding, and countless others when one considers things like festival announcements and press releases and other such and sundries I’ve put together. It’s extra work, but I enjoy it. For one thing, it’s nice to be thought of and asked. For another, it’s a chance to cross an editorial boundary and directly help an artist tell their own story, as opposed to trying to stand back and analyze it from as much distance as possible, as one might with a standard review. What does this person want to say about who and where they are creatively, and how can I bring that out in words?
I’ve posted numerous bios I’ve written here before, but it was a singular honor to be asked to compose a biography for Brant Bjork ahead of what looks to be a busy 2017 for him, between his Desert Generator fest (info here), recently-announced US tour (dates here), and the inevitable further activity that will surface as he continues to support last year’s excellent Tao of the Devil (review here) on Napalm Records. The chance to explore what might be desert rock’s most pivotal singular legacy — really, when you look at his raw discography, it’s staggering — was an opportunity to be relished, and having turned it over and gotten approval for a finished draft, I thought I’d share it with you.
A moment of self-indulgence on my part, probably, but I thank you as always for the allowance and for reading. If you have any thoughts on it, any and all comments are welcome.
It starts after the picture:
Brant Bjork Bio 2017
With Tao of the Devil, Brant Bjork reconfirms his position as the Godfather of Desert Groove. Across sprawling jams and classic rockers, the multi-instrumentalist frontman celebrates the other, the self and the Californian landscape he calls home, following 2014’s Black Power Flower – his first album for Napalm Records – with an even more resounding execution of memorable songcraft and inimitable, heavy vibe. In the company of The Low Desert Punk Band, he brings to bear the fruits of one of rock and roll’s most storied careers and, as he always does, pushes forward in ongoing, seemingly unstoppable growth.
Brant Bjork has spent over a quarter-century at the epicenter of Californian desert rock. From cutting his teeth alongside Fatso Jetson’s Mario Lalli in hardcore punkers De-Con to drumming and composing on Kyuss’ landmark early albums, to propelling the seminal fuzz of Fu Manchu from 1994-2001 while producing other bands, putting together offshoot projects like Ché, embarking on his solo career as a singer, guitarist and bandleader, founding his own record label and more, his history is a winding narrative of relentless, unflinching creativity.
For someone so outwardly laid back, he’s never really taken a break. And while Bjork has shown different sides of himself on albums like his funk-laden 1999 solo debut, Jalamanta, the mellow Local Angel (2004), 2007’s mostly-acoustic Tres Dias, and heavier rockers Somera Sól (2007), Gods & Goddesses (2010) and the two most recent outings with The Low Desert Punk Band, he’s maintained a natural representation of himself in his material, whether that’s coming across in the Thin Lizzy-isms of the faux-full-band 2002 release Brant Bjork and the Operators (actually just Bjork playing mostly by himself) or the weedy, in-the-jam-room spirit of “Dave’s War” from Tao of the Devil. When you’re listening to Brant Bjork, you know it, because there’s no one else who sounds quite like him.
That fact and years of hard touring have positioned Brant Bjork as an ambassador for the Southern California desert and the musical movement birthed there in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. As underground interest has surged in recent years, Bjork has been a pivotal figurehead, realigning with his former Kyuss bandmate John Garcia to drum and write in Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino, celebrating and building on that legacy while giving a new generation of fans the chance to see it happen in real-time.
Having told his story in films like Kate McCabe’s Sabbia (2006) and the documentaries Such Hawks Such Hounds (2008) and Lo Sound Desert (2015), he’s represented desert rock at home and abroad with no less honesty than that which he poured into the music helping to create it. The same impulse led to the founding of his Desert Generator in 2016, an annual festival held in Pioneertown, CA, with an international reach capturing the intimacy and timeless aura of the desert culture, including music, a van show in conjunction with Rolling Heavy magazine, the Stoned & Dusted pre-show in the wilderness, and an evolution that looks to continue into the foreseeable future.
Bjork’s work, with any project, has always had a rebellious sensibility. He’s always walked his own path. But more, his career through Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Ché, Vista Chino, and his crucial solo work has been about freedom through rock and roll, attained by the truest representation of the person and the place as art. This, along with a whole lot of groove, is what has helped Brant Bjork define desert rock as a worldwide phenomenon, and whatever comes next, it is what will continue to make him its most indispensable practitioner.
