The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta is an American rock group founded by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. They are generally considered progressive rock, with jazz, punk and Latin influences. They are known for their wild, energetic, and highly improvised live shows, cryptic lyrics, and use of ambient music.
Members of the band At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez were in De Facto with audio technician Jeremy Michael Ward. De Facto included Cedric on drums, Omar on bass, and Jeremy with various loop, vocal, sound, and distortion effects - a composite of sounds, hinging squarely on tripped-out, instrumental dub. Though De Facto started as a local band with a rock feel, they were rooted in the realm of dub reggae pioneers such as Lee Perry and Dr. Alimantado. The group also dabbled in electronica, Latin/salsa, and jazz which provided them with a distinct sound. The band played local shows around their home town, El Paso, Texas, and released their first album How do you dub? You Fight for Dub. You plug Dub in. The group eventually moved to Long Beach, California in 2000 and the keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens was added to the band lineup. In 2001, De Facto released their second album, Megaton Shotblast on Gold Standard Laboratories, and received instant success. They were also members of the group At the Drive-In, which established much of their fan base. De Facto continued experimenting with new sounds after Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala decided to end to their time with At the Drive-In. The remaining members of At the Drive-In went on to form Sparta. Omar cited frustration with growing mainstream success, as well as creative suffocation as his motivation for quitting At the Drive-In. Eva Gardner joined the De Facto, and it became what is now The Mars Volta - a new project they envisioned would fulfill their creative desires. During 2001, the band recorded two songs with drummer Blake Fleming and producer Alex Newport, which became their first demo. Later the lineup for their first public show at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, California was Rodriguez-Lopez, Bixler-Zavala, Owens, Gardner, Ward, and drummer Jon Theodore. This lineup recorded three more tracks with Alex Newport, which became the Tremulant EP, released sparsely in early 2002.
Following the Tremulant EP, The Mars Volta continued touring and changing band members while preparing for De-Loused in the Comatorium, produced with Rick Rubin. Whereas Tremulant had no general theme (except the prophetic mentioning of its follow-up album), De-Loused was a unified work of speculative fiction that told the story from the first-person perspective of a drug-induced coma, in which the protagonist battles with the evil side of his mind. Though lyrically obscure, The Mars Volta stated in interviews that the album's protagonist is based on their late friend Julio Venegas, or "Cerpin Taxt", as mentioned in the story, who was in a coma several years prior to his awakening, after which he jumped from the Mesa Street overpass onto Interstate-10 in El Paso during afternoon rush-hour traffic. Venegas' death was also referenced in the At the Drive-In song "Embroglio" from their album Acrobatic Tenement.
At the time of the recording the band did not have a bass player. Flea (bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) played bass on nine of the ten songs on the LP. De-Loused became both critically and commercially their biggest hit, eventually selling in excess of 500,000 copies despite next-to-no promotion, but featured on several critics' "Best of the Year" lists. The band later released a limited-edition storybook version of the album, available by download from the Gold Standard Laboratories Web site. The book speaks of Cerpin Taxt (sometimes referred to as the album/story's "hero") and his suicide.
While on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in support of their album, The Mars Volta's sound manipulator and contributing lyricist, Jeremy Ward, was found dead of a heroin overdose. The band canceled the tour's second leg and the first single from De-Loused was later dedicated to Ward.
As the band resumed touring De-Loused, they added Juan Alderete (Racer X) on bass and Marcel Rodríguez-Lopez (brother of Omar) on percussion. Work began on their second album in 2004.
In 2005, the band released their second full-length album Frances the Mute. The album was inspired by late sound technician Jeremy Ward, who found a diary in a car he repossessed while working as a repo-man. Each track of the album is loosely based on characters described within the diary.
Frances started out as an even bigger commercial hit than De-Loused, moving 123,000 copies in its first week and debuting at number four on the Billboard album charts, largely because "The Widow" received a considerable amount of radio air-play. Reviews of Frances were generally positive (with a 74 on Metacritic) if somewhat polarized; Rolling Stone called it "a feverish and baroque search for self that conjures up the same majesty and gravity as Led Zeppelin three decades before," while Pitchfork Media called it "a homogeneous shitheap of stream-of-consciousness turgidity." However, even the detractors of "Frances the Mute" generally praised the band's musical abilities. "L'Via L'Viaquez" was later released as a single, stripped down from its original 12-minute length to five minutes.
