Desert Rock Pioneers Make First-Ever Stop in Ottawa

October 3rd, 2017 by  |  Published in Concerts, Interviews

Yawning Man
Wednesday, Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Mavericks, 221 Rideau St., Ottawa
$15 @

Influential desert rock pioneers Yawning Man visit Ottawa’s Mavericks on Wednesday, October 4. It is the only stop in the band’s first-ever jaunt through Ontario, despite having been together for more than thirty years. Heralded in Southern California for jumpstarting the scene that birthed acts like Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss and Eagles of Death Metal, the three-piece is now attempting to build their following across Canada. Bassist Mario Lalli spoke to Kristopher Bras about the tour, desert rock and his band’s reinvigorated focus on making music.

Q: What made you want to bring Yawning Man to Ontario? Is it a new frontier for you guys?

It’s a new frontier for us. We didn’t have an agency here, no infrastructure…we jumped on an opportunity (to tour in Western Canada) with the Truckfighters almost a year ago, and the feeling from that trip was that we could maybe do this on our own, and not have to support a band, but on a limited level on our own. So this is a big experiment that we’re on right now. We made a lot of friends on the last trip, and we saw them all again and it’s really a warm feeling.

Q: Who is in the van with you on this trip? I know you’ve had some different guys over the years, including your son.

We’re a basic trio on this tour. Gary Arce on guitar, Bill Stinson on drums and me, Mario Lalli on bass. My son started playing with us during the Truckfighters tour…before that we had done a tour with a really nice musician, a girl from Southern California named Justine (Ruiz), and then we refined it back to a trio for this. The kids are in school, and they’re busy doing their thing and we needed to get back to basics for this tour and probably for the next record. It’s been awesome, though. We forget how freeing it is to be a trio. We improvise a lot, and it really makes (improvisation) free and flowing with a three-piece.

Q: Your last record, Historical Graffiti, was such a collaborative effort. What was it like to arrange the music for a three piece?

It was a challenge! It’s so weird—those songs have morphed countless times since they were originally written at rehearsal, and then when we recorded, there were three main songs that were really compositions that we took into the studio in Buenos Aires, and the rest of those are jams. They’re just totally improvised jams.

Q: I had a feeling about that; it was one of my questions for you.

Yes! I think this is rather evident, but when we do that, we’re not afraid of experimenting in studio and in post production. We don’t have that purist thing where they’re like we’ve got to represent what we do. We like to go in and experiment with the basic foundation that was captured in the studio. So when you say trying to put that stuff together, we strip it back down to the basics and we’ll tighten up the basic foundation of the composition and then we improvise on it. That’s our formula, that’s what works for us. Not that we have a specific approach all the time…but the songs are all different than when they were recorded, and I don’t know when they changed—they changed every night.

Q: Yawning Man is known as one of the first influential desert rock bands. Is that a title you feel connected to?

(Sighs). I’ve got to be honest with you…my gut (feeling) is to reject all of that stuff. That particular one, how it came about I’m not sure, but I think the cool thing about that is it’s so non-descriptive, and it’s so wide open…What is that? What does that mean? Let’s put it this way: It’s the one I’m most comfortable tagging us with (laughs). I get how, you being a journalist, you have to figure out this language that helps you communicate what this is to people, and I get that. But with desert rock, if you say that to people they’re not going to immediately go oh, well that sounds like this.

Q: And it’s fitting, because when you listen to Fatso Jetson (Lalli’s other, similarly influential band) and Yawning Man’s discographies, so much of the work is vastly different.

Yeah, exactly. We grew up listening to so much different stuff, that it’s just all over the place. You name it. We’re influenced by so much, so many different styles of music, and so many different instruments. And some of it’s not even music, it’s just sounds or ideas of weird heads and shoes cocked a certain way. I can’t even describe some of the weird stuff we kind of turn into our language.

Q: Do you write for each band independently, or do you just jam and think hey, that’s a Yawning Man song?

