By Robin Linn
BLACK MASTIFF is a power trio that creates their own version of stoner rock. They take a super heavy riff for a ride and explore a groove with a heavy rhythmic infra-structure and beautiful melodic vocals that bear the influence of the sounds of the desert. Being fans of Kyuss, they were thrilled when they got the opportunity to open up for Vista Chino in their hometown of Edmonton, Canada this year. After their set, just like in a rock and roll fairy tale, John Garcia approached them about coming to the desert to create their next record. The band is comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Bob Yiannakoulias, bassist Clay Shea, and drummer Allan Harding. Thus far they have released a self-titled EP and one full length record, Pyramids. Now they are here, submerged in the desert environment that has influenced the sounds of some of their favorite musicians, living out a rock and roll fantasy, working with stoner rock icon John Garcia, producer Harper Hug and Trevor Whatever to create their second full length record. The track I heard while I was there visiting featured beautiful melodic vocals, powerful and intricate guitar lines and a booming hard rock rhythm section. Classic stoner rock! I could hear the Kyuss influence, though they have a sound all their own, and wanted to ask the band how they felt about getting the chance to record here with one of their biggest musical influences, John Garcia, in the desert, at Thunder Underground. Here is what they had to say……
RL: Did you come to the desert with all of your material rehearsed and ready to record?
BM: We came here with a good solid nine songs, and we are shooting for twelve.
RL: Does that mean you are going to be writing while you are here?
BM: One of the things that we did when we came out here, some of the songs were pretty much set in stone, but part of the idea was to come here and get immersed in the desert environment. Even lyrically, I’ve been writing songs right now (he shows me a piece of paper with lyrics he has been writing scrawled out at the table). It was really about where we come from and then coming here, we really want to reflect that on the record. So, you’re hearing us, but you are hearing us here at this studio with these people that we are here doing this with. It’s a team effort. So far it’s turning out awesome. It’s been a really good experience and I sure hope it reflects that in the finished product.
RL: Is John lending some vocals to the tracks?
BM: Yes, he’s done a few so far and it’s sounding really good! He just hears it and he comes in and does his thing. It’s awesome and very surprising too. It was SURREAL, John showed up a little late, and then when he got here we sort of had this little explosion for a couple of hours of great ideas coming out, and John went in and was like, “Ah…I got a little idea” and he put this layer on one of the tracks…it was just SO tasty! My serotonin spiked….”Are we really here….recording with John at Thunder Underground?”
RL: Where does the name Black Mastiff come from?
BM: We are all dog fans, animal lovers…and the name just sounds really badass!
RL: How do you go about creating lyrics (to Bob)?
BOB: I really don’t know where it comes from. It just sort of pours out of me… It seems like a lot of it is nonsense….but there’s something there. Someone can pull meaning out of it, I look back at it later and say, “Oh…I get it.” I will take a pad of paper and write down some words, maybe those are shit, I will try again, and 30 seconds later…it’s DONE! I’ve always thought in a very singer/songwriter kind of way. I love when a riff and a song idea come together at the same time. That’s like cream! Either way it happens, I find it just as valid. I had this preconceived idea that you had to do this a certain way, and I realize it’s just not that way. Either way it has just as much merit to create a song based on a solid idea, or if you just let it happen.
RL: You have been together for about four years, do you feel the longer you are together the more naturally the whole writing process becomes?
BM: We definitely play better. When we first started playing together, the first thing we played was a song. We didn’t have any expectations. We had all played in other bands. We aren’t in our early twenties. We’ve been at this game for awhile. So when we started whatever came down was a song, we would just roll with it. With the next record, we put a little more thought into what we wanted to create.
RL: What’s the music scene like in Canada?
BM: There are good spots, really good cities and others not as good. The tough thing about Canada, geographically, is there is just so much distance between the spots you can play, so It’s a lot if you’re going east to west to Winnipeg, you can’t get to a show at Thunder Bay (and if you do…it’s gonna suck anyway), and it’s a good resting spot. Otherwise it’s a 24 hour drive from one point to the other. Tours in Canada can be grueling. We play at home about five times a year, we don’t want to overplay or over-extend ourselves. We play in Calgary, that’s about a three hour drive, that’s close. Calgary has a big rock fan base and you can play big shows, so it’s great and it’s close. We tour the three provinces and we are looking to expand the tour this year.
