Without Any eXplanation whY
By Lisa Morgan
My first peek at WAXY, the psychedelic, desert rock band, headed by local rocker and entrepreneur, Robbie Owen, was at the Date Shed. They were opening for Duff McKagan’s band Loaded. I found it to be powerfully soulful, and heartfelt and awesomely loud. Watching Robbie play was like watching someone travel transcendentally to another dimension. Eyes closed, music pouring out from his guitar as naturally as if he could play it in his sleep. I’m not sure that he was aware at first, that the music brought Duff (known mostly as the bass player from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guns and Roses) out of the artist’s room to check him out until after he finished playing his song. I watched as Robbie looked up to find Duff giving him a seriously approving nod. The very gracious player thanked Duff over the mic for coming out and giving them a listen.
Waxy has been getting nods from locals and fellow musicians for the better part of the past decade. What started out as a three piece acoustic in the styles of rock greats Neil Young, Bob Dylan and early Springsteen, eventually morphed into a the magical sound and energy becoming known worldwide as “desert rock roots”, a formula that only our southern California low and high deserts seem to produce at its unique best. A revolving door of talented artists have graced the stage as members of Waxy, thus growing its founder and front man musically and emotionally, which has played a part in the unique, transient and unpredictable goodness that Waxy has become known and loved for. The only things completely predictable are the bands sincerity, soul and volume.
Appearances can definitely be deceiving. WAXY’s fan page warns, “Do not be fooled – WAXY may look like hard rocking desert mother___s, but inside us, reside the tender hearts of tiny newborn kittens.” I can’t confirm the “hearts of tiny newborn kittens” description, but WAXY, and especially their founder Robbie, definitely fit the hard rock look and sound criteria. One might never venture to picture Robbie Owens donning a USC cap and gown, but there’s got to be a picture of it somewhere, as he attended and graduated from the prestigious school on a partial tennis scholarship. As homegrown as it gets here in the desert, Robbie grew up a typical country club kid playing golf and tennis. “I kind of got into music late. I played piano at a young age, around 7, but hated it. I couldn’t find the joy in music. I really didn’t start playing guitar till I was about 14. That’s when I saw ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ on MTV and saw Joe Perry on a Les Paul solid body electric guitar. I saw Jimmy Hendrix on a Les Paul. Jimmy Page and Bob Marley were all playing a Les Paul. I said, ‘Dad, I don’t know what that is, but I want one.’ My dad and I have been collecting guitars ever since.”
With school and tennis both ending at the same time, Robbie went into business for himself. “When I graduated from school, I took over the old A&R Recording Studio here in the desert. That’s when I first got into making music. I went from tennis strings to guitar strings. I just really jumped into it with the little bit of base knowledge that I had. I did a lot of reading, studying and got some help from friends. After going through those initial growing pains, I realized that I knew what I was doing, and that I had the ability to approach it from a musical side more than a techy side.” Now called Unit-A Recording and Art, the studio is located by the Palm Springs Airport. “The recording studio world is always changing,” shared Robbie. “People are doing so much from home. I’m a mid-level recording studio. If you want to make a record with a timeless quality that really does sound good, I can get you there. For example, somebody might say, ‘that’s a really good song, but I wish it was recorded better, you can come to a place like mine, and I can help get you over that hump. I’ve got a nice sounding drum room, and I’ve got a lot of toys to choose from: four drum kits, dozens of guitars, a piano, a bunch of different mics and amps… it’s kind of like a musician’s man cave. I love the recording process, and am very at home in the studio.” Robbie’s Unit-A studio has the capacity to record both digitally or on analog. “I’ve got a Pro Tools HD3 system, which is pretty much state of the art now. I’ve got an old 2” tape machine and an old analog console that I love, as well as a bunch of outboard gear.” With 3000 square feet, there’s plenty of room to get creative.
After six years of recording music produced solely for the purpose of having something to sell at their shows, WAXY fans are now enjoying the band’s first official album. The self-titled album is what Robbie describes as “the first album I always wanted to make. I’m very proud of the new record.” I, personally, can’t stop listening to it. It’s extremely well produced, passionate, not in the least bit commercial, yet still universally appealing within its genre and scope. It’s quite a find to come across music that stands solidly on rock and roll fundamentals, while avoiding the cookie cutter potential of the genre and achieving a unique sound that doesn’t belong to anybody else. WAXY accomplished this very tastefully. But I have to say, there is just no comparison to hearing and seeing this band live. There is a truly beautiful yet intense energy that comes from the stage, mixed with their great sound and vocals, that makes this band a must see.
Hopes of making the leap from an opening band to a headliner are riding on this album that includes contributions from some of the deserts best players. “Playing music for a living, that’s what I want to do,” shared Robbie. While that may be a common dream for our deserts musicians, WAXY might just have a shot at it. They have aligned themselves with Cobraside Distribution, a vinyl distributor, based in Glendale, CA. Waxy recently played a Cobraside show, resulting in the sale of several hundred albums through their distribution lines. “They are real music lovers,” boasts Robbie about their new alliance. “They are independent music pioneers with their fist up in the wind saying, ‘Look what we’ve got!’” Plans for a new record are underway, though still in infancy. WAXY hopes to have the album of 15-16 songs all written by Robbie, ready by early next year. “It’s going to be very different from the first album. I’m a much different person now than I was 2-4 years ago,” shared Robbie. “The main difference is that I’m not going to take 2 years to micromanage this one. It’s going to be much more organic. I’ll be shooting from the hip. It’s not going to be raw, but it’s not going to be overly refined either.” The album, much like the first, will be a powerful collaboration, celebrating the desert’s best. “I have a lot of friends who want to do something on the new album,” Robbie explained. “What I’ll do, is lay the principal guitars, drums and bass down… maybe some keys, but mostly concentrating on the guitars and the arrangements. John Garcia (Kyuss/Vista Chino) may fit best in one song, while Jesika VonRabbit, Gary Arce as well as some of the members in War Drum want to do something on it as well.” The list of collaborators goes on. “It’s a project for music lovers who love to record and dig the project. If it turns out the way I think it’s going to, it’s going to be another album I’m really proud of.” The way I see it, this will be a project the entire desert will be proud of.
WAXY’s list of interchangeable players is as follows:
Robbie Owen – Vox/Guitars
Damian Lautiero – Bass and Guitar
Ehren Groban – Guitars
Jack Kohler – Keys
Mike Johnson – Drums
Brett Stadler – Lyrics and Harmonica
Landerra – Drums
Peter Leighton – Drums
Owen Street – Electronic Bass
JP Houston – Keys
Landerra Sean Carrillo (Chainsaw holiday, Self titled)
Charles Pasarell (Waxy, Chainsaw holiday)
WAXY will be performing with Machin’ and Blasting Echo this Saturday, August 17th at Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert (Hwy 111 and Fred Waring, next to Men’s Warehouse). This musically rich, face melting evening will begin at 9:30pm. Meanwhile, you can follow WAXY on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WAXYOfficial, and you can listen to and purchase music and merchandise on their website www.waxy-music.com.
Unit A Recording & Arts is located at 800 Vella Road, Suite A, in Palm Springs. Call them at (760) 327-8812 and check out their website at www.unit-a.com