Last I checked, the amount of cacti, venomous reptiles and sand in New York City was pretty minimal, and the same goes for Berlin, London, and I assume Antwerp. So what the hell is a Desertfest? First off, the connotation refers to Kyuss and their contemporaries out in Sky Valley who helped shape a sound loosely known as Desert Rock, a genre based on smoking bales of weed and playing guitar rock through monoliths of amplifiers. I mean, I guess Sabbath got there first, but then again they didn’t release ten records celebrating the sacraments. If you need a primer on the origins, pack a bowl and spend a quality ninety minutes catching up.
This year marks the first time the organizers are putting on an event over on this side of the Atlantic, and of course the lineup is stacked with plenty of heavy hitters from the scene. The set up is on a lower scale than the European events, with Friday being held at the cozy confines of St. Vitus, and Saturday and Sunday are at The Well, a complex with two stages. Alongside riff merchants such as Weedeater, Black Cobra, Windhand and Monolord there are a couple of local bands who have made a name for themselves with their own distinct takes on what heavy rock can offer. Elder is a veteran of these events, and Worshipper is just starting to dip their collective toes in the Desertfest tide pool. I had a chance to send some questions to Nick DiSalvo from Elder and John Brookhouse of Worshipper, so let’s get right to it.
DigBoston: By Setlist.fm’s count, Elder has played 8 Desertfests so far. What do you like about this festival that continues to draw you back? Do you see any regional differences between the events in Germany, England and Belgium? What do you expect for the first NYC event?
Nick DiSalvo: Desertfest London was one of the first festivals in Europe to welcome Elder to its lineup and really opened the doors to us for a lot of the success we’ve had later on down the road. That in itself is enough reason to be grateful, but we’ve always had such a great time at the series – be it in London, Berlin or Antwerp – and connected so well with the organizers that it’s been a joy to play whenever we’re invited. Bringing the festival franchise to the USA is an exciting move that I think a lot of people have been hoping for, filling in a hole that’s been gaping for a while in the northeastern festival landscape, and we’re expecting nothing less than a great time as always.
DigBoston: Also, this is your second tour (i think!) as a four piece… have you worked in any new songs or arrangements into the set list? Can we expect a new song to be played?
Nick DiSalvo: If you’re counting the few US dates we’re doing right now as a tour (I don’t expect you to always know what’s up with us) this will have already been something like our 4th or 5th tour as a four piece – it goes quick when you tour this much!! Though we’ve been moving quickly with new material and are already planning a new LP for 2020, we won’t be playing any music from that at this festival. Given our limited set time, we will try to work in some material from our upcoming EP on Blues Funeral but even that’s a little difficult when all your songs are about 10 minutes long!
DigBoston: You kick off your Desertfest experience in NYC this weekend and then hit two more in London and Berlin…do you approach gigs in festivals differently from other shows?
John Brookhouse: Well, you definitely want to make an effort to put on a tighter “show” at a festival, but at the same time, you don’t want to present yourself as a completely different band. So basically, try to make sure you do some tight segues and don’t dick around awkwardly between songs and keep the energy up. It’s nice if you can find that balance between being a little loose and making sure you hit all the marks.
DigBoston: Your new record, Light In The Wire, is finally released to the masses soon. What is your favorite new song to play and why?
John Brookhouse: Oh, that’s a tough call. We’ve been playing most of the songs from it live for about a year now. My favorite would probably be “Visions from Beyond,” simply because it starts with a little atmospheric jam which is basically pure improvisation until I kick into the intro. Plus it kind of has a “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” vibe to it, so it kind of feels like we’re Pink Floyd for a hot second.
DigBoston: You are paired with The Skull for a bunch of shows in Europe. I just got back from Roadburn where At The Gates had Matt Pike sit in as guest vocalist on “The Tempter.” If The Skull asked you to jam out a Skull or Trouble song, which one would be you ready to rock out to?
John Brookhouse: Man, I would loved to have seen that. For me, it would probably be “Black Shapes of Doom.” A lot of their older ones, I can’t imagine having to learn because they have a million parts to them. I still have pretty fond memories of staying up to watch Headbanger’s Ball and catching the “Psychotic Reaction” video. If I could tell 14 year old me I’d be touring with some of those guys in the future, I would flip out!
Three day passes and tickets to the Friday show at St. Vitus are sold out, but tickets for Sat/Sun still remain. Grab your battle vest and head down to Gotham, you won’t be disappointed.