By Noe Gutierrez
In March I wrote an article titled The Day The Music Died II where I talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic dropped an anchor on all live music and seemed to suck the combined oxygen of all musicians across the world. In the last three months we have witnessed the bouncing back of music communities around the globe and the Coachella Valley and High Desert have done their part to adapt and set the pace of their own comeback with live social media performances and the continued release of new and inventive music and cutting-edge videos.
Music is professedly the universal art form, language and culture that links us all. Music is that unspoken understanding between us that keeps humanity connected no matter the circumstances.
Because of the pandemic, some of us have gone through significant stressors, tremendous suffering, and extreme hardship. These world events have shut us down and set us back but we have responded with equal force and are compellingly closer to a unified self-awareness.
What is Resilience?
Our composers, vocalists and instrumentalists have remained resilient throughout the quarantine and Coronavirus pandemic. Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and develop toughness. This of course does not mean we will not experience difficult times, to the contrary, with resilience comes adversity.
We are not necessarily equipped with behaviors, thoughts and actions associated with resilience but they can be learned and developed. Our brains have the capacity to continuously change over time and adapt to new information accordingly thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to undergo structural changes in response to our environment.
Coachella Valley Weekly spoke with a number of musicians who are a part of the framework that supports the desert music scene.
We asked the following questions:
- In regard to your music, what has kept you balanced and sensible during this time?
- What are your plans to remain pertinent as an artist and keep your music viable and alive in the near future?
MARIO LALLI (FATSO JETSON, YAWNING MAN)
“This has actually been a very creative time, in part by life being simplified quite a bit. I had a six week tour canceled and several festivals postponed or canceled so this normally is a very crazy busy time that just opened up, but all this energy to create and do things was raging, I had to adjust and channel it.”
“I’ve done lots of home recording. The main project that grew from the time was a live performance film shot at Giant Rock in the High Desert. We recorded a 45 minute Yawning Man performance in front of the boulder and it came out really nice. It was a webcast for a past weekend but now we will refine it and release it on DVD and digitally. I’m also working with Pappy & Harriet’s to develop a filmed series of performances from the venue.
They’ve started to open for dining but the music is still on hold for now.
I’m hoping soon it will be safe and the music will be flowing at Pappy’s again. I’m also looking into drive-in performances at a couple different locations. It’s about adaptation, but exciting.”
DINO VON LALLI (BIGPIG, FATSO JETSON)
“In these weird times music does what it has always done, it provides an escape from our regular lives or our ‘new regular lives’. It lets us take a second, minute or an hour and forget that we’re stuck at home. As for the future, at this point, most of it is unknown, but creators will never stop creating.”
RONNIE KING (Multi-Platinum, Oscar & Grammy Nominated Producer)
“My balance has been sustained by having the time to complete my solo record and get my studio really popping. I’m doing so much online music with many clients sending tracks and going back to playing the keyboard has been great. With the installation of my CNN type video studio making music Episode for my ‘How-to’ podcast.’”
DANDY BROWN (HERMANO, ORQUESTA DEL DESIERTO)
“Dawn Rich and I keep working on The Fizz Fuzz material, and we’ve always got our toes in the water with some kind of project. Music just becomes one of the many outlets that we focus upon. We paint, write and create all kinds of knick-knacky kind of things around the house. Eventually, one hand just washes the other and all of these outlets have an impact on each other. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever been balanced or sensible in the first place. Music has always been something that allows me to escape and sometimes reflect the environment around me. This has definitely been a time when it has been one of my most important medications.”
“I have absolutely no plans to remain pertinent. I’m not really sure that being pertinent is all that important. I think that what’s important is to create what you love and enjoy what you create and the rest all takes care of itself. I am not really sure if I’m that interested in my music being viable either. For as long as I have played, I have enjoyed the experiment of making sounds and arranging them in a way that soothes me and takes me to different emotional and psychological places. Maybe for me being viable is always making sure I’m keeping the experiment alive.”
