A trickle of music becomes a deluge
> But busy guitarist maintains his focus on terrain of Mars
Special to The Commercial Appeal
For Omar RodríguezLópez, the guitarist and chief sonic mastermind of the progressive rock group The Mars Volta, making music is a constant process.
With “no social life per se,” the El Paso, Texas, native spends most of his time writing and recording, becoming famous for his cache of unreleased music and even frequently giving complete original albums to friends as gifts.
“There’s this big myth to songwriting and to ideas … that it’s this special thing,” says Rodríguez-López, dismissing creative inspiration. “For me, it’s the opposite. I consider it, in a way, janitorial work. You have a leaky sink, and then you put a bucket under it. To me, if anything, there’s tons of things that escape and tons of things that you don’t use, sometimes out of laziness and sometimes out of the sheer fact that not every song or idea should be recorded.”
Of late, however, Rodríguez-López has hit a particularly rich vein of ideas and the trickle of music has become a deluge. The past two years have seen a torrent of releases and projects from the producer/composer/musician, including collaborations with artists like Lydia Lunch, actress-turned-rocker Juliette Lewis, and screenwriter/director Guillermo Arriaga, for whom Rodríguez-López contributed to the score of this year’s The Burning Plain starring Charlize Theron.
Amid all that, he has also been putting out a steady stream of recordings — seven this year alone — under his solo banner and that of his new eponymous side band.
“I don’t really know why I felt like putting them all out now,” confesses Rodríguez-López, who releases most of his product under his own self-titled imprint. “A lot of times it’ll be random ... other times friends will say, ‘Whatever happened to that? You should put that out.’ ”
Still for all his fecundity, Rodríguez-López’s main focus remains The Mars Volta, the Grammy-winning band he formed in 2001 with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The band will be in Memphis on Monday night performing at Minglewood Hall.
Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala met in El Paso in the early ’90s and played in a succession of bands together before first making waves with the punk-influenced alternative group At The Drive-In.
In 2001, Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala, unhappy with the musical direction of At The Drive-In, left to form The Mars Volta. (The remaining members of At The Drive-In then went on to start Sparta.) The new group combined psychedelic experimentation with dense, progressive rock musicality, science fiction elements, and a surprising Latin influence to create their new, challenging sound.
“There’s a lot of Latin influence in all my music, but it doesn’t have to be direct and it doesn’t have to be linear and it doesn’t have to heard to understand it. It just has to be perceived,” says Rodríguez-López, who cites ’70s salsa star Larry Harlow as a key early influence. “I sent him our first EP … and he said he really loved the music. He didn’t completely understand it, but he said he could hear and perceive such a deep salsa influence in it even though it was nothing like anything he had understood or heard or written himself.”
In June, The Mars Volta released its fifth LP, Octahedron, on Warner Brothers. The follow-up to their Grammy-winning album The Bedlam In Goliath, Rodríguez-López began work on Octahedron about the same time and finished it in just three weeks.
In his typical prolific way, Rodríguez-López announced earlier this year that the follow-up to Octahedron was already complete, but since then he has backpedaled, choosing to shelve that album in favor of a new one he is working on.
“I don’t know what its going to sound like because I’m in the middle of it right now and maybe this won’t end up being the final product either,” he says.
“... A lot of times I’ll get done with something, and I’ll go, ‘That’s not me anymore.’ I always say, ‘In between every Mars Volta there’s another Mars Volta record you never get to hear.’ ’’
Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala play with a Latin influence, ‘‘but it doesn’t have to be linear.’’