RL: Do you call yourselves stoner rock?
BM: We get called that a lot….we don’t really want to get pigeon-holed, but we just think of it as rock. We’ve been able to take advantage of the stoner rock label, it seems to attract fans. Either way, we are playing the same music, but it attracts like-minded fans. No one likes labels, but those are the fans that have embraced us, and it’s opened up opportunities to play with some bigger acts like Red Fang, Vista Chino for like-minded fans. We are grateful. We are connected to all of these great people (looking around at John, Trevor, Katherine, Harper) because it does have a name. Stoner rock has been good to us. And it’s kind of cool, like in Europe and Canada and probably here too, it seems like there has been kind of a bleed-over from the metal scene to the stoner rock scene, all of the sudden the lines are blurred. People are crossing it up, mixing it up, and it is becoming harder to classify anyone as just metal, or punk anymore, which means, we can GO play a show with Red Fang, or we can play a blues show and still fit in.
RL: Has desert rock influenced you as a band at all?
BOB: Big time. It has just always been there. In all the bands I have played in, we have all been like-minded, and we just love it. And you can’t help that when you love something, it’s gonna bleed through into what you do. That’s the only way to look at it or describe any sort of inspiration. I have stuff I have created and I love it and it’s part of who I am. I like lots of stuff and it all finds its way through. It’s the desert, up north, the east, the west, Europe, Greece….it’s all in there.
My evening with Harper and Katherine Hug, Trevor Whatever, Wendy, Marshall, and John Garcia, and our friends from Canada, Black Mastiff, was absolutely surreal. It is rare in the music business that you meet people of this talent and stature that welcome you like family simply because you are connected through the music. Most of the times I get to interview someone whose music that I love that is for all intents and purposes, a rock star, it is a bit of a let down. This is the fourth time I have interviewed John Garcia since the mid-nineties (and I intend to do it again this July when his solo record comes out), and it is a lesson in being humble and grateful every time. John has the talent to be up on the greatest stages with the some of the greatest musicians in the world, as he draws from life and breathes out music that continues to move us. Now he is adding a new facet to his career by working with bands like Black Mastiff at Thunder Underground. I expect bands that feature John’s legendary vocals will gain support and attention from his own strong and loyal fan base, helping them garner new listeners. The facility at Thunder Underground is one of the tightest studios I have visited in the desert. I would label it a nurturing pristine working environment handled by top notch producers, engineers and house managers that put artists at ease and make them feel loved. Combine that with the influence of the wide-open desert, and it’s the recipe for a successful outcome. The list of artists that have recorded at Thunder Underground is impressive : Mars Red Sky, a stoner rock band from France, Steak, a stoner rock band from London, Yawning Man, Gary Arce and Zun, Bran Bjork’s Jakoozi, The Dwarves, Black Pussy, Vista Chino, John Garcia’s solo record, Nick Oliveri’s solo record, Jesick Von Rabbit, Core 10, and The Outsane (with the help of producer, Robbie Waldman), and it is Harper behind that beautiful DESERT FEST (LONDON) vinyl. The Thunder Underground family is committed to the art of making records, they are passionate about recording other people’s music in a way that meets their creative vision. In partnership with John Garcia, who they value and respect as a member of their family, they are on a mission to enlist acts from all over the world. They don’t just take on anyone…it’s got to fit. It’s got to make sense. I encourage you to visit their website, and experience the sounds they are producing, the artists that record there, and take the virtual tour.
Garcia’s solo record is slated for release on Napalm Records mid-July 2014, and I am waiting with great anticipation. Black Mastiff is finishing up their tracking and I WILL keep you posted as to the release of all of these great records as they become available. Thunder Underground and John Garcia are giving us stoner rock fans a whole lot to look forward to in the months and years to come. This music created in our desert continues to blow my mind. It is one of the most fertile playgrounds to create on earth. Visit the links below and read the digital edition of this feature with videos and active links on my blog (Robin Linn’s Desert Rhythms) at email@example.com
Experience the stable of artists through soundbites, videos, and take the virtual tour of Thunder Underground Record Studio online at: http://thunder-underground.com/
Find Black Mastiff on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Black-Mastiff/144098472319544