Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Robin Linn

Ruben Romano has had success with every project since he founded his very first punk band, Virulence, back in 1985.

He is a world-class drummer whose ambition has taken him around the world. But first and foremost, he is a songwriter. Fearless and dedicated to creating new sounds, Romano will pick up any instrument, regardless of whether he knows how to play it—and he’ll find his way to music. He founded veteran stoner-rock groups Fu Manchu and Nebula, and he’s now put down the drumsticks, picked up the guitar and built one of the hottest stoner-rock bands to come on the scene in recent years: The Freeks.

Ruben Romano talked about his musical beginnings.

“Before Fu Manchu, there was Virulence,” he said. “We did a couple of demos and then actually put out If This Isn’t a Dream on Alchemy Records. … We were tadpoles in a pond of heavyweight bullfrogs. We were just out of high school!”

By the early ’90s, the punk scene had come to a standstill. Then along came the Seattle scene that produced bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Skin Yard and Soundgarden, and all seemed right with the world again. But while Seattle was getting grungy, Southern California was getting stoned, and bands like Nebula, Kyuss, Monster Magnet and Romano’s new band, Fu Manchu, brought new life to what seemed like a rock ’n’ roll graveyard. Stoner rock embodied elements of grunge, punk and metal, and the guitar tones and bass tones were fuzzy, distorted and fat as hell.

“There seems to be a triangle between Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet,” Romano said. “… We did shows together. We had the same management.”

Despite being in one of the bands that created stoner rock, Romano said that if he’s a pioneer of any sort, that didn’t happen on purpose.

“I just did it for myself with people who were my friends. Since we were a part of our own community, I guess it turned into a genre that was just an extension of what we all were influenced by,” he said. “It was the media that tagged the term ‘stoner rock,’ because we came out of the ’80s and into the ’90s still smoking pot with our hair long.

By 1996, Romano was through with Fu Manchu, and he took guitarist Eddie Glass with him to form Nebula, a band that took off quickly. They jammed deep psych-rock grooves based on raw riffs with heavy rhythms, and were quickly embraced by stoner-rock fans.

“All the Nebula recording sessions were memorable,” he remembered. “Let It Burn was just Eddie and me up at Rancho de la Luna with Fred Drake. We were on fire and felt the freedom of moving forward after the Fu Manchu separation. That session, for me, was magic.”

After more than two decades of playing drums with Fu Manchu and Nebula, Ruben not too long ago switched to the guitar and founded The Freeks. Why?

“Switching to guitar was a fun challenge, something new and fresh,” Romano said. “I’m self taught.”

In 2013, The Freeks released a debut album, Full On. Romano said it’s the record of which he’s most proud throughout his career.

“With all that I experienced, I could have just hung it up and said, ‘Been there, done that,’” he said. “Full On has given me the closure that I am a lifer. I might not tour as much as before, but that won’t stop me from getting loud with the guys—and now we are working on its follow-up.”

Romano refused to say when that Freeks follow-up would be released.

“We have recorded a full-length record. We did 12 songs in 10 hours with Matt Lynch at Mysterious Mammal Recording, and are now ready to start mixing it,” he said. “We are free to move about this cabin at our own pace; there is no deadline until it’s done. … You bet we will be playing it live at our upcoming shows!”

For more information on The Freeks, including a schedule of upcoming shows, visit Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at Below: The Freeks with Scott Reeder at his Sanctuary recording studio.

In 2006, guitarist and songwriter Jamie Hafler left Ohio and headed to Los Angeles via Twentynine Palms to visit his brother Jeff, a singer/songwriter. Back then, Jeff had just hired a then-recent desert transplant as a nanny for his son, Cash: artist and singer/songwriter Cristie Carter.

