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Mondo Generator: An interview with Nick Oliveri, Mike Pygmie and Jeff Bowman

Mondo Generator was born out of the world famous Desert band Kyuss.  Nick Oliveri, Kyuss’ bassist, formed Mondo Generator in 1997.  Their debut album, Cocaine Rodeo, featured the all-star roster of Josh Homme (Kyuss, Queens of The Stone Age), Brant Bjork (Kyuss, Fu Manchu, and tons of desert bands), Rob Oswald (Karma To Burn, Nebula), and Brent Malkus.  Riding on the cult status of Cocaine Rodeo, Mondo Generator released A Drug Problem That Never Existed on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings and Josh Homme’s Rekords Rekords.

After Nick’s departure from Queens Of The Stone Age, he made Mondo Generator his primary focus.  Mondo Generator has gone on to record a total of four albums and numerous EPs.  They have toured relentlessly since their 2nd album with numerous amazing musicians.  While the only original member of Mondo Generator is Nick Oliveri, his current band is comprised of some of the best musicians the Desert has to offer.  Backing Nick at the Date Shed on February 4, and for the foreseeable future are Mike Pygmie of (The Whizards, John Garcia, and You Know Who) and Jeff Bowman of (Unsound, Waxy, and Mighty Jack.)

Coachella Valley Weekly:  Has music always been a part of your life and when did you start creating music?

Nick Oliveri:  “Music has always been a part of my life.  I’ve always loved music.  I’ve never been confused on what I wanted to do for a living or my life.  That was to create music and be a part of something… a band, a family.  I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job at staying busy.  I started creating music when I was younger.  Maybe not the best music, but music I at least liked.  I don’t remember exactly how old…maybe 11 or so.”

Mike Pygmie:  “I wanted to play music for as long as I can remember. In fact, I somehow talked my babysitter into buying me an electric guitar at a very early age, I don’t remember exactly when, but it wasn’t until I was 13 that I started taking lessons and taking it more serious….and started my first band.”

Jeff Bowman:  “As far back as I remember music was a force in my life. I got my first Kiss record in Kindergarten and a Pink Floyd 8 Track in first grade, and listened to them incessantly.  I began playing drums…well, desks, dashboards, cans, buckets and stuff, anyway, in elementary school, but didn’t start really creating music until high school when I learned to play bass and guitar.”

CVW:  What was the first band you were in?

NO:  “The first band I was in was called Katzenjammer.  That later became Kyuss.  We played our first party in 1987 at Chris Baker’s house in Palm Desert, CA on Halloween. We were just kids, but it was awesome.  The first band name I had, even before I had a band, was The Uncontrollable, which I used to write on my Peechee folders in 6th grade you know…’that’s my band!  The Uncontrollable!’  It wasn’t really a band yet.  It was just something I would tell people because that’s what I wanted it to be.”

MP:  “My first band was the Melodious Pygmies which lasted from when I was 13-16. It was a trio that I sang and played guitar in, Eli Cohen played bass and we had many different drummers through the years starting with John Dean and Steve Hall in the early years to Brant Bjork and Rob Peterson towards the end.”

JB:  “My first ‘garage’ band was in 10th grade, called The Fast, with Chris Baker, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri.  The first band I ever played out and about with, though, (which we all believe should be added to that infamous Desert Band “tree”) was called Evolution’s End, with Chris Cockrell, (his first band after parting ways with Kyuss), Charlie Ellis, Matt Kistler and Jason Calise.”

CVW:  Nick, did the success of Kyuss take you by surprise or were you guys aware in some way of how successful you would become?

NO:  “I never knew that Kyuss was going to become as big as it was.  It came as a surprise to me.  We weren’t big at the beginning.  It took a lot of years, after the band had broken up, to be big.  The last tour the guys did, I opened up for them at The Bottom Of The Hill with Blag Dahlia’s band The Dwarves.  Fatso Jetson played first.  Kyuss’ last tour as a band before it was Kyuss Lives was at The Bottom Of The Hill, which was a 350 person capacity place, so I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until it was long gone and over.  It’s all from people and fans trading discs and MP3s that made it big after it was dead.  So it was quite crazy to me.  It’s wild.  At the end of the day, it’s the fans band.  The fans own it, not anybody who used to play in the band as far as I’m concerned.  It’s what the fans wanted that should have mattered.  If they wanted us to continue to play, we should have continued to play regardless of who was butthurt or who wasn’t asked to play in this particular version of it.  Sorry fans, but the powers that be own the name and they don’t want you to have it, so there it is.”

