The Mars Volta: A Coqui for the Young Miss

Join us as we get down and dirty and talk about their latest album, free expression, and hair care.


The Mars Volta is the band that rose from the ashes of the phenomenal band At the Drive-In. While Mars Volta has a similarly styled aural attack, they are crafting epic music capable of overwhelming all of your senses at once.

A couple of hours before their show at Mississippi Nights, Playback St. Louis sat down with guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on a rusty stairwell in a dirty alley. Join us as we get down and dirty and talk about their latest album, free expression, and hair care.

How do you feel about comparisons to King Crimson, Pink Floyd, or Geddy Lee?

Most people need things simplified for them in order to make a connection. That’s like saying, “I saw this painting, and it had red in it, and it had green.” You know, people can relate. They know what red is, and they know what green is. It’s the equivalent of saying King Crimson and Pink Floyd; these are big colors that they can use to give a ballpark figure of what kind of images they’re talking about.

What was it like working with producer Rick Rubin?

It was good. He’s a very mellow individual, which was exactly what we need. We needed someone who was going to be sensitive to our music and what we were doing. Someone not completely emotionally attached to it, like we are, and [with] a different perspective, but that was also able to, you know, give themselves over to the music. He was the most perfect person we could make this record with.

What was it like touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

They’re really good friends of ours, so it was like a big slumber party. We exchanged ideas about art, music, and literature, and we spent most of our time buying books for each other and eating really great meals together. And it was great on the level of playing, because it was really challenging for us, which was why we took the tour. It’s one thing to play for 500 people who really love your music and are there to hear what you do, but it’s a completely different feeling to go and play in front of 9,000 people who have no idea who you are and could care less. It really challenges you; that was what we needed at that point in time.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mars Volta are kind of on the same level as far as fusing soul, jazz, and funk. Would you say that they were influences of yours growing up?

No, I never really listened to them growing up. If anything, I share the same influences [with them]. It was more of what they were listening to; this is what we found in common with each other: loving King Crimson, loving Fela Kuti, and loving these types of sounds. I think that’s what brings us together and makes us kindred spirits.

In reading my well-worn copy of YM, I noticed you guys are in the top ten music column, along with Justin Timberlake and Avril Lavigne. How do feel about that?

[Laughs, looking incredibly shocked.] Really? What is this YM? [I explain.] That’s the first I’ve heard about it. I think that it’s interesting, definitely, that we could be put alongside somebody like Justin Timberlake. I mean, if anything, it sounds like a positive thing that someone can compare, you know, this really stale pop music and then say, “I also like this band, which is coming from a completely different place.” It says something about the growing attention span of teenagers…maybe, or maybe not.

Would you prefer to be a cult artist for the rest of your career, or are you more in pursuit of the fame, the money, the girls?

I never had the pursuit of money or girls or anything like that. I have one pursuit, and that’s pure expression, and so, wherever that is, that’s where I’m going. My only goal is to be able to have an outlet—other than [that] of vocabulary, of words and painting. [Laughs.] Because I am not as good a painter as I am a guitar player.

In your press kit, I noticed the term “prog rock” comes up a lot. I was wondering if you consider yourself “prog rock”?

Not at all. When people say, “We consider you a progressive band,” I think of the word “progressive” and of the quite literal meaning, “to move forward, to progress.” [It’s] a progression from the last thing we were doing, a progression from At the Drive-In, a progression from the EP, a progression from the first record. This sounds good to me. To consider us a “prog rock” band [is] like putting us in a box; it creates borders that we’re trying to avoid.

Reviewers call De-Loused a “concept album.” Would you say that it started out as a concept album, or that it just happened?

We started by writing the music, but the concept was definitely a planned thing. Once Cedric decided what he wanted to make it about, everything revolved around that concept.

Do you find it hard writing music from personal experiences?

No, not at all; it’s the easiest thing that you could imagine, because it’s [just] that: your experiences. What you experience is what’s going to be coming out of you. When you play music, you give someone your joy or give someone your suffering.

Is it hard maintaining your Afro?

[Laughs.] We don’t consider them Afros; they’re “naturals.” I’m lazy. I don’t cut my hair. I don’t wash it. I don’t even comb it in the morning. So, you know, it’s just easy.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I don’t generally think about those kinds of things. I’m so in love with the moment I’m having right now. The ability to go out on tour; I mean, look at this picture just now. [Pointing upward.] All that work of metal and then that moon and the duality between the two.

If you could be an animal, which animal would you be, and why?

Uh, which animal would I be…I’d be the coqui. [Pause while I ask how to spell it. He laughs.] A coqui is a frog that is native to Puerto Rico, my home, and it’s the only place it can exist. They try to take it away from the island, and it doesn’t survive. It makes a very distinct sound, and its home is there. So it’s almost like a cult hero there. I would be that animal because the sound they make all throughout the night is so beautiful. To live in the rain forest and to be completely part of the vibrations there, completely part of the nature, would be ideal.


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