Cristie is a native of San Francisco with deep roots in the Bay Area metal scene of the mid ’80s. She moved to Los Angeles and got into the punk-rock music scene of the mid-’90s, most notably as the manager for the all girl teenage punk band The Grown Ups. There, she formed a close relationship with artist Zaina Alwan (now married to desert-rock icon Brant Bjork). The two women came to Joshua Tree with artist Paul Hadley, known to some as “Bing.” In 2006, Cristie fell for Wonder Valley, and Zaina fell for her “dream house” in Twentynine Palms.

Jeff then introduced Jamie and Cristie. The rest, as they say, is high-desert rock history.

Jamie Hafler and Cristie Carter had a musical love affair in front of audiences with their goth/rock duo Gilded Flicker for several years. With Jamie on guitar and vocals, and Cristie on bass and vocals, they presented dark, raw, heavy music that won them a measure of respect and an intimate fan base.

This year, they shifted gears and began creating new sounds with a brand-new project called DRUG. For this group, Cristie put down the bass guitar and focused all of her attention on vocals and lyrics. They added drummer Theo Smith, and the band has been out playing shows with new material. In fact, they unveiled two songs on the online music program Jam in the Van in April, which was filmed at Brant Bjork’s studio in Joshua Tree. (See it at

DRUG is the culmination of Jamie’s mad-professor ingenuity and Cristie’s dark, dramatic imagination. Jamie has crafted a beautiful double-necked Telecaster that acts as a guitar and a bass. He has dialed his guitar sound in to obtain those sweet reverberated surf tones, and he crafts psychedelic landscapes for Cristie’s dark and dramatic vocals. Theo Smith fits the group like a glove—he’s steady, understated and committed to the song.

“The new sound of DRUG was inspired solely on the basis of change,” Jamie said. “We wanted something new, and it was created out of necessity. Cristie wanted to be free of an instrument so she could fulfill her dream as a lead vocalist. I wanted to be more involved with the writing process and the challenge of performing rather than singing.”

Jamie touted Cristie’s vocals.

“Cristie is the main lyricist of DRUG,” he said. “Her lyrics deal with the paranormal and astral projections. She feeds off lost spirits of the night. Her vocalist influences are Jim Morrison, Mike Patton, Billie Holiday, Grace Slick and Julie London.

“We wouldn’t be a band without Theo Smith. His commitment and enthusiasm toward the band, and our music, is paramount. He gets what we’re trying to do and is totally into it.”

DRUG is working on a new YouTube channel to use as a medium for collaborations with artists and live performances of songs in the studio. The group is also working on a 7-inch record scheduled for release in November: red vinyl boasting two fresh tracks, “Blackfall” and “Sex After Prom,” recorded live, straight to tape, with no overdubs.

Alter your consciousness with DRUG, the high desert’s experimental surf-punk band.

For more information on DRUG, visit Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at

Desert summer is upon us, and it’s hotter than Haiti outside!

Many of our local music venues are on auto-pilot—but there are a lot of great live shows and music festivals not too far away that will allow you to escape the heat and get your live-show fix.

As for me … well, stoner rock and way-outside acid-jazz are in my immediate future.

I am escaping the desert heat and heading up the Sierra Nevadas into beautiful mountain surroundings for the Yosemite Music Festival, taking place Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11. The Atomic Sherpas, Green Machine, 3 Leafs and others are scheduled to perform; a weekend pass is $40.

Past performers have included Hungry Bear, Fatso Jetson and Hawks. Also on the bill this year is San Francisco-based stoner rock band Golden Void. The band’s latest release on Thrill Jockey Records is firmly rooted in melody, and the band is not afraid of exploration. The hooks get stuck in your head, and the riffs transport you to the astral plane.

Regular readers know I am a big fan of the Atomic Sherpas, a psyched-out, funked-up groove-based sextet led by the masterful Vince Meghrouni (Fatso Jetson) on vocals/sax/flute/harmonica, and featuring guitarist Anthony Cossa (The Aliens), keyboardist Marc Doten (Double Naught Spy Car), bassist Michael Alvidrez, trombonist Carlos Alvidrez and drummer T. Alex Budrow. The band’s live show is high-energy, artful and guaranteed to put the boogie in your woogie. This summer, the Sherpas will be touring Southern California—and they’re one of the headliners at the Yosemite Music Festivalin Mariposa County for the eighth consecutive year.

