A punk band from Indio and a music nerd from Palm Springs come face to face…
INTERVIEW: Big Lizard
via Alex Callego of Daily Dares
I used to work for the Trader Joe’s in Cathedral City. We would get new transfers occasionally, some of which were from stores here in the Valley. We had just gotten a new transfer in from Palm Desert and I was assigned to work with him in the cooler. The conversation had gotten around to my old band and how he had seen us play a show at the local community college. He said “you guys were really good!” I was modest and told him that we weren’t that talented and that we did the best we could do with what we had. He went on to say “No, you guys were really good! You can always tell who plays with passion.” Passion. It definitely does make a huge difference.
Big Lizard, Tony Duran on Vocals, Sal Novoa; guitar, James Gastelum plays bass, and Eli Carter is on the drums, are a relatively new band here. I’m not big on hype. I like what I like regardless of expectation. So why else should I do an interview with a band that I’m not super hyped on? Passion. The same passion that my co-worker at Trader Joe’s saw in my old band, I see in them. They’re young and still have a long way to go but I appreciate them for their heart and I see a lot of potential. I find it important to interview them to hopefully have them be an example of what it means to not only have passion but to also play with passion. They’re an example of being your own movement rather than being part of a movement.
Alex Callego – I want to start off by saying when I first heard about you guys, I was pretty skeptical. I’m a skeptic in general. So when I first heard you guys, I was pretty excited to see you live. I’m not here to blow up your ego. This isn’t some puff piece. I view you guys and NASA Cat, this new crop of bands, as some of the most exciting live bands to come out of the desert in some time.
Big Lizard – Thank you so much! AC – The thing is there’s passion and there’s playing with passion and you guys have both. With the little hype that you guys have received, albeit mostly word of mouth, how do you feel about this new found attention?
BL – Well, I don’t know about the rest of these guys but the more hype we receive, the more humble it makes me. If you let the hype get to you, you tend to lose the passion you once had. AC – That’s interesting, it sounds like you take it in stride. It’s kind of not the answer I was expecting. I was kind of expecting the normal “I don’t believe the hype” answer. You sound like you accept that it’s there but you don’t let it change your mindset.
BL/JG – I think that people’s enthusiasm for the music is always welcome. It’s really neat to see people have a response to this but that’s not gonna effect what we do as a band. Definitely it gets people motivated behind the music. It’s always nice. It’s encouraging. At least people are receiving what we’re doing.
BL/SN – It’s always cool to play shows and see people sing our lyrics. I’d have to say that’s probably my favorite part; seeing people sing along with Tony, that’s really cool.
BL/EC – We’re definitely against hype that’s not deserved. AC – Do you feel like you’ve been influenced by any of the local bands? If there are any bands, who would they be?
BL/JG – I wouldn’t say they influenced us a lot but Youth Pollution and Hi Ho Silver Away.
BL/SN – Yeah, Hi Ho Silver Away, definitely.
BL/JG – Yeah, I really dig their lyrics.
BL/EC – As far as acts I’ve seen out here, I’d agree that Hi Ho Silver Away is one of the better bands in the desert. Youth Pollution too, just purely for the fact that it’s completely different from what people are normally doing. You see a lot of people who react really strangely to them. AC – I’ve seen their name on a few fliers out here. What about them makes you excited for their music?
BL/JG – I’m not saying that they’re not good at their instruments, they just play power chords, but when he solos, he doesn’t stick to some formula. He plays whatever feels right.
BL/EC – It definitely goes back to what we were talking about; playing with passion. You really can pick up on that.
BL/SN – As far as Hi Ho Silver Away goes, his lyrics are pretty amazing. You feel what he’s saying especially when he says the word “fuck”, this dude is serious! AC – Yeah, I’ve always felt that when you cuss in a song there’s gotta be meaning behind it or else it’s just a crutch. There’s a difference between saying “fuck” and saying “FUCK”.
BL- It’s a good way of commanding attention. AC- As far as influences go, in general, who are yours?
BL/TD – Influences for me would be Lux Interior from The Cramps because his stage presence, even though he’s been gone for three years now, it’s still as powerful as it was in 1977. I’d also have to say Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club. He captured being a tortured artist perfectly and his contribution to the punk scene in the 80’s in LA, I feel was just phenomenal. Their first album should hailed as one of the greats.
BL/JG – For me, a lot of punk like TSOL, but I would say Sebadoh stands out. They’re definitely an influence. Lou Barlow man… AC – Were you a big Dinosaur Jr fan?