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
If you thought the recently-announced Desert Generator fest already looked like an unreasonably good time, sit tight. As it happens, Brant Bjork‘s appearance at the second installment of the festival he’s curating — as well as the pre-party out in the desert the night before, for which Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson‘s Mario Lalli is reportedly bringing the generator to provide power — will serve as the launch point for a coast-to-coast US tour alongside Royal Thunder and Black Wizard.
Bjork, in the company of The Low Desert Punk Band, was in Europe this past Fall, and he heads out in the US supporting 2016’s most-righteous Tao of the Devil (review here), on Napalm Records. If you’re reading this post and haven’t heard that album yet, sorry, but you’re fresh out of excuses. Get on that shit.
Dates follow here as well as the poster by Branca Studio, courtesy of the PR wire:
BRANT BJORK to Launch US Tour at Desert Generator Fest
Support from Royal Thunder & Black Wizard; East Coast dates with Pentagram
Look what the cat dragged in: Low Desert Punk Brant Bjork, king of the sweetest flow and forever kissed by the burning sun of Southern Cali! As the founder of Kyuss, the singer / guitarist / drummer might be the ultimate icon the Desert Rock scene has to offer – but despite all this praise and worship, Brant’s only concern rests in supplying the planet with unpretentious laid-back rock, adorned with hefty jam-outs! Tao Of The Devil is more focused than its predecessor Black Power Flower and boasts a more song-oriented and groovy stoner sound, with a healthy dose of 70s style greatness.
BRANT BJORK: TAO OF THE DEVIL TOUR
with Royal Thunder & Black Wizard 04/07 Mojave Desert CA Stoned & Dusted 04/08 Pioneertown CA Pappy & Harriet’s Desert Generator 04/09 Sacramento CA Blue Lamp 04/10 San Francisco CA Slim’s 04/11 Portland OR Hawthorne Theatre 04/12 Vancouver BC SBC 04/13 Seattle WA El Corazon 04/14 Boise ID The Shredder 04/15 Salt Lake City UT In the Venue 04/16 Denver CO Marquis Theater 04/17 Kansas City MO Riot Room 04/18 Chicago IL Beat Kitchen 04/19 Cleveland OH Agora Ballroom 04/20 Baltimore MD Soundstage* 04/22 New York NY Le Poisson Rouge* 04/23 Boston MA Middle East* 04/25 Atlanta GA Masquerade 04/26 New Orleans LA Siberia 04/27 Austin TX Barracuda 04/28 Dallas TX Gas Monkey 04/29 Albuquerque NM Launchpad 04/30 Mesa AZ Club Red 05/01 Los Angeles CA Echoplex * with Pentagram
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Prior to hitting stages at Freak Valley 2017, Desertfest London and Berlin, and Psycho Las Vegas this Spring/Summer with the reunited Slo Burn, desert rock’s iconic frontman John Garcia will embark on a European tour next month supporting his first-ever acoustic solo album. Released last month on Napalm Records, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (review here) blends new original material with fresh arrangements of classic Kyuss tracks like “Gardenia,” “Space Cadet” and “Green Machine” — staples of Garcia‘s nigh-unmatchable body of work. Since the record was born out of European “evening with”-style tour, it seems only fair he’d return abroad to support it, even as one of multiple international trips being made this year.
The run has been dubbed, fittingly enough, “Coyote Unplugged.” Dates and more info follow:
JOHN GARCIA: Coyote Unplugged Tour 2017!
Kyuss, Slo-Burn, Unida, Hermano, Vista Chino – yes, desert crooner John Garcia may rightfully be considered the ultimate incarnation of stoner rock. His first solo album and opus eponymous from 2014 is followed roughly three years later by The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues, a comparatively relaxed and purely acoustic affair! “Better late than never”, Mister Garcia himself comments on the rather lengthy period of time he invested in his new baby. Offering chilled out renditions of some well-known classics as well as John Garcia’s solo work, The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues seamlessly merges past gems with future, howling hits like ‘The Hollingsworth Session‘ – all you need now is a crackling fire!
John Garcia comments satisfied: “This record is one of the most important of my career, difficult and challenging to do, but worth every minute of sweat!”
Recorded and mixed by Steve Feldman and Robbie Waldman, mastered by Gene “The Machine” Grimaldi at Oasis Mastering in California, ‘The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues’ offers an emotional acoustic ride through John Garcia’s solo work as well as songs by Kyuss in new arrangements like you have never heard before.