Though Meghrouni is a Los Angeles-based musician, he has been a member of the desert’s music scene since the early ’90s. He is featured in the film Lo Sound Desert and has performed here with Fatso Jetson, Brother Weasel and Bazooka over the past couple of decades.

I asked him how he got involved with this annual event.

“The first time we played there, in 2008, I remember pulling up in our rag-tag caravan, looking at the bucolic setting, seeing the sturdy rural folk walking around, and talking to larger-than-life people like Cobra (security) and Hungry Bear,” he said. “As we got set up to the sound of the new bluegrass bands that usually start the proceedings on Friday afternoon, I thought that maybe these good, honest people surrounded by beautiful nature—people raised in a mountain culture of strength and survival—might have no use for our city-slicker fancy costumes, hyped-up stage characters, funny dancing and showy little jazzy fancy-isms. ‘Why don’t ya’ll just be yourselves?’ I imagined going through their minds.”

However, Meghrouni said his concerns were for naught.

“From the get-go, they went hog-wild nuts, and demanded encores—more than one!” he said. “They … streamed down the hill from their comfy camps and lawn chairs and danced like mad! It turns out that our music is rooted in joie de vivre, and that it cuts across. What I perceived as possible differences that wouldn’t enable our communing over the sacred spirit of music was just another veil of illusion manufactured by my own constant self-doubt mind-monkey.

Meghrouni said that today, he and his band mates consider the festival’s organizers and regulars to be family.

“Our pilgrimage every year is to nourish our souls—to dip into the well of our home, our spirit home, and to be among our people,” he said.

The Yosemite Music Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, located at 5007 Fairgrounds Road, in Mariposa. Admission is $40. For tickets or more information, visit Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at

Jam in the Van is an Internet music program that’s taking the music world by storm. It is quickly becoming as recognizable as the giant music festivals to which it travels. What MTV was to music videos in the early ‘80s, Jam in the Van is to music festivals and independent artists today.

The van is a moving piece of art, covered with colorful portraits of rock legends and wallpapered in memorabilia from shows gone by. It is also a solar-powered recording studio that travels to the hottest music festivals. Parked outside of Bonnaroo, High Sierra, SXSW and Bottle Rocket, JITV entrepreneur Jake Cotler and his crew invite performing artists inside for a three-song set, documented with state-of-the-art recording gear by pros who are passionate about capturing the magic.

The concept was born in 2011 in the expanded consciousness of Jake Cotler. In a psychedelic haze at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., beneath the starry sky on top of their rented RV, Jake and his and partners, Dave Bell and Louis Peek, thought, “What if we could bring the music to us?” The young festies had been attending Bonnaroo since 2002, and each year, they rented an RV to the tune of a couple of grand. They began contemplating what would happen if they bought an old RV, loaded it with recording gear, and got the bands they were traveling to see to record live sets inside the van. They bought the first jam-van off craigslist for $800, parked it in the alley behind Cotler’s Venice Beach home, and began inviting bands to come play.

Cotler remembers the first time they were invited to park the van backstage at Bonnaroo in 2012.

“Everything but the engine is powered by the sun,” he said. “The studio is fully solar-powered, amps and all. We use four-domestic sized solar panels on the roof of the van to run everything. That’s why we can pull up literally anywhere and film our sessions.

“… The first Bonnaroo we worked at was pretty surreal for us. That was probably the last year that Bonnaroo was really awesome, 2012. Just three months prior, we’d been on the side of the road in Fort Stockton, Texas, broken down in a 1984 Jam Van that died on us on the way back from SXSW. We had to sell the van to a sheriff on the side of the road who was going to use it for storage and to let his nephew sleep in. We packed everything up in a U-Haul and drove back to L.A. with two choices on our minds: Throw in the towel and say it was fun while it lasted, or crowd-fund a new van, and make shit happen. We went with option B, because we don’t quit shit, and we succeeded.

