Catching up with Stoner Metal Power Trio Deserts of Mars
If you like your metal with the sludgy vibe of stoner rock, you should discover Austin’s Desert of Mars. This power trio has been around for a few years, but they’ve got some interesting tricks up their sleeves for 2013.
Tony Salvaggio (bass/vocals) and Billy Garretsen (drums) formed the band around 2006 and once they added guitarist Bob Hoff, they honed their “Mars Metal” sound and set their sites on Austin’s Red River District, a perfect place for their brand of rock and roll during that time period.
Over the years they played a lot of shows with a lot of fellow Austin metal bands, recorded an album in 2011 called Transmission and collected a steady set of fans, called Martian Maniacs.
Last year Garretsen decided to step down from the band and the guys were blessed to find the talented Erik Kinservik to step in. Because of the change in this three-man power trio, they’ve been keeping a low profile as of late, but are planning to come back with a new passion and new tracks.
INsite owner Sean Claes had a chance to chat with the band recently.
Sean Claes: I kind of get that old-school Iron Maiden rock sound from you guys. How would you describe your sound?
Tony Salvaggio: We usually get Sabbath meets Motorhead with a dose of Monster Magnet and I think that is fair.
I am a huge stoner rock/metal fan and I think that a lot of our riffs (esp. on the first album) come from that. All of the members of the band have really varied tastes in music, so sometimes it can be hard to pin it down.
To me, it’s riff based driving rock/metal that is heavy but polished and fairly accessible. It’s why we started calling it Mars Metal. It doesn’t fit into straight up stoner rock and it has influences from all over the place.
Claes: What’s in a name? Why Deserts of Mars (DoM)?
Salvaggio: I wanted a name that has many connotations, is catchy, and hearkened back to the Desert Rock/Stoner Rock influences.
I also liked that it can evoke different imagery depending on the person. It’s an interesting planet that we actively explore, it’s the God of War, its been in Sci-Fi and in our heads for years... Billy took that and ran with it on our flyers, so now we have a kind of space rock thing going on as well.
Claes: Your fans are known as Martian Maniacs. How’d that come about?
Salvaggio: Ha! I just thought it sounded cool at the time. I haven’t asked anyone if they actually dig being called Martian Maniacs, but it seemed to work. Like how Voivod has the Iron Gang, and metal bands all had cool names for their fan clubs. Maybe I just read too many Metal Maniac mags back in the day.
Claes: Your debut release Transmission came out in March 2011. Does it still stand up to who Deserts of Mars is as a band?
Salvaggio: I think so. We took a bit more time than I wanted to when Billy (Garretsen, the original drummer) left, but we really wanted to make sure we have a tight band of friends with similar goals rather than just moving on to new drummer X.
With Erik in the band now, of course he brings a different take (if you come to a show with him bringing the thunder you’ll hear some new takes on the old material), but we’ve really gelled as rhythm section and the new stuff is really moving in a direction we dig.
A lot of the music still comes from bass riffs as a starting point. So, it may be different, but it will always be straight from the heart and DoM through and through.
Bob Hoff: I agree. I am really proud of that body of work. I think the songs are still interesting and, at least for me, still a lot of fun to play.
Erik Kinservik: I would say that it does, but we are maturing as a band and progressing to a harder, more syncopated style that is focused on a tight rhythm section with groove, impact, and energy.
Claes: Who did the artwork for the CD? It’s pretty fantastic.
Hoff: It was a collaborative effort. If I recall, the concept really took form at a post-gig Kirby Lane session. The initial photography and digital effects were done by John Sommer. Then Billy took those images and kicked them up to 11 with additional digital compositing.
Salvaggio: We wanted to keep the space rock vibe going and I think it was captured well.
As a band we’re lucky that Billy is an awesome artist and he’s still pretty jazzed to do posters and such for us a well when he has the time. People remember the poster art of DoM even if they haven’t seen a show.
Claes: For your CD release party in 2011, you donated all of your profits to the relief effort in Japan, citing you have a lot of friends there. We seem to forget things when the next news cycle hits… so… It’s 2 years later. How are the friends doing now?
Salvaggio: Luckily my friends were in Tokyo and were fine for the most part. Their families are also doing well. It was a rough time though since they had children who were obviously scared with all the blackouts and craziness.
I ended up sending care packages of snacks, batteries, and flashlights and such as well. I think things are pretty good for everyone I knew who was affected. However, there are a lot of places still recovering and that is heartbreaking and sobering. All in all, it was just the right thing to do.
Claes: Have you written/recorded any new material since Transmission?
Kinservik: Not yet, but soon. I’m looking forward to it!
Hoff: Yeah we’re working on that right now. Our tentative plan is to have some material put together and hopefully at least have an EP available this summer.
Claes: Tell me about a track or two.
Salvaggio: The first one we reworked it a heavy wall of sound kind of anthem called “Pyramids.” I wanted the kind of vibe that The Sword has on some of their heavier more raw tracks and Erik has really started beefing that up.
In our new jams, there is some straight up groove stuff, a song that I want to mix in my love of classic doom metal like St. Vitus and Cathedral, and there’s a few riffs that I’m not sure where they will go. It’s all Mars Metal to us.
Claes: In late 2012 you brought on Erik Kinservik to replace Billy Garretsen on drums, citing Billy’s need to “train his newborn daughter to fight Rocktopi on Mars and beyond.” How is the new trio gelling?
Salvaggio: Really, really well. Like I said before, it took us a bit longer than I wanted to get back to playing live (but still shorter than our previous guitarist change which took around a year), but it has been awesome.
Erik’s drive and time spent behind the drums has really added an extra bit of oomph to the sound. Billy’s raw power and of course his friendship are missed. He’s still a really good friend and he wants to do more artwork and be a part of the band outside of drums, which is awesome.
