Bob Balch joined Stoner Rock legends Fu Manchu in 1996 at the tender age of 19 and whom he has since gone onto record nine full length albums with. He’s also collaborated in the super-group Sun And Sail Club with Fu Manchu bandmate Scott Reeder, one time Kyuss member Scott Thomas Reeder and Tony Adolescent (Cadena) of LA Hardcore Punk legends The Adolescents.
More recently Balch teamed up with Gary Arce of Desert Scene godfathers Yawning Man as well as a whole slew of musicians too numerous to mention here, to form Big Scenic Nowhere. I had the good fortune to review Vision Beyond Horizon recently which was the follow-up to the Dying On The Mountain EP from 2019. These releases have seen Bob and Gary expanding beyond what is primarily considered to be their genre, experimenting with a mixture of musical styles, making for a fascinating and engaging listen.
Despite this relentless and never-ending schedule Bob was good enough to put aside some time to answer questions from yours truly…
Hi Bob, welcome to The Sleeping Shaman. Please could you give the readers an idea as to where the impetus for Big Scenic Nowhere’s formation came from?
I’ve known Gary since 1997. Fu Manchu used to practice in his garage. We have bumped into each other over the years. The last two years or so I kept writing mellow Pink Floyd like stuff. Gary reached out to jam, we did. I mixed his riffs with mine and there you have it! All that and a mutual love of Del Taco.
Having reviewed the album for the site, one of the things I was struck by and most impressed with was the sheer range of musical diversity. Was this by accident or design?
Design. I wanted to make a record that had peaks and valleys. Every song on there is a different key and beat per minute. I have charts like a total nerd. I think spending time on that kind of thing makes for a cohesive yet diverse record.
The track The Paranoid is one of the shorter tracks on the album and of a significantly different tempo to the rest of the record. It reminded me of Wino who usually tends to do a Hardcore style track with most of his musical projects. How did the track come about?
Tony Reed offered that one up. It was all done. He played all the instruments and sang. I went back in and re-recorded guitars. His son played bass. Came together quick.
Please take us through the process for the recording of the album. Where was it recorded, how quickly did it take for the songs to come together, who produced it, etc etc.
When I jammed with Gary I took all the riffs home and made song structures out of them. It took one five hour jam and two days of structuring stuff to get the demo together. I recorded everything myself and then had people come in and record over my ideas with their own. We re-recorded drums in one day, bass on another. I went home and added my guitars. Gary came here and added his. We would get vocal takes via email to add. Keys too. It was a really fun couple of months getting it all together. I lost a ton of sleep but had a killer time doing it.
Is the album a continuation of the Dying on the Mountain EP released last year in terms of musical and lyrical themes?
It was the same session for the drums and bass. Not sure about the lyrics, you’d have to ask the five singers on there. 🙂
As a massive art geek, album covers always interest me. Both of Big Scenic Nowhere’s releases to date have a distinctly Salvador Dali, surrealist quality (to my eyes). Is there a story/concept with regards to the artwork?
Max Löffler did the art. Same guy that did the EP. He rules. I just told him the title and said it was a “heady” record. He came back with what you see. Super talented guy.
How did the connection with Italian label Heavy Psych Sounds come about?
They have worked with Yawning Man in the past. They have a big online presence. I figured they would be a perfect fit.
A Fu Manchu related question now. You joined the band in 1996 after the departure of Eddie Glass and Ruben Romano to Nebula. How did the recruitment process come about? Did you know Scott Hill before signing up, had you seen the band before and were they on your radar?
I was a fan. They wrote “In Search Of…” in my friend’s garage when I was in high school. The black car on the cover belongs to another friend of mine. I started working at a guitar store after high school. I actually replaced Taylor from the Foo Fighters there. He went to go tour with Alanis Morissette. Brad Davis the bass player for Fu worked there too. I would jam to jazz records instead of working all the time. It was a fun job. He told me they needed a guitar player after hearing me play. I was only 19 but they took me in and changed my life. We are going to tour on Fu’s 30th anniversary this year. Time goes by too quick!
What are some of your earliest musical memories? Did you play in any bands/projects prior to joining Fu Manchu?
Misfits covers in 8th grade. A few originals too. We were named MINOTAUR. There is one video of a garage performance to about 30 8th graders. Then I was in funk band in high school. Trying to play 70s funk. Then Fu Manchu.
I saw The Well perform at Levitation in Austin last year. How did the collaboration with Lisa Alley and Ian Graham come about? This question also applies to legendary Chris Cornell collaborator Alain Johannes.
I met The Well when they opened for Fu Manchu like 8 years ago? I ran into them again to interview them for my website www.PlayThisRiff.com. I dig them a lot. Stoked they agreed to be part of this. I don’t know Alain but Gary does. I can’t believe he is on the record. One of the most talented people I have ever worked with.
Do Big Scenic Nowhere have any plans to tour soon and could we be seeing an appearance in the UK?
Got some local festivals coming in May. I’ll be on the road with Fu Manchu most of 2020 but anything is possible. We would love to come over there to rock.
Finally, I wish to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Is there anything you wish to plug, any new projects in the works, bands you want to recommend etc?
My website www.PlayThisRiff.com. I teach guitar on Skype. You can email at PlayThisRiff [at] gmail [dot] com about that. I just started sending tracks for a SLAYER cover band named SLOWER. We play Slayer songs tuned down to C standard and slow them way down. Steven Hanford from Poison Idea on drums. Still adding members.
Interviewed by: Reza Mills