Interview with Fatso Jetson vocalist/guitarist Mario Lalli, drummer Tony Tornay, guitarist Dino Von Lalli, and producer Mathias “Schneebie” Schneeberger
By Matthew Hutchison | Photo by Mellisa Tornay
Few artists have notoriety for being both an innovative developer in their scene and in a music genre. Often overlooked by the music press in favor of their larger, more commercial contemporaries, Fatso Jetson’s role in the development of the Southern California low desert heavy rock scene is just as important and significant, humbly so. Innovative due to the entrepreneurial ventures the Lalli cousins undertook by bringing the area’s first rock club to the forefront with Rhythm & Brews, along with expanding upon the sound that made the area famous with heavy music fans across the world by adding surf and jazz textures to accompany the riff.
With a lineup that has remained intact and survived as a unit through their 22-year trip, vocalist and guitarist Mario Lalli, his cousin and bassist Larry Lalli, and drummer Tony Tornay cut their teeth with an extensive back catalog along with numerous tours through Europe and parts of the U.S. Recently, the new generation of the Lalli family has entered the fold with Mario’s son, Dino, taking over on second guitar and assisting in the writing process.
Fatso Jetson will release their new album entitled Idle Hands on Oct. 7 via Heavy Psych Sounds and embark on a European tour in the fall, with their longtime producer and guru, Mathias “Schneebie” Schneeberger, accompanying the group on bass duties for the run. The guys were kind of enough to take some time out of their schedules to play catch up and discuss the events occurring in their lives, the new record, and a bit about their past.
For those who don’t know, will you go into the backstory of Fatso Jetson and how you all met and started playing together?
TT: Mario and Larry owned a club called Rhythm & Brews in Indio, [California], and I went there every night to see bands and hang. We sat around after hours, watched the History Channel, and played pool until four in the morning. One night, we all realized and decided that our time would be better spent playing music together instead of wasting our time drinking beer and watching TV. We began to jam after hours at the club, and it took off from there. There was no initial intention of starting a band, it just happened!
With Rhythm & Brews, you had an establishment of your own to play, but getting outside of the desert area must have been tedious and frustrating. During that time, what was the routine and strategy you used to land gigs outside the area, and how often did you get out of the area to play?
ML: We didn’t, and yet, we did. Keep in mind this was before social media. We were friends with bands that invited us to play places in San Diego, Los Angeles, and once in a while, San Francisco. A group we played with a lot actually around those areas was Last Of The Juanitas, which had [guitarist and vocalist] Bryan [Giles] from Red Fang. They would call us up and set something up from there. We mostly played with all sorts of weirdo, noisy angular rock bands. Before Fatso, I was playing with Sort Of Quartet and Yawning Man, and Tony was playing in other groups as well, so we had connections through those too that we used.
How did you get the word out about Rhythm & Brews as being a spot to play for touring bands? What was the vibe like in the area before you came on the scene with the club?
ML: There was nowhere to play in the desert at the time! Before we opened up, the only place to play was by booking a gig at a BBQ spot or a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in the area. It was a dead time then, and this was before punk rock broke into the mainstream. When booking agents got wind of our existence and being a place to play between San Diego, L.A., Vegas, and Phoenix, we got called constantly. I had every [Amphetamine Reptile Records] band play our place except for Jesus Lizard! I still have a cassette tape demo that No Doubt sent me trying to get a gig at our place. Sublime tried to get a gig as well, and we had Rancid play there.
TT: It was an ideal place for bands with routing through those cities to have somewhere to play in between, make some cash, and not spend an entire day driving. Mario and Larry treated them so well, without fail, every band that passed through and landed an interview about their tour would answer a question such as “What was the best stop of the tour?” with the answer, “This little place called Rhythm & Brews in Indio.”
