ROCK & ROLL
The Joshua Tree area has become a hotbed for artists and musicians, many of whom are inspired by creative desert pioneers such as Dave Catching. He’s the man behind the music for heavy-hitting rock bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys, Masters of Reality and many others who have recorded some of their best music at his renowned Rancho de la Luna recording studio.
On my way to meet Catching on a freakishly windy day in the high desert, my GPS routed me through the back roads to his home studio near downtown Joshua Tree. As I drove past funky desert homes with hot rods parked out front and trees adorned with tequila bottles in the yard, I knew I was getting closer to the Rancho. Suddenly, I was in the middle of a makeshift dirt bike track with rockers on motorcycles jumping all around me. One of them pointed me down the road to a curvy stucco home with a wide porch and expansive desert views. I had finally arrived at indie rock’s musical mecca.
“Hi there,” Catching called out as I pulled up to the driveway. “Come on in!”
From the warmth of Catching’s personality to the coziness of his home recording studio, you would not suspect that some of the biggest names in modern rock had worked at the Rancho. Dave Grohl went there to musically reboot after Nirvana ended, and years later recorded a song at the studio for the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways album and documentary. Guitarist Joe Walsh called for a session, but it was already booked by Queens of the Stone Age, whose lead singer, Josh Homme, has collaborated with Catching in numerous bands. Iggy Pop recently recorded there. The A-list goes on and on.
“I’ll be in trouble if I mention any favorite bands from the studio because there have been so many,” says Catching. “Someone will be bummed if I don’t include them.”
A lifelong guitarist and cofounder of desert rock bands Gnarltones, Queens of the Stone Age, earthlings? and Mojave Lords, Catching lives and works as a music producer at the studio he established with his friend Fred Drake in 1993. When Drake passed away from an illness, Catching continued running the studio with chief engineer John Russo, who oversees operations when Catching is on tour with his band Eagles of Death Metal. This year the studio is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“I think a lot of artists came here because Queens of the Stone Age recorded here, which led to the Desert Sessions recordings that brought many different bands together in the studio,” Catching explains. “For the sessions, Josh [Homme] would hand-pick his favorite people, who had never met each other. He thought it was fun to bring a group of uniquely diverse musicians into the desert and see what happened.”
This collaborative, intuitive approach to creating and performing has become the hallmark experience of musicians who have worked at Rancho de la Luna. The results are soulful, cathartic, electrifying and powerful. Ask any musician who has recorded there and he or she will say that some of their best work was created at the Rancho.
“The studio is in a small house near the center of Joshua Tree with a great vibe created by the owners who built it,” says Catching. “They had parties where they would play music and cook with their friends. It’s a very giving, inspiring place for a lot of people. It’s also beautiful and quiet.”
With its long-term reputation for artistic innovation and joyful collaboration, Rancho de la Luna has become its own authentic brand. Anthony Bourdain stopped by the studio for an episode of his foodie television show Parts Unknown. Catching is also launching Rancho de la Luna brand mescal tequila with his Mojave Lords bandmate Kevin Richey. Music fans often try to find the studio, curious about the mystic desert space where their favorite bands recorded.
Catching believes that the Joshua Tree area will always attract the creative community and its patrons. “People need a magical spot, and so far, this place has proved to be one of them,” he reflects. “People seem to feel better when they come here.”