The Mars Volta: ‘Essentially the most revolutionary factor we may do was to make a pop report’


When Cedric Bixler-Zavala joined the Church of Scientology in 2009, he considered it as frivolously as “signing up for a yoga class or a self-help group”. Having been launched by his new spouse (TV star Chrissie Carnell) and buddies, the frontman of the revered US rock band the Mars Volta underwent an induction course of designed to sort out his $1,000-a-week weed behavior (basically a month of rigorous daylong sauna classes). He discovered it useful till he realised it got here at a value. “Scientology turns into ordinary, [a] crutch,” he says. “What changing into concerned really did was to alienate me from lots of shut buddies.”

Prime of this listing was Omar Rodríguez-López, his pal since childhood days in El Paso, Texas, and the one different fixed member of the Mars Volta. As Rodríguez-López says bluntly: “Cedric becoming a member of the Church of Scientology contributed to the Mars Volta breaking apart [because of] the kinds of absolutist concepts he began to consider.”

Bixler-Zavala admits that the faith put him “up on a cloud” from which he appeared down on everybody round him, whom he thought of to be “caught” with out the faith. He determined to attempt to flip them on to Scientology regardless of figuring out that the response would in all probability be unfavorable.

Followers had been surprised when the band break up in 2013. Since forming the Mars Volta in 2001 from the ashes of punk band On the Drive-In, the pair had recorded six fiendishly advanced idea albums, drawing collectively jazz, steel, Latin music and prog. It wasn’t a complete rupture – in the course of the hiatus, the pair toured extensively with the reunited On the Drive-In and shaped a supergroup, Antemasque. It took till this summer time for the group to announce their reunion. A brand new, self-titled album, which the pair have been engaged on in secret since 2019, is launched subsequent month

Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López in 2003. {Photograph}: Peter Pakvis/Redferns

Nonetheless, we communicate on separate calls: Rodríguez-López is affable and insightful, regardless of combating Covid; Bixler-Zavala is pleasant and beneficiant. However my repeated requests to interview them collectively, to get a really feel for his or her rejuvenated relationship, come to nothing.

Each bristle on the point out of Scientology. Not solely is it one cause behind their break up, but it surely additionally offers their new album its theme. In 2016 and 2017 4 girls, together with Carnell, accused Danny Masterson, a Church of Scientology member and star of the US sitcom That ’70s Present, of raping them within the early 00s. Carnell – then Masterson’s co-star and girlfriend – alleges she was unconscious throughout one in every of these assaults. The felony trial begins later this month in California and Masterson will withstand 45 years in jail if discovered responsible. He denies all counts. The ladies are additionally suing Masterson and the Church of Scientology for alleged conspiracy to impede justice. The ladies declare they had been adopted, harassed and surveilled by brokers of the church, whereas Carnell additionally claims that two of her canines had been killed by individuals performing on their behalf. The go well with alleges that, within the eyes of Scientology, the ladies are “honest recreation” for violating sanctions the church imposed on its members by involving the police. Each Masterson and the church strongly deny all allegations.

Bixler-Zavala can also be a plaintiff within the civil case, so he chooses his phrases rigorously. “What I’m writing about on this album is watching my spouse and her [spiritual] sisters undergo an ideal deal. For me it’s an act of listening, observing the emotional toll and saying: ‘You aren’t alone.’ There’s a view of [the Mars Volta] as loopy, warlike individuals, however these feelings come from a violent a part of the human coronary heart, and right here I’m simply performing in an emotional help capability.”

Heavy subject material is nothing new for a gaggle whose founding mission was to “honour our roots, honour our lifeless”. Beforehand, nonetheless, these tales had been abstracted or transformed into fantastical narratives. Bixler-Zavala’s new lyrics, he says, “take the air out of the room” and are, for him not less than, unusually clear and to the purpose. “I’ll shine the blackest mild to the offender on all fours,” he sings on the only Blacklight Shine.

This time, the levity is within the sound. When the Mars Volta reunited, the actual shock for followers was that they’d returned with – comparatively talking – pop songs with out their labyrinthine, heavy hallmarks: Blacklight Shine has a languid funk groove that speaks of David Bowie in mid-70s Keep mode, or Steely Dan at their Latin-inspired greatest. It’s a long-in-the-making volte face – and one other contributing issue to their break up. Bixler-Zavala wasn’t receptive to the concept when his bandmate talked about experimenting with pop in 2007, he says.

“I’m not certain by style,” says Rodríguez-López. “The one factor that issues is that if music makes you’re feeling one thing.”

Nonetheless, each have been preempting a unfavorable response to their new type. The feedback underneath the movies for Blacklight Shine and Graveyard Love are overwhelmingly optimistic, but Bixler-Zavala has rooted out the few unfavorable responses. “Some individuals would possibly see it as betrayal.” He laughs, defensively: “I’ve seen some individuals name it yacht rock. However yacht rock slaps so exhausting that hip-hop producers pattern it on a regular basis.”

“Dropping ‘followers’ is baked into what we do,” says Rodríguez-López. “I don’t know a larger happiness than dropping ‘followers’. A real fan is somebody curious about what’s occurring now, after which there’s everybody else making an attempt to manage what you do or challenge on to it. I’ve an aversion to that. That feels like college. That feels like the federal government. That sounds just like the police. And sadly that’s what lots of people who assume they’re followers find yourself considering like.”

Maybe the dearth of any actual pushback is an indication of how music has modified throughout their absence. Pop has been the battleground of the avant garde for the last decade that the Mars Volta have been on ice. Their most distinguished fan of current years is Lizzo, who clearly doesn’t care about style partisanship, and nor do her Zoomer viewers. “Essentially the most revolutionary factor we may do could be to make a pop report, actually,” says Bixler Zavala. I need to consider them, however on paper there isn’t a lot to separate this concept from the narrative arc of most bands: merely mellowing with age.

The one argument in opposition to this being an train in business survival rests on the standard of the brand new materials. Their single Vigil is the catchiest factor they’ve written, touchdown between Corridor & Oates, mid-80s Peter Gabriel and early Discuss Discuss; Shore Story is pristine R&B that makes it sound as if they’ve been taking part in this music their entire lives. Bixler-Zavala, who was born in Texas to Mexican mother and father, appreciates the outline: “R&B just isn’t alien to our DNA. It’s cholo music. It’s what my mother and father listened to after I was a child. As soon as my skateboard session was over, I’d go dwelling and there could be lots of Sunny and the Sunliners, lots of the Penguins being performed.”

The Mars Volta performing in Manchester, Tennessee in 2009
The Mars Volta performing in Manchester, Tennessee in 2009. {Photograph}: C Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic

If Bixler-Zavala’s direct response to his spouse’s alleged trauma speaks of a newfound inventive maturity, it’s a shift in perspective that’s shared by Rodríguez-López. The guitarist was born in Puerto Rico and his curiosity in shining a lightweight on the colonial historical past of his homeland has formed the Mars Volta’s new movies. Their visible aesthetic was as soon as unique, surreal and garish, however the 11-minute movie accompanying Blacklight Shine is given over to a bomba efficiency recorded in Puerto Rico, that includes percussionists and improvised dance, talking each to the indigenous tradition of the island and its roots in slavery. The brief movie for Graveyard Love goes a step additional, providing a prolonged studying listing relating to the island’s colonial historical past and an epigraph from the liberty fighter Lolita Lebrón, who carried out an armed assault on the US Capitol constructing in 1954: “I didn’t come to kill anybody, I got here to die for Puerto Rico!”

That concept of familial lineage has proved to be therapeutic within the group’s reconciliation. When Bixler-Zavala turned a father to twins in 2013, Rodríguez-López says that holding his buddy’s kids for the primary time was a “breathtaking second … I’m certain it helped break the spell”.

So, too, has the dedication to acknowledging the darkness that stems from their roots. Rodríguez-López nonetheless names his lifeless family members and buddies 5 occasions a day. “It’s deeper than the music. American individuals have a pathological concern of dying however what they don’t perceive is that it’s already occurred. It’s inevitable, however right here with us on a regular basis. However the nearer to dying you might be, the nearer you might be to life. It’s more healthy that means.”

“I believe on a regular basis life requires embracing unhappiness, and embracing sure feelings that Scientology teaches you to disregard,” Bixler-Zavala concludes.

Eradicating the crucible of the Mars Volta helped too; their time in On the Drive-In and Antemasque helped to clear the trail to reunion. “The Mars Volta is a sacred floor as a lot as it is usually a playground,” says Rodríguez-López. “All the components needed to be precisely right for my creativeness to divulge heart’s contents to it. And that occurred naturally over time.”

Bixler-Zavala concludes that they’re again for the foreseeable future: “We have now labored on this in secret for a very long time now. Omar mentioned the Mars Volta might be no matter we wish it to be, which was refreshing because it units the parameters of us not being a heritage act that depends on outdated songs. We will redefine what we’re and transfer forwards. Our authentic feeling was that something was potential and now, as soon as once more, it’s.”

The Mars Volta is launched on September 16.

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