Mario and Larry knew what it was like to be a musician, so they treated touring bands really well and gave them extra food and beer from the kitchen and bar—more than a venue would normally give—and they were so appreciative. Even if the turnout wasn’t big, and a lot of times, it wasn’t. Melvins played there in front of 30 people, but they got treated as though they were playing New York City.
Schneebie, how did you get to the United States and hook up with Fatso Jetson?
MS: I lived in Berlin and was an in-house producer at Vielklang Records, and a lot of American bands came through thanks to the City Slang connection we had. I recorded and mixed many bands there, and one of them was Saint Vitus, which is how I met [Scott] Wino [Weinrich]. Wino and I hit it off, and I did The Obsessed’s first album, Lunar Womb, and the Columbia release, The Church Within, in Berlin. Guy [Pinhas] became their bass player after Scott [Reeder] left to join Kyuss, and through Guy, I met the Goatsnake guys and recorded them in my studio in Los Angeles and got to know [Goatsnake vocalist] Pete Stahl.
Pete, one night, says to me, “I want to show you a place that you should see,” and in the middle of the night, we left L.A. to drive out to Joshua Tree. I had no idea where we were going; I thought he was going to kill me and ditch me somewhere [laughs]. He took me to Rancho De La Luna [recording studio], and there, I met the scene [founders Fred Drake and Dave Catching], and was invited to join earthlings? and departed with them on a tour with Queens Of The Stone Age shortly after.
Long story short, [producer and musician] Chris Goss saw me and asked me to join Masters Of Reality, and I went on a tour with them. It has been a blur from there, so that is how I fell into the scene and met the Fatso guys. My first project with them was producing and playing on the Cruel and Delicious album in the early 2000s.
To what do you attribute the longevity of the band’s core lineup, and did you ever imagine where Fatso Jetson would take you?
ML: No, I never thought this would happen, and I still have to pinch myself from time to time about it. That is why every time we get offered to do a tour, we find a way to do it no matter what. We are grateful for everything that has happened to us and to be the same guys through it all. Schneebie is stepping in for my cousin Larry on this tour, ‘cause Larry has a lot going on his life at this time. We are all family, and we try to keep it simple, fun, and creative even though we do get on each other’s nerves sometimes in the process.
I feel I can speak for everybody in saying we wish we were doing more with Fatso Jetson though, and it is difficult with everything happening in our own lives. The older we get, the more busy we get. Dino is 19, and he is becoming more of a man and more busy with a job, a woman in his life, his own band, [Big Pig], and Fatso Jetson, and trying to attain a balance to it all. He is getting a taste of how hard it is to balance all those things and still put a lot into music; music takes so much to do in order to satisfy you, from my perspective.
We played a show the day before yesterday, and it was very loose around the edges, but if we let that shit get to our heads and not be grateful for the fun of it, then that is where you start to lose it. The whole notion of, “Ah, fuck. It’s not worth it if we’re not going to be great.” We don’t buy into that thinking; it’s worth it to get together and break a sweat.
Would you each share a memorable and/or important show you remember playing?
DL: My first tour at age 16, [after] barely a year being a member of Fatso Jetson. We started the tour in Sardinia at Duna Jam; we played in the dunes and were tripping out on the beautiful scenery the whole time. It was the first gig of the tour, and the 20-song set was rusty. We literally just got off the plane and played the show. I’ll never forget that!
MS: I love being onstage and got some stories to share. I played a show back in Germany, it was a progressive rock set with a full on punk rock band, and to this day and all the shows I have played, never have I had that much beer thrown in my face [laughs]. I sliced my finger open just before we went on and didn’t have time to bandage it properly, and it hurt like a motherfucker. We played nonstop for an hour, and I was bleeding a river all over my keyboard. At the end of the set, my keys looked like a murder weapon and my side of the stage, a murder scene.
Also, the show that Masters Of Reality did with Queens Of The Stone Age, The Cramps, and Tomahawk at The Greek Theatre [in Los Angeles] on Halloween in 2003 was something to remember. The scenery couldn’t have better with the downpour of rain we had and the spotlight in my face, making the raindrops appear like mini Millennium Falcons zipping past us.
