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20 Mar 2016

Sun-Baked Sounds: With a New Album and a Role in a New Desert-Rock Doc, Dali's Llama Keeps on Promoting the DIY Way

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Dali's Llama Dali's Llama Sasha Middleton

Dali’s Llama formed in 1993—and went on to become one of the desert’s most legendary bands, defining the DIY business model along the way.

After 23 years and inclusion in the new desert-rock documentary Lo Sound Desert, Dali’s Llama is not slowing down. In fact, the band just released a new album, Dying in the Sun. During a recent interview in Palm Springs, Zach Huskey (lead vocals, guitar) and his wife, Erica Huskey (bass), talked about the new album’s title.

“We’re feeling a little older,” Zach Huskey explained. “I spend a lot of time out in the canyons and in Thousand Palms doing some Jeeping. That’s where I also do a lot of writing. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go, I guess. (There is) sort of a connection with the desert in our music and feeling comfortable there, versus being surrounded by people, work, kids and all that stuff. I thought that would be a great title. It’s desert rock, and we’re definitely in the middle of it.”

Dali’s Llama and its contemporaries created a music scene where there wasn’t one before—at least not a scene like the one we have now, with locals-friendly venues The Hood Bar and Pizza, The Date Shed, Pappy and Harriet’s and so on.

“People seem to have forgotten that,” Zach Huskey said. “There are still bands that are still doing the DIY thing. We started putting albums out in the early ’90s on our own label. The trouble is, you have to work hard to do it, and it can be a full-time thing. We’re a married couple and have devoted a lot of time to this, and I can understand why a lot of people don’t want to do it. It started out that way—the DIY thing—and that was the dream.”

Erica Huskey said DIY has its advantages.

“By doing it yourself, you have complete creative control,” she said. “The music is exactly the way you want it; the artwork is exactly the way you want it, so there’s definitely a trade-off.”

The much-anticipated Lo Sound Desert will premiere as part of the American Documentary Film Festival, with showings at 1 p.m., Friday, April 1, at the Cal State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert Campus, and noon, Sunday, April 3, at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs. Erica Huskey said she admired Lo Sound Desert director Joerg Steineck.

“He’s spent the past 10 years doing it all himself, and all of his money and time,” she said. “It reflects the feel of the movie, because he understood what it was like for the bands. These bands were releasing stuff back in the ‘80s, and you had to do it yourself.”

One of the most talked-about aspects of the early desert-rock scene was the infamous “generator party.” However, Zach Huskey does not remember these parties all that fondly.

“The first generator party I remember ever playing was in 1984. I forget what band I was in at the time, but it was at a friend’s house in Bermuda Dunes, and everyone came out to the middle of the desert, and it was with T.S.O.L.,” he said. “After two songs, the wind really kicked up, and my amplifier blew up.

“Generator parties sucked. Yeah, sometimes they were cool, but a lot of times, they just sucked: knife fights, getting your car out of there. … It was cool if you were young and you wanted to drink beer. But it just fucking sucked—the wind was blowing; you couldn’t hear shit; and people were just going ape-shit. I played one once up at the Nude Bowl, and during the first fucking song, someone reached over and grabbed all the strings on my guitar and pulled them right off. I played the whole show drunk out of my mind and rolling in glass. It was like Lords of Dogtown meets Black Sabbath out in the middle of the desert.”

For the recording of Dying in the Sun, Dali’s Llama returned to the Sanctuary in Banning, owned by former Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder (where the Hellions also recently recorded an album). Zack Huskey said the experience was great, per usual.

“We’ve done five albums at the Sanctuary. We actually finished the album in the days,” he said. “When we first started recording albums, it would take a week. If you’re on the same page with the producer, have your shit down, and you map out everything, you can nail a good album pretty quick. Look at Nirvana’s Bleach album, recorded in a night. To me, that’s the best fucking Nirvana album.”

A lot of desert-rock musicians are gearheads when it comes to guitars, amplifiers, and effect pedals. When I asked if they were gearheads, Zach and Erica Huskey just laughed.

“I’ve had the same the head in my amp since 1990,” Zach Huskey said. “I think I’ve changed the tubes maybe twice. I play a $99 Epiphone SG guitar. In the studio, we’ll use effects, but onstage, it’s mostly volume. We joke with certain people, like Josh Heinz of Blasting Echo, because he has a million effects pedals. It seems like everyone has that these days, but Josh has 10 guitars and changes guitars every song. I’ve told him, ‘One guitar, dude! Just get a tuner!’ I grew up when I was smashing guitars and shit. I was from that Pete Townshend vibe where if the guitar is giving you shit, destroy it. The people will love it.”

Zach Huskey said the lineup of the band is stronger than it has been in the past, with Joe Wangler on guitar, Craig Brown on drums, and Joe Dillon on keyboards.

“I think this lineup is actually musically more talented,” he said. “I can do more things writing-wise, as opposed to writing to the musicians. … (With) this band, everyone is really good at what they do, so I’d say it’s musically the best lineup.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/dalisllama.

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