Mars Volta explore new avenues

BY NICHOLAS RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2010
SHANE WENZLICK/Fairfax Media Zoom
JUMP AROUND: Cedric Bixler-Zavala performs with The Mars Volta during their show at the Logan Campbell Centre in Auckland.

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The Mars Volta will be road testing their new album at Friday's Big Day Out. But there is little chance you'll recognise it when it finally makes its way into record shops.

As Mars Volta guitarist and band leader Omar Rodríguez-López explains over the phone from Belgium, he composes and discards albums at a startling rate.

Since the release of 2009's Octohedron, he has already written and binned two albums worth of material.

But he might just have something that will make its way onto their 8pm main stage slot at Auckland's iconic summer festival, just before the headlining act Muse.

"In between every record there's an unreleased one," Rodríguez-López said. "Once I did De-Loused in the Comatorium I recorded one record and that didn't feel right. After Frances the Mute I recorded one-and-a-half.

"It happens all the time, composing, recording, all that fun stuff, you can't really stop it. I record bits and pieces everywhere; I've recorded in New Zealand, I've recorded a lot in Australia and recorded in Japan.

"Now I've recorded another one and I'm handing that one over to (vocalist) Cedric (Bixler-Zavala) to start writing his lyrics and we'll see how far this one gets."

The Grammy Award-winning prog rockers have a reputation for shows that seem like long improvisational jams, but Rodríguez-López says that's just the way he works new material into the shows.

"I'll put together some new themes from material that's going to be on the new record and throw those in there.

"Then I give the band a general direction, once I write up the set, of how to connect the songs, how to get from point A to point B and how to make it all sound like one big movement."

"Normally people think we're improvising."

The result is a show that pushes the boundaries of rock, with Latin-inspired beats to dissonant synth breakdowns to pummelling punk rock explosions. It's challenging music but for fans of rock it should be a  must-see at the 2010 Big Day Out.

If part of their inspiration is science fiction then they're boldly taking rock music where no one has gone before: It's a trip.

Rodríguez-López is full of praise for the Big Day Out and despite having toured to New Zealand last June for a solo show, he is bristling with enthusiasm to get back on stage for their third appearance at the event.

"The Big Day Out festival is probably the most well organised and best feeling festival of them out there.

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"When you play a lot of them they sort of become the same. They're sort of that one thing that money can't fix or money can't buy, which is the feeling of a festival. You can put tons of money into it and you can try and change the feeling and give it a makeover but it will still be what it is and Big Day Out has something special to it.

"I don't know if it's because it's summertime or because of the people, I can't put my finger on it. All of it together: Summer, the people, the way they lay everything out for the bands, the choice of the bands.

"All of it comes together to make something really unique and special. If every band could go every year they would."

If The Mars Volta love the Big Day Out, the audiences have returned the love with their recent shows well attended.

The pair of Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López are an electric combination on stage with a revolving door of musicians coming into the band. But despite their live reputation Rodríguez-López admits the guitar isn't his favourite instrument.

"My favourite instrument is people. I'm not a musician I taught myself how to play music over the years; I think my strongest asset is design and composition and architecture or just bringing people together and writing material for them.

"My compositions also change as I get different band members in the band, I see somebody and I see their ability and I write for them and I get excited about their abilities.

"This is my film, I'm the director of the film and the musicians are the actors, I like playing people more than anything."

"I've never let go of the reins, I started this band, I named the band, I wrote the music, I bought a lot of the equipment, I booked our tours and I used to print out T-Shirts.

"I've been affectionately know as 'little Hitler' in our band."

* The Mars Volta, Orange Stage, 8pm.

- Stuff

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