By Tracy Dietlin
We have movie legends, sports legends, music legends and here in the CV we have the pioneers of the desert rock movement who we consider “Desert Rock Legends”. Herb Lienau, Alfredo Hernandez, and Zach Huskey are a few of the musicians who some say haven’t gotten enough credit for their huge contributions to the scene, while others like Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, John Garcia, Brant Bjork, Sean Wheeler, Arthur Seay and Jesse Hughes have received much notoriety and fame- justifiably so. Mario Lalli is referred to by many as the Godfather of Desert Rock, partly because of his generator party days and also for his immense talent and likeability. Gary Arce, Tony Tornay and Scott Reeder also belong on the pioneer list as well as many others not mentioned here.
This year the CV Music Awards is proud to honor a few of these amazing musicians. Mario Lalli has been chosen to receive the “Pioneer Award” for not only his generator party notoriety but for the fine human being that he is and for his undeniable talent. Lalli has played in many bands over the years including Dead issue, Yawning Man and of course Fatso Jetson to name a few and has left an indelible mark on the desert musicscape. We will have a full interview in next week’s CV Weekly with Mario Lalli so stay tuned.
These musicians are also Trailblazers and together in many different bands have created a whole music genre itself “desert rock” or “desert stoner rock” however you want to look at it the bottom line is these musicians are to the desert what Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were to the Seattle grunge scene.
Amongst those Trailblazing bands is Unsound, who lost their bass player, Britt Killen on October 22, 2011, at the young age of 44 to heart failure. On April 7, 2012 at The Date Shed in Indio, many of these desert legends came together to help raise money for Killen’s wife Loren and his daughters Reese and Josie. Another desert legend, Billy Cordell, stepped in on bass to honor Killen.
During an interview before that show I spoke with Killen’s close friend and Unsound band mate, Brian Maloney. “Britt had just found out the month before that he had heart problems. He only told his wife and one of his patients that he drove to treatments. He was an EMT. It really came as a shock to everyone. So now we just want to do what we can to help raise some money to help his family. Britt would’ve done the same for any one of us. He was a great friend and was always there when you needed him.” That show was a big success and raised a nice amount of cash for Killen’s daughters.
Maloney and Killen were band mates in Scabies Babies before forming Unsound back in 1988, which included members; Maloney on guitar, Killen on bass, Ian Taylor on vocals & guitar and Jeff Bowman on drums, who took over for Tony Brown around 1990. Maloney says that Unsound performed their punk rock music everywhere for many years before taking a break. “Back in the day we were even a bigger band here in the desert than Kyuss was. Unsound owned the desert for a long time,” he stated proudly. “It was Dead Issue and then us.”
Fast forward to Saturday, May 3, 2014 when Unsound took the stage at Schmidy’s Tavern and blew everyone away. Together since 1988, they rarely do shows anymore, but you would never know it by their performance that night. This band was tighter than some bands that play every week. They feed off each other and create a magic that is rare.
The place was packed like I had never seen it before and it was great to see so many familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in years. During the show at Schmidy’s I kept hearing so many people say that it was “like being at their high school reunion” as Unsound was one of the bands that played back in the generator party days. Many of the people that attended that night only come out for a show like Unsound.
This was only the second time I had watched them perform but was so impressed with their musicianship and electrifying performances along with the fact that they can come out and play a show once in a blue moon and it be “the show” of that year with people that have been loyal fans for years coming out in droves to support them. That is why I chose Unsound to receive the “Trailblazer Band Award”.
I spoke with lead singer Ian Taylor about what all of this means to him.
CVW: So how did Unsound start?
Ian Taylor: Well the other guys were already playing in a band called Scabies Babies and I showed up and told them I had been singing in all kinds of other bands where I used to live even though I really hadn’t and I kind of told them I was going to be their singer. Then after Tony left and we were looking for a drummer, this little kid, well he was younger than us anyway, Jeff Bowman showed up and he knew all the songs so he was in.
CVW: So Unsound rarely plays. Was the Schmidy’s show the first one you have done since theBrittstock show 2 years ago at the Date Shed?
IT: Well we had gotten together and did a 20 year reunion tour right before Britt passed and then did that show and we did a show with Kyuss Lives at The Hood a few years ago.
CVW: So everyone else lives here in the desert but you live in San Diego. Since you don’t play together that often how do you come out and do a show that’s so spot on?
IT: Well we get together and do 2 or 3 rehearsals and we’ve been playing these songs for years so we know them really well and they come right back to us. And we all play in other bands so we’re still playing music. I’ve been touring with Nick Oliveri in Mondo Generator for about 8-9 years.
CVW: So how was it bringing Billy Cordell on to replace Britt after all those years?
IT: Well Britt had moved to upstate NY for a while and we did a couple shows without him and he knew that Billy was a shredder and he actually said that “Billy is the only guy I will let replace me.” So he comes Britt approved.
CVW: So talk to me about what it was like playing back then compared to now?
IT: Back then there was Across the River and Scabies Babies and Sean Wheeler was always playing in bands and he was a little older and I was like the new kid. I look back and it was Unsound, Yawning Man and Kyuss and they were the kids even younger than us. We were always doing shows at the Nude Bowl or we would start practicing at someone’s house and it would turn into a show and Mario would show up with a generator and we’d have a party. And this was all before the internet or anyone had cell phones so it was all by word of mouth and there would end up being 500 people out in the middle of the desert for a generator party.
CVW: So who of the desert legends from back then do you most respect?
IT: You know it’s funny because all of the musicians that we’ve been talking about from back then are all still playing music and touring and in some really successful bands. I think that’s really cool and I don’t think that happens in a lot of towns. But I think Brian Maloney deserves more credit than he’s gotten. When I look back on it Brian was like the team leader and Mario of course. And all the Kyuss kids really blew up into a bunch of different bands. And I didn’t really get it until I started touring over in Europe with Nick and I was like “whoa” these people are really into the desert music. And they always ask me too ‘what was it like back then?’ It’s kinda crazy. The whole desert stoner rock thing is funny too because we were punk rock and not all the guys even smoke marijuana (laughing). But it is what it is.
CVW: So in closing what one line do you think defines Unsound?
IT: We used to have stickers and shirts that said “Unsound…Play Hard. Play Loud. Play Fast”
Watch Unsound receive the CV Music Awards “Trailblazer Award” on Sunday, May 18 at the Riviera.