Omar wrote all the instrumental parts (guitar, keyboard, vocal melodies, and drum lines with help from Theodore) as well as arranging and producing the session himself. He used a method that film directors such as Woody Allen used to invoke great performances from bandmates: refusing to let the other members hear each other's parts, or the context of their own part, thereby forcing them to play each part as if it's a self-sufficient song. In order to accomplish this, the musicians recorded to the pulse of a metronome.
Mid-way through their headlining U.S. tour, former At the Drive-In member Paul Hinojos left the band Sparta to join The Mars Volta, claiming: "My time with Sparta has run its course, and simply wasn't fun anymore." He is now their 'Sound-Manipulator,' previously held by the late Ward. Hinojos had also toured with The Mars Volta in 2003 and 2004.
During the summer of 2005, the band toured in support of the album with System of a Down and curated the All Tomorrow's Parties festival (which featured bands and artists including the Locust, Mastodon, Blonde Redhead, and Diamanda Galas), titled A Nightmare Before Christmas.
In addition, a full-length live album named Scabdates was released on November 8, 2005.
Frances the Mute, which debuted at a career-best No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200, has sold nearly 465,000 copies in the United States according to Nielsen SoundScan ratings.
Amputechture was released in Australia on September 9, 2006, on September 8, 2006 in Europe and on September 12, 2006 in the US. Omar Rodríguez-Lopez produced the record and Rich Costey mixed it. The artwork was created by Jeff Jordan. In this album the degeneration of religion (or degeneration caused by religion) and its demystifying, can be said to be the main theme. Also, the concept of "amputation" (a critical reference to religion, most specifically Catholicism) is present in some songs, carrying a feeling as if the songs have been cut before getting to their endings. However, unlike the previous two albums, there is no underlying narrative.
John Frusciante was featured on every track on Amputechture, except for "Asilos Magdalena". Omar contributed the solos, and where the guitar work needed to be doubled. Cedric said in an interview, "...he taught Frusciante all the new songs and Frusciante tracked guitars for us so Omar could sit back and listen to the songs objectively. It's great that he wants to help us and do that'." Upon completion of the recording, the band embarked on a North American Tour opening for The Red Hot Chili Peppers until the begining of winter of 2006.
On July 28 2006, The Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore was replaced by Blake Fleming, formerly of Laddio Bolocko, Dazzling Killmen, and the very first Mars Volta demos. In addition Paul Hinojos expanded his role, contributing both guitar and sound manipulation skills.
The Mars Volta's live set in Auburn, WA on August 12 took a turn for the worse when around halfway through their set, the group was pelted with several condoms filled with urine by members of the crowd after Cedric Bixler-Zavala made comments about of some of the fans who were slam dancing (The band has expressed discontent in the past about some audience members who fail to express themselves at a rock concert without slam-dancing). The band then cut their performance short after Omar's guitar malfunctioned, (he eventually smashed it into his amplifier). As they left, Cedric Bixler-Zavala told the crowd to find whoever was throwing urine and to bring the band his head; and if they did, they would get free Mars Volta tickets and merchandise for life.
A new song entitled "Rapid Fire Tollbooth" was debuted live on September 22, 2006 in Chicago, IL, as reported by fans and attendees of the show who had received set lists from the stage.
On September 25, The Mars Volta played a unique set on the opening night of a double-header in Toronto, ON. Cedric Bixler-Zavala fell ill and could not perform, so The Mars Volta played with John Frusciante on third guitar. The set consisted of over 47 minutes of instrumental material, including a lengthy cover of the Pink Floyd composition Interstellar Overdrive.
On October 17 while opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Rutherford, New Jersey, the band played with a new drummer, Deantoni Parks, it was later revealed that Blake Fleming was removed for unknown reasons. Parks remained with the band only until the conclusion of the Japanese tour, due to his prior commitments with other bands. Thomas Pridgen has most recently become the fourth drummer for the band.
The Mars Volta will be touring Australia in mid to late March, then will head to America to play a small west coast headline tour. After this they will be returning to the studio to record their 4th LP tentatively scheduled for release in late summer 2007. In a recent interview with "Time Off" magazine, Bixler-Zavala stated that the next album would be a concept album: "I don’t want to give the plot away right now, but the new one has to do with this gift that Omar found for me when he went travelling once. The gift came with a story that was attached to it, and we’re trying to re-interpret the story again."