“In the midst of our crowd-funding venture, we signed a deal with Bonnaroo to be part of the festival and film bands backstage. So that first time we … got to be backstage at the festival that started it all. That was really a good feeling.”

The show has picked up sponsors and has filmed hundreds of live music segments. The crew visits major music meccas and music festivals. In April, the crew visited our high desert for a two-day shoot before making their way down to Coachella to record some of this year’s best acts, wrapping things up with desert-based War Drum.

Day one took place outside the van at desert rock icon Brant Bjork’s Low Desert Punk studio in Joshua Tree. The shoot started off with several songs by Brant’s band Low Desert Punk, fresh off this year’s Coachella stage. They included a track from his recent release, Black Flower Power. Next up was DRUG, a surf-punk trio featuring Jamie Hafler on guitar and bass (using a custom built double-neck guitar, allowing him to pull off the feat), and the dramatic impassioned vocals of frontwoman Cristie Carter. A last-minute addition to the lineup was Gram Rabbit songstress Jesika von Rabbit, who took the intimate route with her vocals and guitar. The grand finale featured The Atomic Sherpas.

Day two occurred inside the van at the world renowned Rancho De La Luna Recording Studio in Joshua Tree, where the cream of the desert rock crop gave the crew a taste of what our underground music scene is all about. Guitarist Bobby Nichols (Inner Planetary Monks), drummer Rob Peterson (The Pedestrians) and bassist Armando Flores (The Pedestrians, Blasting Echo) recorded as Sundrug Experiment. They set the mood for the day with fiery psychedelic jams. Next up was Americana indie-band Gene Jr. and The Family, making Joshua Tree proud with its polished pop-infused rock. Waxy then delivered an authentic set of desert stoner rock; Fatso Jetson made the trek from L.A. and blew EVERYONE away with a flawless set of pounding compositions. The evening ended with punk-laden power pop by desert bad-boys, Eagles of Death Metal. Dave Catching and Bingo Richey were going over new tunes that are part of their latest project, the Mojave Lords, predicted to be the desert’s new supergroup.

Visit Jam in the Van at Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story with video imbeds, at

Otis Link has spent his life at the center of the hard-core punk-rock counterculture that bloomed in California during the ’70s and ’80s. He developed stylistically at a time when the underground art scene was exploding in Los Angeles—when the same California subculture that gave birth to punk-rock rebellion also created a demand for lowbrow art, where pop-art and surrealism collide.

Long before desktop computers and Photoshop, the technologies of the day were spray glue, collages, copy machines and cut-and-paste. Punk art used outrageous images and crude text, and could be shocking, yet hilarious. Lowbrow art finds inspiration from comic books, graffiti, erotica and surf culture; it can be anti-political, anti-establishment, psychedelic, thought-provoking, raunchy, gory and horrific. The music and the art of this period represent a generation that stood up against a fractured society.

“We are a really fucked-up culture now,” Link said. “The reason we have war is to make big business—bombs. They learned not to televise war during Vietnam. They don’t do it anymore. We are a big, dumb, crazy country. They’re starving us. It’s all of us. Everyone thinks they are the only ones struggling. We’re all struggling. The same wages are being paid now as a decade ago. It’s revolution time—but their are no more revolutionaries. No body cares anymore. People used to burn things down; now they get a permit.”

The business model built by pioneers like Otis Link is what drives the independent artists of today’s music business: It’s all about the merch. Income generated from T-shirts, bumper stickers, records, CDs and posters make it possible for bands to go on the road and survive from city to city.