ROBBI ROBB (3RD EAR EXPERIENCE, TRIBE AFTER TRIBE, THE ASYLUM KIDS)
“Lust, absolute lust! The lust to be able to play the guitar so well that it is physically impossible for my technique, the muscles in my fingers, or my lack of knowledge to get in the way of dream-space and the expansion of consciousness and the deep well of colors that I fall into when I touch the sweet spot in an improvisation. The lust to go beyond my limitations of being trapped in a physical body. And so, as you well know, that to reach these wonderful states of consciousness, it can only be done in extreme solitude, one on one with inner hierophant, the eternal shaman. You can practice scales all the day long, but unless you expand your inner-vision and your psychic magical potential, you will merely become a ‘good player’ like some kinda technical shredder. But when your inner magician touches the void of things, then you play a guitar like no other, then you touch a music that hasn’t been heard before. So to be told, to be ordered into solitude and quarantine is a dream come true! Oh, so you mean I HAVE to go and be in that very place that one has to go into in order to attain the highest potential of human nature and express it through my desired art which is the rock guitar? Hahaha and you’re going to give me money to do this? Oh boy! I am in heaven! And as you may not know, I am a chef, l love cooking. So having time to surf the inner waves of consciousness, to sit down with the invisible teachers, to practice the guitar for hours, while eating the best food, I’m in heaven!”
“Prior to the quarantine we had been jamming for a year with a new drummer and have about 30 cover versions under our belt. We’ve done some gigs, done a lot of free-form jamming and finally started recording the jams all in preparation to make a new album. We set up the band in the gallery and was just about to mic the band for some serious recording, when we realized we are being a bit too cavalier with the Coronavirus thing, so we tore down everything and went into quarantine. Later, I scoured the jams that we recorded in my studio to find some wonderful gems and started trimming the shit, leaves and the storks out so now we have some good buds left haha! Got hooked up with Gary Barnacle the sax player who has the longest CV list of people he has played with including David Bowie, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and The Clash. He has been overdubbing on the jams, and lo and behold, a great album has appeared. Some things you cannot force, as you well know. And then also I have been preparing FurstWurld to be a viable entity should another pandemic strike in the fall. And so in preparing the gallery I have created a situation that is valuable for us to get music out and to maintain the 3rd Ear Experience community and keep nourishing our friends and fans in even the severest of lockdowns. We are ready technologically, but if all goes back to ‘normal’ we have a long list of festivals and a tour on hold and a great new album ready to go.”
BOBBY NICHOLS (LISA LYNN AND THE BROKEN HALLELUJAHS)
“We are living in times the Ancients foretold, packaged confusion is heralded as some new shining reality while clarity of vision is to be feared and demonized.”
“What’s kept me balanced and sensible throughout has been to stay on course and trust my intuition on a much deeper level than ever before. In turn, my music flows from a deeper, more authentic place. What more can an artist ask for than a well-spring of healing ideas and visions? Rob Peterson and I are collaborating on some of these ‘babies’ and are looking forward to sharing them in the near future.”
“I can honestly say that my live shows before the pandemic took up a majority of my time, so creating new music wasn’t an easy task. Since I’ve had the past four months of gigs cancelled from my bday bash at Date Shed to LooPac Live in different cities across the US and Mexico, I took this time to create two new projects that I plan to release this summer. I was really depressed during the first month but then I picked up where I left off and made some dope new music.”
“I’m currently performing live sets with other artists from all over the world via Instagram Live on my showcase ‘Lootenant Live at 5’ every Sunday at 5 p.m. It features four new artists each week to show off their new music and perform it for the live audience. Due to everything going on, I pushed my next show to June 28th. Feel free to join the fan base on my Instagram @lootenantmusic. I’m hoping that with safety guidelines, we can reopen with live shows again, but until then we’ll continue to network through live online segments and entertain our fans as much as possible.”
RACHEL DEAN (STARLIGHT CLEANING CO.)
“In regard to what’s keeping us balanced and sensible during this time, each of us and music we love. Tim and I and our dogs are spending lots of time watching sunsets and listening to music that inspires and soothes us. For me personally, I’ve been digging back into Bakersfield Country and the artists that scene inspired.”
