Fatso Jetson Interview with Mario Lalli: The Long Deep Breath You Take Before Diving in Headfirst

fatso jetson 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Fatso Jetson‘s current European tour alongside compatriots and fellow desert rock progenitors Yawning Man began last night, in Dortmund, Germany. The band is touring as a trio, with the father/son team of Mario and Dino Lalli switching off on guitar and bass while Tony Tornay drums. Absent are bassist Larry Lalli (Mario‘s cousin) and saxophonist Vince Meghrouni, who aren’t out of the band or anything, just couldn’t make the trip. So if Europe’s being treated to a somewhat rawer form of Fatso Jetson, they’re also getting an extra dose of desert jamming from Yawning Man, in which Mario Lalli plays bass alongside Gary Arce‘s guitar and, this time, Bill Stinson‘s drums. The plan is to have Dino, who’s 18 and has been sharing stages with his father for the last half-decade or so — the two playing together in Auto Modown prior to Dino actually joining Fatso Jetson — sit in on guitar and jam during Yawning Man‘s sets. Everything evens out one way or another.

Sounds more complicated than it is, maybe. The idea to take away from it is the amorphous nature of the two bands — a symbiosis between them — and Mario Lalli‘s pivotal contribution to both. This is a Fatso Jetson interview because that was most of what I wanted to ask about; his role on the tour and writing with his son, helping Dino find a creative voice while also progressing his own band after 2010’s excellent and underrated Archaic Volumes (review here), and whether the material they contributed to their 2014 split with Herba Mate (review here) was at all indicative of where Fatso Jetson‘s next record is headed. It just as easily could’ve been talking about Yawning Man and when one might at last expect a follow-up to 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits (review here), or Mario‘s 30-year collaboration with Arce, which has served as a foundational element in the creation of what we now call desert rock in no small part because that’s where they happened to be jamming out when they created it. That’s another interview, though. We’ll get there when the time comes.

It’s worth noting that the Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man tour is called “Legends of the Desert Volume II,” and indeed, it’s the sequel to a run the two groups did together back in 2013 that was built around appearances at Desertfest in London and Berlin. Says something about the ongoing first-exposure to their particular brand of heavy rock and roll that the two groups — whose sounds are complementary for sure but ultimately have two different styles — would find demand fervent enough for a repeat trek. In the end, you gotta give the people what they want. Fatso Jetson, as Lalli points out, has never done a full US tour, which is something they hope to change, but the next task seems to be recording. Their LP will be the first with Dino in the band, and while there’s a lot of history one can talk about with Mario Lalli, whose involvement in groups like Sort of Quartet and Yawning Man and Across the River and Fatso Jetson means he was the guy who was always there, it seemed that much truer to what he does musically to look forward rather than back. I hope you’ll agree.

Please find the complete Q&A after the jump, and enjoy.

fatso jetson 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)Fatso and Yawning Man did the Euro tour in 2013. How did going back come about?

Well, it was awesome, because it’s like our core fans and people that enjoy our music, enjoy both bands and are familiar with those bands’ history and stuff, so it’s kind of exciting to have both bands go. Yawning Man was the kind of the first generation of it, and Fatso Jetson came later, and we’re all friends, and family, so it’s just a perfect touring scenario, really. We don’t think of either band as supporting one or the other. We kind of switch off every night, so it’s this fun trip that we do together, and everyone helps out and kicks in, and musically it jibes, because Yawning Man is more jammy and ethereal, and Fatso Jetson’s a little more rock-‘em-sock-‘em, so it balances out. And we jam together. Gary jams with us and I’m obviously playing in Yawning Man, but my son’s gonna play some guitar with Yawning Man. So it’s gonna be really cool. It makes a great bill, and we can do it relatively simply. I can tour manage both groups and us all being friends and me playing in both bands kind of keeps the tour party down. It makes great sense. It’s a perfect kind of thing. Just a family trip, you know?

So you’re actually pulling triple duty, then. You’ve got Yawning Man, Fatso Jetson, and tour managing?

Yeah. In the past, it’s been quadruple duty with driving too. I bit off more than I could chew last time and I bit the dust. I was exhausted and had a bit of a falter there, just taking too much on. I agreed to a driver for this tour (laughs). We’ve got a guy who’s got a brand new van and he’s gonna drive us to the shows in the icy winter European weather – it’s a lot better than us being exhausted, and we know we’re getting there safe and somebody that knows the vehicle. But tour managing. When I tour manage for OFF!, it’s a bit responsibility. It’s different when you tour manage your own band because you’re kind of doing stuff anyway. I say tour managing, and what I mean is advancing the shows, keeping the merch organized, getting paid, making sure that all the accounting’s done and making sure the guys are taken care of. Someone’s gotta kind of keep an eye – even though we’re all friends and we’re all grown men – someone’s gotta crack the whip once in a while and say, “Okay guys, we need to go,” or, “I’ll see you in the lobby at 7AM,” or whatever. If we all just go our separate ways and meander about, it can get kind of… It’s not like I’m the tour manager with the fannypack and the flashlight around my neck. I’m just kind of taking care of business, making sure things get done right and everybody’s okay.

