At the time of writing this, Omar Rodríguez-López has twenty-four solo records that he has released since 2004 and many other releases with various projects. By the time you finish reading this interview, there may be a couple more. Soon to return to our shores with his new band and a swag of unheard material, as well as a cinematic piece in the Mexican Film Festival, KYS had a chat to the man himself to see what’s going on is his busy world and where his creative energy comes from.
So your next tour is also timed with the release of a film in the ‘Mexican Film Festival,’ can you tell us a little bit about that?
[Pause] …Oh shit, that’s right! In Adelaide right?
Oh cool. Yeah, it’s called ‘Los Chidos’ it’s a feature length, it’s a satire, I wrote it and produced it and directed it and it’s playing at a bunch of festivals now. I didn’t realise that it is right around when we are playing there, that’s really cool.
It’ll be about a week before your show.
What is your connection to film, why make a movie?
Well film is what I’ve wanted to do, and what I’ve been doing. Music is just always what’s there, it’s part of the culture and part of my family, everyone in my family plays something and Puerto Rican culture revolves around improvising songs when people are in the room, the whole family thing is structured around food and music so that was never even a thought to do music because you were doing it all the time. What I always wanted to do was do films and when my Dad was able to buy his first VHS recorder, like most people who end up making films, I just recorded from that and edited from tape deck to tape deck, then I got my first film camera and he taught me how to thread it and so on and so forth. So I made a bunch of shorts, then I made my first feature length in 2001 and have always been just doing it for awhile.
For the upcoming tour what will be different from the last tour as it wasn’t that long ago that you were here?
It’s a whole different set of material, last time it was a three piece, this time I’ve started a whole new group called Bosnian Rainbows, we’ll be playing all new material and it’s a four piece. We have Teri Gender Bender from Le Butcherettes singing, we have Deantoni Parks on drums and keyboards and Nicky Casper on bass and keys as well. It’s all new music as well.
Let’s talk a little bit about the latest Mars Volta record which I felt was quite different to most other releases, shorter songs, different feel all round, was that a conscious decision by the band?
Yes and no, every record that you make you want it to sound different so you saying it sounds different from the rest, that is the best compliment that you can give to my whole catalogue because that’s what you hope to achieve when you go through the process. Now the process itself is marked by you examining yourself and all around you and seeing what kind of growth you’ve made from the last time you made a record. I’m talking about what kind of growth you made as a person and your own personal conflicts and experiences and examining, definitely the way you grew, but more importantly the areas in which you failed and trying to take that to a new place. So as a result of that process hopefully you find that the record sounds completely different, when you’re failing at it or you just don’t care about it then it will start sounding the same.
Considering the amount of music you release through various projects, how do you decide which music goes where?
I guess I don’t is the best way to answer that. You just write a bunch of material and then you get to live out whatever you fancy at that moment. So if it’s time to make a Mars Volta record you look at like three hundred compositions and go "oh it will be cool to do this one, this one sounds very Mars Volta, this one doesn’t sound like it so that would be cool to do" so you just start playing with things like that then you try some and you record them and some stuff works great and other stuff you decide isn’t up to par so you throw it to the side and it becomes something else and record it with a different group and you know, it’s just one big, fun, experiment really.
Do you ever get creatively tired?
No, no, because I think the best way for me to describe it is that it is expressive, so I’m not really creating anything, I’m discovering things, again going back to, I’m discovering things about myself and I’m discovering things about the people around me so that happens through expression and expressing yourself and saying how you feel or just feeling how you feel, we do that all day long, even if you work in an office you’re doing that all day long. In fact, the people who don’t express themselves in some shape or form are the ones who ultimately become completely sick and give in to neurosis, and those are the people who do anything ranging from walking out on the street one day and shooting a bunch of people to just drinking yourself to death or whatever. A spirit that can’t express itself is destined for torture. So if you get to express yourself all of the time, you’re just doing it, so there is nothing to be tired about, it’s quite the opposite, it’s a fucking release, you get to let it all out and anytime somebody has been mean to you or somebody has been bad and they know it or you have figured out that somebody didn’t tell you the truth or the other side, where you had a great experience with someone, or when you fell in love with the woman of your dreams, you know, all that stuff you get to let it out and that is so important, again, not letting it out is a sickness of the human condition.
On many of your solo records you actually have John Frusciante, formerly of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers performing the guitar parts, I’m curious as to how that relationship came about?