“We’re still planning on getting our record out sometime soon. And we have an online performance coming up this month. But Tim’s been writing up a storm and recording demos, inspired by all that’s going on in the world. So I’m sure you’ll be hearing some of that soon. Personally, I’m dying to get out and play again. That’s where my heart is, on the stage. We had to cancel so many special shows, so I’m ready to get back into it as soon as it’s safe again.”
STEPHEN OTERO (OWNER/OPERATOR CRITICAL ART AUDIO)
“The bands I’ve been working with locally, I actually tracked prior to COVID-19. The mixing and mastering worked out well because they didn’t need to be present for that and we exchanged mix notes online. The band is named Order of the Wolf they’re from Joshua Tree and they just released a second single I did for them this week titled ‘No Hope’ available on YouTube and Spotify. Tyler Ontiveros is the drummer and he just released a drum play-through for the first single I recorded for them titled ‘Convictions’, which is cool for me to see how the bands I work with are still getting the music we worked so hard on out there in creative ways.
“I have been seeing more bands record themselves at home and then they bring me in for the mix and master which has actually been a lot of fun. I like to put myself and work out there, but I mainly get work from previous bands telling their friends and word of mouth. My plan is to keep making records and helping artists get their music out for all to hear. I just got hired by a band that used to be signed to Mediaskare Records (The Ghost Inside, Volumes, As Blood Runs Black, Bury Your Dead) out of North Hollywood to mix and master their music. I cannot release much more information on the band details, but they’re heavy and I’m stoked for people to hear it.”
“I have been practicing and getting to everything that I felt I didn’t have enough time for. Currently, working on my next record ‘Evolver’ and excited to release new music to the world.”
DEREK JORDAN GREGG (THE HIVE MINDS)
“In times like these you have to persevere. Never stop creating. You don’t need the validation of an audience to create. Make something, it’s the purest thing you can do. Give all of yourself. That’s how you stay balanced.”
GENE EVARO, JR.
“In addition to constantly writing new music, TV and Commercial opportunities, I’ve been busy producing records for other artists including female Australian artist-about-to-break-large Jamie-Lee Dimes, also an awesome new female artist from Austin, TX named Sarita, and South African Rock legend Dino Archon’s new full-length album. I’m also producing Gabriella Evaro’s debut album which is of course my favorite of them all! Being creative on other people’s projects is a cathartic way of stepping out of my own ‘brand’ mentality and do what I love best, produce great music with artists I believe in!”
“Well, there is no touring and no live shows but nonetheless, the world needs meaningful music now more than ever. Thats my cue! I grew up listening to music that spoke of a world quite similar to the one we are stepping into now. Think Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix. I feel rather prepared to rise to the occasion! Songs that UNITE are needed now more than ever, music that speaks to the SOUL of the individual can transform one’s psyche. We need a ‘Love Awakening’ and what motivates me and my constituents most is our call to a greater purpose, contributing something meaningful to the world is perhaps the longing that all creatives, healers and lovers alike have been waiting for. In the wise words of Stevie Wonder…I am singing of tomorrow, I am singing of love, I am singing someday sweet love will reign throughout this world of ours. I am singing of love from my heart.”
ANGEL LUA (THE HELLIONS)
“For me, music and art has been a huge factor for remaining balanced in life—and even for keeping my sanity intact! This quarantine has enabled me to not only be reflective but also situate the messages we convey through art in the absurd world around us. We have been exploring new avenues to take The Hellions music into deeper, more subversive, territories and really thinking about how revolutionary Punk Rock—or any art—can still be. We wanna make it dangerous again and scare the shit out of bigots and people who bully those who they think are lesser than them. For The Hellions, this has been an introspective moment for us and has only solidified us as a group of friends who use Punk Rock to glue our resilience and friendship.”
“As for the last question, we are writing new material, dusting off stuff that never truly saw the light of day, and continuing to spread the Rock ’n’ Roll gospel! Can’t wait to do what we love for everyone who has continually supported us!”
