Kyle Stratton, the brains behind the band Atala, is a man with bold, straightforward views on politics, the state of the human condition, the economic and social climate of today’s America—and his right to pursue art and music on his own terms.

His diversity stems from adversity, and he expresses himself through multiple mediums, answering only to himself. He seems to vibrate at a frequency that penetrates the middle earth—he’s a true lover of the underground as a painter, a tattoo artist, guitarist and a psych-rock composer. He visits dark places and creates twisted spaces that are oddly welcoming. Once you enter his headspace, you’ll realize he is a master at fusing the dark and the light. Using spray-paint cans and canvas, double-stacks and single notes, he sends out shockwaves as he explores cosmic meltdowns that produce paradoxes. He has a beautiful way of taking simple ideas to complex places.

His American Art and Tattoo Studio in Twentynine Palmsis an amazing place where Kyle and other desert artists showcase their original art; it is also where he operates his thriving tattoo business. Inside, it feels as if you’ve swallowed a little pill and fallen down the rabbit hole: The walls are alive with texture, vines, plants, speaking eyeballs, mad murals and fine works of art. Together, it all seems to tell a story, about a broken-down society turned beautiful through the eyes and imaginations of a special group of artists.

“I came to the high desert in 2003, right after the birth of my son and a divorce. I wanted to start over, slow down and escape from it all,” Stratton said. “I opened my first tattoo store, and everything just fell together for me.

“In 2007, I opened my second shop, American Art Studio. Moving to the desert was the best thing I ever did. Here, I was able to disappear from the radar, hide away from the stressed-out city lifestyle, and avoid the fucked-up system.”

And as for the future? “I will never leave,” he said

I first saw Kyle Stratton, the guitarist, with his former band, Rise of the Willing. The band’s loud, distorted, aggressive approach to music conjured up images of a Mad Max-style existence in the high-desert landscape. In 2014, Stratton felt the calling to create music of a different frequency, and he left to start a new band, Atala.

He enlisted drummer Jeff Tedtaotao, and later added bassist and former Rise of the Willing bandmate John Chavarria. Even before Chavarria signed on, the fledgling project attracted the attention of producer (and former Kyuss bassist) Scott Reeder. After seeing just one rehearsal, Reeder invited Atala to record at his ranch and studio, The Sanctuary, in Banning. Within a month, the group had written the body of work that would become Atala’s debut record, thanks to the pressure to quickly produce songs that would live forever in front of one of their heroes.

“Atala isn’t looking to be the next great stadium favorite,” Stratton said. “We just want to explore new sounds and connect with real fans of avant-garde metal.”

The band has been touring with well-developed psych-rock and doom-metal bands like A’rk, Colombian Necktie, and Castle (a super-heavy and musical duo from the San Francisco Bay Area). Atala has enlisted managerial support from Machine Head’s original drummer, Tony Costanza, who has been the backbone of thrash-metal cult favorites Crowbar, Crisis and Debris Inc.

On Friday, Jan. 30, Atala will open for Karma to Burn at Loaded in Hollywood. Karma to Burn is a stoner-rock band from West Virginia that has intersected with the cream of the desert rock scene crop again and again: The band’s four album, Appalachian Incantation, was produced by Reeder, with one song featuring Kyuss frontman John Garcia.

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