CVW:  Nick, you were part of the earliest version of Queens Of The Stone Age.  How did that come about?  Was it just you, Josh, and Fredo (Alfredo Hernandez) jamming?

NO:  “I lived in Austin, Texas in 1997 and Josh and Fredo came to play a Man’s Ruin Records showcase.  They played at like 4:00 in the afternoon and Dwarves headlined that particular night.  It was a weird version of the band.  They had another bass player and some other guy on guitar, and it didn’t sound all that great to me.  Josh came by and saw Mondo Generator play down the street- we’re on our 20th year with Mondo Generator.  We were playing at this place called The Blue Flamingo and Fredo and Josh came by and asked me to play with them.  So I moved back to the desert and started playing with them, so in a sense a founding member of QOTSA.  At least in a sense that we built that band together.  Me and Josh built that band name and he asked me early on if I wanted to be a signer or get paid weekly.  I told him, ‘I want to be a signer.  I believe in this band, I believe in this music, I believe we’re going to be something, and I believe that we are going to get signed to some label.’  I could have taken my $350 a week and called it a day, but I figured I’d take a penny now for a dime or quarter later.  I took a chance and rolled the dice and won.  But those days are over, so what are you gonna do?”

CVW:  When did you form Mondo Generator and what brought you to this decision?

NO:  “Mondo Generator started in 1997 in Elgin, TX.  Our first 45, there were 100 printed, it was The Jack Saints/Mondo Generator split 45.  I just had a guy from St. Louis, Eric King, send me out one.  I didn’t have one anymore and not many people do have it.  It’s pretty rare.  We started out because it was a good band and we wanted to play for people.  We sent our cassettes out to get signed, but nothing really happened with it.  The band kind of fizzled out a little bit.  Greg Anderson from Goatsnake and the label Southern Lord Records came to me and wanted to put it out… so that kinda started the whole Mondo Generator thing.”

CVW:   Mike and Jeff, can you tell me about how you came to join Mondo Generator?

MP:  “I met Nick a few times over the years, but it wasn’t until right after the Hell Comes To Your Heart record was recorded about 6 years ago that I joined the band. A friend of mine that was shooting photos of Mondo Generator for the albums artwork mentioned that they were looking for a second guitar player and I really liked the band so I figured I would send Nick an email and see if I could fill the position. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks and I figured they already got somebody. Then I got an email from Nick asking if I could jam the next day and he sent me a list of about 20 songs.  Apparently I was in the band, but I thought it was an audition, so after we jammed Nick was telling me his plans for Mondo Generator and I asked if I should come back. He was like, ‘what do you mean? You do want to be in the band right?’ And I was like, ‘yeah’ and he goes, ‘dude you’re in we already all discussed it.’ And I was like, ‘cool, nobody told me’ and that was it.”

JB:  “Nick released a solo album a few years ago on which he played all instruments and called the project Uncontrollable.  When he put together a band to play live shows, I was asked to play. We played as Uncontrollable for about a year and chemistry between us was great, so when the next Mondo Generator tour was booked, they asked me to stay on as their drummer! ”

CVW:  Nick, can you tell me about playing with The Dwarves and how that came about?

NO:  “In 1991 Kyuss went on tour with The Dwarves and I became good friends with them.  When I was asked to leave Kyuss after my father died, I got a call from Blag asking if I wanted to play with them.  My friend John drove me up there to San Francisco from the desert.  I pretty much had the gig before I started.  I always played faster.  I liked faster songs and quicker endings and Kyuss was kind of getting more jammy, so it worked out good for me in the end.  I’m 23 years strong with The Dwarves.  Just did another new record with them.  I’m pretty proud of that stuff, and it’s all good.”