Not driving will I’m sure help with that.

Oh god, it’ll help so much. That was crazy. The last tour that kind of fell apart on Yawning Man was all because of me. I kind of had a meltdown on the first show and I just couldn’t pull it. Me and my son had just come off three and a half fatso jetson 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)weeks with OFF! We were tour managing OFF!, and driving, roadie-ing and selling merch – basically doing everything except playing. And I love it, and I love that band and I love working for those guys, but I made this decision to do this three-week US tour and leave myself one day – not even a day – it wasn’t even a full day. We got home, and the next morning, I had to fly to Europe to play just a short tour with Yawning Man. Me and Dino dropped off the band in Cleveland Heights, and started driving on the 27th from Cleveland Heights, which is, you know, Cleveland, basically. We drove straight to Los Angeles in it was like 40 hours or something. 33 hours. It was totally stupid. We went through Tornado Alley, raining, crazy fucking foot of rain, hard core winds, we’re just like, Five-Hour Energy drinks, go! go! We finally crashed outside of Vegas, slept for three or four hours, then made it into L.A. and started packing to go on this other trip, and it was a bad idea. I learned a big lesson from that (laughs). I told Matte [Vandeven, head of Sound of Liberation], our booking agent, I said, “This time, you can hire a driver.” Because I’m always like, “We can do it ourselves! We do everything ourselves!” I take pride in that. But it’s gonna be really fun. We’re really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a special trip this time, I think, because the bands are kind of lean and mean. Unfortunately, my cousin Larry can’t make the tour, which we’re bummed about, and my friend Vince, our sax player/harp player, won’t be able to come, and we’re bummed about that, but we committed to it and the show must go on, as they say. We have slimmed it down to a trio, with me and Dino switching off bass and guitar halfway through the set, which is gonna be fun and interesting, I think. Dino’s become quite the bass player. So the band sounds a little different, it’s a little more grooving and jamming, so it’s kind of cool.

Something a little different, I guess.

Yeah. I don’t know how permanent it is, but that’s what we’re doing right now for this tour, and traveling with Bill Stinson on drums in Yawning Man. Fredo’s real busy with stuff, and he’s got three bands and a DJ gig going, so he’s not going on this trip, but yeah. When the last Yawning Man tour was canceled, our booking agent immediately said, “You guys have never toured in Europe when it’s a good time to go,” which is not necessarily in the middle of winter, but every time we’ve been able to go, it’s been in the summer, June, July, August, and it’s just not a good time to go there because everyone’s on holiday and they want to be outdoors or at the beach. They go to festivals, but we’re not on a level where we play that kind of stuff, really. We rely on people being in their local taverns and little rock clubs, and what do you do? You work all day and then you want to go and have a beer and watch bands play and have a warm place to hang out and rock out. I’m born in Denver, Colorado, so I know snow and I know ice cold weather, but I’ve lived in Southern California for a long, long time, and my son I think has been in the snow like twice. I’m trying to prepare him. We’re so spoiled in L.A., dude, with weather. It rains a little bit and everybody’s like, “Oh god!” So yeah.

Let’s talk about writing. You guys did the Herba Mate split. How’s it been writing with Dino?

