God Fathers of Desert Rock: Past, Present and their Promising Future
By Lisa Morgan
“Yawning Man was the sickest desert band of all time. You’d just be up there in the desert, everybody’d just be hanging, partying. And they’d show up in their van and just, mellow, drag out their shit and set up right about the time the sun was goin’ down, set up the generators, sometimes they’d just go up there and drink beers and barbecue. Sometimes it would be a scene; sometimes it would be very intimate. It was very casual and loose and everybody would like, while they’re playing, everyone would just lounge around. They were kinda like a house band. It wasn’t militant like Black Flag. It was very drugged, very stone-y, it was very mystical. Everyone’s just tripping, and they’re just playing away, for hours. Oh, they’re the GREATEST band I’ve ever seen”~ Brant Bjork of Kyuss/Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino
By Lisa Morgan
Yawning Man is a desert rock icon and a tribute to the desert’s ability to groom unique music from it’s combination of desolate isolation and extreme beauty. Still, it remains a phenomenon as to why great bands like Yawning Man, home spun in our own backyard, seem to be more widely known and appreciated overseas. These musical foundations spawned other musical projects throughout the desert and the world – some bands more widely known than others, but all with a huge cult following – bands like Kyuss, Fatso Jetson, WaterWays, Ten East , Sort of Quartet, Yawning Sons, Dark Tooth Encounter, Oddio Gasser, ZUN, Queens of the Stone Age, The Perfect Rat, Across The River, and many more. As the band prepares to record a new album, sans longtime founding drummer, Alfredo Hernandez, founding member, guitar and lap steel player, Gary Arce shares his memories of and hopes on the horizon for this one of a kind, desert band that, if all goes well, will finally be launched onto the platform they deserve.
The stories read like a movie screen play, and they’re not even close to finished. This is only as much of the story, as told by Gary Arce, as I could fit into the space I have here in this one article. But these musicians, these stories all deserve to be highlighted in a comprehensive tell all, that shows how music is life’s blood to these artists who have fallen on the sword of the musicians life, gleaning from it, only some of the glory, but all of the costs, the cuts and bruises that come with the territory. In doing so, they have carved our desert into the history books of Rock and Roll.
Stuck back in the then underdeveloped La Quinta cove, a small gathering of friends, bonded by their passion for the hard core punk scene began to jam at their house. “There was nothing really out here. There was only one cop… maybe two. It wasn’t all built up like it is now. It was pretty wild. We used to play and the cops would walk in the house and watch us practice. They were looking for pot is what they were doing. They heard rock music and assumed there was pot.” I asked Gary if they ever found any? He chuckled when he admitted, “Yeah… there was this lady cop and she came in and found a bong on the table. She said, ‘You know this is illegal, right?’ We just responded that it was illegal for her to just walk in our house. It was pretty crazy. It happened a lot of times, we’d be practicing and walk in from the garage and there would be some ‘vato’ sitting on the couch saying, ‘What’s up homes? I live on the other street over and I heard you guys jammin!’ Or a couple girls would come in, grab a beer out of the fridge and sit on the couch. What it was is, back then, there wasn’t a lot of gang member stuff going on and it was kind of weird… we were a rock band with long hair, Mario (Lalli) had dreads at the time… and they just figured they could walk in. Our house had kind of a reputation.”
“We were hardcore punk kids in the early 80s, going to LA watching Bad Brains, Discharge and DOA, and all the hard core bands that were touring in then. For us the hardcore punk scene ended in ’84. All the bands we liked stopped touring and we got bored with the punk scene. So we just started jamming and playing guitar…we weren’t really influenced by anything. We were influenced by God… by what we liked. I started liking a lot of other musicians in jazz, Coltrane and everything really. My style evolved out of a mish mash of different kinds of world music… whatever I felt.”
“In the beginning, I lived with Mario and his girlfriend and our drummer and a couple of other friends. Me and our drummer weren’t working. So we’d wake up at 9 am and start drinking beer and were just bored. So we’d go in the band room and start playing. Just guitar and drums. I started honing my sound off of that. It was weird. I wrote a lot of the music just like that, without a bass player. That’s how come you get this sound from Yawning Man that is so unorthodox. We played like that for 6 months. I hadn’t thought about it before, and I said, ‘Hey Mario, we need a bass player.’ And that was pretty much it. Next thing we’re playing out in the middle of the desert with a generator. Our last generator party was at Edom Hill. I went up there about a year and a half ago and was told that it was a private road and I knew that those days were pretty much over.”
“Our first paid gig was El Presidente in down town Palm Springs. We became the house band on the weekends there. We’d bring our friends down from Los Angeles to play with us. We even played Zeldas. That was kind of a weird gig. I don’t know who the owner thought that we were, but when we started playing, the owner told us, ‘First and last song!’ I think they thought we were a dance band and here we were an all instrumental kind of Pink Floyd sounding band. I just remember these people were looking at us like, ‘What the hell is this! Where’s the disco?’ That was cool. I thought it was O.K. that we weren’t liked by that scene anyway.”
“Yawning Man went by the name Some Sort of Quartet for three albums. They worked with two labels at the time: SST who also put out the Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Soundgarden and a lot of bands like that, as well as the German label, Hot Wax crippled Dick. Then Fatso Jetson started. I went into musical hibernation and started having kids and got busy with life. Then Mario asked me to join Fatso Jetson, and that was my first time in Europe opening up for Queens of the Stone Age, back when they were still playing little tiny bars and clubs. That was a really cool tour. Then the following year Queens of the Stone Age just exploded. After Fatso, I started writing a lot of music again and Yawning Man reformed again. In the late 90’s we didn’t do much. 2001 we started jamming again and put out a record on a label from Madrid and started touring. We haven’t really stopped since.”
After playing guitar since 1986, Gary is now sponsored by Ayers Guitars. “Sponsorships kind of follow when you go to Europe. I get approached at least once a week by guys who build foot pedals and all kinds of stuff. Honestly, the whole thing with Europe happened when Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age started touring overseas, and he started mentioning Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson. So those people in Europe started contacting us. That’s how it all started evolving. So thanks to God for Josh, John Garcia and Brant Bjork (both from the band Kyuss) or we would have never gone overseas.”
This month finds most of the tribe of Yawning Man in the studio to record a new record at Thunder Underground recording studio in North Palm Springs, engineered by Harper Hug. The new album will be featuring both original members Gary Arce and Mario Lalli. They regrettably will not be able to bring in their original drummer Alfredo Hernandez. But they won’t be using just anyone in Alfredo’s absence. Josh Freese who plays with Devo and The Replacements will be joining them. New music industry attention is stirring things up for the band so now is the time to pay attention to this amazing band if you never have before. The next several months are set to write another incredible chapter to these truly talented, original artists.
In closing, I asked Gary if he had any advice for his fellow up and coming musicians out there. “I’d say just be original. Don’t be guided by other people or trends. Just be original.”
Follow Yawning Man on their website: http://yawningman.com/band.html. If their music moves you, support them by BUYING their music.