Desert Daze and the High Desert

October 27, 2016

Desert Daze and the High Desert

The cancellation of Levitation/Austin Psych Fest back in May left many people with an empty void that could only be filled with another major festival of equal greatness. One such event was announced shortly thereafter – The fifth installment of the Desert Daze Festival to be held over three days in October in the town of Joshua Tree in California’s Yucca Valley in the Mojave Desert. Even many of the performers would be the same as those that had been scheduled in Austin months before: The Black Angels, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard as well as many performers from past APF shows – overall, a great lineup.

It was well worth having to fly from Austin to Los Angeles and drive from Los Angeles through the scenic high desert out to Joshua Tree; an area best known as the birthing ground of the Desert Scene and associated with famous desert rock bands such as Masters of Reality, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu, Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man, and many other side projects and cross collaborations between these and other musicians that found sanctuary in the desert.

The festival was held at the highly appropriate Institute of Mentalphysics, a holistic retreat facility founded in 1941 and intended as a center for spiritual development. The buildings on site, designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and son, were pretty cool and complemented the terrain well. The grounds were beautiful and filled with various natural and man-made rock formations, sculptures, art installations, vortices, and a labyrinth for a contemplative circumambulation between shows. The energy was palpable and possibly further enhanced by the three rivers that run beneath the ground.

Death Valley Girls by Justin Jackley

We arrived just in time to see the Death Valley Girls fight the sunshine and howling wind with some dystopian-doom-boogie-punk in their flowing capes as a six-foot Satan sculpture spun around the back of the stage. Friday evening brought the historical titans of garage rock, The Sonics, into the spotlight for an hour of danceable rock as the sun was setting and the desert began to cool off. In spite of “technical difficulties” and a few saxophone-less songs, the current line-up of the Sonics held together really well as they drew heavily from their debut album Here are the Sonics (1965) and their Newest album, This is the Sonics (2015) playing their mix of early Rock n’ Roll covers from the ‘50s and early ‘60s and their own original material such as ‘Strychnine’, ‘The Witch’, and ‘Boss Hoss’. The only disappointment was with the inappropriate “mosh pit” that repeatedly broke out in front of the stage. This seemed to be due to the young, drunk, dumbass in the orange construction worker’s vest that seemed intent on “moshing” with women, children, and the elderly that obviously had no interest in interacting with him and risking becoming doused in whatever kind of “riot punch” his stupid friend insisted on pouring into people’s faces. Nothing against moshing in general – but this was not the time, place, or right band for that. ‘Have Love, Will Travel’ does not equal mosh pit… The show was ruined for many people that had little choice but to retreat from the frat bro road show that had taken over their area with heinous jack-assery. Watch yourself orange-vest; you are not the only person in existence.

Desert Daze by Justin Jackley

Melbourne, Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard stole the show that night on the Block Stage with their high energy psychedelia and kooky stage antics. They opened up with ‘Robot Stop’ from their latest album Nonagon Infinity (2016) which seemingly seamlessly rolled right into the next song and then back around again – or maybe it was just one really long song! Perhaps that is the infinity of the nonagon. Either way, it makes for some nice continuity which is a quality I appreciate in music. Singer Stu Mackenzie kept us entertained with his crazy moves and ability to bend at unnatural angles seeming to be bent in an “A” shape while playing guitar half upside down with loose guitar strings flying all around him. This seemed to encourage more than a few audience members to get weird and dance like they got the pants ants.

The next morning, I was able to meet up with the Death Valley Girls for a couple drinks and an interview about the ending of their current tour, the beginning of their next tour, aliens, the blues, astral projection, and boxing rabbits. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I saw them in Austin earlier this year as part of the Levitation pre-parties that still went on as planned.

Death Valley Girls interview at Desert Daze – October 15th, 2016

Bonnie “Bonz” Bloomgarden – Guitar/Keys/Vocals
Larry Schemel – Guitar
Niki “Pickle” – Bass
Laura “the Kid” – Drums
Charisse “Cherry” – Merch& Diabolical Makeup
Dani – Merch& Southwest Tour Mate

{Note: while transcribing the audio, sometimes I couldn’t tell who was talking or multiple people talking at once – If I am unsure, it’s attributed to DVG}

[IPB] Thanks so much for taking some time to meet with me. So far, all of my scheduled interviews have fallen through. First of all, I’d like to know what your capes are made out of.