Music remains a big part of Otis Link’s life. He performs and records with L.A. punk band The Billy Bones (, fronted by Steven William “Billy Bones” Fortuna, former frontman of The Skulls. The band has released a 7-inch EP and one full-length, The Complexity of Stupidity, on Dr. Strange Records. The record is rock ’n’ roll full of catchy hooks and clever lyrical themes. They possess a pop-sensibility delivered with the spirit of punk.

Who Is Billy Bones? is the name of a punk rockumentary that answers the question the title poses. Directed by Kathy Kolla and Drew Milford, the film is finished, and a pre-trailer has been posted on YouTube. Learn more by visiting

Link is a longtime friend of Gary Tovar, one of the founders of Goldenvoice. Tovar signed Goldenvoice over to colleague Paul Tollett when he was sent to prison for marijuana-smuggling. Today, Tovar travels with Otis, and each festival season, the two partners and a team of 16 go out and work three booths at Coachella. Otis goes into major T-shirt-production mode at the onset of spring to create shirts with his original art. This year, a scorpion and an owl were part of his Coachella T-shirt concept.

After a long run in Orange County, Otis has taken up residence in the high desert. He purchased a piece of land and is remodeling a hacienda-style home that was once a Pentecostal church. He has been busy turning what was once a chapel for worship into a private venue and living quarters. Link’s art and memorabilia is everywhere. The home reflects Link’s colorful imagination and provocative artistic style and is as much like a gallery of art and collectibles as it is a home.

“I dig the high desert. It’s affordable and away from people,” he said.

For more information, visit Link’s Facebook page. Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at

Mark your calendars: On Saturday, May 16, The Last Internationale will headline the 13th Annual Spring Joshua Tree Music Festival.

The Last Internationale is a powerful trio of modern-day musical revolutionaries who ride the cusp between hard rock and folk-protest music. They move from aggressive rock riffs with arousing vocals to acoustic ballads with sweet melodies. TLI sound like what might happen if Joan Baez and Bob Dylan joined forces with Rage Against the Machine—and it works.

Delila Paz’s illuminating lyrics exposing social injustice are poignant and lucid. Guitarist Edgey Pires emboldens Delila’s socially relevant lyrics with gritty rock tones, forming an aggressive rhythm section punctuated by the forceful drum chops of Brad Wilk, formerly of Rage Against the Machine.

Paz and Pires began as a duo in New York. They wrote their first songs protesting violations against the labor force and human rights. Their first gigs were protest rallies and political conventions. They were out to carry the torch lit by folk musicians and political activists like Bill Ayers (Weather Underground) and the late, great Pete Seeger.

“Before the band, I was a campus organizer, writing books and studying political science and social movements,” Pires said. “When I discovered Son House, I decided music was a much better organizational tool and immediately hit the road with TLI, leaving my degree behind.

“TLI formed out of a need to write protest music that was relevant to the times. Nobody is really doing it, so we figured we might as well be the ones to fill that void.”

Paz said her goal is to expose the “wrongs that are being done to working-class people at the hands of the capitalist class.”

“I’ve been reading Frederick Douglass’ narrative,” she said. “In it, he writes that “slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.” … Music gets to the core of it all, to the deepest emotions. As a band, we not only want to go to the core of the emotional human spirit, but also bring a sense of dissent and rebellion in everything we do.”

The two met former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello through mutual friend Boots Riley (Street Sweeper Social Club), and he became an instant fan. They were looking for a drummer, and Morello hooked them up Brad Wilk. It was an instant match, and the three immediately began laying the foundation for their debut full-length, We Will Reign. They signed with Epic Records and began working with Morello and producer Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others.

“Working with O’Brien, Brad Wilk and Tom Morello has helped us to grow as a band, but our sound has always been an eclectic mix of folk, blues and rock.” Paz said. “… The heavier we get as a band, the more we go back and ‘folk it up’ as well.”

TLI has toured with Robert Plant, Weezer, Kings of Leon, Neil Young, and Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts. Now they are looking forward to chilling out in the high desert.

