Are Coming this Saturday, Feb. 8th to The Hood in Palm Desert.
Taking a look back into the early days of desert rock with Nick Oliveri.
By Robin Linn
A native son of the original desert rock scene, Nick Oliveri has been at the epicenter of the hottest and most successful rock bands to come out of the desert. One could write a book on the offspring of the Coachella Valley rock music scene….and one day, I just might. In preparation for this story, I chose to give a general overview of the remarkable music career Nick has led. I also want to invite you to witness the powerhouse that he has built with his band Mondo Generator this Satuday night at The Hood in Palm Desert. MG features David “Hoss” Wright, Ian Flannon Taylor and Mike Pygmie. Also appearing Saturday is another great desert punk rock band, You Know Who. YKW features bassist Dylan Brown and Greg Saenz (The Dwarves) on drums. Both bands (YKW and MG) feature Mike Pygmie on guitar, known for his string & mind bending metal guitar riffs. The two groups offer proof of the high level of musicianship that has been cultivated in our desert over the past couple of decades.
Nick’s very first band back in 1987 at age 16 in Palm Desert, was Katzenjammer which featured a young Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Brant Bjork (Vista Chino), John Garcia (Vista Chino) and Chris Cockrell (QOTSA). They later went on to become the Sons of Kyuss, then Kyuss, and in 1997 they morphed into the desert’s seminal stoner rock band, Queens of the Stone Age. Kyuss was the first desert rock band to gain international success with several records. They left an imprint on the international rock music scene, influencing bands as far away as Sweden (Truckfighters) and carving out a new genre “desert stoner rock”. It’s a sound that blends psychedelia, grunge and punk rock, baked by the desert sun and born from pure twisted imagination. They truly came up with a new sound all their own. Every member of that band has gone on to achieve great things, and their musical paths have intertwined again and again in the groups Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss Lives and Vista Chino. All bands have featured Nick’s brave and bold bass approach at one time or another. QOTSA, named by producer Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), has featured Matt Cameron from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Nick Oliveri ( who was later replaced by Scott Reeder) , and Alfredo Hernandez, who replaced Brant Bjork. QOTSA’s records have landed them on the top the Billboard charts again and again. They most recently appeared on the Grammy’s and are headlining this year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival. The two weekend event sold out within hours of tickets going on sale, and will be bringing over 120,000 visitors to the CV this spring. When Nick left QOTSA, he began touring and recording with The Dwarves, one of the most notorious punk bands on earth. Known for their shocking and vulgar lyrics, outrageous stage antics, and their pure punk antics, The Dwarves have survived a lot of personnel changes. Sadly, on Feb 2nd, The Dwarves lost veteran Bobby Faust, a loss that Nick and The Dwarves are all just beginning to reckon with.
Nick still records and tours with The Dwarves and also has an acoustic project with frontman Blag Dahlia, The Uncontrollables. He has been recording and touring with Bl’ast, a Santa Cruz based skater punk/rock/metal band. Bl’ast is a project Nick has a lot of enthusiasm for and whose compositions challenge him and push him as a player.
When Nick put together Mondo Generator in 1997, the band featured Josh Homme, Brant Bjork, Rob Oswald, and Karl Doyle. Their first record, Cocaine Rodeo, was released in 2000 and it is nothing short of brilliant. With Mondo Generator, Nick really pursued his own voice as an artist. His raw poetic lyrics are filled with tales of sex, drugs and rock and roll and his earthy guttural bass lines are only topped by his wild and organic live performances. Real life, stripped down, and in Nick’s earlier years as a touring artist, it wasn’t unusual to see him actually stripped down bare, wearing only his bass. He made international headlines in 2001 when he was arrested for playing nude in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Nick is known for his outrageous antics both on and off stage. He is as authentic a desert rocker as you will ever experience. Nick has emerged as a bad-ass rock musician, turning heads in whatever project he throws himself into, and has earned the respect of some of the world’s most noteworthy rock and roll musicians.
In 2004, Nick left Queens of the Stone Age and announced that Mondo Generator would become his full-time project. Nick’s views on the breakup are balanced and healthy. He feels that Josh has taken the band in the direction it needed to go to become what it is today. He looks back on his time with QOTSA fondly and treasures the memories. I should also point out he was invited back in 2013 to work on their latest record. Rolling Stone Magazine quotes Josh stating, “reuniting with original bassist Nick Oliveri was one of the easiest things about making Queens of the Stone Age’s new album, Like Clockwork.” Nick continued to move on after the split in several wonderful directions that have shaped him into the player he is today. He went on to record an acoustic record, Demolition Day, and toured Europe with Brant Bjork and Mark Lanegan Band. He also recorded an EP with Dave Catching, McGuire, and Alfredo Hernández. He toured nationally with Kyuss Lives (Vista Chino) and has been involved in projects with Winnebago Deal, Mark Lanegan Band, Masters of Reality, Turbonegro, Moistboyz aka Dickie Moist and the O.T.C. and The Knives, his own solo records, still touring and recording with The Dwarves, and is moving forward with Bl’ast on a new record and upcoming tour dates. Busy man indeed!
