INTRODUCTION Julian de la Celle
INTERVIEW Brent L. Smith
Here we are again, in the month of October, about a week away from one the most exciting festivals in California: Desert Daze. The festival is in its sixth year and this will be the second year that it takes place at The Institute of Mentalphysics, which was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright in 1946 and sits in the high desert of Joshua Tree, California. It's a way to get out of the bustling city of Los Angeles and enjoy music, friends and the calm of the desert. Last year we saw headline acts Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Angels, Television, and Temples, but this year they've stepped it up even further and pinned down the god of punk rock, Iggy Pop, along with John Cale, Ty Segall, Thurston Moore Group and Spiritualized. It's guaranteed to blow away any expectations you may have already, and if it's anything like last year, you'll be talking about it for months afterwards. We caught up with founder of Desert Daze and frontman of JJUUJJUU, Phil Pirrone, to talk about how far the festival has come, the commissioning of a new visual artist each year and where he envisions the festival going in the future.
BRENT L. SMITH: I'm not sure many people know the roots of Desert Daze. What was the impetus? How far has it come?
PHIL PIRRONE: Well, to go way back, I've been touring since 2001. After a good chunk of life on the road, in 2011, we put on the first Moon Block Party out of pure love for rock n roll and an over abundance of friends in bands who were down to make something happen. That went really well - a lot better than we ever expected. So we did it again. We proceeded to teach ourselves how to throw outdoor events, through making many, many mistakes. But even with those mistakes, the events had a great spirit, and seemed to be a magnet for awesome people. So we kept doing it. And now, we're in our 6th year of Desert Daze, which takes place at a beautiful and sacred site in Joshua Tree, one of the most unique places on the planet. There's 170+ people on the crew, (the core crew from day one are still with us). Iggy Pop is headlining this year. For starting from a place of pure fun and love with no expectations, to be here now, it feels like we've come a long way, but I still feel like I'm at home because I have my best friends and family around me.
BRENT: Desert Daze's mission statement, what is it?
PHIL: To facilitate the ever expanding growth of the human spirit.
BRENT: Do you feel you've created something that's self-sustaining? Or do you sympathize with Dr. Frankenstein?
PHIL: It feels like it's getting there.
BRENT: What aesthetic are you trying to cultivate? Is it a 60's revival, or is it something new?
PHIL: Caveman to Spaceman (trademark Mason).
BRENT: The Institute of Mentalphysics doesn't seem like your average campgrounds. It's more like a breeding ground for cults. How did the site influence your vision, and that of your art director, Mason Rothschild?
PHIL: When we moved to this venue everything just clicked. There's so much history and energy there, you don't want to mess with that too much, and just work with what's already there.
BRENT: Art is obviously as intrinsic to Desert Daze as the bands. Is there a theme behind the art separate than that of the music?
PHIL: The singularity.
BRENT: You've commissioned a visual artist every year. In the past it's been those like Steven Fische and Oliver Hibert. This year you went with Andrew McGranahan. What about his work spoke to you, and did you give him a vision to interpret, or was he left to own devices?
PHIL: I love Andrew's work. His collage stuff is pretty great. For most of the DD content there's a pretty specific theme and color palette and we work together on the layout and concepts. Being content manager for a festival is a little different than being commissioned to do a poster. You're creating a lot of promo material so there's a lot less artistic freedom, which isn't totally awesome, but totally necessary for the job at hand. Andrew totally gets that, is super fast and efficient. He has a good sense of humor while reading our endless notes. He gets the process. Steven and Oliver also get that process and are amazing artists (of course) that we still work with today. We also work with Jamie Zu, Caitlin Mattisson, Alan Forbes, Mollie Tuggle, Weird Beard, Kii Arens, Branca Studios, Pogo, and many other amazing graphic designers.
BRENT: Are there subliminal messages hidden in the art and music? What are they?
PHIL: Well, yeah, but I should let them stay subliminal... probably.
BRENT: What other festivals or tastemakers are you influenced by?
PHIL: I like Levitation. I get what they are doing.
BRENT: If Desert Daze was a church, and the performers were messiahs, what religion would they be preaching?
PHIL: Live music.