It’s been eight years since the last Fatso Jetson studio release, Cruel And Delicious, and as guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli explains, that’s largely due to he and cousin/bandmate Larry Lalli moving from the desert to Los Angeles to open the restaurant Café 322. Finally, though, a new collection of songs has surfaced in the form of Archaic Volumes.
To mark the occasion, I spoke with Mario Lalli via telephone from Café 322. The sounds of the restaurant could clearly be heard behind him, but it was refreshing to hear Lalli discuss how he made the conscious decision to take time off and tour Europe with Fatso Jetson; a stirring reminder of the sacrifices we all need to make to do what’s important to us and what makes us who we are. If there’s a lesson to be taken from Archaic Volumes, it’s that. And rock.
Fatso Jetson is rounded out by drummer Tony Tornay and saxophonist Vince Meghrouni (also harmonica), and Mario Lalli also plays bass in the legendary desert outfit Yawning Man—soon to release a new album of their own—with guitarist/vocalist Gary Arce and drummer Alfredo Hernandez. What you see below is an edited version of the complete interview, but hopefully it’s enough to get the point across.
What caused the long stretch between Fatso Jetson studio albums?
When we took on this adventure of moving to Los Angeles to open a restaurant, it really screwed up this balance of music for me, and for my cousin, and Tony, and it was just an upheaval. We played live whenever we could. We played a thousand 1 a.m. shows. Whenever we got off work, we’d jam down to Hollywood or Silverlake and play a gig, and we kept that going, but the writing and really getting into being a band in the practice room doing stuff and writing stuff and jamming, that suffered greatly when we moved to Los Angeles and opened this business, because it was overwhelming for us. The time that it consumes (laughs). You’re kind of stuck until the wee hours and you gotta get in here and start prepping and making pizzas and setting up the stage. We have live music here. It kind of fucked up our music life, and we both are frustrated because of it. It was very frustrating for us. But we’re all the more excited about our new recording because of that, and the lapse of time, and all this pent-up stuff. You know, we used to walk from the kitchen to the garage. We all had day jobs, but the focus was music. The job was secondary—a way to put gas in the tank and burritos in the fridge. Now, I gotta worry about payroll and taxes, other people’s livelihoods. It’s the main player in the lack of recordings and releases from Fatso Jetson, is this business we took on. That’s the main thing.
Is there a different kind of satisfaction you get from running the restaurant that offsets some of that frustration?
No. It’s a job. It’s our legacy. Both of our fathers started this restaurant. They had restaurants starting in 1952, and it was always music and Italian food. We worked in them growing up, we worked in the kitchens. There came a time when we opened a club in Indio called Rhythm And Brews, and that was our first time diving into running a place by ourselves, staffing it, managing it, owning it, running it. And I learned then—and I don’t know why I forgot this lesson—that I’d much rather be playing the place and working a day job than running the place that everyone plays. It’s been hard on both of us. It’s a tough business, right now especially with the way things are, economy, etc. Here’s how I make it work for me: We feature live music five days a week. Some of it’s really amazing, top notch, creative, badass music, and some of it is stuff that we book to pay the bills and get people in here to sell some drinks and sell some food. There is a satisfaction there. People have a great deal of respect for our place because the music we bring to the community, it’s looked at as a little cultural microcosm. We’re proud of that. We bring some of the best jazz musicians in Los Angeles here. You can walk in, have a beer and a pizza and hear some really amazing music, but at the same time, it just comes down to making drinks. My cousin’s back there making pizzas and steaks, and we’re running around, fielding customer requests, and it’s a tough gig. It’s a tough gig. Both of us are kind of beat up from it (laughs). I think there is a satisfaction that’s maybe beyond the typical day job, sitting in a cubicle. That’s not for me.
So what was the process of recording the album itself? Was it done in pieces? I know some of the material goes back a few years.
Yes. Some of it was recorded with just me, Larry and Tony. We did that, but had two different studios actually. We did some of it at our friend Eddie’s studio, Total Annihilation. We also did some basic tracks and stuff at Donner And Blitzen. I would go in and work on it when I could get away from work. I’d go down there late at night and work on it. Then we brought Vince in to record some of the newer stuff that we had been playing live. In our live performances around L.A. we had gotten that stuff pretty tight, so we wanted to capture that. We recorded that stuff. It was such a long process, and not because we were finger-fucking it or tuning to the perfect tones or anything, it was just a time issue for us. That’s where it pulled together.
How did recording the new Yawning Man album compare to doing Archaic Volumes?
The new Yawning Man was recorded in two days, three days. It was some music we’d been working on. I’d been driving down to the desert, to Alfredo’s house, and we were working on tunes, jamming. Lot of jamming. And then those guys would come up here, to Pasadena, and we’d just head up in the practice room and jam and work on the new stuff. We just kind of set a date to go in and record, even though we really hadn’t completely sketched out the songs. They were still forming, and that turned out to be a good thing, because there’s an energy there that sometimes when you work something to the point where there’s too much planning, and it loses some of the spontaneous combustion. There’s a few that we really pulled back and tried to be very delicate with, and then the majority of the record is pretty blasting and we’re really jamming. It was refreshing, because of all the going back, going back, going back, going back, with the Fatso Jetson record—which I love to do; I love that whole process—it was refreshing to show up and put on my bass and go through these rough sketches and dial it in from there, go back and make some changes, try it again. It wasn’t written in the studio, but it was definitely formed there. We took these basic ideas and formed them there. It was a pretty quick process. We recorded in two or three days.
Do you have a preference in terms of process, one over the other?
No, I don’t. I love recording in whatever shape or form. I gotta say, when I record, I like to take my time—not ridiculous time like seven years (laughs)—but just take my time and not be hasty about things. I would rather work it and form it and shape it until everyone’s really, really stoked. But other times it’s kind of cool to just go, “You know, this is what we did and this is the time we had to do it, and this is what came out of it,” and you just accept that. It depends. I’m grateful to be recording and have somebody that wants to help us put the music out, however that happens and whatever the situation is with it. It’s all groovy for me.
With the Fatso Jetson record out and the Yawning Man coming out, do you feel you’ve found a way to better balance the work time with creative time?
Yes, absolutely. Balance is the exact word. That’s the perfect word for it, because without it, I was out of balance for a very long time, neglecting this thing I need to do to be happy. It was an eye-opener that we could [tour Europe], and the place didn’t burn down. It’s still here. We still have the keys. It’s still running. The timbales are playing (laughs). Archaic Volumes is available now via Cobraside Distribution. More info at myspace.com/fatsojetson.