Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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.

Published in Previews

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.”

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