The Joshua Tree Music Festival takes place Thursday through Sunday, May 14-17, at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road, in Joshua Tree. Tickets start at $60 to $90 for a day pass, and go up to $180 for a four-day pass. For tickets or more information, visit Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at

To tell the story of the Yawning Sons, you have to head across the pond and first tell the story of the Sons of Alpha Centauri.

The Sons of Alpha Centauri (pictured below) feature Marlon King on guitar, Nick Hannon on bass, Stevie B on drums and Blake on textures. They came up in Swale/Kent UK during the late 1990s and began exploring space and time with instrumental music that was expansive and conceptual. By 2004, the quartet had written 25 compositions.

Several years later, the band began reaching out beyond the boundaries of their own project by producing splits on vinyl—records featuring two bands, one on each side. They began collaborating with instrumental stoner-rock bands from America, including West Virginia’s Karma to Burn—and the desert’s very own Yawning Man.

Now we can finally get to the story of Yawning Sons. It’s a joint project of SOAC and desert-rock guitarist Gary Arce of Yawning Man. In 2008, Arce flew to London to record at what is arguably the most famous recording studio in the world—Abbey Road. There, they laid the seven-track foundation for what would later become the full length record Ceremony to the Sunset, before sendingthe tracks to America, where vocals and additional sounds were added by Abby Travis (The Go-Gos), Mario Lalli, Scott Reeder and Wendy Fowler. By the time the record was complete, it had been in the hands of Harper Hug at Thunder Underground, Mathias Schneeberger at Donner and Blitzen Studio, and Reeder at The Sanctuary

The collaborations didn’t stop there.

“In 2010 SOAC, started a major project to release six vinyls over five years,” Hannon explained. “This was the next project following the two collaboration albums with Karma to Burn and Yawning Man that we took on. The vinyl series was a major commitment and was principally driven by myself as opposed to the rest of the band; I’m grateful to them for letting me pursue it.

“… The vinyls consisted of two splits, a 7-inch with Yawning Sons and WaterWays, a 12-inch with WaterWays and SOAC, and re-release Ceremony to the Sunset. In Late April 2015, we will conclude the trilogy of the 7” with Karma to Burn.”

About WaterWays: It’s a conceptual project deeply rooted in the desert sand. It features dark, thunderous soundscapes and vibey lap steel by Gary Arce; Mario Lalli’s thick, liquid guitar lines laced with nuances of surf, punk and jazz; drummer Tony Tornay’s deep, penetrating rhythms; and Abby Travis’ bittersweet melodies. Travis writes haunting lyrics that draw from her perception of the nü-west, with its drug labs, endless dreamy horizons, suburban legends and endearing characters.

WaterWays is a perfect project for vinyl. Hannon explained why he continues to love the format.

“The decline in physical music is not bad thing, but there should be a physical format that survives, particularly as compressed digital music is not, to me, a sonic evolutionary step forward.”

Learn more at

Read more from Robin Linn, including an expanded version of this story, at

Elektric Lucie is the alternative/post-grunge brainchild of guitarist/vocalist and songwriter Viktor Estrada, which rose from the remnants of his former group, Zinema. Viktor began forging this new sound with bassist and bandmate Jorge “Bassman” Carrillo (3rd Ear Experience) in 2012.

The powerful rhythms section created by Bassman and drummer Hernan Hernandez fuels the fire for Estrada’s melodic guitar work and keyboardist Danny Sandoval’s hypnotic space-rock soundscapes, pulling from the earthy vibes and universal energy fields of the desert.

“We are veering away from our early Latin influences to create electrifying compositions with a shoegazalicious twist,” Estrada said.

In the short time the band has been together, Elektric Lucie has built a loyal fan base while performing multiple impressive shows. The year 2014 brought the band to Coachella’s Synergy Fest, the Hue Festival, Hollywood’s House of Blues and cutting-edge venues such as Schmidy’s Tavern, a haven for original desert rock.