TT: We did a show with Queens Of The Stone Age in ‘98 or ‘99 in Cologne, Germany. The show oversold, and it resembled hardcore shows from when I was kid. Half the crowd was sitting or standing on the stage around us. We were the opening band and were so locked in that we couldn’t play a bad note that night even if we tried. Queens and Fatso were sharing backline on that run; we ended our set and started to walk off, Josh comes to Mario and me and says, “Dudes, you gotta go onstage and play more.” I don’t know why he said that, but we didn’t argue.
We went back onstage and jammed a little longer, but what made it weird was that we played so well that night, and for whatever reason, something bad kept going on with Queen’s set. Dave [Catching] was in the band at the time, and when we walked out onstage, he bumped into Josh’s guitar and stepped on the neck, immediately breaking it. Nick [Oliveri] was having issues with the bass rig as well that night.
ML: I remember that show, Tony. Totally crazy. How about the show I never made: I fell flat on my face in the mud and woke up two hours after our set time, and then, took a plane home. That was pretty memorable! Really, there have been so many memorable shows, but to me, the most memorable was Dino’s first tour, which was very special to me. We pulled him out of school for that. To tour Europe with Tony, Larry, and my son, that’s really special.
However, the one show I’ll never forget was at Dynamo Festival in Eindhoven, [Netherlands], years ago. I was so fucking nervous to play this. We were playing with Nebula, Unida, Goatsnake, Gluecifer, and a couple of other bands on our stage. I broke my A string on the first song in, and no one would loan me a guitar!
TT: No, no, no, it wasn’t that nobody would loan you a guitar. You broke a note and decided to make it a jazz odyssey to compensate!
ML: That’s true, that’s true. [Laughs]
TT: Mario broke his string, turns around and looks at me with this look of confusion and panic. Turned out two strings broke. We had a 45-minute set, and we used over half of it on a nervous jam that none of us had any clue where it was going exactly. When it ended, Mario finally tracked down a guitar, ran over to grab it from someone, and finished the set.
Afterwards, we were so down and bummed about what had just happened. A friend of ours who flew over to sell our merchandise came backstage after the set and said, “Hey guys, I don’t know what the fuck you did up there, but all these people came over to our merchandise table after the set and asked which record that jam was on.”
Does the impact your hometown’s music scene has on people around the world and how celebrated it’s become ever trip you out?
ML: After watching these documentaries that just came out—[“Low Desert Sound” and “Desert Age”]—it made it clear to me that our music scene is no different than other music scenes. The “legendary” status attached to it got crystallized from the hard work and the exceptional creativity of one popular band. San Pedro, [California], our new home, has its own folklore and is the home to some of the most formative music in my years growing up. Groups like The Minutemen and Saccharine Trust showed me how it was done both musically and ethically. Even playing in a band with Joe Baiza, [guitarist of Saccharine Trust], I still think that.
Dino and I were walking down the harbor area and admiring our new neighborhood when we noticed this little art gallery being put on by this local San Pedro artist and musician named Craig Ibarra. His installation was all the punk gig fliers he designed over the years. Minutemen, The Middle Class, Black Flag, Circle Jerks—you name it, ‘cause he did artwork for everybody. The flier for the actual galley is a picture of D. Boon, [guitarist and singer for Minutemen], and there is a quote on the bottom from this local painter who wrote a book on the San Pedro punk scene: it says, “Legends are bullshit. The word ‘legend’ means that you can’t do it yourself, and it was done once and can’t be done again in the same way.”