However, Erik is an awesome musician, great friend, and really cool guy. I can’t stress how important finding the right combo of attitude/drive/understanding of what we want to do is in a band. So, it was all well worth the wait!
Hoff: Surprisingly well! Finding a new member wasn’t something we were looking forward to at all. But after meeting and jamming with Erik, it was clear that he was the right person to bring in. It has been an absolute blast getting to know him. He also brings with him a great deal of industry experience (and great road stories). Oh yeah, he’s an amazing drummer too!
Kinservik: For me it’s going Awesome! I like bringing some fresh ideas to the mix and it’s been cool so far.
Claes: Can each member tell me about your favorite original song to perform live and why?
Salvaggio: Even though we’ve played it a million times, I still dig “Send More Gasoline” because it seems to be a crowd favorite.
I also really dig the doomy parts to “Strike,” and “Cities on Fire” is always fun.
Kinservik: “Pyramids.” I love the dynamicisim, simplicity, and groove of this new track.
Hoff: My favorite would probably be “1000 Suns.” It is a heavy song and the lyrics are very personal. Two things that I like in my music!
Claes: Looks like you were pretty busy last year during that “certain week in March” in Austin last year. What are your plans for this year?
Salvaggio: This year will be low key. Erik is actually going into surgery this week, so he will be recovering. I’ll still be out and about going to heavy shows.
It would be nice to be playing during that week, but it’s more important that we have a healthy Space Viking so that we can take over the universe this year!
Claes: You've all got really interesting and creative day jobs. Tell me a little bit about them.
Salvaggio: I work as a tech artist at Intific, company that does simulation and edutainment projects. I’ve been in the games industry since 1996 and Intific is run by people who have all been in the games industry.
On the side I also have written some comic books and I’m working on a few screenplay ideas (I plan on doing more of that this year as well).
Kinservik: I manage a team of great people at Bazaarvoice. I also own Pressurehead, a high-end Audio System design/build company.
Hoff: I work at a software company named GameSalad. We make a tool that allows people who don’t have traditional coding experience to make video games.
Claes: Tony, you have a side project that plays Japanese rock covers. Tell me about Pocari Shred.
Salvaggio: I met Pocari Shred’s guitarist Liao Hsien-Hsiu through a mutual friend and he had been trying to get the band together in a few incarnations. I’ve almost never played covers in a band, so I was kind of hesitant.
Once I started jamming with them it all just fell into place. It’s really fun music and I’ve been a fan of Japanese pop culture for a really long time so it fits. Lots of fun and some of the songs are really challenging so I get to stretch a bit which I can roll back into my technique when playing with DoM.
We play heavy tunes, some anime theme song covers and we’re learning some punk tunes for an upcoming Punk Vs. Rockabilly gig in March (Sunday, March 10 @ Flamingo Cantina). As far as I know, we’re the only J-Rock cover band in Austin… which is kind of a cool niche.
Claes: You seem to favor the Red River scene. Tell me a few of your favorite clubs to play in Austin?
Salvaggio: Red Eyed Fly has definitely given us a home from the beginning of the band, while we were still getting our sound together. That has been awesome.
Outside of that, I really, really dig playing Red 7 and would love to play the Mohawk as well. I’ve seen so many good shows at those venues. Playing the Grackle was fun last year and I’ve been to some cool shows at Dirty Dog, Holy Mountain, Frontier Bar and the 29th Street (Spiderhouse) Ballroom.
We’re down to play almost anywhere as long as we can play loud and heavy. We’ve been talking to lots of bands that we are friends with so hopefully we’ll be breaking out into ALL of our favorite venues soon.
Hoff: Red Eyed Fly has always treated us with respect. I enjoyed playing at Red 7 and the Parish too!
Salvaggio: Yeah, it would be cool if all venues had the lights and sound that the Parish has!
Claes: Who are some bands we should check out?
Salvaggio: Ok, I want to name a bunch, but I hope I don’t leave anyone out. If I skip anyone at all, I hope they don’t get offended if I forget because there are tons of great bands in Austin, and we’ve played with a lot of awesome people.
Some of my favorite bands to see are (in no particular order) Boars, The Unmothered, Wet Lungs, Communion, Mala Suerte, The Millipede, Awesome Death, Neon Cobra, Eagle Claw, Skycrawler, Destroyer of Light, Egypt(TX), and most recently Sky Acre.
One of my favorite non heavy bands is Danger*Cakes, they rock the nostalgia/rockabilly tunes like no one else.
Hoff: (Non-Locally) Animals As Leaders!!! Intervals, Periphery, Russian Circles....
Claes: Once Erick recovers, what is on the horizon for Deserts of Mars?
Salvaggio: First of all, we’re making plans for our second album, and we’re working on playing outside of Austin as much as possible. We’re also making plans to play with other friends of ours in heavy bands around town and possibly on tour in our never ending quest to rule the universe.
We’re also part of the Austin Sound Sampler compilation that will be passed around at various venues next week. You can get a preview and/or free download online through bandcamp http://austinsoundsampler.bandcamp.com/
Claes: Anything else to add?
Salvaggio: Just thanks for the interview and that we hope to see new and old Martian Maniacs all over Austin and the rest of the galaxy very soon.
If anyone reads this and picks up the album or visits our sites, feel free to send us a message or email. We love talking to everyone about Mars Metal, music,games, movies and anything else cool and heavy. Check us out on Facebook, Bandcamp, Cdbaby and almost any other digital service, and let us know what you think about Mars Metal.
BONUS: Here's the making of one of Deserts of Mars' posters - a Valentine's Day work: