By Eleni P. Austin
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, If someone were to erect a monument, a Mount Rushmore-esque edifice honoring the progenitors of the Desert Rock scene, the four faces carved in stone could only be Mario Lalli, Sean Wheeler, Herb Lineau and Zach Huskey.
Now, two of these Low Desert pioneers, Mario and Zach have joined forces with their recent split LP, Fatso Jetson and Dali’s Llama: Desert Legends, Vol.3. On March 25th and 26th, Mario is curating The Heavy Psych Fest, a two-day event in Joshua Tree featuring 23 bands, a full bar, food trucks and groovy vendors.
The night before, Dali’s Llama is hosting a record release, celebrating Desert Legends Vol. 3 at Cooks Ranch in Sky Valley. It’s featuring performances from The Freeks, Heavy Blazer and Dali’s Llama. I recently caught up with these Desert originators for a quick conversation.
Eleni: I’ve known you guys forever, since you were both teenagers, and I was (slightly) older. You each displayed a musical proficiency that belied your young age. Can you pinpoint a moment in childhood when music first became an all-consuming obsession for you? Do you remember what song or musician kicked it into gear?
Mario: I think I was hooked the first time I played with other friends. I remember making these cassette tape recordings in my bedroom of the trashy noises we were making together, and it was so fun and satisfying…really great to share with friends. Even though we were pretty much goofing off, it was such great fun. The Punk scene (and underground Rock music) was pivotal for me…it opened up the creative, colorful world of expression to anyone that was inspired by it. There was no talent required to experience it and express yourself. No rules of engagement. I’m really grateful to all the kids in those bands that inspired me back then. It changed my life, and many of my friends, in a very fundamental way.
Zach: At about 11, I was already playing guitar for about a year or so, when I heard the Live Rust album. The heaviness and emotion of Neil Young with Crazy Horse blew my mind. The other album that floored me as a kid was Live at Leeds by The Who-pure energy!
EPA: How did you guys first meet?
ML: It’s been so long, probably 43 years ago. I think we met through Sean Wheeler…whom I’m still dear friends with, and still, to this day, make much music with him. But Zach was part of the Palm Springs Punk scene…and I was a Palm Desert kid at that point. Sean used to have lots of parties and bands were always playing in his garage. I’m thinking we met around that scene.
ZH: I met Mario in the early ‘80s. I was in a band called The Sciotics and he was still in Dead Issue. As I started new bands like Blue Sunday, Cloudy Daze and The Next, Mario did the same with Across The River, Halo Of Flies and Inglenook. We always ended up playing parties or shows together. That lasted throughout the ‘80s.
EPA: For Better or worse, the Desert music scene is categorized as Stoner Rock. I’ve always found that term reductive and honestly, I never thought Fatso Jetson or Dali’s Llama fell into that narrow category. How do you each define your sound?
ML: Yes, I’ve never really understood that term. I kind of get where it comes from, and like its predecessors, Acid Rock and Punk Rock, it really fell short of conveying the individuality of the artists. Plus, the drug reference, for sure always bummed me out. Fatso Jetson is a Rock band…. we are inspired and influenced by such a broad spectrum of music. But it all comes back to the fact that we’re a pretty simple Rock band.
ZH: I’ve sort of given up on all those categories and sub-genres. Now, I just call what we do Desert Rock and leave it at that.
EPA: You guys just released a Fatso Jetson/Dali’s Llama split EP entitled Legends of The Desert Volume 3. How did that come about?
ML: I was approached by fellow musician and music fan Brad Frye. He started Desert Records as a labor of love. He’s got a job and a family and just loves to be involved and creative. His label, Desert Records, is based out of the New Mexico desert… hence the name. He invited Fatso Jetson to join the project after Dali’s Llama had already submitted the tracks for their side. We’ve always done stuff with Zach and Erica and the guys over the years, so this was a great opportunity to be part of something together.
ZH: Dali’s Llama was doing a tour through the southwest a couple of years ago and we played with a band called Red Mesa. The singer/guitarist for that band is Brad Frye and he owns and operates the label Desert Records. After the tour he called and asked if Dali’s Llama wanted to be on their Legends of The Desert split series. If so, who would we like to be on the other side. We said Fatso Jetson. I called Mario and got him in touch with Desert Records. Fatso said yes, and that was it.