All this stuff about the desert scene is bitchin’ and great, but the honest truth is I’m tired of talking about the past and about generator parties that do not happen anymore. We are living in the present and making music now! All these guys you see in this truck are sweating their amps, guitars, and drums, and we are doing that right now. That is more important than what happened 20-plus years ago. Music scenes happen in every town, and our scene got paid attention to because of Kyuss. In part, with our affiliation with them and how they stuck their neck out for us, we were able to get great opportunities and had promoters give us chances to play their bars or club, and that’s what it really amounts to.
What is even more amazing is there are bands that are doing what we do, but do not have that support team, but are doing it all by themselves and getting these opportunities through their own methods. They didn’t have people like a Josh [Homme], Brant [Bjork], Nick [Oliveri], or Scott [Reeder] or whoever stick their neck out for them and say, “This band is great, you need to check them out.” They never had that foot in the door, and they still manage to get where they need to go and make opportunities for them to play. That is badass and props to them. We are grateful for knowing those guys, and we do our best to honor it, but the reality is, the “legendary” aspect is unnecessary, it really is.
The desert folklore has taken on a life of its own, which is cool, but a bookend needs to be put on it. I’m sure [Throw Rag’s Sean] Wheeler has something to say about this as well, and Josh doesn’t identify with it anymore, he is living in the now musically and with his own life.
TT: The romanticism of the desert stuff, to me, is a trip. It was my childhood, and as a kid, it was fun, but the reality of it was we were doing anything and everything we could do to fight boredom with our friends because we hated it. I do appreciate it for what it is, but there is an excessive over-romanticism of it. We’re living in the now; that is what matters, and Mario’s spot-on. We are way more excited to talk about things we want to do as opposed to what we’ve already done.
That’s understandable. With all that being out in the open, can you offer any insight on the new album, Idle Hands?
ML: Totally can! We did the recordings at Rancho De La Luna with Schneebie at the helm, came in with six songs already written, and we sketched out six songs off the bat while in Rancho. We punched it out in three days, and the tracks are now being mixed between Schneebie’s studio and our own home studio in Pedro. The new album is called Idle Hands and will have Dino, Tony, Larry, and Schneebie on it. This was a strange record to make though with all the crazy turbulence in my life last year—weird and turbulent actually for all our lives.
MS: It started out very loose. With the written songs at Rancho, we recorded in a few takes and very casually, so we didn’t have to question it too much. This was one of those records that we spent three days on the basic tracks and did everything live with the whole band together, so we got a lot recorded. Now, we’re sifting through it and seeing what we can use and what we need to take out.
Dino, how was your experience recording your first Fatso Jetson studio record alongside your dad and everyone else in the family?
DL: I’m super stoked about finally getting some writing and playing time in with my dad and everyone! This record is both really weird and very cool, definitely one of the most eclectic Fatso Jetson records in the catalog. It doesn’t sound like anything Fatso has ever done and has a weird energy to it, and it will rule.
TT: Every record of ours is different than the last. I read a review a while back, and the person said that we are the type of band where “none of our records sound the same, but you can always tell it’s us playing them.”
Another thing to mention, this new record is a testament to us being a band that is really good at problem-solving. Right around the time we were scheduled to go into Rancho to start recording, problems beyond our control arose at the time. Like Mario said, we literally showed up with half a record written and completely wrote the second half on the spot in the studio. I’m really proud that we are the type of band that can do that. I feel that we are able to adapt to things and deal with issues in front of us real well and efficiently. These were things that we literally came up with in the span of sometimes five minutes; that’s not easy! We never play a song live the same way twice, and to be able to sit down in a recording studio and know that the eternal tape of doom is recording this shit for posterity forever, we thrive in that environment. I’m super stoked about what we did at Rancho. This record is going to be awesome, and we can’t wait to get it out there for people to hear it!
ML: Tony couldn’t have said it better. Dino did a ton of writing on this record, and I could not have done it without him, because this past year was so crazy for me and I was not in the right frame of mind to write a record like this, and Dino was. Dino writes, sings, and plays for his other band, Big Pig, as well. He plays two to three hours per day; I listen in sometimes, and if I hear something cool, then it will be claimed as Fatso’s exclusively. If it was weird and mellow enough, it’s a Fatso riff, and he now knows it if I pound on his door and tell him to play again.
