An interview with Mario Lalli
Written by Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop
Well, this is exciting. It’s not every day that I get to have a correspondence with someone who has, in all reality, directly or indirectly influenced the music that fills my IPod playlists. If you don’t know who Mario Lalli is, you should look him up. His discography is what legends are made of. A good place to start would be with the Such Hawks Such Hounds documentary. His band Across the River could easily be the band that you can point to and say “That is where the whole ‘Desert Rock’ scene really began.” Other projects include Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, and the Sort of Quartet. Mario Lalli is a shining example of what can be achieved when you block out outside influence and creatively pursue an artistic endeavor, whether or not you know you are going to be breaking cliches. Because of this, he has solidified his role as a legend in the Stoner Rock scene. Mr. Lalli was kind enough to share some time with me to answer a few questions for me via email. They went like this…
IG: A lot of older musicians talk about the first time they saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and how it changed their lives. Is their a moment like that for you?
ML: I would say my Ed Sullivan moments were staying up late as a kid on Friday nights to watch Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert …when I was 8 – 12 or so seeing the magical world of band s like Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, KIss, Queen, Aerosmith, The Who…The Tubes…Mountain ….very exciting….it was very rare to see music like that on television. I was hooked. The music guests on “Saturday Night Live” were always a treat and “Friday’s” too some really influential performances on those shows.
Fear, the Plasmatics, Motorhead, Suburban Lawns, Devo… super cool.
IG: It is obvious now that your group of peers in the 80’s and early 90’s went on to lay the ground work for what we now call “Stoner Rock”. Did you guys ever feel like you were on to something big then? If so, what was the moment or event when you realized it?
ML: No …its strange..I do remember in like 84 or 85 when Across the River was playing alot with SST bands and sharing the bill with punk and metal bands that we felt a bit out of place, but people seemed to really dig it, the punks and the metal heads and the kind of “alternative” scene that was beginning that was a little harder to categorize..these people really liked the fact that the band was putting the music first no shtick just rock…energy and creativity. Across the River’s sound was very influenced by bands like Mountain, Black Sabbath, Budgie, Motorhead, Hawkwind, but also by the heavy hardcore bands like Black Flag and DOA. But that was in 85 …..by the time Kyuss was kickin ass and touring we were playing stuff totally different to that heavy vibe. Yawning Man and the Sort of Quartet were really a result of isolation from scenes in general …I will always be gratfuly perplexed by the our role in the creation of the “Stoner Rock” genre, but I could have never imagined the influence it would have.
IG: How do you feel about the “Stoner Rock” moniker?
ML: The term “Stoner” for me takes me back to the high school days , The “Stoners” as we called them at my school would be described like this …long hair, muscle cars (70’s Novas or Cameros)roach clips hangin from the rear view,baseball style concert shirts ( RUSH, DIO, SABBATH, VAN HALEN) always in the smoking section at lunch. So I guess as a style and cultural reference it fits a lot of the music that digs that style or era. I have always struggled with sub genras of rock and roll ..there are so many to keep track of …and really how different are these kinds of music , punk, metal, stoner, doom ,desert rock, math rock, grunge. sludge, death metal …etc on and on…Its all a way to define what people feel is unique about what they do .
IG: If you could name the genre, what would you call it?
IG: Do you feel like there is a “rule of thumb” to decide what is “Stoner Rock” and what isn’t?
ML: Rules and creativity don’t mix to well.
IG: You have been an active member of the “Desert Rock” scene for over 25 years now. Did the evolution of the music surprise you?
ML: I am always pretty excited to hear what bands from the desert are doing, there is something about being isolated that draws out unique qualities in the bands and musicians, The open minded foundation of the rock scene in the desert is creatively healthy …no rules makes for interesting twists and diverse influences.
IG: Did you ever feel like your music was a purposeful rebellion to the mainstream at the time? If so, what were you rebelling against?
ML: Yes for sure, we are always rebelling….against boredom, stagnancy, programing, uniformity, death, To quote his majesty Lux Interior………..”You got to live until your dead….you got to rock till you see red ! ” but at the same time its very natural also.
IG: A lot of bands today seem to put a lot of weight in the gear they use (live and studio) to make music these days? Was it like that when you first started playing or did that develop with the genre? Do you think that playing the “right” gear is important?
ML: I am guilty of fetishing music gear for sure…guitars, amps, pedals, drums, basses….for me it is a extension of the art …its such a cool part of being a musician…I love it…but its not necessary to create and express your self nor is it that important…it is a luxury …..while the vibe and sounds that groovy gear gives to a musician are important….its the ideas and sweat that count ,,,,the blood and bone not the vintage all valve this and that’s.
IG: What would you say are your favorite/best/most important accomplishments as a musician? Are there any projects that stand out more than the others to you?
ML: I would say that to have traveled over seas and had people tell me that I was a musical influence to them…..that is so wonderful to hear, I am very grateful for this. All the music I have made with my friends and family and now I am playing with my son…pertty cool stuff, I am very lucky and thankful for these blessings of raddness.
IG: Most people don’t realize that the majority of musicians playing music these days aren’t rich or famous. Is there any advice that you would like to give to the up and comers trying to play music as a career?
ML: I am a bad guy to ask this question because I have never really tried to make a career of music, its always been a part of my life …make it a priority in your life and do it because you have to and you love to.
IG: You have a prolific discography under your belt and have been involved in numerous musical projects. Is there anything that you would like to do in the future that you haven’t done already, not necessarily musically speaking? Is there anybody that you would like to play with that you haven’t gotten the chance to play with?
ML: I was inspired by the experience at Duna Jam in Sardengna to make a film & recording . The idea would be to arrange a series of improvised performances with other like minded musicians and document the sessions on film at different scenic locations around Sardengna. I was dreaming about one improvised piece for each location titled after that location featuring different musicians. Mabey Kenji “Damo” Suzuki of Can he is often open to such projects and that would be great to see, I would like to include Nels Kline, John Parish, John Mc Bain, Gary Arce, Scott Reeder, Helios Creed, Jack Brewer, ..I’m going to see that through.
IG: Stage props/shows can really be a bands signature, however, Across the River is the first band that I know of to use a wasp’s nest. Is it true that you really used to hang them at shows to see who your “real” fans were?
ML: We tried rattle snakes, rotten eggs, naked fat guys, tear gas, and yes the wasp’s nest was a true test of your dedication to the rock.