BL – Uh, no… AC – How about Folk Implosion?
BL/JG – I have a 45″ of theirs. AC – What about you, Sal?
BL/SN – This won’t come as a surprise to James but one of my biggest influences is Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. I don’t know if you can tell by the music we play but blues really influences me. To me blues comes straight from the heart. Some people got it, some people don’t. As far as Billy Gibbons goes, he doesn’t play the craziest riffs in the world, but there’s so much passion and heart in what he’s playing. When I heard ZZ Top for the first time I was listening to “Tush”. That main riff was really awesome! It was actually my dad’s cassette and I asked him who was playing and he showed me the tape and all you saw was these two dudes with long ass beards. He told me it was ZZ Top and that they were from Texas, which is where I’m from. From then on I fell in love with ZZ Top and I knew I wanted to play guitar.
BL/JG – I remember when we were in elementary school, it was probably third or fourth grade, he had this manila folder with ZZ Top written all over it! AC – That’s funny because most people’s perception of ZZ Top is this kind of band that you don’t take seriously because the music was kind of goofy, with the long beards and the funny music videos. They were never a band that I ever took seriously until later as I got older. But I think that an honest answer like that is great. To many people try to act cool and hide their more embarrassing influences.
BL/SN – Yeah it’s funny, after elementary school, James and I never really talked. But when we first started playing music together, one of the first things he said to me was “hey, do you still listen to ZZ Top?”
BL/EC – Well, since we’re on the subject of more embarrassing influences, probably Bjork was one of my earliest influences. AC – Aw, don’t be embarrassed of liking Bjork.
BL/EC – But more recently I’ve been listening to Discord bands like Black Eyes and Q and not U. Lately I’ve been listening to a band called RVIVR. I’ve taken a lot from that band. AC – What bands from out here do you guys feel people should be paying attention to?
BL/JG – I would say probably Baby New Year. AC – He’s been around for a little while. What about him do you like?
BL/JG – It’s just sincere. His lyrics are very sincere. He’s a great musician too. AC – What is the writing process like for you guys?
BL/SN – As far as the music goes it’s been James and me.
BL/JG – It starts with an idea and Sal will come up with a guitar part or I’ll come up with a bass line and it kind of builds from there.
BL/SN – I remember being in the car with my family on our way towards Cabazon and a riff came to mind. I really liked it and I didn’t have a guitar so I grabbed my sister’s cell phone and hummed just so I could record it and remember it. AC – How about lyrically? Are there certain themes that you usually play with?
BL/TD – I don’t really have set themes. Whatever I feel reflects the song I try to write something for it. It could be a dream that I don’t really remember. There’s that song we have about rape. It’s one of my favorite ones. They just come from all over the place. It all stems from me. AC – You guys are originally from the Indio/Coachella area. If at all, in what ways do you think your hometown has effected your music?
BL/SN – Well, yeah, there really isn’t much to do out here. Besides the band I really have no life. I guess to some extent it does have some effect on the music.
BL/EC – I think that regardless of where you’re at, the fact that there is nothing to do is a good motivator for making music. AC – What are your feelings on all-ages venues versus playing in bars?
BL/EC – Bands cater so much to these bar environments, especially in the Palm Springs area. I just think it’s bullshit that we’re limited to playing in these bar environments. I think it’s pretty crucial get the all age thing. A lot of the demographic for music are under age. There’s really only a small group of people who are 21 and up that are going out to see a show. AC – Do you think an increase in all age venues will attribute to an increase in bands here in the valley?
BL/SN – I think so. Any kid, after seeing a band play, could be inspired to start a band. Just an increased opportunity to inspire.
BL/EC – The one cool thing that I’ve seen come out of this whole 21 and up environment is the ingenuity of the kids out here. AC – I’ve always been more attracted to people who are their own movement than to those who are trying to be part of a movement. Where do you guys feel you fit into that statement?
BL/SN – Well, kids can be a little ignorant. They want things to fit into what they think is better. I’ve had kids tell me that we should get someone who can sing. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t want to be part of any movement especially not theirs.
AC – I always try to be honest with everything that I say. I’m not going to tell you that I’m interviewing you because I think you guys are the greatest band I’ve ever heard. That would be a discredit to you. I feel that you guys have potential. I’ve seen the tiniest amount of hype swallow up many a band here in the valley.
SN – The last thing we want is for the appreciation of the music to be lost.