Acoustic guitar: Ehren Groban Percussions: Greg Saenz Bass: Mike Pygmie
JOHN GARCIA – Coyote Unplugged Tour 2017 14.03. CH – Bern, ISC Club 15.03. GER – Munich, Backstage 16.03. CRO – Zagreb, Vintage Industrial Bar 17.03. SLO – Nova Gorica, Mostovna 18.03. GR – Athen, AN Club 20.03. PL – Wroclaw, Carpe Diem 21.03. PL – Warsaw, Beerokracja 22.03. DK – Kopenhagen, Loppen 24.03. NL – Hilversum, De Vorstin 25.03. GER – Bielefeld, Heimat + Hafen 26.03. NL – Breda, Mezz 27.03. B – Arlon, L’Entrepôt
[John Garcia releases The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues via Napalm Records on Jan. 27. Please enjoy a lyric video premiere for ‘Give Me 250ml’ by clicking play above.]
It’s hard to say exactly how long John Garcia‘s acoustic album has been in the works. Granted, if we’re talking about this release, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, which teams the singer whose voice inarguably most typifies California’s desert rock movement with guitarist Ehren Groban (War Drum), bassist Mike Pygmie (Mondo Generator, You Know Who) and percussionist Greg Saenz (The Dwarves, You Know Who), it’s a more recent affair, following up on Garcia‘s fully-plugged 2014 self-titled solo debut (review here). But the notion of a Garcia acoustic record goes much further back.
In 1998, after the demise of his former band Kyuss and as the late ’90s stoner rock movement he helped inspire was taking shape — which Garcia would further solidify on the West Coast in Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and by contributing to other groups and projects in the early ’00s — he provided the closing track on MeteorCity‘s first release, the Welcome to MeteorCity compilation (discussed here) under the guise of J.M.J., with the song “To Believe.” Just to do some quick math for emphasis, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues arrives 19 years later and finds Garcia an entirely different presence, having long since cemented his legacy in the aforementioned acts and pushed ahead through further work with Hermano, the Garcia Plays Kyuss/Vista Chino semi-reunion of Kyuss, who released their lone album to-date, Peace (review here), in 2013, and his ensuing solo outfit. His vocal approach, guttural at times in the true sense of coming from the gut, but able to be sweetly melodic in its croon, has influenced a generation of heavy rock singers while remaining inimitable.
This nine-track/39-minute offering finds him at the top of his game and seemingly delivering as much for his fans as for himself. It brings together the new material in opener “Kylie,” “Give Me 250ml,” “The Hollingsworth Session,” “Argleben II” — an apparent sequel to “Argleben” from Garcia‘s self-titled — and instrumental closer “Court Order” with Kyuss classics “Green Machine,” “Space Cadet,” “Gardenia” and “El Rodeo,” which of course are reworked to suit the acoustic context. Garcia is right to keep the scale weighted on the side of newer songs, and not that they needed to, but the Kyuss cuts earn their place as well owing to the fact that Garcia played them on his acoustic European tour. In any case, one doubts he’ll get many complaints. On The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, they appear in the order in which I just listed them, with “Green Machine” following “Kylie” at the start of the record and introducing the listener to the notion that, while familiar at their root, the arrangements are fair game when it comes to the older stuff; the signature riff of “Green Machine” becomes a sentimental intertwining of string plucks and Garcia‘s verse vocals — practically shouts on the original — are a subdued croon that well earn the late flourish of keyboard after the last chorus.
The pair “Give Me 250ml” and “The Hollingsworth Session” follow, with the former providing a considerable groove for Garcia to ride as he will — a forceful strum and some backing vocals layered in that make it easy to imagine a full-on heavy version. It’s the shortest track here at 2:58, but leaves an upbeat impression that carries into “The Hollingsworth Session,” which stands as the most complex of the pieces making their first appearance here in its back and forth trades of “loud” and “quiet” — all things relative, right? — and proffers a hook that stands up to the triple-shot block of Kyuss songs that immediately follow. Its layered chorus, prominent bass and energetic start-stop groove lead to a winding guitar solo finale that fits well as a lead-in for the album’s well-deserved centerpiece, “Space Cadet.”
