The Mars Volta Is So Over It

The Mars Volta Is So Over It
For most musicians, the hardest part of disbanding is rarely the break-up itself, but picking up the pieces and moving on. Judging by the optimism and pride with which Cedric Bixler speaks of his new project, the Mars Volta, and the passing references to his former group, At the Drive-In, as "the last band," he's moved on quite nicely. In fact, free from the restraint of expectation placed on ATDI and the new-found freedom to explore genres such as samba, dub, prog rock and free jazz with the Mars Volta, Bixler seems noticeably relieved to be in a new creative setting.

"In our last band, we were listening to and playing music that was similar to this, but we stopped and decided to do this more ‘rock' thing," he affably recalls from the back of his tour bus, laptop perched on his knees and a copy of Point Break strewn beside him. "The last band was a little more suffocating in ways of creativity. There was only so much that our rhythm section could do and that we could do with the screaming and jumping around."

Instead of jumping around, Bixler grabbed ATDI guitarist Omar Rodriguez and jumped ship to form the Mars Volta, bringing keyboardist Ikey Owens and off-stage "sound manipulator" Jeremy Ward — both from another side-project, Defacto — with them. Ward is the cousin of ex-ATDI guitarist and current Sparta frontman Jim Ward; regrettably, he died of a suspected drug overdose at his home in Los Angeles on May 25.

Dolefully, Bixler and Rodriguez have had to deal with death in the past. The suicide of another friend served as the creative impetus for their debut LP, De-Loused in the Comatorium's massive layers of otherworldly guitar effects, ambitious mid-song tempo changes and true-to-life ups and downs. The Mars Volta intended it as a "celebration" of the life, and afterlife, of this anonymous artist. True, they may not be overtly rejoicing, but Bixler eases up on his penchant for shouting and actually sings on the album. His Jon Anderson-esque squeal, which he introduced on the Mars Volta's 2002 teaser EP, Tremulant, offers a frisson of urgency on De-Loused, mitigating the dense production work of Rick Rubin.

The partnership with Rubin, Bixler says, was spawned over vegan nosh and a mutual appreciation for Will Oldham — counterintuitive interests for the hulking producer who's cut albums for everyone from Johnny Cash to Run DMC.

"[Rubin]'s a gentle person, he almost glides into a room and speaks so elegant and gently," Bixler recalls. "I never got that impression. I'd seen all of these documentaries and the person he is now is very gentle — totally health crazy and he's more spiritual than he's ever come across in anything I've ever seen before. I really dug that right away."

The De-Loused sessions weren't all peaches and prayer circles, though. In the midst of recording, the band was forced to "let go" of bassist Eva Gardner and ask the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea to fill in on all of the tracks — over just three days.

"We knew that Flea is very confident in what he does and that he has many different styles," Bixler explains. "I think some people thought that he was just going to funk-slap through the whole thing, but I know him better than that."

Although the rhythm section setback wasn't career threatening, Bixler claims that his ATDI experience gave him a firmer grasp of when a band's reached the end of their musical rope. "When everyone's on stage lifeless, just staring at their shoes, you know it's dead. It had been six years with the last band and maybe it'll be ten years with the next one, I don't know. Maybe we'll get into the rut where money is important to us. Hopefully we'll have the courage to get out before it gets too lame."