fatso jetson dortmund setlistIt’s insane. It’s awesome. It reminds me… Dino’s 18, and he’s turned a corner in his musicianship and his ability to take stuff that he hears in his head, take ideas that come to him from listening to music, take influences, and he actually has the tools to realize that shit. Like, when I was 18, I didn’t have that. I could play a barre chord, and I could riff a little bit, but Dino’s got fluidity and he’s got this weird, angular kind of trip going where, I don’t know, man. I don’t know what he’s been listening to. He listens to a lot of more extreme, experimental hard rock, and it’s coming out, which I dig and I love too. But I also have a Neil Young side to me that Dino doesn’t really have a feel for or a clue about writing from that place, so he’s handling this heavy, angular, fuckin’ pissed, energetic, syncopated stuff that’s challenging, that’s really fun to play, that’s really fun to listen to, and I’m like still kind of trying to write good songs, getting away from riff, riff, riff, just riffing this, riffing that. Thinking about the song as a whole, rather than, “Oh, this riff’s rad, we can do this eight times, then do this part.” Those two things together have been pretty fruitful. We’re moving along quickly, and we’ve got a place to practice now that we don’t have to pay for every hour. Tony Tornay and his wife, Melissa, have a business in L.A., an antique business, and they have a big warehouse, and we have this beautiful little room, little office space that we’ve packed full of our gear, and we can go in there whenever we want and play and write. It’s been a big help. It’s kicked us in the ass, whereas before, getting everyone together in a rehearsal space, scheduling the rehearsal space, and everyone meeting in downtown L.A. or in Silverlake or whatever, everybody does it, that’s how everybody works around here, but for me, I grew up being able to walk into my garage and play whenever I felt like writing some music or playing and just breaking a sweat on my guitar. As soon as we moved out of that situation, it was increasingly difficult to get in the groove of writing. Writing for me is like, I don’t know, I’m over-analytical, and it takes me longer and longer as I get older to do stuff that I’m actually proud of and really like myself. If I don’t like it myself, I’m not gonna play it, I’m not gonna get excited about it and commit it. But it’s been good. I need a goal. I need a goal of like, “We go into the studio on this day,” or, “We’re going on tour this day, and we need to be prepared.” Because I have so much stuff, family stuff, and trying to earn a buck and all that stuff going on, that it’s so easy to let that take over and not focus on music. We’re in a weird spot. We’re in a spot where we have these opportunities to tour and make records and do rad stuff, but we also can’t devote all our time to doing that. So it’s a spot that a lot of bands that I’m sure you interview are in, where they’ve got a dayjob and they’ve got kids, and they’ve got all these responsibilities, but they love to play music and they’ve been playing music on a level to where it’s serious enough to where opportunities come and they can tour and make a record and stuff like that, and as rad as all that stuff is, it’s a responsibility and it deserves time and effort and respect. And balancing all that shit, unless you’re really good at time management, and unfortunately, that stuff, with me, it starts to slip. I’ll start devoting less and less time to it unless I’m diligent and really disciplined about going, “No, I’ve gotta make time for this today. I can’t say yes to you and you and you. I gotta go and be in the room and play guitar and be with the band and do some writing.” So it’s been tough. It’s been tough to do that, just because of where our lives are. In the old days, we’d just go to work for a few hours, then we all lived in the same house. We’d go in the garage and play until we were sick, then just come out and talk about what we just played. Wake up the next day and do the same thing. Things are different now. It’s a little bit different. But in the last four or five months, I’ve just kind of made up my mind that, my kids are grown now, and I still take care of my dad and my wife really supports what I’m trying to do, and I need to, before I turn 60, I need to give this the time and respect that I feel like it’s worthy of. Just for me. Just to feel satisfaction that I’m giving it my 100 percent. I’m not talking anything about touring or making records. Just about being in the garage or the rehearsal space, writing music. Exploring that. Doing that. Really making an effort to make that a priority. And it hasn’t been that way for a long time. We had our restaurant for 10 years here in L.A., and that was a motherfucker. There was nights where, just to practice with the band, I would actually sneak away from my own livelihood. I would sneak out the fuckin’ door. I would tell my bar manager, “Dude, I scheduled a practice, I gotta go,” and I would play with Dino in Auto Modown or practice with Gary, but my cousin, fatso jetson yawning man tour posterbeing the bass player in the band and he played with me for 30 years – he’s the fucking chef! How are we supposed to both get away? When that ended, I was like, “Okay, now’s our chance! Let’s live on a shoestring budget and let’s fucking do this. Let’s get a booking agent in the States and let’s get out and try to play and say yes, yes, yes to everything we can do. Let’s get in the studio and take advantage of all these opportunities we have!” Before I knew it, he had a job at another restaurant, and I was working six days a week at a record distribution warehouse, and we were right back in the same position where we had to find time to make music. To answer your question, an hour later, it’s hard. And it’s fun. And we’re doing our best with the time that we have. We’re doing our best. We’re excited about recording when we get back from Europe, because this band is going to be tight and kicking ass and it’s gonna be a good time to get into a real recording session. All I’ve been able to do is three songs here, three songs there, two songs here. I haven’t been able to get into a situation where I can focus for two weeks on making a record. And that’s a long time to me. Other guys can spend a lot longer than that. If I can spend just two weeks waking up every day, even going to work and going directly to the studio, just two weeks of just that, that would be a dream for me to do that. But it just hasn’t been in the cards. It’s been balancing the rest of life around music. But it’s going. Dino’s prolific with licks and song ideas. He’s working on finding his voice with writing lyrics and writing songs, per se, but as far as playing guitar and experimenting with sound and experimenting with approaches and vibes, he’s really inspiring me to do the same. That’s been awesome, actually, and I’m stoked. We have a really good chemistry, me and him, because we can kind of telepathically work off each other most of the time. I guess that’s a father/son thing, but it’s good. It’s something it took me and Gary like 10 years of playing together to get. With me and Dino, it happened really quickly.