CHARLIE ELLIS (MIGHTY JACK, THE AGENTS, EDITH & ALICE)
“Desert musicians have always been resilient AND innovative when we are faced with the adversity of having no real available venue to perform at. I guess with COVID-19, social media has become the new ‘Nude Bowl’ or ‘Iron Door’ for a new age. Hey, at least my vehicle won’t burst into flames! The virtual gigs have been sort of a silver lining to all this ‘covid-craziness’. I’ve enjoyed being able being to watch a Blasting Echo show from the pool…or catch the Michael Keeth dinner show from my own dining room.”
“And for better or for worse this pandemic has given birth to my alter ego ‘Elvis Cooper’…just like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It’s 3/4 Elvis with 1/4 Alice Cooper…and kablam! I’m that much closer to my lounge singing dream…so ‘Welcome to Your Nightmare!’”
ARTHUR SEAY (HOUSE OF BROKEN PROMISES, UNIDA, DEATH IN PRETTY WRAPPING)
“Balanced and sensible? I’ve actually really enjoyed the break from the world and the stress of being a ‘one-man-army’ in all of my bands, it made me realize I was definitely burned-out and needed this break lol and very much enjoyed said break, just focusing on nothing and doing projects around my studio. HoBP released a new track called ‘Fear Me’ through an Australian label called Desert Highways. It was good to have the time to focus on that track. I produced, mixed and mastered it.
We’re finishing up a new video for a song called ‘Under Cover of the Law’ which is coincidently spot-on with what’s going on right now. I’ve always been a ‘Doomsday Prepper’ so the time was well spent practicing and training. I shoot competition and getting that aspect of my life to a higher level was essential. I’ve been writing riffs like a maniac and painting which kept me sane and or insane? Pertinent? Viable? And alive in the near future? Who knows what the near future will hold, I guess we’ll see. I believe the universe and the riff gods from outer space have always sent me riffs that stand the test of time and my guys have always stepped up to the plate and delivered their part amazingly, so that’s pertinent and viable lol.”
JOSH HEINZ (BLASTING ECHO, 5TH TOWN)
“The pandemic has been so unfortunate for everyone and for some it has been so much more devastating than others, so I want to keep my answer in proper context. Music has always been my outlet to share, connect and express at any time. I’m grateful to have some people out there that enjoy what we do. I certainly had no plans of doing webcasts for 12 weeks in a row when we first participated in the CVCV Fest on March 22nd. But they have been a good way to focus our attention on something creative and distract us from the uncertainty of the times. It’s been a good challenge creatively for us. Linda has been really good about getting me to try different things, doing songs I wouldn’t normally do and reimagining some of our songs in a different way. We are also fans, and have certainly enjoyed watching and listening to other members of our community share their music. It has made me sing, smile, laugh and cry.”
Perhaps the most positive thing that has happened is that we have been forced to use a tool that was available…webcasting, but we didn’t use it. As a result, we are now spending a half hour a week with not just those in our local community, but with people across the country. Typically we have family and friends watching from Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, New Hampshire and down in Florida. They have expressed how much they enjoy getting to see us play and look forward to it each week. This virtual congregating has been something we look forward to. Once this is all over and we can get back to performing in the typical way with Blasting Echo and 5th Town, we certainly will. But we will probably continue to webcast, maybe not every week, but perhaps once or twice a month. Our plan is to just keep putting out new music that we enjoy to play and create together. Blasting Echo was working on our new record with Rob Peterson when the pandemic started and we look forward to completing and sharing that. Hopefully it’s music that resonates on some level with everyone.”
In regard to my solo album, ‘Josh Heinz – Made in Memphis 2003,’ these are songs I recorded 17 years ago, that I was never able to properly release. Getting music onto streaming services has become much more affordable and with the pandemic occurring I had the time to focus on it. Ultimately, Michael Spann, my friend and former bandmate from Memphis sealed the deal when he said he’d master it for me. I can’t thank him enough. I’m proud of the songs and I wanted to be sure to release them at some point. It’s another way to keep the music alive.”
“We’re writing new music and focusing on creating fresh ideas and staying connected with each other on a regular basis by collaborating from home. In the near future our plans are to keep dropping singles and to make more videos. The most important thing is to keep creating original music. The down time means more opportunities to concentrate and plan our next move. We have consistently facilitated pre-production via Zoom, over the phone and through emails.”
GREG SAENZ (JOHN GARCIA AND THE BAND OF GOLD, SLEAZY CORTEZ, THE DWARVES, EXCEL)
“Between JG and the BOG festival tours being postponed until 2021 and getting laid off from work, I have been enjoying my downtime working on my home with my wife, Ali Saenz. I also have been taking advantage of this time to jam out with friends like Mario Lalli and Gary Arce, and I have been embracing my love for heavy Blues by indulging myself by listening to old records and rehearsing with the fellows from Sleazy Cortez to record an EP in the near future.”
JUAN ESPINO (RAZOR J)
“I used the months of April and May as a boot camp, I created a schedule for writing songs, watching tutorials and practicing. I had days and hours set up for vocals, guitar and beats. The routine was good for my mental health but also made sure this time wasn’t a waste. My momentum was stalled but I studied Facebook ads and music business books and actually gained 150 followers on Spotify during this time. Now that things are heading back, I’m going to release new music with all my new knowledge.”
LISA LYNN MORGAN (LISA AND THE BROKEN HALLELUJAHS)
“I am sorry, is this question for me, or did you mean to send this to someone else? From my perspective, ‘balanced’ and ‘sensible’ don’t describe the array of thoughts and feelings this new abnormal is inciting, but thank you. I will be honest with you. I spend more time staring at my piano than playing or creating on it. I have come to find out that my creative mojo gets shaken up and sparkles best when I’m with other people, so I’ve experienced a level of dormancy in the last couple of weeks, trying to take everything in. There is a lot of negative, fear-based data out there which makes my heart wretchedly heavy if I focus on it too much. I know I am not alone in this. However, I feel the innate need that I think lives in every artist to communicate, inspire, heal or incite is coming to a boiling point, and when it does, I think it will be interesting. For me and my music, I hope it looks and sounds like soulful hope, inspiration, and fearlessness.”
“I want to create ways for our local musicians to perform safely and be heard and seen. Outdoor venues, backyards with plenty of space to be safe… I’m not sure what that looks like exactly, but I want it for myself and all the other musicians around here. Performing is like oxygen to the creatives in our community. It can be the same for those who love live music. On a more personal level, I want to avoid thinking about pushing my ‘product’ per say. I just want to dig deeper and give harder, and let the cards fall where they may. If it meets the people where they are at and moves them to a place they like to be, then I think things will take care of themselves. We just need a place to be heard loud and in 3D, not just behind the glass wall of our devices.”
AREK RELIGA (AREK & THE LOST TRIBE)
“To stay balanced, I practice meditation and the guitar every day. I do my best to post performance videos on social media and stay connected to my fellow musicians and anyone interested in my music. I, of course, love spending time with my family and they keep me levelheaded”.
“I’m really eager to get out and perform live again, whether it’s solo acoustic or fully plugged and electric with my band Arek & the Lost Tribe. I will be booking as many shows as possible once I am able.”
JAMIE HARGATE (THE HELLIONS)
“As far as how the quarantine has affected us or what we have been up to since March as a band… well, besides the initial effect of canceling shows and shuffling schedules just to come to a complete halt, we have been staying busy rehearsing and writing. Personally I have been listening to a lot of new music and venturing into the unknown along with some older music I may have been familiar with but never gave a good listen too. The band did take some time off to look at the ‘new’ reality and focused on the now. As of today, The Hellions are moving forward like we always have and continuing to play loud Rock ’n’ Roll! We are looking at possible upcoming shows, recording new music, supporting local music venues and ready to move forward. The future looks positive if you look hard enough. R-n-R!”