In listening to Nick in all of his projects there is certain fire, and incendiary approach, raw and real, his sense of time and phrasing enveloping each line he plays! Working with Hoss on drums over the years in multiple projects, the two have grown to form one of the most powerful rhythm sections on the planet. Through Brandon Ray Henderson (Parosella, The Pedestrians) I was able to track Nick down late Monday night and ask him some questions. I also learned that Henderson is featured on 5 of the songs on the 2012 Mondo Generator EP, Hell Comes To Your Heart. There is so much to read about Nick in all of his projects that I wanted to get his take on the music he has made and what his plans are for 2014. Though I have seen Nick in his early years in Kyuss, I have yet to take in a live MG show. Saturday will be my first live experience.
RL: How do you feel growing up in the desert has affected you as a musician and a man?
NICK: I wouldn’t haven’t made music if I hadn’t moved to the desert from LA. I was mad at my parents when they moved to the desert. I actually didn’t like it for a lot of years. It was hot and I hated it. But I would have never played with Josh Homme, Brant Bjork, John Garcia in Kyuss. And, I would have never played in the Dwarves because Brag Dahlia, singer for The Dwarves took Kyuss out on our first tour back in 1990/91. So living in the desert affected me as a musician because if I hadn’t moved here I probably would still be just looking in the mirror while playing…or pretending to play. Growing up in the desert affected me as a man because I got laid for the first time out in the desert. I sort of did most my growing up outside of the desert playing around the world, and I’m still growing up! But it has affected me as a musician in a BIG way. I probably would have never played if I hadn’t ended up here.
RL: What was it like making music in the desert back in the 80’s.
NICK: In ‘87 we started the band Katzenjammer, which later became Kyuss. In that band I was actually the second guitar player. Chris Cockrell was actually the bass player, Brant Bjork was the drummer, Josh Homme played lead guitar, I played rhythm guitar and John Garcia sang. We had our first practice at Brant Bjork’s parent’s house and I remember Brant asking me if I would come up and jam. Back in those days if you had a guitar and an amplifier, you could play in a band. And it was great! We had a great time making music and becoming friends through music. Me and Brant played baseball against each other. That’s actually how we met. My dad and Brant’s dad were baseball coaches. Yeah…so, it was great making music back in the 80’s and it’s even more fun to think back on it now and get a laugh out of it.
RL: You have played in so many projects. What has playing in such a diverse array of bands done for you as a player?
NICK: It has really opened up my spectrum. It’s made me a better player all around. Playing in this band Bl’ast now which is an old SST band, very progressive, hardcore music and all over the map and they’ve been the hardest things I’ve had to do. That and House of Shocks which featured Dave Lombardo from Slayer and Gary Holt from Exodus on guitar. I played bass and that was incredibly hard to do, not being a thrash player, but listening to thrash my whole life…I was very honored and very pleased and couldn’t believe I was there for that. Bl’ast is my newest thing I am doing. I also am doing a new record which I am sending you, Robin, to review. I know you like music that I like and I want to hear what you think about it. These are the rough mixes and not for public consumption, but I really want to hear what you think. ( RL: I am salivating….talk about a job perk!!!)
RL: You are known in the music community for having a bit of an outrageous side….. what do you attribute that to?
NICK: Well, I think a lot of stuff gets blown out in the press…but, yeah…I have a wild side, and I just happen to get caught a lot of times doing some crazy shit. There’s always someone there writing about it or that has a camera. Nowadays, everyone has a phone camera. A phone that comes with a camera…a camera that comes with a phone. So, one day my phone rang and my phone took a picture somehow….and I got in some trouble…and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
RL: You were arrested while on tour with QOTSA in Brazil for performing naked. Is that something you do often?
NICK: Well I used to do it a lot more…but now that I’m 42 years old, I find it a bit creepy. But I do have fun taking off my clothes because taking off my clothes is a good time and there’s nothing to hold me back. But, I did get busted when I played naked on stage in Brazil at Rockin’ Rio and that was a very scary situation to be honest, because I didn’t know what was gonna happen or where they were gonna take me to. When they took me away from the stage they were bundling me up and beating people up to get them out of the way. As it were, they wanted me to apologize to an onsite judge that was there with his young daughter. But, in Brazil, they have tits and asses all over the billboards, so I figured it was OK. I had to apologize. I said I’m sorry to the judge, they translated it, and I was set free. I don’t play so much nude anymore. When you’re 26, and then 42—- it’s a big difference. It’s not as fun to look at anymore!
RL: In The Dwarves you go by the moniker Rex Everything. Where did that name come from?