We met at a club years ago, one of my band’s De Facto was playing, and John was a fan of De Facto so he was there, and I just met this guy in the crowd and we started talking about Louis Benoit films and I said that I didn’t know anybody else who liked Louis Benoit and he was like "Oh yeah you should come over to my house and we’ll watch some" and I was like "Oh yeah let’s do that, have you got such and such, cool I haven’t seen that, let’s do it." So I went round his house and he had a bunch of guitars and he was like "Oh yeah I play in this group Red Hot Chilli Peppers" so it was kinda like that. I personally didn’t know anything about the Chilli Peppers besides obviously just knowing the name because they were one of the biggest groups around, but I didn’t know obviously what any of them looked like or what their songs were besides that bridge down town song (Under The Bridge) and so it was nice you know, it was nice for him and it was nice for me.
It was a true friendship that started over a love for Louis Benoit and then we started playing some music together as you would with another person who loves music and then eventually you realise that one of your closest friends is quite literally a musical genius so you just try to pick up as much as you can from that person and make sure that you are having a good time and that results in records together when you can. He is also a go-to person because I can write a lot of things that I can’t even play, I write things that I hear in my head and can’t play sometimes so it’s nice to have a master musician, and also a lot of the times hearing the thoughts I had in my head become a tangible reality, or even just seeing him do it, then all of a sudden I’m able to do it. So that works out good too because I’m a very visual person, I don’t have any musical training or theory or anything, it’s more like when I tried skateboarding when I was a kid, if I watched somebody do it I could do it, "Oh, that’s how you do an ollie? What are you doing with your back leg there, ohhh ok," so it’s the same when somebody plays guitar and they can play something or find their way around something and I can look at their hand then I get it and I can do it. [laughs]
It’s really interesting that you didn’t know anything about him when you guys met, that’s a cool little twist, people probably wouldn’t have thought it went down that way.
Yeah it was great, and like I said it was De Facto so it was like a small, two hundred person club and the fact that he was coming from a band that big and even knew who De Facto was just shows his interest in everything music related and everything that happens with records and [laughs], when I first went to his house I took him a copy of the first Mars Volta EP because he liked De Facto and I said “here this is this brand new thing that we’re doing and we’re gonna be giving all our energy to” and the next time I visited him a couple of nights later he was like “Yeah man that’s so cool on the record how you do this and this” and I realised as we were having the conversation that he had learned and memorised and was able to play the entire EP from front to back, all the parts.
Wow, that’s amazing.
[Laughs] I know right? He was getting excited about things, and he knows all this theory so he was like “Oh, it’s great how you put that seventh over the third and the five” and all that kinda talk and he’s playing it for me so slowly I’m realising he learnt this whole thing that I wrote then broke it down in his mind which is really impressive.
So next question I’m going to apologise in advance for because I’m sure you have had it a million times, but I have to ask about the At The Drive In reunion. I’m curious as to what the catalyst was to get that happening and why?
Because that’s just how time works you know? And by the way don’t feel bad about asking, I should be so lucky because this is why I get to just make shit up and dream for a living and go all over the world, so anyway, that’s just how life works, like one guy starts talking to another and this guy was in this particular situation and it comes together. Keep in mind that three years before that we had buried the hatchet, I invited all of those guys to my house when I was still living in Mexico and they all came down so we could just bury the hatchet once and for all and be adults together and we had an incredible time and that led to us talking about what we wanted to do with the catalogue because we were about to get the rights to our record’s back, the records we had made back then and every year we were getting the rights to one of them back so Jim has a label and I have a label so we started dealing with our friendship, then months later we started dealing with business and then things were becoming a reality, then the fucking offer from Coachella came and it all sort of came together.
The catalyst for me personally in a most tangible way was to be with my friends that I basically grew up with and to right my wrongs. I essentially left that band and from one day to the next and disbanding it there were a lot of crazy feelings there. I mean, I’ve known Paul since I was twelve, he’s the first person I played music with to put it in perspective. People always ask wether or not I’m having fun because of how I look on stage and all of these outside perceptions but for me it’s about everything else besides the music, and it’s great that it is about the music for everyone else but for me this is my life I’m living it, this is music that we wrote when we were kids, I have absolutely no emotional attachment to it but what I do have the complete emotional attachment to is the people who I created it with. The music is just a bi-product of the chemistry of the people in the group. We are trying to re-establish our chemistry as adults and see what’s up I mean, last time I saw Tony man he was one person, now I see him ten years later and he’s another person, I’m another person, Jim is definitely a different person, people have kids now, they’re married, you just start learning all these new things about each other and how we dealt with our neurosis along the way and that is the important stuff. Also as I say in every interview obviously they offered us a good amount of money to do it and we should be so lucky that eleven years later people care about something so much that we did when we were kids, that’s crazy, people care about it more now than we were a band, you know it’s insane.
My last very quick question which I am asking for a friend is what is your desert island pedal? So if you could only have one pedal on a desert island, what would it be?
Definitely the Electro Harmonix Memory Man, the big fucker.
Thanks for your time today man and we’ll see you on the tour.
Thank you so much man.