March will bring more than a super bloom to the musically historied desertscape of Joshua Tree. You might call it a “Super Boom”, as more than 20 bands release their amps and heavy psych sounds on two stages over two days at the Hi-Desert Cultural Center in Joshua Tree. This is no Coachella, my friends. This is a gathering of troubadours who have fallen on the sword of anti-pop, a road less traveled, weightier, louder, less thankful, for the sake of their own musical integrity and deeply reverberating souls. Many of these musicians, whose names will be timelessly historied in rock and roll vaults, are less lauded here in the states than around the world because of their commitment to this authenticity. This is exactly why any self-respecting, self-proclaimed music devotee should be present for this thunderous event. It is a tribute to a genre that sprung from a bunch of our desert kids who, with no easy access to culture or community, created their own, in open deserts, with a lantern, a voltage regulated generator, friends, and an insatiable hunger for sound.
Mario Lalli, (Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, and more) is one of those historied musicians who will be known forever as one of the forefathers of the Desert Rock genre. As a kid musician in the 80s, he produced many a rock-fueled generator party up on Edom Hill. These generator parties were known as “Dust Festivals.” This Godfather of Stoner Rock, a title he quickly disclaims citing many others as more influential, explains, “The desert had all the space you needed. You could play live in front of more than 500 people and do whatever you wanted. In the 70s, this was done a lot by rock bands, but we weren’t there then, so we had to reinvent it.”
Lalli is the producer of the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest, this time with state-of-the-art sound, lights, and more traditional power sources, so who better to ask…
JTV: What is Heavy Psych exactly?
Lalli: I’ll start by explaining a bit about the root of “Heavy Psych Sounds.” This is actually the name of an Italian record label out of Rome that has released albums by many of the bands on the bill. The label has really become a home for many of the southern California Mojave Desert’s veteran rock bands.
Artists like Brant Bjork (Palm Desert), Yawning Man (Yucca Valley), Nebula (Joshua Tree), Fatso Jetson (Desert Hot Springs), Nick Oliveri (Joshua Tree) have released multiple full-length records on the Heavy Psych Sounds Label.
I’m producing the event in partnership with the label. The founder, Gabriele Fiori, has been a friend for many years and helped my band Fatso Jetson with some of our first tours in Europe going back 15 years.
The genre or term “Heavy Psych” refers to a convergence of heavy rock and psychedelia. If you take a listen to the some of the artists I mentioned, you’ll hear elements of heavy rock and roll that are influenced by classic hard rock, but there’s also a strong influence of jamming and rock improvisation. Bands like The Stooges, Jimi Hendrix Experience, early Pink Floyd, Cream, Black Sabbath, Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons, Iron Butterfly, 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind, and of course Kyuss (Palm Desert) all could be listed as influential to most of the artists featured here. I guess I also think of “psych rock” as referring to the wave of garage bands in the 60s that were experimenting with these more expansive, newer, freer song structures; it was less about the catchy hit song and more about the vibe of expressing some kind of transcendent experience.
The experimental drug culture of the 60s played a huge part in everything shifting and becoming more expressive and freer. It really affected rock, pop, jazz, country, folk, and even musical theatre in the late 60s and through the early 70s.