NICK: That name was given to me by the previous bass player, Pete Strauss who went by the name of Salt Peter. Blag nick named me Rex. I was at Peter’s house and I stood up and knocked over his lamp and he said, “Rex Everything”…and that was my name from that point on. That was back in 1993 and I have been a proud member ever since. Been on all the records and toured with them consistently since ‘93. It’s been so cool to know Blag. He helped me figure out how to finish writing songs…and ending songs before they went on to become 6, 7,8 minute compositions. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out. I owe a lot to him and he’s a great friend of mine.
RL: Of all the cities and countries you have played in, where is your favorite place to perform and why?
NICK: Spain used to be my very favorite place to play. Madrid was a great place to play because we had our best shows in the world there at one time, at least with Queens of the Stone Age. All over the UK was always great. New York City, Chicago, San Francisco are all always fun places to play. Australia….all of Australia…. Perth, Australia. That was the last place I played with QOTSA in January, 2004. It is coming up on the 10 year anniversary of me being out of that band on the 15th of February actually. But, my favorite shows have been with that band because we had some great experiences and I’ll never forget them. The reasons why….there was a lot of debauchery and things that went on behind closed doors…and I probably shouldn’t elaborate here.
RL: What do you think of the desert scene now compared to the old days?
NICK: Well the new scene is cool because there are all these places to play. There’s Pappy & Harriet’s, The Hood, The Date Shed. There’s Coachella Festival now. We used to have to set up in the middle of the desert somewhere with a generator and do our own Coachella Festivals. Mario Lalli, Brian Maloney (one night only, Brian Maloney) from Unsound, we used to put on all these great shows. You know what I’m talking about….lots of crazy sin in the moonlight. Great times and it just doesn’t happen like that anymore. Maybe today’s kids have their raves….I don’t know. Not my thing. But we had a great, great goddamned time out there in those days. As far as the new scene, we have some great new bands….like You Know Who, lots of new bands I haven’t really heard. But man…I hope they’re still doing it and flying a flag for the dez.
RL: Who is in the current lineup of Mondo Generator?
NICK: Myself on bass and vocals. David “Hoss” Wright on drums, Ian Flannon Taylor on guitar and vocals. He’s my man from Unsound. He’s been in the band forever. So has Hoss. Ian has put me up at his house and fed me when I was homeless in the old days. He’s the man. He’s my bro. Big huge heart for Ian. We have the lead guitar wizardry of Mr. Mike Pygmie. He rocks, he’s a badass. He’s from the You Know Who…and YOU know who that is. He’s playing with us on Saturday at The Hood. He rocks. His band is opening up for us. He’s doing double duties that night. He kills it. We have a great band. We’re killing it too.
RL: Is MG your primary project now and what are your plans for 2014?
NICK: We want to do a new record. We definitely plan to tour. I have a bunch of acoustic dates I’m gonna do. I have four bands right now. Bl’ast, The Moistboyz, Mondo, I also have The Dwarves, and acoustic stuff as well. I have a new record called just Nick Oliveri. I play everything on it…I play all the drums, all the bass, all the guitar, and all the vocals except one song, I have choruses sung by Blag Dahlia and guest lead guitars by Phil Campbell from Motorhead and Mike Pygmie, and Bruno Fevery from Vista Chino, Steven Haas and Dean Ween from The Moistboyz…so I have a bunch of stuff which I am sending you to review and check out.
As I close I am listening to selections of Nick’s upcoming solo record, Nick Oliveri’s Leave Me Alone. The 8 selections he sent me to sample make up a collection that may be his most cohesive record to date. Perhaps because he plays all the drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and vocals, while guest artists Mike Campbell, Mike Pygmie, Bruno Fevery, Steven Haas and Dean Ween contribute lead solos. I would be lying if I said who played lead on what. I Just know that the music is inspired, well-constructed and Nick has developed his own voice both as a songwriter and a performer that will carry him well into the days to come. He has a lot of pots on the fire…but that seems to be the way of the rock musician in today’s music market place. In everything Nick does…there is a spirit that reminds me of the desert he developed and grew up in that makes him unique. This man is a world class musician that can spread his wings in half a dozen projects and be picked out of each one for his own unique style and sound. His irreverence, real life lyrics, no matter how outrageous they may seem, and his rough tumble approach to his music while still having the refined chops are why his dance card is always full. He is crazy and beautiful….just like the desert he lives in.
DO NOT MISS Mondo Generator at The Hood this Saturday, February 8th along with You Know Who and Brain Vat.
Find event details on Facebook at:
Moistboyz features Mickey Melchiondo Jr (Ween), Guy Heller, Stephen Haas and Nick Oliveri and David “Hoss” Ross (Mondo Genertator). Having been a huge fan of Ween, I find this one of the happiest coincidences on earth. Here is the link to P&H’s event calendar:
Pappy & Harriet’s Feb 27th. Tickets: ($15)
To find out more about Bl’ast, visit them on Facebook at:
To read this story next week with streaming videos by all of these great bands, visit my blog at rminjtree.blogspot.com