EPA: Mario, you guys constantly tour Europe. Desert Rock has a much bigger following there, rather than in the U.S. In general, Rock & Roll seems to be less relevant here. Why do you think it resonates more overseas?
ML: It’s a fair statement for sure. I think parts of Europe have a different attitude toward art and music. Some countries in Europe are more responsive than others. It’s reflected culturally for sure. Also, many of the venues in Europe are actually funded by the city and country government. There’s a lot of support for all the moving parts of live performance, clubs, festivals, theaters…squats turned into art compounds and club stages. But music resonates everywhere I’ve traveled…if you look at the High Desert community, for example. There’re several venues, all supporting “live, original music.” There’re accessible art galleries showing local work. all this creates energy and interest. So now many artists are moving there, creating there. I instantly thought of the High Desert to host our festivals. The community is in gear for this kind of thing… it’s the flow up there. I love the low desert. I grew up a Palm Springs/Palm Desert/Indio kid…and of course, there’s lots of interesting things happening in the valley. But my example of the High Desert is like what’s common in the supportive nature of some European countries: music and art consciousness.
EPA: Zach, in the early ‘80s, you experienced a sort of “lost weekend” with Iggy Pop. Can you tell me how that unfolded?
ZH: When Sean Wheeler, Dan Lapham and I (The Sciotics) were teenagers in the early ‘80s, we met Iggy Pop at the old Palm Springs mall. He was staying at the Ocotillo Lodge. We spent a lot of time with him, drinking beer floats, smoking, etc. It was a wild time. Dali’s Llama recently recorded a song called “Rock N Roll Stooge,” that I wrote about the incident. Brian Parnell recorded it at his studio, Audiowild. It will be on our next record, which will be out later this year.
EPA: Mario, you’re curating the upcoming Heavy Psych Festival that’s happening in the High Desert on March 25th. Can you give me the details?
ML: We have two days of Hard Rock and Psychedelic Rock planned on two stages…open air and in the Black Box Theatre at the Hi-desert Cultural Center in Joshua Tree. Local artists and vendors are selling their creations and super groovy merchandise. Food trucks and fun. The bands include Windhand, Weedeater, Brant Bjork, Yawning Man, Nebula, The Atomic Bitchwax, Duel, Hippie Death Cult, Geezer, Kadabra, Warlung, Love Gang, Witchpit, Cosmic Reaper, Fatson Jetson, Whiskey and Knives, Rubber Snake Charmers, All Souls, Big Pig, Third Ear Experience, Fever Dog, Deathchant and High Sob. (for tickets go to www.heavypsychsounds.com or scan the QR code).
EPA: At Mario’s invitation, Dali’s Llama is playing on the eve of Heavy Psych on March 24th at Cooks Ranch in Sky Valley, as part of a pre-festival/album release event. Who else is on that bill?
ZH: Dali’s Llama will be playing with our old friends from Los Angeles, The Freeks, as well as a great band from Santa Cruz called Heavy Blazer.
EPA: What’s next for each band? Any new albums or tours in the pipeline?
ML: Fatso Jetson will be on tour in Europe and The U.K. beginning May 6th, 2023. we’ll be performing at Desertfest London and Desertfest Berlin on May 19th. There will be club dates in between in the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Belgium and Austria. Sean Wheeler will be joining us on vocals, and our friends from Texas, High Desert Queen. We’ll be on tour through June 11th.
ZH: Dali’s Llama will be releasing our 17th album toward the end of the year. We will also be celebrating 30 years together.
Dali’s Llama, The Freeks & Heavy Blazer play a FREE show at Cooks Ranch, Friday, March 24th. Please contact the bands directly for info, directions, etc. Dali’s Llama also plays The Hood in Palm Desert on Saturday, April 8th.
Heavy Psych Fest happens March 25th and 26th 2023, Joshua Tree Hi-Desert Cultural Centre, 61231 Twenty Nine Palms Highway. www.heavypsychsounds.com.