By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – Waging a never-ending war on boredom, the lumbering Californian desert rock entity known as Yawning Man dates back to the golden era of the psych-rock fringe when the likes of Brant Bjork, John Garcia and Josh Homme caught wind of their free-wheeling space rock ways. From pulling off clandestine generator parties for a few friends the desert back in the mid-80s to performing in front of thousands of devoted fans at venues around the globe, founding guitarist Gary Arce has never forgotten the desolate internal and external landscapes that informed his early years.
“I actually lived at the Salton Sea, and believe me, the Salton Sea is not that romantic!” Arce recalls with a chuckle.
“I used to live near there, I grew up in the Palm Desert also known as the Low Desert. The place is a running joke with locals; cuz tourists would go there and find just a toxic puddle with dead fish on the shore everywhere. I just remember going there and walking along the shore thousands of dead fish and meth heads walking streets like the walking dead. In between where I lived and Mexican border there was this weird culture of illegal immigrants mixed with meth heads mixed with dead fish.”
These days Arce is looking forward to hopping the border together with the band’s original bassist Mario Lalli and their 2014 addition known as drummer Bill Stinson, as Yawning Man prepares to bring their ponderous machinations to Canada for the second time in recent memory. Having fallen under the thrall of the land of ice and snow at last April’s 420 Music and Arts Festival in Calgary, the sidewinding trio is set for autumnal return, but this time as headliners.
“I’ve toured all over the world and I love Canada. It’s so beautiful and breathtaking and the people are super sweet and it’s just a rad place. This tour we really wanted to go back there, so we asked the agency for that to happen. This time we’re going as a headlining band and it’s our first time going out on our own!”
Hard to believe for a band that’s had such a lengthy and influential run. Although admittedly inconsistent, Yawning Man’s discography has attracted ample attention and garnered them many comparisons to other so-called stoner rock acts, although he understandably shirks that unimaginative label.
“I’m excited and I’m just hoping that people come out to see us, because we get type-cast into this weird metal-desert-rock thing like Kyuss and all those bands.
And yeah, we’re from the same town as Kyuss and we’re friends with all those bands, but we are nothing like Kyuss. And I think hopefully people will start to realize that we are our own band.
We’ve never followed trends. Never tried to be metal or this or that. We’ve just done our own thing.”
Sighting the work-ethic and nonconformity of his favourite punk acts for a point of reference amidst the ever-shifting sands of public opinion, construction-worker-by-day Arce’s primal howl dredges up the heart of darkness from the bottom of the Salton Sea.
“Music for me is like another job; I do have a hardcore job. I do concrete and construction and I have to have a side of me where I’m mellow and I do love ambient dark music. I’ve always found something in it that’s mysterious and innocent. I’ve always been into that kind of sound.”
Known for his ability to take a simple musical phrase and spin it out into an epic multihued shamanic yarn, Arce has come to realize the importance of channeling his creative impulses into increasingly defined forms. Edging away from amorphous compositions like those found on their foundational albums Rock Formations (2005) and Vista Point (2007), the threesome’s newest constructs refer to a predetermined set of musical blueprints.
“I started all these projects,” Arce explains.
“I’d call up all these friends and go ‘Hey, dudes let’s drink beer and jam!’ We’d take best of improvised jams and make a record. It got to the point where all of the recordings I was doing were all fuckin’ jammie with no song structure and that started to get boring for me. I was under the gun and I just stopped. I told myself Yawning Man was one band where I couldn’t afford that attitude of just working off-the-cuff. Mario has moved and now he lives right near me, so we have closed the distance. We’re starting to get focused and write more structured songs, coming up with riffs and going back and forth and playing it until we both think it’s cool enough to keep.”
He concludes honestly, “I’m kind of a dick about the beats being a certain way. I always tell our drummer ‘Don’t play a silly four-four beat. Give me something different that fits, don’t play a dumbass rock beat over again!’ cuz I’ll get bored and once I get bored I get lazy and lose interest.”
Yawning Man performs September 21 at the Palomino Smokehouse & Bar (Calgary) and September 23 at the Starlite Room(Edmonton).Palomino Smokehouse & Bar, Starlite Room, Yawning Man