Not like you don’t know each other.

(Laughs) Yeah.

The stuff on the Herba Mate split. How indicative of the next record is that?

Not at all, really. Right now, there’s songs that I’m playing bass on that are so different than any of that stuff. They’re raw, but progressive, coming from maybe more of a Minutemen influence or like a Victims Family progressive punk rock energy, Crimson-kind of thing. I don’t know how to describe it, really, but those songs on the Herba Mate split, like “Long Deep Breath,” that’s me writing in more of my basic melodic songwriting, and a lot of the material we’re working on now is starting from more of an instrumental place. We’ll see where it ends up, but it’s instrumentally-driven right now, so it’s really almost “whoo!” I would compare it almost to the Sort of Quartet stuff. It’s a little more experimental, musically. It’s all over the place. There’s some mellow rock songs and there’s some really intense, angular punk rock, blitzkrieg-ish kind of stuff, and some heavy, really drone-y stuff too. It’s gonna be pretty diverse.

Will Vince be on the new record?

Oh yeah. Yeah. Not throughout, but yes, definitely. Definitely on some tracks.fatso-jetson-herba-mate-early-shapes-split

Any chance you’d do US dates?

Well, we have finally connected with a US-based booking agency. It’s a good agency too, we’re very fortunate. I think it’s just the sheer longevity of the band, that we’ve been around for so fucking long that the guy even gives us the time of day, and he’s actually a fan. He’s known of our band for 15 years or whatever. It’s TKO, is the name of the booking agency. They book like Motörhead and Mastodon and they book a bunch of other stuff. A lot of metal, like Anthrax and a lot of metal, lot of hard rock. They also book a lot of funk and soul and stuff like that too, so it’s a proper agency. We’re excited about it, and we’ll see how it pans out. I’m gonna present Yawning Man to him as well for the US. There’s some other stuff on the roster that would fit well, but this guy, he can actually submit us to Coachella and submit us to some others in the States, and if he puts a phone call into a good club in Portland or Seattle, they’re gonna know he’s not just representing some garage band. We’ve never had that before. We’ve never had someone that has some clout and experience in the booking industry that would go to bat for us. We’ve always done everything ourselves, and that’s why we’re so grateful to Matte in Europe. He started with just a little spark of Brant and Josh and those guys coming over years ago and actually turned it into something that is kind of a music genre now over there. And he’s so active in promoting, not just booking, but actually promoting and curating festivals. He’s got four or five different festivals going now that are all of his concept. And being hooked up with that is really cool. I would like to step outside of the “stoner rock,” “desert,” whatever that means. I would like to be able to play with bands that, you know. I’ve played on bills with jazz bands, I’ve played on bills with hardcore bands, I’ve played on bills with roots Americana bands. I would like to be able to play for people that don’t necessarily know who Orange Goblin is, that they listen to other stuff too, like they’re not just dialed into this thing through the whole stoner rock thing. That being said, I have the utmost respect for all that stuff that’s been built up through what’s happened in Europe and through all the bands that have worked hard and toured and created this scene. It’s a trip though to be band for 20-plus years and not have actually toured in the United States. We did it for maybe three weeks with Kyuss in the mid-‘90s and that’s it. I’ve toured as a member of Queens of the Stone Age filling in for Dave Catching, but other than that, Sort of Quartet did a trip up the coast with Saccharine Trust, and that’s it, man. The only playing we’ve done is in Southern California or going up to San Francisco, and playing in Europe. It’s kind of strange.

So maybe it’s on the to-do list.

Oh, it’s been on our to-do list. It’s just the way things work out.

Fatso Jetson, “Long Deep Breath” from split with Herba Mate (2014)

Fatso Jetson’s website

Fatso Jetson on Thee Facebooks

Yawning Man’s website

Yawning Man on Thee Facebooks

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2 Responses to “Fatso Jetson Interview with Mario Lalli: The Long Deep Breath You Take Before Diving in Headfirst”

  1. Aron says:

    I really hope they follow through with a US Yawning Man tour. For real. There’s not a whole lot of bands that I really, desperately want to see these days, but Yawning Man is way up there.

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