CVWI know there are a couple other Desert musicians in the Dwarves (Dylan and Greg of You Know Who), did you bring them aboard?

NO:  “No, I didn’t actually.  I saw Greg play in 1988 or ’89 at Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach opening for Exploited, I believe it was.  Excel [Greg’s band at the time], RKL (Rich Kids on LSD), and Blast! (a band I play in now) opening for the mighty Exploited . I saw them open  and I loved it.  I’ve loved Greg’s work for a long time.  I haven’t known him for a long time, but I’ve known his work.  He’s a great drummer.  Dylan came about maybe from Greg.  I don’t know how they came to be in The Dwarves, but I didn’t bring them on board.”

CVW:  Mike, you’re also in what people might call a Desert Scene All-Star Band now, You Know Who. How did that come about?

MP:  “I’ve known Dylan Brown, the bass player, for a really long time, but we never got to jam together back in the day, and Greg Saenz, the drummer, and I jammed a couple of times when we met in the early 2000’s. They ended up playing in the Dwarves together and we’re living in San Francisco for a while after that. When they eventually decided to move back to the desert and wanted to continue jamming together they needed a guitar player so I got a call from Greg asking if I wanted to jam with them and if I had any tunes. I had a CD full of demos that I had been working on by myself and was excited to try it out in a band situation, so I gave them the CD. Those dudes are incredible musicians and I was blown away when we had our first jam session that they already knew how to play the songs. The You Know Who stuff is not easy to play and I was so impressed with how they not only learned it but made it their own and we immediately started a band. At least that’s how I remember it.”

CVW:  You were in The Whizards, a band that incorporated turntablism into their music. What was the inspiration for that, and was there a positive reaction to it within the desert music scene? Any chance of hearing from The Whizards again?

MP:   “I was heavily inspired by the Invisible Scratch Piklz, the Beat Junkies, the X-men, and DJ Swamp to name a few. I play a lot of different instruments and the turntable to me is just another instrument so why not use it in a desert/punk band. It seemed like a great idea at the time but not everyone thought so. People either loved it or they hated it…or they thought it was ok (j.k. RIP Mitch Hedberg). But seriously I blame Limp Bizkit for becoming so popular right when the Whizards were doing our thing and making most people believe that a band with turntables must suck. We were doing some pretty cool things in my opinion, but some people can’t see past the DJ part, which I can understand because a lot of bands that were doing the DJ thing were not doing a very good job at it.  As far as any kind of a Whizards reunion… I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t been able to talk to everyone that was involved, but I was recently approached by a local label, Ruined Vibes, about the possibility of releasing our recording on vinyl, which is very exciting and would be a great opportunity to get the band back together for a release party at the very least.”

CVW:  You grew up in the desert scene, who was your favorite desert band?

JB:  “Wow, there have been so many great bands in our desert over the years, but if I had to pick one, it would be Wiseman. I loved their power, musicality and songwriting… and Robert Bowman, Zachariah Wiser, Mike Webb and Tap Howard are all great guys.”

CVW:  I’m a huge Unsound fan, how did you come to join them and do you still get to jam with the surviving members?

JB:  “It was Brant Bjork who told me Unsound was looking for a drummer and he helped get me aquatinted with them. I learned all the songs on their first cassette and we blew through every one of them at my “tryout”  …so they couldn’t say no!   Brian, Ian and I are all still friends (R.I.P. Britt) and play a show every couple of years, with Bill Cordell on bass.”

CVW:  Without getting into too much trouble, what is the craziest thing to happen to you on tour?

NO:  “You know, the normal shit.  Nothing really that crazy.  We did stuff in our 20s and 30s that one might consider crazy, but I just thought it was normal to do these things.  I still do the same stuff.  I have a good time when I go out on tour.  That’s what it’s about to me.  It’s about having fun and not being so tight about things, you know?  A lot of bands are uptight about what they’re gonna say in their songs and get all P.C. and shit.  We’re not a P.C. band.  I don’t play in P.C. bands, I play in bands who say how they feel and sometimes you need to say it roughly and toughly and offensively.  That’s what rock and roll is.  It’s supposed to be dangerous and criminal and scary.  It’s not supposed to be a safe place.  I don’t know if I’ve done anything that crazy.  I live my life the same way as on tour.  I have fun.  Some may say it’s crazy, but I don’t think so.”

