Interview: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Discusses the New Mars Volta Album, 'Noctourniquet'
While you’re interested in gear, you don’t seem overly obsessive when it comes to the details of what you use.
People always ask me, “Are you one of those guys where the gear matters a lot or not at all?” And I say, “Both.” I love gear, because I’m a nerd. But the fact of the matter is it’s not about the gear—it’s about the person using it. It’s about their intention. It’s about their life. That’s what creates the music. I mean, we all know those people that obsess about, “Well, for this song Jimi had this Marshall and he used the round Fuzz Face and the Strat…but you have to play the Strat upside down because the extra length on the E string is what really gave him his sound…” But I say, no, the sound came from the fact that he had a tumultuous relationship with his father that never got resolved. The sound came from the fact that he had a brother who was in and out of jail. The sound came from the fact that he wanted to be accepted by the black community and he wasn’t. So you can get every piece of gear that was ever in Jimi’s hands, but the point is that you ain’t never gonna sound like him. Ever.
The sound comes from within.
Yes. It’s like with influences. People will ask me what music influenced a certain song or album, but really the influence is whatever is going on in my life at the time it was written. For Noctourniquet, I had just moved back to Mexico, so that was an influence. I was also reading a biography on [the late Puerto Rican professional baseball player] Roberto Clemente, so that was an influence. Whatever music I’m listening to, that’s barely scratching the surface. It’s really about what’s up between me and my dad, or me and my mom, or this thing that happened with my brother, or something that’s going on between me and Cedric. That’s the influence.
You’ve been playing music with Cedric for roughly 20 years. How would you describe your relationship?
It’s still a mystery to me. We have this crazy connection where if you start to question it too much, you kill it. So I’ve always stayed away from trying to understand it. But then other people sort of attach their meaning to it. When I first left At the Drive-In and he came with me and we started doing the Mars Volta, the rumor was that we were lovers and had to leave the other guys and go off on our own. So you can’t really control what it is that other people will perceive about any relationship that you have. But the fact is that, creatively, there’s this insane fire between us, and it is what it is.
What led you and Cedric to reunite with your former bandmates in At the Drive-In this year?
For me, I spent 10 years saying, “Over my dead body. I’ll never play with those guys again.” But things change, not least of all my attitude. About three years ago, the rest of the guys came to my house in Mexico, and we all got to say what we had to say. I apologized for breaking up the band, and they apologized for whatever they felt they needed to apologize for. So, cool. We’re five grown men now. And with Coachella, they put out an offer for us to reunite and play the festival every single year. So, finally, it became a reality.
There must be a financial component to it, as well.
Of course. I’d be a fool, I’d be an asshole, to sit here and talk to you and say, “Money has nothing to do with it, man.” I’d be insulting your intelligence. And I know how that feels from over the years of liking bands and hearing them say money has nothing to do with it. Really? Then why don’t you play for free? So there is money there, but it’s always been there. But it never led us to do it before, and it didn’t lead us here now.
Looking back to your time with At the Drive-In and all you’ve done since with the Mars Volta and on your own, do you feel that your relationship to creating and playing music has changed at all?
Well, I hear some of those old songs now and it’s interesting to me to see how my mind was working at the time. I feel like I was looking at everything as sort of an end. That might be different now. But in general, the goal has only ever been to express myself, to find something therapeutic for myself, and to do it in a way that is constructive and not destructive. That hasn’t changed. So the drive is certainly still the same.
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