Of all the Kyuss one might include on an acoustic outing, “Space Cadet” probably makes the most sense, since the quiet track from 1994’s mega-crucial Welcome to Sky Valley (and yes, before you get all internet-clever, I know it’s officially a self-titled) was practically unplugged to start with, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It just needs less rearranging as compared to the more driving “Green Machine,” or “Gardenia,” which follows. What seems to be a far-back inclusion of organ or keyboard adds to the forward guitar strum, but it’s Garcia himself carrying “Space Cadet,” which is as it should be, and he makes it a highlight. But for the lyrics, “Gardenia” is hardly recognizable for the hypnotic picking of strings, punctuating percussion and quiet, meditative spirit it’s given. “Hear a purring motor and she’s a-burnin’ fuel/Push it over baby/Makin’ love to you” never sounded more romantic.
Just before two and a half minutes in, the vibe picks up a bit with some slide guitar added to the song’s more bouncing end progression, but like “Green Machine” before it, “Gardenia” gets a considerable reworking for The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, while “El Rodeo,” which begins with a foreboding moment of piano before its guitar introduction, seems to allow itself to be a little more fun. Strings or key-strings back the verse, which Garcia doles out in full-force despite the lack of distortion behind him, letting loose in a cadence that brings together the layered lines of the original in an effective, stage-style presentation. Percussion from Saenz backs the section of instrumental pauses in the second half, and the repetitions of the title bring “El Rodeo” to a vibrant finish, leading to the more atmospheric “Argleben II,” which brings piano to the fore alongside the guitar and seems to pull together and swell with each run through its chorus, making for a quick five-minute stretch. It ends on a fade, leading to the closing meditation of “Court Order,” which may or may not actually be included as a result of one.
Somewhat surprising for Garcia — who’s known entirely for his vocals — to cap his first acoustic solo LP with a quick three-minute instrumental, but it may well be that desert rock’s greatest frontman is sending a message of branching out and letting his audience know they should do likewise in terms of what they might expect from him. Given that, as noted, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues has been nearly two decades in the making in one form or another, one hesitates to think of what a follow-up might bring, but one thing to note is that with a catalog as vast as his has been, if he’s looking to blend new material and old on records like this, there is a wealth of songs ripe for reinterpretation. Thinking of tracks like Slo Burn‘s “Muezli,” “Hermano‘s “Brother Bjork” or Unida‘s “Slaylina,” or even Vista Chino‘s “Adara,” there would seem to be little reason a conversation between Garcia and his fans in this manner couldn’t be ongoing. There are numerous contingencies to consider there, including the Slo Burn reunion happening this year — will that result in a studio album? — and persistent rumors of a new Hermano record, which would be their first in a decade, so one can’t necessarily guess where Garcia might be headed following this release. But that’s part of what makes it enjoyable as a moment finally captured, and the realization of The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues should be considered a landmark in one of heavy rock’s most pivotal careers.
Posted in Reviews on November 3rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan
It happened one day in the Netherlands. Actually it was a night. And Yawning Man were getting ready to play the 2014 edition of Mañana Mañana Fest, but guitarist Gary Arce and drummer Bill Stinson found themselves in need of a bassist. Well, it just so happened that Erik Harbers, one of the festival’s organizers, plays bass in Automatic Sam, so he and co-organizer/guitarist Pieter Holkenborg stepped in to fill the spot. They’d never played together, let alone on stage in front of a fest crowd. But it worked, and one can rightly think of Ten East‘s Skyline Pressure as an outgrowth of that experience.
Bringing the same four parties back — Arce, Stinson, Harbers and Holkenborg — to record in a studio setting with Harper Hug at Thunder Underground, the attempt is capture the same kind of spontaneous chemistry that they wound up showing that night two years ago. The result? Eight tracks and a sprawling 58 minutes marked out by two particularly extended pieces in opener “Daisy Cutter” (13:03) and the later “Sonars and Myths” (14:33) that very much have their root in what Yawning Man do in their desert-defining instrumental soundscaping atmospherics, but arrive somewhat beefed up thanks to the second guitar and a fervent rhythmic push from Stinson and Harbers in the rhythm section.
It’s worth noting that in addition to having taken part in the recently-issued Fatso Jetson collaboration with France’s Hifiklub (review here), this is the third full-length, in three separate outfits, Arce has appeared this year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise (on Small Stone; review here) and Yawning Man‘s Historical Graffiti (on Lay Bare; review here), marking the continuation of what might just be his most productive year ever in terms of output.
