Martin Cooper looks at the style of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from modern American proggers, The Mars Volta, now sadly defunct.
Martin Cooper gets to grips with the proggy style of the amazingly creative Mars Volta.
The Mars VOLTA was a unique prog band from el Paso, Texas. Formed in 2001 from the remnants of an earlier band, at The Drive-In, the most stable line up featured omar rodriguez-lopez on guitar, his brother Marcel on keyboards, Cedric Bixler-Zavala on vocals, Deantoni Parks on drums and Juan alderete (formerly with racer X) on bass. The band may not be household names, but they won a Grammy for the song Wax simulacra in 2009, and were named Best Prog Band by rolling stone magazine the previous year.
The Mars Volta’s debut album, De-loused In The Comatorium, was produced by the legendary rick rubin, but the band felt that rubin had tried to oversimplify the songs to appeal to a mass market, when they actually wanted their music to be a more uncomfortable listen. The record gained very strong reviews and remains their biggest selling album, with over 500,000 copies sold to date.
Mars Volta songs and live shows have often been chaotic and melodically challenging, but they also gained some mainstream success, including a song used in the soundtrack for the popular Playstation baseball game franchise, MlB The show.
Guitar player rodriguez-lopez’s playing is distinctive and characterised by playing in minor keys and modes, highlighting dissonant chromaticism and use of the tritone. he has stated that his influences include King Crimson’s robert Fripp, John Mclaughlin and Jimi hendrix. he has also often tried to make the guitar parts and tone not sound like a guitar wherever possible, and claims that he only really started playing guitar in his band out of necessity!
This month’s track features lots of prog weirdness! It’s in the key of a minor (aB C D eF G) but has a lot of non-diatonic notes. The track begins around a hypnotic a minor Pentatonic riff (aC D e G), and then has a lot of staccato a minor triads and single-note Diminished scale lines. The scale here moves up a semitone, then a tone, then a semitone, then a tone and so on. so in bars 5-12 we have the notes a Bb C C# eb e F# G. I’ve mixed up sharps and flats as it’s easier to think of Bb being the b9, C# being a 3rd, F# being a 6th and so on in relation to the a minor chord.
The solo has some fast 16th-note triplet minor Pentatonic licks, and then a chromatic run that moves up a fret at a time towards the final phrase.
They may not be household names, but The Mars Volta are Grammy award winners, and have been named Best Prog Band by rolling Stone.
Omar RodriguezLopez with cool Ibanez signature