There’s not a definitive separation for me…Our whole trick for writing music is pretty organic. It just starts with simple ideas that entertain us and we feel a certain way about it and then it just grows. We bounce off of each other and it grows from there. The real beauty with this band is that it’s always different live. As an example, we end each song differently…every night. It’s cathartic to us, that when we play live we’re not just “playing through the songs to entertain the folks.” We’re expressing something…I think that’s the core of it.

Q: Is your life segmented in a way where you work hard on both bands for a while, and then take time off after touring?

For us…in the last year, things have changed for us a great deal because of us making a conscious decision to focus more on making music a bigger part of our lives…making it our job. We haven’t succeeded in that yet, but this is the first time in our twenty-something years of doing this…that in our group, in our close, close-knit group of brothers that have done this, this is the first time we’ve ever said we’re going to…do this, now.

Q: Can you pin down what it was that brought you to a place where you want to make music your first priority and get serious about it?

That’s a hard question to answer…I know the minute that we enjoyed playing music, we knew that’s what we wanted to do. When I think back, I was 18, 19, 20 years old…we knew back then that’s all we wanted to do. We all moved into a house together in the desert, turned the garage into a studio…we were doing that when we were twenty years old. Thirty years ago. We knew what the hell we wanted to do, it just took us thirty years to (do it). We just didn’t know how. It sounds silly you know, but it’s true. I lived in Los Angeles for a year, and I couldn’t even figure out how to get a gig at a stinky yacht club…we had all these clean connections and we didn’t do shit. We didn’t know how…but we knew how to go into the practice room and just play…that’s why it was so easy for us to go home, and just take the generator out into the desert, or set up our own parties, or whatever. It was so much easier than playing everyone else’s game.

Q: But in doing that, you influenced a whole other group of guys too. They must be pretty good connections now!

Yeah! Hey, we wouldn’t be doing anything without that. Without what those guys did, with their music, and their careers and their lives. We wouldn’t be doing shit…it opened up tons of opportunities for us, and we’re super grateful for that. And those dudes know it.

Q: On my side of the world, it’s a big divide. When you listen to guys like Josh Homme, Brant Bjork and Jessie Hughes, I feel like none of their music sounds like Yawning Man. It must have been a special thing to be able to influence people in way that makes them go in their own direction, instead of imitating you.

I would like to think that’s what happened, because it’s true: none of those bands sound like Yawning Man. None of those musicians sound like they’re influenced by (us). But absolutely influenced by independent spirit, and thinking. Thinking creatively first…I think that’s the point, you know? We are adamant about that, we’re really hard on ourselves. And unfortunately, we’re kind of hard on other people too, about it. But if that’s what those guys mean when they say they were influenced by us, then I’m proud of that.

Q: I have this buddy back home whose dad has played in bands around town his whole life, and my friend wants nothing to do with the guitar or his dad’s music. He hates it. How rewarding was it for you to have a son who thought his dad was cool, wanted to play guitar and be a part of the band?

It’s insane. It’s amazing. I love it…Now I’m stoked to see him do his own thing more, really. I was savagely pulling him into all of these things I was doing, and it was not really cool. I was putting pressure on him, and putting pressure on other people. And I (thought) what am I doing here, I’m trying to control the situation…I’m going to just let him do what he wants to do. And now he’s all set. He’s got two bands, he’s going to college and learning about music…I’m stoked.

Q: After the tour, what’s next for Yawning Man? Do you have immediate plans to record?

Well, we should, and we do but we are going to Europe. We get home from this trip on October 22nd. On November 29th, we fly to Europe. So we’re busy. We’re going to do the UK, Ireland, Scotland, all new places for us. We’re going to do some very special shows in the Netherlands. We do have one day of recording set up over there, so we’ll see what comes out of that. We’ve been working on some really groovy new material, kind of a step in a different vibe.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your current set, and what Ottawa is going to see on October 4th?

The set is a little selection of all our records. There’s some stuff off the new record, off Rock Formations, off Nomadic Pursuits, our split with Fatso Jetson, there is a couple new things. Brand new things. We’ve been just on fire improvising. The set is rocking, heavy…and the jamming has been inspired, and we’ve really been enjoying it.

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