Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's former bands the Mars Volta and At the Drive-In are the sort of acts that fans get tattoos of. But unlike the permanent nature of inking yourself, he's moved on to another project with his new four-piece Bosnian Rainbows. On the band's debut (out next month), we find Rodriguez-Lopez exploring a punchy goth sound with Le Butcherettes frontwoman Teri Gender-Bender, drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper of Dark Angels. Hive recently caught up with Rodriguez-Lopez before the release of their debut album to talk about the “virgin” experience of playing with a new band, why the At the Drive-In reunion was emotionally tough and the Mars Volta breaking up over Twitter.
The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In are bands that people are really passionate about. Is it a different experience for you touring with a band that nobody's ever heard?
Totally. You can't pay for the specialness of what it is when you just go play music when nobody knows anything about it. It's that initial experience. I hate to use the word "virgin" -- it's so dumb -- but it is like doing it for the first time. Just like when At the Drive-In went out for the first time, or the Mars Volta. People have no clue what to expect, and there's that excitement about it. You're just playing music, and there is no expectation, really.
Bosnian Rainbows is more of a collaborative band than the Mars Volta was. What made you want to work that way again?
If you do one thing long enough, you tend to want to do the other thing. After long enough of [working with hired guns], I realized that's no fun, either. Basically, the only true way to experience things is by sharing. What does it matter if you do this or that or the other if you're by yourself and you have no one to share it with? When you think about it in those terms, then things only become real when you're sharing them. As you go down that thought process, if you're sharing it with one person, like I was sharing it with Cedric, that's amazing. And then if you add another person, that's amazing, too. Then you add another person, and that's even better. The communal experience really heightens your sense of joy. And it's really easy to get sucked into the selfish trip. Most people do it. “Me, and what I want to experience, and what I like to do.” But there's such a greater joy in the exact opposite.
In the places where the Mars Volta records have been exploratory, Bosnian Rainbows' songs tend to be more declarative. Is that something that came out of the chemistry of the band?
Yeah, the chemistry. I keep trying to explain to people that music is just a byproduct of how you're living your life. It's a result. The process, the life that you're living, is the music. That's what's generating notes. The experiences you have, and how you're doing what you're doing, is what generates the actual music. The music's just a postcard. When people ask what's a tangible example of that, this is a very good one: because it's four extreme and intense personalities in this band, our relationship is very much that way. It's literally four people exchanging ideas, and we have this really great chemistry where we just say what we're thinking right away. It's very direct.
As someone with a reputation for writing 13-minute songs, is being in a band with someone who can tell you "that part's too long" healthy for you?
Generally speaking, it's me saying it to someone else! It goes back to the same thing we were talking about earlier: When you do the same thing long enough, you want the other thing. So because I'd been writing long compositions now, that doesn't interest me nearly as much. With At the Drive-In, we were writing short compositions. So then it was like, "let's structure this out, God, that feels nice!" Nowadays, I've been doing that for the better part of 11 years, so it's like -- "Let's make this even shorter! It feels good when it's just like that!"
You spent 11 years in a band that allowed you to pursue your own vision, with long songs, where you're in charge. Then you spent one summer playing in At the Drive-In again, which was a fully collaborative band that wrote short songs. You come out of that and start a new band with short songs and a collaborative creation process. Was that as much of an influence as it looks like?
Without a doubt. Again, the music is just a result of the life that you're living. That's how my life was going -- from stopping thinking just about myself and what I wanted. Through an unfortunate series of events, I had to start thinking about my family, and helping them, because one of the main family members got sick and was hospitalized. I had to start thinking about the whole, instead of just me going around the world doing what I wanted to do. The life you're living shapes the music. That was all happening, and then life brought me this opportunity to play in At the Drive-In. Which isn't something that I would have done just years before. But because of where I was in my life, and how I was experiencing my life, it fit in to say, “Yes, I want to give and I want to be a part of an experience like this, and I want to see these people again.” Being around that, it just all feeds itself.
I have to ask about the At the Drive-In reunion, though, because there were a lot of questions. Were you bored with those songs?
I’m like seven different people than I was when we wrote those songs. But the main thing is that ... [exhales deeply] it’s a year later, so it’s a little easier to talk about. At the time, I couldn’t talk about it at all. I just couldn’t, and it would have been cheap to. But the most important person in my life, my mother passed away two weeks before going onstage. When we played those shows, the absolute last thing I wanted to do in life was be on stage in front of people. I just wanted to be with my family. But one of the main things my mother taught me was to finish what I started. We played the shows, and in one way, I was lucky, because I was around these guys that I had known forever. They knew my mother; we practiced in her garage. In another way, it was unfortunate that I had to go out and face people, and their criticism, and what I did and didn’t do. But it was all, and continues to be, so irrelevant to my actual life, and it paled in comparison to what I was actually going through. And look how well life took care of me: at the most trying time in my life, I was surrounded by guys that I’d known since I was 13. And because those first shows were in Texas, my brothers and my father, we were all traveling together. I was with the closest people I could possibly be during that time. And while it was hard to get onstage, the good side of it is that I was able to get out of the house. It made me have to travel, see daylight, go outside, and remember that the world keeps turning. Life really took care of me, with the ironic twist of facing people, and all their “whatever” opinions.
On the Bosnian Rainbows album, there are some kinda goth-y elements. Is that the chemistry of that band that brought out the Siousxie and the Banshees-like elements?
I loved Siousxie and the Banshees, and a lot of stuff -- I’ve always been attracted to that sound. But it’s not like we set out to make a band that sounded like this. The band sounds like the elements involved, and the people living it. Siousxie’s a good example, because the band itself was very elemental. It was a four-piece. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles and overproduction. There’s a bass player, there’s a drummer, there’s a guitarist, there’s a singer. Everything’s super elemental. If you remove one element, it throws the whole thing off. And another thing is, not to keep going back to the same issue, but it’s the same thing: if it sounded dark in some parts, what I had just come out of – or gone through, not even come out of, because I’m still going through it – but that part of what I was going through in my personal life, with my mother, there was a lot of horror there, and a lot of darkness. Material that we’re writing now sounds more uplifting, I think. You go through different stages with that stuff.
I know some of this is personal, but it happened publicly, so it seems fair to ask: When Cedric quit the Mars Volta, he did so on Twitter. Do you have regrets about how that went down?
I generally don’t have regrets in life, in general. I think things are happening given the tools we have at the time, and we learn from everything that happens to us. Do I wish I had been more communicative? You can always; that’s sort of a slippery slope. But to me, I love the guy. I’ll always respect and honor any decision he makes, and the way he goes about it, even if I don’t understand it at the time. I have true love for him. I feel like I have – not a grasp on it, but a feeling about overall life, and the feeling that is life. I’m okay with things. I know that there’s always light. I’ve been through the worst thing I could go through. That put so many things in my life, or my attitude towards life, in such a different perspective.
Bosnian Rainbow's self-titled debut is out June 25 on Sargent House Records.