MARC DIAZ (MOZAIQ)
“We haven’t been doing much…just writing…because we’ve been inactive on social media with the exception of the Date Shed Desi Live Stream back in April….just been writing new songs…and finishing pending projects that have been lost in the ether but we’ve been able to expound upon because we’ve gained a lot of inspiration by what’s been happening in the world, especially the events of late.”
DANI VINCENT (VAN VINCENT)
“I’ve been busy working on new Van Vincent music and my solo stuff. As well as a re-release of an EP from my band Chili Cow from 2000. I’m always doing music. I’ll be going off grid the rest of the week.”
“What has kept me balanced and sensible? It’s actually the music in the chaos. It’s allowed me to acquire a silence during a very loud time, it’s allowed me to reflect due to the slowed down pace, to remind myself of what inspires my motivation. It’s been a very trying time, but the beauty about being an artist, especially during a unique time, is that we are given the opportunity to get creative in a space we haven’t experienced before. And with that happening, new avenues are explored or brainstormed that weren’t even a thought before. Opportunity is everywhere. This gave me the opportunity to develop and truly exercise a creative side I wasn’t able to touch before. Therefore my product is getting stronger for the day I start to release more of my content. My business strategy has fewer holes and seems more approachable. If anything, this has proven to me that it’s hard to fail. The only way to fail is to not try. And when we try, it has to be a true try. If it isn’t a true try, well, then that’d be the fail.”
ZACH HUSKEY (DALI’S LLAMA)
“Dali’s Llama is currently working on a new album. Five songs are already finished and we’re waiting for the studio to open back up to record another six songs. Also, we’re working on the cover art. This forthcoming album will be our 15th Dali’s Llama album in 27 years together! This is what is keeping us motivated.”
RICK SHELLEY (RICK SHELLEY AND THE DESERT DOGS, WOODSHED)
“I have laid low through the last few months…catching bits and pieces of performances, both local and national. I have mixed feelings about seeing artists online, but I am happy artists remained connected as much as can be. Pertinent? Not sure I ever was. I just write. Maybe one day I’ll be pertinent.”
ARMANDO FLORES (BLASTING ECHO, 5TH TOWN, COURTNEY CHAMBERS, THE PEDESTRIANS)
“Well, I gave up being a singer/songwriter years ago. Being a sideman (or hired gun… take your pick) my quarantine has been filled with requests to record or learn new material by a few different solo artists and bands. It keeps the chops up, and depending on the request, some people just let me off the chain to do what I do best on the bass… and sometimes on the drums.”
“2020 has been a bitch. It’s tough to keep music viable sans live music venues. I hope we all come out of this better on the other side. But as an artist, I’ll just keep doing what I do. Play my instruments to the best of my ability, be as creative as possible, and wait for the phone to ring.”
DAVID BURK (DROP MOB, DRB)
“These uncertain times have definitely shaken us all. We are watching history unfold before our very eyes and music has always been the soundtrack and the road to healing. I’m proud of our music community and the awesome talent we have in the desert. I’m struggling and having my music people to share ideas with is a beautiful thing.”
BRETT MCLAUGHLIN (CAXTON, REBORN BY THE SUNSHINE)
“Music is probably the one the thing that has helped us stay sane. I know for me personally, I think that writing, practicing and listening to music makes me feel more calm and lets my mind escape. During the past few months I’ve tried to listen to more music and let myself go down that rabbit hole to discover new music that I wouldn’t normally listen to.”
“As far as remaining a band during this unusual time, we each have been writing individually and sharing songs back and forth. I think it’s helped us grow significantly in the way we are creative. Since we all have this time off, we have more focus in the way we individually practice and write. That being said, I can’t wait to get together with the guys and see what we can create as a group. I definitely think we are going to be a stronger and tighter band.”
Noe Gutierrez is Head Music Writer at Coachella Valley Weekly and is the Founder of Desert Music, an artist management company. He also guides the Desert Music Alliance, a large group of organized individuals that mutually supports all music artists in the Coachella Valley and High Desert.