Introducing: Deserts of Mars

Describing their musical style as ‘Mars Metal’, Austin, TX-based DESERTS OF MARS produce a dynamic sonic mixture of stoner rock, grunge, metal, and doom/industrial shrouded in a heartfelt sci-fi/storytelling aesthetic. DoM founding member and bassist/vocalist Tony Salvaggio fills in the blanks:

What are the origins of the band, how long have Deserts of Mars been playing together?

I started Deserts of Mars when I thought I was done with playing music after a previous band broke up. I found I couldn’t stop playing, and some co-workers from a game company I was working at decided to start jamming. Everyone was cool with my playing bass in my rhythm guitar style way, and the rocket ship took off. We had some lineup changes and hit our stride in 2011. No real drama there, just things that happen in life and opportunities/careers/interests that ebb and flow when you are an adult. Billy Garretsen and Bob Hoff really defined our music and approach (Billy was THE defining artist for our visual approach), and putting out our first album, “Transmission,” with that lineup was amazing.

Morgan [Morgan Faber – drums] started in 2014, and we’ve been playing together since then. Bradley Barnes joined us in 2018, and we wrote some killer tunes together with that lineup through 2019’s “Return from the Void” and into the initial tracking of our latest album, “Dead Planet Exodus.” We’ve recently been joined by Kotah Mack on guitar, and we’re booking shows as we build towards the new album release.

DoM is my purest form of expression and suits what I like doing creatively, so I have had to keep the interstellar engines burning all these years. Credit where credit is due, I’ve been blessed to work with many great people, collaboratively crafting these tunes/albums.

What should people expect when they check the band out? How would you describe Deserts of Mars?  

Hard rocking intensity, super fuzzy bass, and heaviness with hooks. We want to get people headbanging and shaking it while keeping it true to our love of metal, doom, industrial, and sludgy grunge. Lyrically it’s a mix of sci-fi themes and life experiences often melding into metaphor. The bands we get compared to the most are Monster Magnet, with some Motorhead in the mix. I think that is fair.

We coined the term Mars Metal because we are firmly in the Stoner Rock/Desert Rock genre, but we all have many disparate musical tastes that we bring together. For example, you might hear some hip-hop or nu-metal beats from Billy on Transmission, but the driving style is still Stoner Rock. Morgan brings a more metal approach, and we share a love of Maiden, prog, and hard rock (we bonded over a mutual appreciation of Corrosion of Conformity’s “Blind” album). Every guitarist has brought their own sensibilities as well, but it comes together in a big mash-up of Sci-Fi heavy fury, with influences from games, books, comics, and films channeled through passion, perseverance, and all the things life throws at us.

How did you feel performing your first gig as a band, and how was it?!

It’s been a while, but I remember being nervous (I think I’m always a bit nervous before the stage sound kicks in), but ready to get back out there. It was the culmination of a lot of jamming/practice/putting together demos, and all three of us (Billy, Deryk Wen [for that first stretch], and myself) at the time were finding our way towards what Mars Metal would become. We had rad visuals thanks to Billy, and we were stoked about the tunes, so anticipation was high. It was great to get back out there, but as it goes, it was a blur. I still have some great pics from that time period, from venues that are no longer with us in Austin, and I treasure that nervous excitement and those first steps in a major way.

What are you working on at the minute that people can check out?

We just released our first single, “Crimson Mountain,” for the next album, “Dead Planet Exodus,” and we’ll be releasing a couple more in the near future as we approach some labels. We worked hard with our friend and outstanding producer, Jeff Henson (he did our last EP, and has produced a ton of amazing bands as well as rockin’ guitar in Duel), at Red Nova Ranch, Jeff Klein (formerly of Destroyer of Light, Greenbeard, and Abject Terror) added some killer guitar, and the result is something we are really proud of.

