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26 Feb 2018

Silver Llama! Dali's Llama Celebrates 25 Years of Music—With Help From a Lot of Other Desert Music Legends

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Dali's Llama, some 25 years ago. Dali's Llama, some 25 years ago.

Local band Dali’s Llama is celebrating 25 years of existence—and the members are celebrating in a big way.

The group is playing a Silver Anniversary Show on Friday, March 9, at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. The Hellions, Decon, Sean Wheeler (performing as Zezo Zece Zadfraq and the Dune Buggy Attack Battalion) and Mario Lalli (of Fatso Jetson) with the Rubber Snake Charmers will all take the stage.

When frontman Zach Huskey showed up to our meeting, he explained that he came alone because his wife, Dali’s Llama bassist Erica Huskey, was out of town handling family business, while drummer Craig Brown had a “hot date.”

The band recently parted ways with guitarist Joseph Wangler, and brought back guitarist Joe Dillon. I asked Huskey whether the band has ever gone through any painful transitions as members have come and gone.

“Painful transitions? None!” Huskey said with a laugh. “The core of the band is me and Erica. We try to just get people who play well, and people who we’re friends with, because it’s no fun to be in a band with someone you can’t get along with, no matter how good of a player they might be. I always enjoy playing with Joe Dillon, and he’s been in and out of the band for at least 10 years. He’s always fun, because I’ve known him for 36 years. We’re friends, and we have all our inside jokes and can talk about people who are no longer here. He’s also a really underrated guitar player and songwriter, as well as a lead vocalist.”

Dali’s Llama last year released a three-song EP, which headed in a more bluesy direction—a bit of a departure from the band’s regular desert-rock sound.

“We recorded most of that at Mikael Jacobson’s studio here in the desert,” Huskey said. “One of the songs, ‘Bacteria,’ the acoustic one, I did it at Scott Reeder’s place. That one was a little delicate, because it was all about microphone placement. That was done in one take. The other ones just kinda had a groove, and I wanted to get a little more of a Zeppelin groove going.”

Huskey said Dali’s Llama has deep personal connections to all the bands playing at the show.

“Those are people who when I was 13 or 14 years old, I was in bands with,” he said. “We got Herb (Lienau) and Decon; Mario (Lalli); Sean Wheeler, who I was in a band with back in 1982; and we got The Hellions, because they’re the “new” old friends, even though they’ve been around for a while.

“The Hellions are kind of the slowest songwriters in the world,” he added with a laugh. “Whatever their process is, it either has to fit them right or something. I don’t know.”

In the years before Dali’s Llama, Huskey said, he played in several bands that came and went.

“I was playing in a band with Sean back in the later years that was ’60s garage stuff, and I was really into that—original, but really influenced by the old ’60s stuff,” he said. “It all fit, because the scene was just a bunch of dysfunctional, pissed-off kids doing it ourselves. Mario did bands like Across the River, which led to more of a metal side, especially in songs like ‘N.O.’ that people go all over the Internet to find. … We all played in different bands, and I was trying to find my songwriting and get that after playing with Sean for a couple of years. Everybody was also trying to figure out their vocal range and how they should sing until it came naturally.”

There have been periods when Dali’s Llama has been inactive.

“We have done little breaks,” he said. “We have two boys. One is 20, and one is 16. I did three solo acoustic albums for a while. But we would take the kids when they were really little off to Phoenix to play. I’d also do the Phoenix folk festival every year, and songwriting things where they’d have me show people how to write songs. When Erica was ready again, and the kids were old enough to have a baby sitter who was a family member, we’d do another project or start the band back up.”

While Huskey spoke proudly about the desert music scene, he mentioned there’s one thing he despises: battle-of-the-bands competitions.

“I fucking hate those things. I hated them then, and I hate them now. You want to criticize me as a songwriter? Especially now? Fuck you!” he said. “Look at the panels of those things. No, ain’t gonna happen. Even when I was a kid, I learned you have to have that sort of ‘Fuck you!’ attitude in order to protect yourself and develop on your own. I don’t want criticism. OK, maybe I’ll take it from my wife or another band member, but even from another band? I don’t want to hear it. There’s constructive criticism, too, but I’ve never been good with either one. Believe in yourself. So a band had a better performance and gets a trophy? They even had that shit back when we were kids. We always stayed clear of those as kids. We were out in the desert playing with T.S.O.L., so fuck you. You could be going in the right direction, and someone’s words might be, ‘You can’t sing.’ Well, maybe your voice is unique, and just because this person didn’t like it, or four people sitting at a table in agreement didn’t like it, fuck them. Most of the backyard bands in the scene today like Panzram, Terror Cult, or Facelift—they don’t care what anyone thinks about them. That’s the similarity to how it was back then.”

Huskey also said he wished his wife and band mate, Erica, got the credit she deserves.

“Name another woman who has been here for 25 years playing in a band,” he said. “She’s a solid bass-player. There was a time when we were recording Raw Is Real, and we found out she had breast cancer. We recorded the basic tracks of that album one day before she went in for surgery, having a full mastectomy and hysterectomy, and then she continued with radiation and chemotherapy while we recorded that fucking album. That chick is badass! The only equivalent is a guy saying, ‘We were there for a couple days, and then the next day, I went and had to have my nuts cut off.’ She’s really something.”

Zach and Erica Huskey decided not to take part in the recent documentary Desert Age, in part due to their feelings about drug use.

“I had a drinking problem and stopped when I was 24. When we moved back to the desert, we were clean. We had already been through that shit. There’s not anything exciting about meth anymore,” Zach said. “By the time we started this band, that wasn’t an option—it was about music. I don’t like the whole feel of, ‘Drugs and alcohol go hand and in hand with music.’ That’s a bunch of bullshit, because they don’t. Sean and I had a talk about that when he was getting clean years ago, for the last time, and I told him, ‘You have to get that out of your head,’ because we grew up thinking that—you can go, drink, get fucked up and play music. Whether it’s weed, frying on meth, drinking or thinking we’re Keith Richards and looking cool—you grow up with that mentality that it goes together. No, it doesn’t go together.”

Dali’s Llama will perform with The Hellions, Sean Wheeler, Mario Lalli and the Rubber Snake Charmers, and Decon at 9 p.m., Friday, March 9, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $5. For more information tickets, visit the event’s Facebook page.

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