Not bad for someone who’s been helping shape the scope of desert rock for the better part of the last 30 years. Of those other offerings, Skyline Pressure is probably best compared to the Fatso Jetson/Hifiklub release, since Hifiklub guitarist Nico Morcillo sits in here for side A’s “Planet Blues,” the penultimate serenity of “Stalactite Dip” and closer “Tangled Forest.” But just about anything Arce does is going to be measured in terms of Yawning Man, and that seems all the more fair since Skyline Pressure shares Historical Graffiti‘s title-track, thereby providing a direct line from one offering to the other.
Moreover, it gives a genuine opportunity to examine some of the differences. Ten East, for whom this is their third full-length and first since 2008’s The Robot’s Guide to Freedom, on which Arce and Stinson were joined by Scott Reeder, Greg Ginn, Mario Lalli, etc., is a different project than Yawning Man. That is quickly established on Skyline Pressure and reinforced throughout.
Even as songs like “Eye Soar” or the title-track or the highlight dream-jazz of “Sonars and Myths” veer into otherworldly ambience led my Arce‘s inimitable tone, Ten East remain prone to a more weighted thrust and a heavier undercurrent. Part of that is Harbers‘ personality as a bassist, and part of it is Holkenborg on second guitar — not to mention Morcillo on third — but these factors come together to make it clearer why Skyline Pressure would end up a Ten East record and not a Yawning Man record. However recognizable their origins, quite simply, they’re a different band. It’s true from “Daisy Cutter” — which also has its origins in Yawning Man — onward.
Actually, the initial thrust of “Daisy Cutter” goes a long way in defining Skyline Pressure as a whole, and though the album seems to open to broader terrain especially as it shifts into the back half of the tracklist, with the title-cut, “Sonars and Myths,” and “Stalactite Dip” setting up a bookend return to push in “Tangled Forest,” the places Ten East go are measured in part by from where they came.
“Daisy Cutter” has a wash as those familiar with Arce‘s work might expect, but remains forceful for the bulk of its 13 minutes and finishes noisy, and though the subsequent “Eye Soar” is more soothing, the effect of the opener resonates through it and through “Historical Graffiti”‘s shifts in volume and ending build. I’d say the same applies to “Sonars and Myths,” though the later extended track emphasizes the other side of what Skyline Pressure accomplishes in its fluidity and patience, also grown out of Yawning Man‘s core approach but keyed into a particular joy for experimentation that distinguishes it outright. Both are worth bringing forward at one point or another, and ultimately, both play into Skyline Pressure‘s success in following up what proved so special about that Yawning Man set in the Netherlands.
Whether or not Ten East will continue this collaboration in this form, I don’t know. One still waits for a second Yawning Sons album, and Ten East‘s lineup has always been fluid at least in terms of who sits in with Arce and Stinson for a session. It seems to be a if-it-happens-it-happens kind of scenario. But even for that, it’s fortunate that this incarnation of Ten East were able to come together for Skyline Pressure and capture as much material as they did — it’s not a short journey by any means, either in bringing Harbers and Holkenborg to California to record or in a listener making their way through the nearly-hour-long album — since it’s so rare that moments which seem like they’ll never come again manage to do just that.
Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
If you want to check Lo Sound Desert‘s credentials as a labor of love, look no further than the fact that it exists. Directed and produced by Berlin-based filmmaker Jörg Steineck, it is the result of a full decade’s labors and not one, but two crowdfunding campaigns, and through a wide swath of interviews, archival footage, old photos and stories, it undertakes an ambitious exploration of what it is about the area outside of Los Angeles that led to the birth of desert rock.
Steineck, who splits the film into two smaller chapters — titled “Backyard Rebellion” and “The Outskirts of Town” — should be remembered from his work on the 2011 documentary Fuzzomentary: A Film About a Band Called Truckfighters (review here). He speaks with figures and figureheads out of the scene that sprang up from punk teens in the 1980s and paints a general portrait of what we now call desert rock as the result of some of the same impulses that gave birth elsewhere to grunge and alt rock, or for that matter to punk itself: bored kids with energy to spend, looking to spend it.
Appropriately, the first voice we hear is Brant Bjork. The former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer and head of his own Low Desert Punk Band sets us underway with a discussion of the landscape, but it’s not long before Lo Sound Desert digs its heels into the music itself, which becomes the clear center of attention throughout. Along the way, we hear extensively from the likes of Throw Rag‘s Sean Wheeler, guitarist/vocalist Mike Moracha and bassist/vocalist Nick Nava of Hornss, who trace their roots back to desert outfit Solarfeast, Zach Huskey and Joe Dillon of Dali’s Llama, Scott Reeder (we even get to see his chihuahua, Scooter, in a couple shots), Nick Oliveri, Mario Lalli — who, it seems to be unanimously agreed, started the whole thing — as well as members of acts like Unsound, Nebula, You Know Who, House of Broken Promises, Slo Burn, Half Astro, and so on.