[Bonnie] Metal. Yeah, we wear metallic dresses. Imported from Venus. Venusian metal. That molds to our bodies.

[IPB] I would have thought bat wings. You just finished a big tour. Was this the last date?

[Bonnie] Yeah, this was the last date here.

[IPB] How’d it all go?

[Bonie] Super Duper.

[IPB] I heard you say on stage yesterday that it was 6,000 days on the road?

[DVG] Somewhere around 400 to 6,000 days. It depends how many hours you consider to be in one day.

[IPB] Any memorable or favorite shows?

[DVG] Many. Well, there is one incident.

[Bonnie] I think it’s more important to answer the greater issue here, which is what everyone wants to know; Has anything paranormal happened to us on tour? And I’d like to give this to whoever would like to answer this. Clearly, we know who. [all laughing] The Cherry Hill to DC experience leaving through Philly. Pickle can answer it because Pickle is the navigator and Larry is the driver.

[Pickle] We had left… we had set our sights on Washington, D.C., we left Cherry Hill, New Jersey which is next door to Philadelphia. We played a show the night before in Philadelphia ten minutes away. We threw in the GPS “Washington D.C.”, it said two and a half hours away, we started driving and time was ticking down. And then Bonnie looks up and says “are we driving into Philadelphia?” like an hour and half later. We had left Philadelphia at one and were arriving at like two-thirty. We were on 95 South the whole time.

[IPB] You think there was a worm-hole involved?

[Bonnie] Yeah! And I’ve been reading the Mothman Prophecies and part of it is about this place, Cherry Hill, and in 1967 to 1971 there was more UFO sightings there than anywhere else and not just about UFOs but what happens to a community that has so many sightings is just crazy and that’s where we stayed and they realized that more UFO sightings happen on Wednesday.

[IPB] Was it on a Wednesday?

[Bonnie] No, it was fuckin’ stupid Monday. [all laugh]

[Larry] That was one incident. There were a couple other incidents, one where Charisse got tapped on the shoulder by some sort of an entity in Atlanta and I witnessed that… head-turn because she was standing over here and she turned to me and said “What do you want? You tapped me on the shoulder.” And I said “What are you talking about?”

[Charisse] It was a heavy tap on the shoulder like from a man and I turned around and no one was there and I felt so scared after.

[Larry] And for the second time we saw the Marfa Lights. The UFO lights. We saw them before the last time we went to Marfa.

[Bonnie] We asked everyone around there and it is really uncommon to see it. Let alone see it twice and they are like “whoah.”

[Kid] When we saw the Marfa lights, as soon as we got there we saw two jack rabbits up on two feet boxing with each other in our headlights. It was amazing. And we saw a frog. And we saw a mouse. And then we saw the Marfa Lights.

[Bonnie] And an owl! Yeah, like everything you would want to see on tour.

[IPB] Did you play a show in Marfa?

[Bonnie] No, not this time. We have. We just had days off. Everyone is allotted a day of splendor and it was Pickle’s choice.

[Larry] There is many memorable shows on this tour. But it’s mainly crazy because all the people… we met Fred and Toody from Dead Moon in Portland.

[Bonnie] It was the Hero Tour – we met all our heroes. We met the Sonics last night. Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We went to the gasoline station from the film and met the Hitchhiker.

[IPB] Oh yeah, where is that anyway?

[Larry] Bastrop, Texas. Just outside Austin.

[IPB] That’s right. I live around Austin. I’m surprised I haven’t been there.

[Bonnie] You should go there. They have a hotel there now and you can stay there. They just opened it. We were there for the opening. It was a big deal. That’s why people were there.

[IPB] So, with this tour wrapping up – what’s the plan? Rest up a bit?

[Bonnie] No, keep touring. We will be back here on the 29th playing this Gram Rabbit Halloween party called “Grim Rabbit” or whatever and we played with Jesika von Rabbit out here a couple months ago and we are coming back and do a few shows then we get to go all around the world next year.

