The New Guitar Gods: Mars Volta
He likens the process to filmmaking, in which scenes are shot out of sequence and the final creation is in the hands of the director. “Once the players are all done with their parts, I don’t allow anyone to be in or near the studio. So when they do get a copy of the finished record, that’s the first time they get to hear how it all fits together. They are able to hear it almost like a fan does.” While the albums are meticulously arranged and produced, Rodriguez-Lopez calls his guitar soloing “my escape from structure. For all the time I spend with the architecture of the music, the guitar solo is just complete expression. It’s the closest I can get to a self-portrait, or a portrait of where I was at the time.” Perhaps Rodriguez-Lopez’s complicated relationship with the guitar stems from the fact that he’s left handed and has small hands. “I’ve always had a hard time finding old left-handed guitars,” he says. “When I do, I just buy them, and I don’t bring them out on the road because they’re so rare.” Instead, he relies on one guitar that Ibanez made for him years ago when he left At the Drive-In and began the Mars Volta. “I brought them a neck from a cheap pawn shop guitar that I really liked, and we worked on a body shape that I liked and a real simple onepickup/ one-knob, Johnny Thunders–esque kind of design. I’m definitely stupid and simple that way.” In addition, he has a ’74 Gibson SG and an old Seventies Telecaster. “And I use a lot of combo amps when I record—mostly a Vox AC-30 and some really small Supro amps, maybe a Fender Twin here and there, and a couple of times I used a Marshall head. But it’s mostly combo amps.” Asked about his guitar influences, Rodriguez-Lopez promptly names salsa pianist Larry Harlow of the Fania Allstars, who guested on Francis the Mute. The guitarist becomes sheepish when reminded of the obvious stylistic links between his playing and that of Seventies guitar icons like Frank Zappa and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. “I definitely love those records, too, but I always forget to mention them,” he says, and laughs, “just because my biggest influences come from non-guitarists. Trying to sound like someone like Larry Harlow really helps push me to shape my sound. I’m just fond of music in general. Salsa, dub and dancehall are all huge influences, along with country, folk, pop music and electronic music like Richard James [Aphex Twin] or Roni Size. I love every form of music, with the exception of nu-metal.” Someone who shares his eclectic tastes is John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A longtime Mars Volta supporter, Frusciante played a prominent guitar role on Amputechture. “John is my closest friend next to Cedric,” says Rodriguez- Lopez. “It’s always fun to go record shopping with John, although we always spend too much. And we really had a fun time making the record. John was like a band member for this record. He came in and was literally the guitar player for the album. I’m just playing all the guitar solos and parts that needed to be doubled. He said he had fun just coming in, playing his parts and being part of an eight-piece band without having to take on all the songwriting and producing roles that he has with the Chili Peppers. John’s a true guitar player. He makes it look so simple. I just spend most of my time wrestling with it.” Although he tends to denigrate himself and the guitar, Rodriguez-Lopez is clearly happy with his Mars Volta work. “When people ask me to describe the music, I never know what to say,” he confesses. “You’re having such fun. It’s hard to describe to people what your fun looks like.”
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