The band is currently recording its debut CD, Elektro Desert, under the direction of desert rock producer/engineer and Harper Hug (The Dwarves, John Garcia, Nick Oliveri, Zun, Yawning Man, Waxy, Yellow Jackets) at Thunder-Underground Studios in Palm Springs. The new tracks explore space and time with deep, soulful melodies and lyrics that boast a thick, heavy, rhythmic underbelly. Their beautiful compositions move and breathe, allowing the nature of the sound to unfold organically.

“Elektric Lucie finds inner peace in the music we are creating together, and the ultimate escape when the lights go down, and all that exists is the sound of our music,” Estrada said.

The band will be battling it out with the best of the Coachella Valley for a spot in the prestigious Tachevah Block Party, held by Goldenvoice in the streets of downtown Palm Springs. Look Elektro Desert sometime early in 2015.

For more information, visit or

Read more from Robin Linn at

Kyle Stratton, the brains behind the band Atala, is a man with bold, straightforward views on politics, the state of the human condition, the economic and social climate of today’s America—and his right to pursue art and music on his own terms.

His diversity stems from adversity, and he expresses himself through multiple mediums, answering only to himself. He seems to vibrate at a frequency that penetrates the middle earth—he’s a true lover of the underground as a painter, a tattoo artist, guitarist and a psych-rock composer. He visits dark places and creates twisted spaces that are oddly welcoming. Once you enter his headspace, you’ll realize he is a master at fusing the dark and the light. Using spray-paint cans and canvas, double-stacks and single notes, he sends out shockwaves as he explores cosmic meltdowns that produce paradoxes. He has a beautiful way of taking simple ideas to complex places.

His American Art and Tattoo Studio in Twentynine Palmsis an amazing place where Kyle and other desert artists showcase their original art; it is also where he operates his thriving tattoo business. Inside, it feels as if you’ve swallowed a little pill and fallen down the rabbit hole: The walls are alive with texture, vines, plants, speaking eyeballs, mad murals and fine works of art. Together, it all seems to tell a story, about a broken-down society turned beautiful through the eyes and imaginations of a special group of artists.

“I came to the high desert in 2003, right after the birth of my son and a divorce. I wanted to start over, slow down and escape from it all,” Stratton said. “I opened my first tattoo store, and everything just fell together for me.

“In 2007, I opened my second shop, American Art Studio. Moving to the desert was the best thing I ever did. Here, I was able to disappear from the radar, hide away from the stressed-out city lifestyle, and avoid the fucked-up system.”

And as for the future? “I will never leave,” he said

I first saw Kyle Stratton, the guitarist, with his former band, Rise of the Willing. The band’s loud, distorted, aggressive approach to music conjured up images of a Mad Max-style existence in the high-desert landscape. In 2014, Stratton felt the calling to create music of a different frequency, and he left to start a new band, Atala.

He enlisted drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, and later added bassist and former Rise of the Willing bandmate John Chavarria. Even before Chavarria signed on, the fledgling project attracted the attention of producer (and former Kyuss bassist) Scott Reeder. After seeing just one rehearsal, Reeder invited Atala to record at his ranch and studio, The Sanctuary, in Banning. Within a month, the group had written the body of work that would become Atala’s debut record, thanks to the pressure to quickly produce songs that would live forever in front of one of their heroes.

“Atala isn’t looking to be the next great stadium favorite,” Stratton said. “We just want to explore new sounds and connect with real fans of avant-garde metal.”

The band has been touring with well-developed psych-rock and doom-metal bands like A’rk, Colombian Necktie, and Castle (a super-heavy and musical duo from the San Francisco Bay Area). Atala has enlisted managerial support from Machine Head’s original drummer, Tony Costanza, who has been the backbone of thrash-metal cult favorites Crowbar, Crisis and Debris Inc.

On Friday, Jan. 30, Atala will open for Karma to Burn at Loaded in Hollywood. Karma to Burn is a stoner-rock band from West Virginia that has intersected with the cream of the desert rock scene crop again and again: The band’s four album, Appalachian Incantation, was produced by Reeder, with one song featuring Kyuss frontman John Garcia.