There are a few conspicuous absences — Yawning Man is discussed but Gary Arce never appears, and neither John Garcia nor Chris Goss are there to participate in the discussion of Kyuss — but an interview with Josh Homme (footage from which also appeared in the Fuzzomentary) produces some choice one-liners, and by no means is Lo Sound Desert light when it comes to story.
Rather, it seems the central challenge of the film, perhaps apart from making it actually happen, is that it’s trying to encompass 30 years of rock and roll history into one 90-minute spread. Many of these players could fill that time just with their own story. Certainly Lalli, whose time as a club owner, show-organizer and restaurateur in addition to playing with Across the River, Fatso Jetson, the Sort of Quartet and Yawning Man, is touched upon, but could fill out a feature-length documentary by himself.
And Homme, Bjork, Huskey, Reeder are also fodder for further exploration. Hell, you could do 120 minutes on Kyuss getting signed to Elektra — something touched on, somewhat humorously — and still have enough left over for bonus footage, though for what it’s worth, Lo Sound Desert offers plenty of that as well; about an hour front-to-back divided into smaller clips.
So one imagines that Steineck‘s principal task as sorting all those stories of playing in garages, working shitty jobs — Moracha and Nava win in that regard; I won’t spoil it — finding spaces out in the desert beyond the reach of law enforcement, opening and closing clubs and the rest into a cohesive, linear story. He gives the film the full title, Lo Sound Desert: Two Chapters on Rock Music by Jörg Steineck. Yes, it could easily be eight chapters, or 10, but Steineck‘s success in bringing form to the amorphous life experiences of these players and characters is undeniable.
After an initial inhale giving background on the setting around Palm Springs, Palm Desert and the small towns surrounding, he moves quickly through the evolution of sound that took place through the ’80s and ’90s and which continues today both in the output of desert-based bands and heavy rockers worldwide taking influence from them. The stories told entertain, the music is brash and rough and formative and suitably romantic for that, and while the audience to which Steineck is speaking is expected to have some knowledge of the genre, he does well to balance broad overview and deep-dive personal narrative in such a way as to provide an engaging experience for newcomers as well as longtime converts.
Some interviews lean more toward performance than others, and sometimes it feels like there’s simply too much tale to tell, but through clever editing and interludes, Steineck provides a steady hand to guide the viewer through this barrage of tales of playing out in the middle of nowhere, underage drinking and partying, skateboarding and trying to define what happened in the desert that made desert rock different from grunge or anything else happening at the time.
Several of the answers to that question are practical. Desert rockers tuned lower, allowing for a meatier sound than the post-punk that emerged in the same era elsewhere, but it’s Lalli who ultimately nails the core difference in a bonus feature discussion of what is stoner rock when he says it’s about the jam. Principally, we find out that the freedom provided to these bands via the landscape, via playing outside — the second chapter here centers largely on generator parties and their effect on emerging acts like Kyuss and Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, etc. — and via an utter lack of expectation on the part of their audience allowed for a freeform approach to essentially recast punk rock in their own image.
That era may have been short-lived, just a couple years, but its effects are broad reaching, as an included family tree of bands in the DVD liner and as the interviews included show. While Steineck joins Huskey and Wheeler and Reeder in looking around at what the desert was and the creative community that flourished there seemingly unaware of the odds it was working against, he also brings a look at the continued vitality of the scene in footage captured from the 2011 Desert Moon Ranch fest, at which Wheeler, Waxy, Fatso Jetson, You Know Who, Hornss, House of Broken Promises, Dali’s Llama and more played.
Though the conversation inevitably doesn’t go as in-depth as that of the history behind these acts and their influence/influences, it does give an opportunity to glimpse modern desert rock as a mature, varied sound that has continued to thrive across a span of years that has seen competing styles like grunge rise perhaps to greater heights of commercial success, but likewise dissipate wholesale. Like the land itself, desert rock has worked on a longer timeline. So be it.