As we were writing, “Dead Planet Exodus” became a loose concept album about a group of astronauts (possibly the ones who escaped the Void in our previous EP) crashing on a planet full of monsters, evil warlocks, and a population in fear as they try to rally and escape. I love sci-fi themes and winding some metaphors throughout it, so it was cool to enter that mindset and tell this tale that mirrors my own wishes to escape and break the band out into the stratosphere.

In terms of a similar audience, which band out there at the minute do you feel Deserts of Mars would be best suited to open for?

On a personal level, I would love to open for Voivod, but Monster Magnet, Dozer, Orange Goblin, Big Business, and Boris would all work really well if we are talking big names. If we made it to Japan, I would love to open for Ningen Isu; they Rule. I wish I could go back in time and open for the Flower Travellin band; that was something I dreamed about years ago. Of course, there are tons of great local bands and the whole lineup at fests like Ripplefest, Duna Jam, etc., that we would love to play with.

Excluding yourself, which new band would you like to see break out and become a success?

I’ve been really digging what our friends in Mean Mistreater have been putting out. It’s high-energy rock fury—great stuff. I have a lot of friends in bands, and I feel kind of bad without going into a 50-100 band list, so I’m going to go with my first instinct for this one.

What frustrates you about the music business?

For me, keeping up with social media and streaming is often a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is unprecedented access to music and bands from all over the world. I can keep 90% of the music I’ve collected over the years in a tiny computer in my pocket, and I can speak to bands and fans worldwide. That, along with Bandcamp, is a game changer in many ways, but even it is touched by corporate buyout risks.

However, as a band leader, I have to keep up with so many disparate bits it can sometimes seem overwhelming. Promoting across multiple platforms and ensuring everything is in order, with an eye towards constantly creating new content, takes a lot of planning and work.

Then on the streaming side, your worth is also determined by how many streams you have on certain services, no matter the quality of the music. I think, in many ways, the constant stream of art across the board has diminished the value of artists. It’s easy to skip through songs as almost background noise, and it’s all thumbs up or thumbs down, with little room for enjoying the moment or spending time on the nuance of things.

It was already on the decline, but I often think that in the age of streaming, we’ve also lost some of the value in crafting an album that takes you on a musical journey from start to finish. I still try to do that even if no one cares. I also sometimes miss the discovery aspect of going into a record store and finding some treasure you never knew you were missing, which happens less and less for a variety of reasons.

Touring is also becoming increasingly difficult to make profitable as prices rise and overseas visas become more expensive and require more effort to obtain.

We live in a strange time of amazing reach and the ability to hear so many awesome bands, but trying to rise above the signal to noise and make art no matter what is often daunting. But we keep on keeping on, finding the real ones who give you support and spread the word, and trying to remain ever thankful when someone picks up an album or comes to a show and truly loves what you are throwing out there into the universe.

What are your first musical memories? And what was the lightbulb moment that made you go “I want to do that”?

I played clarinet in marching band in junior high and high school and my parents were constantly playing music, so it has always been a part of my life. I spent a lot of time in front of the stereo (and eventually on my cheap Walkman knockoff), but when I discovered metal in junior high (thanks to my stepbrother and step-cousin), I really started getting charged up. I lived in a really tiny rural area, so finding new bands and cool stuff was a challenge. So I clung to that. The threats and derision during the Satanic Panic era of the 1980s only made me cling to it more.

The true turning point was when I discovered Voivod’s Nothingface. I loved art, and finding out that the cover was done on a computer AND it was for a metal band really hit me. It’s a big part of why I wanted to play music and get into animation. I didn’t pick up a cheap bass until college, but as soon as I did, I knew that was where it was at! I couldn’t put it down! If I wasn’t doing art, I was on our couch with that bass in my hand, playing along to Misfits, Ministry, Warrior Soul, and whatever came up on Headbanger’s ball. That led to playing in an industrial band that was influenced by Skinny Puppy and Godflesh, and eventually, I moved to Austin and ended up auditioning for a Darkwave band with the person who would eventually become my wife. Metal and industrial music changed my life!