MP:  “Probably the time Mondo Generator was traveling on Christmas Day from New Orleans to Washington D.C. Nick was driving the van, I was in the passenger seat and Ian and Hoss were asleep in the back. There was a really bad storm and it was very dark. What we didn’t know is that a huge light pole had blown down in the middle of the road ahead of us and that’s why it was so dark. We didn’t see it until we hit it going about 75 mph with our full size van packed with all of our equipment. My seatbelt kept me from slamming into the ceiling of the van as the front tires launched up into the air immediately followed by the back tires. We jumped the light pole and completely aired our tour van. I saw Hoss in the rear view hovering for a second and then hit the ceiling and fall back to his seat. Nick was doing his signature scream the whole time till we landed safely. I can’t believe how lucky we were that we didn’t crash. It was some kind of Christmas miracle. The only thing that happened to the van was we lost a hub cap, other than that it was fine. It would’ve made a great ‘Built Ford Tough’ commercial.”

JB:  “Ha, well, I don’t drink, so nothing real crazy to share!”

CVW:  What do you think about the amazing fan base in Europe and why do you think Europe seems to flock to the desert scene?

NO:  “It’s something that they don’t understand.  It’s exotic to them.  It’s something that doesn’t exist in their world.  It’s out of reach for them, so they want that you know?  It’s pretty cool actually that it has happened.  I have no idea.  Maybe they understand good music better than America.  We have better music that’s come from here I believe.  Maybe the fans understand good music.”

MP:   “It’s awesome. I don’t know why the desert scene is so much more popular over there, but I’m just glad it is because it gives us the opportunities to go play music there.”

JB:  “First of all, there is just plain great music and cool people coming out of our desert, spearheaded of course by Kyuss.  But also, I believe there is a mysterious element to the California desert that people in Europe really embrace and glamorize. There is nothing like it over there.”

CVW:  Do you enjoy coming back to the Desert to play shows?

NO:  “Absolutely.  I love it.  It’s a great place to go.  I just don’t like living there anymore because I prefer to do things at night.  L.A. is more built for the night.  I stay up all night making music and doing various things.  I love playing shows there.  The show on the 4th is actually going to be my 2nd show of the night because I double booked.  I open for T.S.O.L. with The Dwarves and then haul ass to The Date Shed for Mondo Generator.  It’s gonna be a fun, busy night for me.”

CVW:  Are you working on any new music with Mondo Generator or other bands?

NO:  “Always.  I have a new band called Bloodclot, which is John Joseph of the Cro-Mags, Joey Castillo from Wasted Youth and QOTSA on drums, Todd Youth from Murphy’s Law and Danzig on guitar,  and little ol’ me on bass.  That’s my new stuff.  We have a record coming out on Metal Blade Records in July.  Also, we just finished the new Dwarves record.  I believe it’s gonna be called Make The Dwarves Great Again.  It’s a great record.  It’s badass.  I’m very proud to be a part of it and be a songwriter on it.  Dwarves are great and they’ve been my home for 23 years.  I have a record coming out with Svetlanas I play bass on.  They’re from Italy and Russia.  I plan on recording new Mondo Generator too, it’s just finding time and money to record it.  We will make it though.  See you all on February 4th.  We will rock it. We will bring it dudes.”

MP:  “Working on a lot of new music right now. Mondo Generator is gonna record a new album soon and so is John Garcia who I play bass for. And I have multiple albums worth of demos and I’m recording new ones all the time. There’s plenty of stuff for You Know Who to choose from and I would like to put out some solo material as well.”

JB:  “Yeah, actually all the bands I play with: Mondo, Mighty Jack and Waxy, are currently working on new stuff, and something is brewing with Jimi Fitz and Jimmy Palmer as well…Gonna be a busy year!”

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