Later on, nods to Homme‘s work as ambassador for the scene and sound in Queens of the Stone Age is acknowledged, and we get to see footage of Fatso Jetson in Germany at Stoned from the Underground, while backstage, guitarist Dino von Lalli (also of BigPig; son to Mario) discusses the rise of a new generation of rockers out in the vast nowhere, working out the same energy as their forebears, perhaps more extreme in style but recognizable in their restlessness for sure. That conversation leaves room for the summary of what “desert rock,” as an idea, ultimately means.
Opinions, as one might expect, vary — but as Lo Sound Desert has made plain by then, that variety is half the point. As much as heavy rock and roll worldwide has taken on genre characteristics over particularly the last two decades in the wake of Kyuss‘ relatively widespread influence, the roots from which this particular branch of it grew seem only to have benefited from the huge sky and open land surrounding.
I don’t know if it’s fair to expect more chapters in Steineck‘s narrative, since Lo Sound Desert itself was such an undertaking. There’s room certainly to ask about what could’ve been in a post-grunge commercial movement for desert rock, which some might argue was attempted and ultimately floundered outside perhaps of Queens of the Stone Age, but among shorter clips of driving through canyons, band rehearsals, technical issues at the Desert Moon Ranch fest, etc., the bonus features also include a fascinating and much needed reflection on what is “stoner rock” and what the difference between that and desert rock might be.
This question, which plainly irks Nebula even in the asking, is core to the feature and if Steineck were ever to engage the larger issue of how the sound translated from the Californian desert into the worldwide underground phenomenon it has become, would be all the more necessary, but even as it’s presented here, it’s one more insight that allows these players a voice they’ve long since deserved to discuss their work and the context of the history it has made and is still making.
In its pace, balance, editing and the clear passion as its driving force, Lo Sound Desert holds a mirror up to one of rock’s most crucial movements of the last 30 years and allows it to speak for itself at last, unfiltered and as raw as a speaker cone with sand blown in it. It should be considered essential viewing, whatever one thinks they already know of its story.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
John Garcia, frontman of Kyuss, Vista Chino, Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano, etc., will release his first-ever acoustic solo album, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, on Jan. 27, 2017, through Napalm Records. How far back does this project go? Well, the first time John Garcia was heard doing acoustic solo material was in 1998, with the song “To Believe” that was featured at the very end of the Welcome to MeteorCity compilation — he used the moniker J.M.J., but his voice is unmistakable — so it’s been at least 18 years in the making, and honestly, probably longer than that. About a week ago, Garcia posted on Thee Facebooks that a release was imminent, but didn’t say much about the circumstances or the timing, both of which we now know thanks to the PR wire.
The tracklisting will consist of Kyuss tracks as well as some originals, and you’ll find it after the cover art and recording info below, which just hit the inbox:
JOHN GARCIA UNVEILS FIRST DETAILS OF UPCOMING ACOUSTIC ALBUM!
Cover, Tracklist and Release Date announced!
John Garcia. The living desert rock legend and most distinctive voice of an entire genre, is finally back with a new studio album! Normally you would expect some heavy guitars, pounding drums and fuzzy tunes from Mr Garcia. But not this time, as he is about to release something extremely special and presenting himself stronger and more emotional then he has ever been.
After successful tours all over the world, playing Kyuss, Slo Burn, Hermano and his solo project, John Garcia recently blew away the audiences with a unique live acoustic performance. Now the desert king has unveiled the first and hotly anticipated details about his upcoming acoustic solo album, entitled ‘The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues’ and is set to be released on January 27th 2017 on Napalm Records!
John Garcia comments satisfied: “This record is one of the most important of my career, difficult and challenging to do, but worth every minute of sweat!”
Recorded and mixed by Steve Feldman and Robbie Waldman, mastered by Gene “The Machine” Grimaldi at Oasis Mastering in California, ‘The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues’ offers an emotional acoustic ride through John Garcia’s solo work as well as songs by Kyuss in new arrangements like you have never heard before!
With longtime desert and touring fellas Ehren Groban on the acoustic guitar, Greg Saenz on percussions and bassist Mike Pygmie, ‘The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues’ will be a MUST-HAVE for every fan of the desert rock and Kyuss era, and will come with an artwork every collector’s heart will beat faster:
Dive into some Kyuss classics and John Garcia’s solo project when he plays his tunes acoustic, the track listing of ‘The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues’ will read as follows:
Kylie Green Machine Give Me 250ml The Hollingsworth Session Space Cadet Gardenia El Rodeo Argleben II Court Order