As far as DoM goes, once I heard Kyuss and Monster Magnet in college and got into all the bands on Meteor City and All That Is Heavy in the late 90s, I was hooked and knew that was the direction I wanted to go.

What was the last gig that you attended as a fan?

I recently went to Deep Cross, Destroyer of Light, and Messa. We’re lucky to have rad places like The Lost Well in Austin. I HIGHLY recommend seeing Messa any time you can. They are FANTASTIC.

What current social issue are you particularly passionate about?

That’s a tough question for me. I have a lot on my mind, and the last decade has ramped that up in so many ways. There are so many injustices worldwide that it’s hard to separate out what is at the forefront. There is a lot we have to solve if we care about our fellow humans.

I keep coming back to why I wrote a song on the album called “Shilluminati” and how much corporate greed affects us all daily. At the store, while trying to keep a roof over our heads and care about the ones we love, and how hard it is to not look at it all in despair. In addition to that, greed, the constant need for Content, and instant gratification are grinding up art and creativity into a gray paste. That isn’t to say there aren’t other issues that are as important (or more important, we can multitask to fight injustice and help where we can), but it is on my mind a lot. It affects what we see and hear and how we interact with people around us more and more every day. My place in this, like the corporations I buy from and how I support these systems, also weighs on me.

The only way forward I see is just to try to help where I can, to be an ally to good people, to fix things where we can, and maybe also, through art and music, find some solace from the maelstrom of things that try to crush us every day.

The album that you have in your album collection/Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?

I have a pretty big music collection, and I add a lot of stuff to my playlists, so you’ll find a lot of old-skool hip-hop like RunDMC, random pop groups like Lake Placid, Anime and video game soundtracks (Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack is a desert island CD for me), Strongbad, Weird Al, and a ton of 80s pop. It’s a wild ride if you are with me when my playlist is on random.

Everybody is a fan of something, who or what are you a fan of?

I’m probably a fan of too many things. In addition to constantly trying to find new music, I am a huge film buff, I love comics (mostly manga lately) and reading. Watching and collecting movies has taken up most of my non-music time lately. I end up going to festivals and watching 40+ movies in a week, mostly genre films (martial arts, horror, sci-fi), and I’m digging the boutique labels like Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, and Terror Vision, doing cool releases and 4k prints/Blu-rays. I am currently trying to find more room for CDs/movie/anime discs.

I also play a ton of video games (I was an animator for games for a long time, and I’ve been playing games since I could reach the buttons on Space Invaders ) and am an avid collector. If I’m not watching movies, at a show, or working on DoM stuff, I’m probably playing video games.

What new music have you been enjoying so far this year?

I keep a steady flow of Ripple, Glory or Death, and Heavy Psyche bands in rotation; great releases are always coming out there.

I tend to buy a lot of CDs at shows, and I am probably missing a bunch of bands I dig, but off the top of my head, I’ve recently been spinning:

Mean Mistreater
Castle Club
Temple of Love
Destroyer of Light
Howling Giant
Vitskär Süden
Vermillion Whiskey
Mammoth Caravan
Duel (the new singles are GREAT!)

I’m also stoked about the new Orange Goblin, Uncle Acid, and Riot V albums.

What does 2024 hold for Deserts of Mars?

Our big releasing a couple of new singles as a lead-up to the release of “Dead Planet Exodus.” We’re trying to play out and tour as much as possible with our new lineup to get the new tunes into as many ears, minds, and hearts as possible. As always, we strive to hang with new and old fans, play with cool bands we dig, and transmit Mars Metal out into the universe.

How active are you on social media, and where can people connect with you?

We are most active on Instagram and Facebook, but I stay on top of things elsewhere. I’m constantly looking at cool Stoner Rock/music sites on Facebook groups; there are a lot of like-minded musicians/music lovers there. I also like to see feedback on Bandcamp; that is always awesome.

Our home site:

Thanks a million for the opportunity to interview and for supporting bands like this! It means the world!!

Band Promo Photos – Erik Bredthauer – NecroBlanca Photography

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