[IPB] Cool! Where all will you be going?

[Larry] Europe in January.

[Bonnie] Venus to get some new costumes. Mars to get new shoes. Jupiter to make new friends. And Saturn just because. [all laughing]

[IPB] Are you touring with anybody specific in Europe?

[Larry] Well, it’s till kind of being put together. We do have some shows coming up with Primal Scream and then the Europe tour is still kind of being put together.

[Bonie] Yeah, they like to flop you out into the world by yourself.

[Larry] They like to throw you out there.

[Bonnie] They kind of drive you around and stuff. They take one dude and his van and his gear and he takes you around. I think it’s going to be the most fun easiest thing in the world.

[IPB] I like the artwork on your new album, Glow in the Dark. So, you all collaborated on that?

[Bonnie] Larry and Pickle made it.

[Larry] Yeah, we all kind of collaborate on that.

[Bonnie] Well, we stop. And then collaborate. And listen. [laughter] We were all there and like torturing each other. Kid wrote all those words on the inside sleeve.

[IPB] I see a lot of references to astral projection in there. So, Larry, you an astral projector?

[Larry] I… Yes!

[Bonnie] Larry astral projects in his sleep and he’s out there in the wilderness and he’s like a werewolf and he makes these crazy sounds when he’s fully astral projecting. It’s crazy. He was projecting last night.

[Larry] I had crazy dreams last night too.

[Bonnie] Astral projection is just one of the many many fields we would like to delve into. I’m super getting into hypnosis. Like the power of suggestion. I’m reading about it conceptually. What they think when people are being visited is that the reason they can psychically connect to you and that ultra-terrestrials can connect with psychic people is through hypnosis and people can suggest things to you or why you find yourself back in bed and why you can’t remember stuff and all these different types of amnesia and I’m just kind of cracking the shell. Now it’s the future enough where people aren’t just looking at it like “I care about UFOs” and “I care about psychics” and “I care about poltergeists.” Everyone is kind of seeing that these are similar things that happen like an inter-dimensional thing. You know? Maybe you’re not seeing a ghost but you are just kind of shifting between dimensions. It’s where science meets the paranormal and this universal consciousness of love. And life is a short amount of time compared to everything else. They say that the scariest and most disgusting thing an alien ever told anyone is that there is a limited number of souls and they are not making new souls. There is the same amount of souls on earth that there always has been and now there are so many more people alive than ever have been before. So, there is people walking around with no fucking souls!

[IPB] I’ve seen those people! [all laugh]

[Bonnie] So, is the point of life for soul-less people to grow a soul? Or is for soulful people to help the soul-less? I don’t know.

[IPB] Can you obtain a soul after someone dies and that soul is up for grabs?

[Bonnie] I think that’s what it is but there just isn’t enough souls. There are too many bodies.

{At this point there were a lot of different conversations going on at once and I got pretty lost in the audio…}

[IPB] Well, I know there is a lot going on today. Things to see and hear and I don’t want to keep you too long. Any final words for readers of Psychedelic Baby?

[Bonnie] Have a nice day today.

[Larry] Keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars.

I missed Wand and instead opted to see Radio Moscow whom I was still trying to solidify plans for an interview the following day. Radio Moscow’s performance in the Wright Tent did not disappoint! They sound incredibly powerful for a three-piece band while they careen through their psych-soaked blues riffs with Parker Griggs’ vocals leading the way. The growing crowd head banged along with their 45-minute set – definitely not an act to be missed. Later on, the day brought about Thee Oh Sees, JJUUJJUU, and the highly anticipated Black Angels. Austin’s own Black Angels played the entirety of their first full length album, Passover (2006) for the ten-year anniversary before delving into a few other tracks from their other albums. The sound was a bit… off, but the intense visuals by Mustachio Light Show really made up for it – from the distorted dancing woman, to the weird space-caterpillar, and the spinning patterns that could only be described as sacred geometry formed from a state-bound-knowledge.

