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YAWNING MAN's Mario Lalli Talks 'Live At Giant Rock', & The Rise of Desert Rock Folklore

Can't make it to the desert? Yawning Man will bring the desert to you.

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Legendary innovators of desert rock Yawning Man are set to uncork their decades in the making cinematic live experience, Live At Giant Rock.

Scheduled to be released by Plastic Cactus Productions on DVD as well as digital, streaming and pay per view formats in late November (with the soundtrack available on vinyl and cd through Heavy Psych Sounds Records), the must-see fan experience was filmed in the early hours of the morning of May 18th, 2020 at the mysterious, borderline spiritual Giant Rock in Landers, California.

The performance sees Yawning Man's Gary Arce, Bill Stinson and Mario Lalli channel the ingenuity of Pink Floyd's LIve At Pompeii, transporting viewers and listeners to a place that birthed a sound and music movement that borders on folklore to this day.

Lalli caught up with Metal Injection to talk all things desert rock, the cult following the band and those early day desert performances have earned, the decades-in-the-making Giant Rock Performance and more!

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On Early Inspiration Behind Desert Performances

For different reasons, we come well equipped and prepared for times like these. The whole thing that drove us out in the desert originally was the lack of venues in our area, specifically, a very small conservative resort town. I guess we kind of got this mentality from growing up skateboarding, you’re always searching for a place where you can do your thing and no one will bug you,  a great spot with all the exciting terrain that you want to have an awesome experience and meet with your friends and do fun stuff.

When we were growing up in the punk scene here in Palm Springs, there was a garage here, a backyard there. Once in a while there’d be a bar or pool hall or a bowling alley that would let us do a show like in any town. My friend Dave Travis was always archiving video footage all through the 80s. And he had shot some footage of these desert parties. He had shot the stuff and attended the parties and they were incredible. Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Minutemen, a number of amazing bands were involved. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles and he said we should go out and jam in the Mulholland hills. And I said how are we going to do that? He said I got this little generator, we’ll just grab your amp and I’ll bring a little drum set and we’ll just cruise up there and pull over on the side of the road and go for it. We did that a couple of times. When I ended up coming back here to the desert, facing that lack of venues and always the busts at the parties and all that stuff, we just said let’s take it out in the middle of nowhere. We started searching out spots that were accessible, but yet remote. 

On Giant Rock Performance
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We had planned to do this film for a very long time. The word of these parties and the generator experience and these parties out in the desert kind of got this little folklore going. I always thought people hear people talking about it, but if they could just kind of see how the music fits out here, in particular Yawning Man’s music which was really kind of created in that environment. So it feels right out there. When this pandemic thing hit us and we were looking at canceled tours and canceled festivals … it just made perfect sense. This is how we always adapted to not having the regular opportunities to get up in front of people and play. It’s just the perfect opportunity to do it. And we were equipped and knew how and knew where. It was actually very, very normal for us.

On Creative & Artistic Freedom of the Early Desert Rock Scene

If you live in L.A. or New York or San Francisco or London or whatever big city with venues, clubs and magazines, you need to enter that world and work in it to perform on those stages. You have to either show people that you can sell tickets or you’ve got to do something that they feel they identify with and that will benefit them in some way … there’s like a thing you have to kind of you have to audition for. You have to send a link, a demo, and the booking agent has to go yes or no. 

There was a blessing and the gift that came out of it without us even realizing by doing all this stuff ourselves and creating the venue, which was magical in its own way because it was outside and completely free. Literally shoot guns, ride motorcycles, bonfires. I mean, really, the word freedom is an understatement. So taking that and then utilizing that freedom to do these things and to go out and play music in that environment where you’re not trying to impress, you’re not trying to fit in, you’re not trying to to gain any steps and climb any ladders or get an angle to get through a door. You’re just expressing yourself and having an enjoyable experience without even realizing that without that being a motivator, an inspiration to do that and take those steps. It happens organically. 

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On the Growth of Desert Rock and Inspiring the Next Generation

When I look back at it, I look at it like, wow, that really had an effect. I’m speaking for myself. I’m also speaking for the musicians that I grew up playing with for 30 years. I see it in their playing. I see it in their growth as musicians. I see it in our attitude towards improvisation and our comfort in the world. We’re not really schooled musicians. We’re not taught the theory of improvisation or anything through classes or this kind of stuff. We learned it by just having no pressure to just go and play. I’m not saying you have to live in the middle of nowhere and go out in the desert to learn that experience in music, but it was a byproduct of our environment that gave us that gift, that approach. 

It also was a blessing because it opened our minds to a lot of different music. I grew up on classical hard rock, punk rock, new wave, metal and things like that. That was crankin 'in my room. And after this kind of experience that we went through with that whole time where we were discovering that and doing that out there, it opened me up to jazz and avant garde composition and all these other sounds and all these other approaches. And I’m grateful for it. And it was just out of like, shoot, there’s no place and we can’t play over there. It’s lame, we got to impress this guy. We don’t sell him enough beer. We don’t fit the bill. Let’s just go out, do our own thing and invite our friends. And lo and behold, it formed a sound. 

On Continued Interest in Desert Rock/Generator Parties
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I think that people resonate with the honesty in the artistic expression. I would like to think that there’s something that you can’t put your finger on about it. There’s a thing in pop culture that there’s genres and styles and trends that you could glance at a photograph and kind of get the idea of what’s going to happen, the predictability of it. And I think that because of the unique environmental circumstances of this area, it created this individual approach to music. 

The environment that music comes from, whether it’s Manchester, Seattle, Austin, Texas, Memphis, New Orleans, it affects the ethic behind it. It affects the artistic expression. It affects the sound of the instruments. It affects the influence of the players. When people see something real, it’s something real and there’s something earthy, something organic about it, that it’s not manufactured by the music industry or by the pop culture machine or by the art. There’s elements that pop up when things become popular, but the beating heart of it is visceral and expressive. 

The fact that this didn’t come from some big, big Seattle scene or from some L.A. punk scene with all this crazy influence and all this stuff, it came out of this very simple need to just do something and express yourself. It’s very simple and very low on the bullshit. There’s not a lot of B.S. involved. There’s not a fashion. You don’t look at one of these musicians and go, oh, that guy plays that kind of music? It’s very individual. 

The bands that gave this place the awareness, they’re good bands. They were pushing some boundaries and they were very passionate about what they did and for the most part, very original and something to be reckoned with. It wasn’t just this regurgitation of this thing done in a different way than putting a new coat of paint on it or a new hairdo or a jacket. You’re looking at stuff that’s pretty original. 

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And I also think that there’s something something magnetic and mysterious about the desert itself …  It is definitely larger than life. The desert is a magical place that people are drawn to. And you can’t really put your finger on it. But when you’re standing in it, you go, I get it. You know, it’s not like describing Times Square. It just has this undeniable kind of spiritual thing to it that I think made its way into the music. And that’s why people identify with it.

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