Aside from Fatso Jetson, you guys stay busy with various projects involving other musicians alongside yourselves. Will you share a bit about them? Also, what have you all been listening to personally?
ML: We started a boutique label called Plastic Cactus Records, all limited edition releases done on a collaboration basis with graphic artists and musicians. We put a big emphasis on the art concepts and handcrafted packaging designs. We will be releasing Dino’s band, Big Pig, on cassette as the first release, and the Fatso record as well.
Some great bands who are friends of ours and deserve recognition are All Souls, which is a project that Tony’s a part of—he plays alongside Tony and Meg Aguilar from Totimoshi and Eric Trammel from Black Elk and Wadsworth.
I’ve been listening to a lot of True Widow, Helms Alee, Alain Johannes’ stuff, along with Sean Wheeler’s stuff, You Know Who, and actually, the new Yawning Man record that’s coming out. Hell, the new Black Widows album is fucking insane too! Dino, what are you listening to?
DL: Been playing the new Big Business album a lot; it’s pretty incredible. Other than that, just mostly Melvins and the new Wilco album.
ML: Dude! Wilco doesn’t need any promotional help! [Laughs] Seriously, pull up the new Wilco record on YouTube and read the comments—funny as shit.
TT: You guys want to know what’s really fucking awesome? The first FEAR record! That record is so good, and I’ve been on a big FEAR kick lately. Holy motherfucking shit, the playing, the songwriting—look, I know that record is 30 years old, but goddamn, what the hell is [drummer] Spit Sticks doing on that record with “We Destroy the Family” and all the others?! Every time I hear some of those songs, I can’t figure out what he is doing. Also, Adam Ant, because that guy rules, and I don’t give a fuck what anyone here thinks.
Catch Fatso Jetson on tour with Greenleaf throughout Europe in October (see dates below).
9/23 – Colosaal (Aschaffenburg, DE) 10/8 – Jeugdhuis (Vorselaar, BE)
9/24 – Alte Malzerei (Regensburg, DE) 10/10 – Werk 2 (Leipzig, DE)
9/26 – Cassiopeia (Berlin, DE) 10/11 – Scheune (Dresden, DE)
9/27 – Loppen (Copenhagen, DK) 10/12 – Poznan (Bazyla, PL)
9/28 – Headcrash (Hamburg, DE) 10/13 – Katowicze (Korba, PL)
9/29 – Chez Heinz (Hannover, DE) 10/14 – Ucho (Gydnia, PL)
9/30 – Kuba (Jena, DE) 10/15 – Kabyls (Vilinius, LT)
10/1 – Up In Smoke Festival (Pratten, CH) 10/16 – Hydrozagadka (Warsaw, PL)
10/2 – Le Romandie (Lausanne, CH) 10/18 – Klub Attack (Zagreb, CR)
10/4 – Le Backstage (Paris, FR) 10/19 – Tetris (Trieste, IT)
10/5 – Void (Bordeaux, FR) 10/20 – Rockhouse (Salzburg, AT)
10/6- Ferrailleur (Nantes, FR) 10/21 – Fuzz Fest (Vienna, AT)
10/7 – DBS (Utrecht, NL) 10/22 – Keep It Low Fest (Munich, DE)
Italian Tour Dates:
23.10.2016 IT Cecina-Secret Show
24.10.2016 IT Zerobranco-Altroquando
25.10.2016 IT Torino-Blah Blah
26.10.2016 IT Roma-Init
27.10.2016 IT Cagliari-La Cueva Rock
28.10.2016 IT Sassari-The Hor
29.10.2016 IT Parma-Mu/HPS Fest 3
30.10.2016 IT Erba-Centrale Rock