After the Black Angels, I caught Yonatan Gat back in the Wright Tent. I had high expectations as I had seen him/them in the past and it was an insanely intense show where they performed on the ground with all their instruments and amps in a small circle with the audience gathered closely around them from all sides. Yonatan would often lock in on a single audience member, get very close, and keep strong eye contact while he seemed to be playing his mix of middle-eastern-garage-surf to them alone. The Desert Daze performance still held the same idea but they were on a small elevated stage in the middle of the crowd. This seemed to limit the amount of movement of the band and thus audience interaction. It was still an excellent show! I spotted orange-vest and his friend forming some kind of drunken totem pole and I decided to split rather than deliberately topple their orange tower.

Yonaton Gat by Justin Jackley

Saturday’s headliners, Primus arrived on the main stage around 10:45. Most people will tell you that Primus are not actually a “psychedelic” band but I beg to differ! They may not sound like the Velvet Underground, but they are inarguably weird and carry the right frame of mind to fall into that broad category – not that I want to pigeon-hole them into any specific “genre”. Primus are a long time favorite of mine and it was good to see them in their home state and under a glowing super moon in the Mojave Desert. They played most of the “hits”and some obscurities from all corners of their huge discography. Les Claypool bantered with the audience between songs and lightly teased guitarist Larry LaLonde for wearing all black instead of his usual horizontally striped shirt. Those that still had any strength left after a long day of standing and drinking in the sun for 12 hours made their way back to the Block Stage for Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I, however, was completely wiped out by then and retired to bed to listen from afar.

Sunday morning, I was invited to the infamous Pappy and Harriet’s for a bit of dog hair and to sit down with Parker Griggs from Radio Moscow to conduct a pretty informal interview amongst a massive crowd of Desert Dazers and older folk that had come in from the other festival in the valley that weekend. The differences were obvious between the younger psych crowd and the more “mature” festival goers that were out there to see the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters, and The Who – an amazing lineup of old timers that certainly put on an epic show out in Indio. We sat on the back patio with Bloody Marys and talked for about an hour while I regretted not preparing any questions and did my best to wing it…

Radio Moscow by Justin Jackley

Parker Griggs of Radio Moscow interview at Desert Daze October, 16th 2016

[IPB] Thanks a lot for meeting with me. This Pappy and Harriet’s is pretty cool. I’ve heard of it but never been here. Well, I didn’t really prepare anything for this. I just figured we could just sit and chat a bit and I’d see what I can pull from it. See what’s up. What’s going on? And what’s next?

[Parker] Sweet.

Well, tell me a little but about your history. You’re from San Diego?

The band started in Iowa and then we relocated out to California in like 2010. We kind of got the band started in Iowa and then made the move.

Are you originally from Iowa?

I was born in Arkansas but moved to Iowa when I was 5.

As far as writing, do you take care of most of that?

So far I’ve written all the stuff but on the next album I’m going to try to collaborate a bit more.

You working on new stuff right now?

Yeah, we are about half way there with recording.

Cool. You have an album title yet?

I don’t know… Titles are annoying. It’s like thinking of a whole new band name.

Where did the name Radio Moscow come from?

Have you heard of those Pebbles comps? Garage rock stuff?

Oh Yeah, like the Psychedelic Nuggets.

Yeah, it was a comp kind of like that, and it had this song ‘Go-go Radio Moscow’. Nikita K and the Huns. It’s not even like a real song. It’s like a fake radio ad. It’s pretty weird. It was pretty pointless.

When people hear that name, do they ever assume you’re Russian?

Yeah, or think we have some political interest in Russia. Which we don’t.

But the name definitely helps in Russia. We played St. Petersburg and Moscow and they were packed. I think more people have heard of us because of the name out there.

So, you have toured pretty extensively. Heavily in Europe for sure. Any Asian or far East countries?

No. the furthest East was probably Turkey. And we were going to do a tour in India and we ended up doing one in the states instead. We should have gone to India though, that would have been cool. Hopefully, that will still happen.

Are there any favorite bands that you have toured with?

Graveyard was awesome. We had lots of fun with those dudes. We toured with Colour Haze in Europe. They were cool. And did some shows with Pentagram.

Maybe I should have prepared some questions. Let me think… “when did you first pick up a guitar!”

[haha] When I was 10.

Do you play other instruments?