Rodriguez-Lopez has also composed the score to the upcoming film El Búfalo de la Noche, the new film from Guillermo Arriaga and Jorge Hernandez Aldana. The release date and track info for this recording have yet to be announced. In addition, it is currently unclear if this will be a Mars Volta release or an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group release, but statements made by Arriaga indicate the Mars Volta as a whole were involved.
Cedric Bixler-Zavala stated in an interview:
“ The Volta is taken from a Federico Fellini book about his films, what he characterizes as a changing of scene, or a turnaround; a new scene to him is called Volta. Y'know, changing of time and the changeover. And Mars, we're just fascinated by science-fiction so and it's something that ultimately looked as in anything I write, its meaning is always up to the listener. As the way we write songs and words, if it looks great on paper then to us it's like painting, so if it looks good meaning the second then people usually have a better interpretation than we ever would. ”
Additionally, Omar has stated that Mars is a reference to the Roman god of war. Therefore, in essence, Omar considers The Mars Volta to be the bringers of peace . The is used to disambiguate the band from a group of European Techno artists that previously took the name "Mars Volta". The similarity of the name to the Portuguese phrase Volta Do Mar, literally turn of the sea is also worth noting.
The music sample that The Mars Volta use to introduce their live shows is the title theme to the film A Fistful of Dollars, composed by Ennio Morricone. The band had also introduced their earlier live shows with the theme from A Clockwork Orange.
Omar & Cedric also happen to be Doctor Who fans and incorporate the Axon characters into their backdrop and play the show's theme song at the end of concerts over the PA system.
The backwards vocals at the end of "Eunuch Provocateur" are the lyrics from the song "Itsy Bitsy Spider". Other backwards vocals in the same song can be heard saying "did mommy or daddy ever have to spank you?". These samples come from an old vinyl the band used that contained children's songs.
According to the liner notes for Amputechture: "The partnership between Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & Cedric Bixler-Zavala is The Mars Volta. These compositions are then performed by The Mars Volta Group"
* Omar Rodriguez Lopez - Composer, Guitar, synthesizers, production (2001 - Current)
* Cedric Bixler Zavala - Lyrics, Vocals (2001 - Current)
* Isaiah "Ikey" Owens - Keyboards (2001 - Current)
* Juan Alderete - Bass (2003 - Current)
* Thomas Pridgen - Drums (2007 - Current)
* Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez - Percussion, synthesizers (2004 - Current)
* Adrian Terrazas-Gonzales - Flute, Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet and additional wind & percussion instruments (2004 in studio, 2005 in show - Current)
* Paul Hinojos - Guitar, Sound Manipulation (On Stage 2003-2004, Joined Officially 2005 - Current)
* Jeremy Michael Ward - Sound Manipulation (2001-2003) (Deceased)
* Jon Theodore - Drums (2001 - July 2006)
* Blake Fleming - Drums (August 2001, July-October 2006)
* Deantoni Parks - Drums (October-November 2006)
* Eva Gardner - Bass (2001-2002)
* Ralph Jasso - Bass (2002)
* Jason Lader - Bass (2003)
* Flea - Bass (2003, On "De-Loused in the Comatorium")
* Linda Good - Keyboard (2002)
According to the band's official website and the sleevenotes of Scabdates, there are 15 more people that are a part of "The Mars Volta Group". The following are listed below.
"The Mars Volta Group":
* Henry Trejo - Omar's Guitar Tech
* Amery 'Awol' Smith - Production Manager
* Jesse Isaacs - Ikey's Tech, Paul's Guitar Tech, Stage Manager
* Jerry Riccardi - Juan's Bass Tech, Cedric's Tech
* Joe Paul Slaby - Drum Tech
* Dan Hadley - Lighting Designer
* Shaun Sebastian - Monitor Engineer
* Keith Mitchell - Lighting Director
* Jonathan Debaun - Recording Engineer
* Greg Nelson - Front of House Engineer
* Jack Lee - In Ear Monitor Engineer
* Lalo Medina - Tour Manager
* Paul Drake - Tour Manager