For more on Atala, visit or

Read more from Robin Linn, including the full Kyle Stratton interview, at

Producer, songwriter, and bassist Dandy Brown is a rock ’n’ roll transplant from the Midwest who has taken root in the artist community of Joshua Tree.

He has developed a reputation among his peers for crafting riff-driven, hard-rock compositions, enticing some of stoner rock’s most-innovative players to help him complete his vision. In the late 1990s, with a handful of freshly written songs, he enlisted the gritty, soulful vocals of desert rock icon John Garcia (Kyuss/Vista Chino), the Supafuzzed guitar riffs of David Angstrom, and the unrelenting rhythms of drummer Steve Earle (Afghan Whigs) to found the band Hermano. Later joined by guitarist Mike Callahan (Ear Shot), the group created a musical canvas for Garcia’s penetrating melodies and haunting lyrics.

I asked Brown how he put Hermano together.

“In ’96, I began producing the first Supafuzz album, and John and Dave had known each other through the deals they had through Electra Records, back in the days when there were a ton of labels, and all of them were putting out diverse music,” he said. “John sang on a couple of tracks on that album, and we vaguely got to know each other through that.

“In ’98, I broke my ankle while playing a pickup game … and while I was recouping, I ended up writing a handful of heavy blues numbers that went on to become the tunes for Only a Suggestion,” Hermano’s first album. “From there, I just brainstormed an album, and called the folks I thought would sound best together on the collection. … Luckily, they all liked the stuff I sent them and agreed to come onboard.”

In 2000, Dandy made the move from the Midwest to the desert. Once here, the expansive landscape and change in environment triggered a productive writing spree which inspired a second music project, Orquesta del Desierto. With the help of native desert-rocker Sean Landerra Carrillo (Waxy, Lakota), Brown connected with some of the desert’s most-sought-after players and recorded two full-length albums. ODD featured vocalist Pete Stahl (Goatsnake, Wool), guitarist Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson), drummer Alfredo Hernandez (Kyuss, Yawning Man, Brave Black Sea), guitarist Mike Riley, guitarist Country Mark Engel and others. As a writer, Dandy explored new territory and created something completely fresh. Psycho-Western rock fueled by acoustic instrumentation and Latin rhythms provided the backdrop for Stahl’s devilish lyrics and sultry vocals. The music of ODD was reflective of the extreme desert environment where it was created.

In 2014, Dandy signed with Little Brother Music to support his new solo record, Damned to the Heels of Success. He will also be part of a compilation recording featuring the cream of the original desert rock scene, also being released by Little Brother. The Genuine West Coast Desert Sound will also feature John Garcia, House of Broken Promises, The Freeks, Vista Chino, Waxy, Lakota, Crusade and Fever Dog.

Damned to the Heels of Success features guitarist Mark Engel, bassist Tony Mason and drummer Jamie Correa, as well as guest artists Mike Riley (Parosella) and Brandon Ray Henderson (The Pedestrians, Parosella). It’s a cohesive collection of straight-ahead rock, unpretentious and stripped bare, exposing thick acoustic rhythms and grungy stoner-rock grooves. Brown has deviated from the ultra-heavy, electric hard rock of Hermano, and the rhythmic psycho-pop of ODD, landing somewhere in between. Deep, pensive lyrics combined with powerful rock compositions create acoustic-stoner rock bliss. The record can be downloaded directly from Dandy Brown’s website.

“The objective behind recording this batch of songs that I had written over the last couple of years was to keep it as simple as possible,” Brown said about the new record. “It was definitely my goal to make the collection sound as stripped-down and rock ’n’ roll as I could, and I also wanted to do something on analog tape once again. I think it had been well over a decade since I had recorded to tape instead of in the digital realm, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”

For more information, visit Read more from Robin Linn, including the full Dandy Brown interview, at

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