I play drums too. I played drums on the first three albums. But Paul is a pretty rad drummer so I let him take over.

What kind of bands were you in prior to Radio Moscow?

Just like a high school punk band and before that a super young grunge band when I was like 12. Virtual Pet and Duck and Cover. But just got tired of doing the punk thing and got into psych rock and the blues and stuff.

So, how has the Desert Daze Festival been treating you?

Good! Last night was really fun. And Friday was a little hectic but it was rad. Thee Oh Sees, I really like their show. They were cool. I had never seen them before. I didn’t really expect what I saw. I thought they were more garage but it was really psych-jammed out.

Do you live on your music or do you have to do some sort of outside gig?

Just music.

That’s awesome. It’s always good to hear when a musician can get by on their music alone and not have to keep some kind of day job.

Yeah, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I started a few other side projects. I started a band with the drummer from Earthless. We are doing like psych-punk and garage rock, mid ‘60s nuggety type stuff. It’s pretty fun. We are called Alpine Fuzz Society. We’ve just done a demo but I think we are going into the studio in a month or so. And then I started playing with this band called Volcano. We just signed with Tee Pee so we should have a record coming out pretty soon.

{At this point, the conversation had pretty much been hijacked by a few older gentlemen that didn’t realize we were conducting an interview and wanted to talk to us about their festival – One of the men was pretty insistent that Roger Waters was from Led Zeppelin…}

Well, I’m sure we could sit and talk all day and thanks so much for hanging out with me; but we should probably get back to the festival and see what’s going on. Looking forward to hearing all your new tunes!

Parker Griggs by Justin Jackley

Back at the Institute, things were heating up for the final day of the festival with LSD and the Search for God, Jennylee from Warpaint performing with her solo band (pleasantly surprised with this one and ordered the LP), an Alan Vega tribute show as he had recently passed onto the next realm before the scheduled performance by electronic-punks, Suicide. Various musicians took turns screeching out the vocals from most, if not all, of the self-titled album and more. Later, Dead Meadow brought the jams to the Wright Tent with their high voltage dark psychedelia and some sort of cyclopean sasquatch that grooved along on the stage – at least I’m pretty sure other people saw it… Television drew in a massive crowd back to the Moon Stage while they dug deep into their bag of ‘70s art punk. The real crowd pleaser and main headliner was the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing their classic neo-psych tunes in a cloud of sage smoke (to keep away the evil or confine it to the stage) while Joel Gion worked his double-fisted tambourines as only he can. I think an honorable mention should go to odd man out Saul Williams and later the Lumerians who both had time slots across the grounds while the Brian Jonestown Massacre played for a solid two-hour set. I made a point to switch back and forth to catch as much of them all as I could. Saul Williams put on a great show for a small group of people as he leapt off the stage, over the barricade, bumped shoulders with me, and continued into the middle of the crowd to continue rapping ‘Coded Language’. Lumerians came on next and last – they were one of the few bands I had not seen previously and I was really not expecting the space monk aesthetic with glowing silver robes reflecting pink and blue light and glowing red eyes inside their facial hoods. The Lumerians were an excellent culmination of the whole weekend and I was glad to finally see them and hear some of their new songs.

The Lumerians by Justin Jackley

Monday morning brought headaches and home-sickness as people piled their sandy gear back into their cars, vans, and UFOs to make the long journey back to wherever they came from. Me? I drove back to LA (stopping by Amoeba Music to verify that they carry It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine – they do!) for a late night flight back to Austin while trying to make some sort of sense of the whole weekend and figure out what exactly I would write about.

I missed a lot of bands, especially during the day, but I saw most of the bands I set out to see and met some pretty cool people that I now think of as friends. I would have liked to see/hear more acts but it’s hard when it’s a 13-hour day and everything is spread out over three stages. Nonetheless, Desert Daze met and exceeded my expectations for a psychedelic festival out in the desert. It would have been cool to see some of those desert scene bands playing the festival but what are you gonna do?Desert Daze officially receives my seal of approval and I hope to return someday. It was definitely worth the journey.

Justin and Brittany

Written and illustrated by
Justin Jackley
October 2016

One Comment
  1. daiana says:

    The drawings are beautiful!

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