Mars Volta Celebrates Chaos On Debut
Less than two weeks after At The Drive-In broke up in 2001, Omar Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler had formed the Mars Volta. Without even hearing a note of their new endeavor, major labels began making calLess than two weeks after At The Drive-In broke up in 2001, Omar Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler had formed the Mars Volta. Without even hearing a note of their new endeavor, major labels began making calls.
"Pretty much the day I quit At The Drive-In, we had offers from labels to put out stuff," Rodriguez says. "They had no idea what were even planning on doing."
What Rodriguez and Bixler envisioned was a group that would play hard rock as if it were a jazz band, placing the emphasis on improvisation and experimentalism. The Mars Volta, which ended up signing with Universal's Strummer Records, celebrates the more chaotic aspects of At the Drive-In, discarding anything resembling a recognizable chorus.
Instead, the new group serves up thrashing guitars, worldly rhythms, and chaotic and soulful keyboard diversions. It's an ear-numbing mix of the more crazed-out aspects of Mr. Bungle and Jane's Addiction, powering through dub, jazz and Latin influences, often in the span of one song.
The group's major label debut, "De-Loused in the Comatorium," due June 24, is an incredibly dense progressive rock record, with Bixler's Freddie Mercury-like voice slicing through the instrumentation with manic yells. It features 10-minute long songs with titles such as "Cicatriz ESP," "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" and "Eriatarka." To be sure, "De-Loused in the Comatorium" is not the kind of album typically found on a major label.
"Common sense would dictate that the label is interested in us for monetary reasons," Rodriguez says. "I don't understand how they think they can sell a band like ours, but they seem to think they can, and they know more about it than I do. I make music, and I know more about making music than any of them. As long as they stay out of our business, and leave us alone, we'll make the best record we can."
In signing with Strummer, an imprint run by former Capitol president Gary Gersh, the band was sure to set some parameters. "Nobody was allowed to hear anything we recorded until we were near the ending stages," Rodriguez says. "We're friends with Gary, so we asked for his opinion, but no one who wasn't working on the record was allowed in.
"The whole reason we signed to a major was to have their distribution system and the money to make a clear-sounding record," he continues. "Yet the idea of letting anyone from the label have input on your work is completely ridiculous. It pisses me off that a band would ever allow that. If the label thinks they deserve to have their say, I'll break up the band."
The myth amongst fans is that that's exactly what happened to At The Drive-In. After building a cult fan base with three independent albums, the group signed to Grand Royal/Virgin for the release of 2000's "Relationship of Command." Critics raved about the record, and just as singles such as "One Arm Scissor" were starting to take off at radio, Rodriguez and Bixler pulled the plug. A tour, which would have celebrated the group's newfound mainstream success, was canceled, and speculation raged that it was the pressure of major-label life that killed the band.
"That wasn't the case at all," Rodriguez says. "Leaving that band was purely musical. The fact is I was just bored with what we were doing. A lot of people get the impression, due to our ideologies and our politics, that we broke up because of our success or being on a major, but I ignored those things. Those are peripheral and have nothing to do with what's going on in a band. That's proven by the fact that I quit at the time that I did."
The rest of At The Drive-In formed Sparta, a guitar-driven outfit that released its debut, "Wiretap Scars," last year on DreamWorks. Rodriguez says he grew frustrated with the limits At The Drive-In put on its songs, and was eager to work with a band that ignored conventional structure. To ensure this, the Mars Volta toured constantly for two years, releasing only one EP on Rodriguez's own GSL Records.
"Part of that was my desire to improvise and due things on the fly, like deconstructing a song into nothing and then building it back up," he says. "We didn't do any interviews for pretty much the first year. We didn't have merchandise. We were just a band, and we toured and played and started from the roots up so we could become completely involved in each other. We didn't have to worry about supporting a record or dealing with management or anything."
"De-Loused in the Comatorium" was produced by Rick Rubin (System Of A Down, Audioslave), and features the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea on bass. The Mars Volta recently dropped out of a summer tour supporting the Peppers due to the fatal drug overdose of member Jeremy Michael Ward (interviews for this story were conducted prior to Ward's death). The group will play a small number of dates in early July.
At the shows, fans will not only get a taste of "De-Loused in the Comatorium," but a preview of future work from the Mars Volta. Rodriguez says he'd like to see his new group begin to explore more deeply his Latin heritage.
"We definitely set out for this album to have that influence," Rodriguez says. "In the beginning, we specifically talked about having more Spanish lyrics. I feel like the influence is in the music, most notably in the rhythms. But a big part of making a record is realizing it is a collaboration, and the songs went where they had to go. They'll certainly be more Spanish songs down the road. We definitely have songs that are way more far out than anything on this record."