Omar Rodriguez Lopez: Genius Set Free

By: Kayceman

Omar Rodriguez Lopez
There will come a time, many many years from now, long after the dust has settled, when we look back at this point in music's vast history, and Omar Rodriguez Lopez will be left standing. There will be others for sure – luminaries like Jack White, Prince, Trent Reznor, Eddie Vedder, OutKast, obviously Radiohead, probably Trey, Jim James, Jeff Tweedy, perhaps Patterson Hood and certainly many more, but none are as prolific as Omar. Consider this, as of July 2 – almost exactly the halfway mark of the year – Omar has released four solo albums (with a fifth already done and scheduled for September) and one Mars Volta record (Octahedron – released June 23 on Warner Bros.). At this clip he's looking at about ten albums for 2009, and that actually puts him right on schedule.

"I do like nine or ten records in between Mars Volta records; and that being a Mars Volta record every year," says Omar over the phone from his new home/recording compound in Zapopan, Mexico. You caught that, right? Ten records a year. What the fuck?

But you know what's even crazier, earlier in our more than two hour talk, as I tried to comprehend how he's able to produce so much high-quality music in such a short period of time, Omar admits that he has "way more material that's unreleased than I actually do have released." So how the hell does one man write, record and produce so much music (not to mention the films and photography)? Like all the really big questions in life, there's no easy answer or ingredient list that explains genius of this kind, but it definitely has something to do with kicking junk.

Cedric & Omar by Ross Halfin
Omar and his musical life partner, vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler Zavala (the two have been making music together since they were kids growing up around El Paso, TX) had major drug habits about which much has been written. Hard core junkie shit, mostly heroin and crack, but you know how junkies get. They shot bags and made music, primarily as the force behind post-hardcore heroes At The Drive-In (1994-2001). Shit got real nasty and people started dying, most notably close friend and Volta (as well as dub side project De Facto) bandmate Jeremy Ward, who overdosed in 2003. It scared Omar and Cedric straight – so straight in fact they are now hyper-healthy, yoga practicing vegans who don't even drink coffee - and since then the flood gates have burst open.

"It's like a faucet. Things are just coming out all the time and I have nothing else to do except put them down and document them," says Omar. "I'm putting buckets under the sink and it's leaking everywhere and I catch what I can."

Contrary to the popular belief that once rock stars sober up their music sucks, it took getting clean for things to really take off for Omar. "I bought into the great lie of drugs which is, 'You need me in order to be creative. You need me in order to be yourself','" he says. "And once I saw the other side and said, 'Oh, well, not really, actually all that's doing is magnifying things that are already inside of me. So, why can't I be the magnifying glass? Why do I need something?' Once I sort of grabbed onto that thread it's been hard to let go ever since."

Omar Rodriguez Lopez
Omar has pretty much seen it all – and gotten it out of his system - and at 33 he has no interest in any of the rock star bullshit or even the pedantic "normal" socializing of most young men. "I don't really have a life," he says. "I don't do what someone my age normally does, like go out and drink and socialize and those types of things." And if you don't believe him, well, that's a big part of why he recently moved from Los Angeles to Zapopan. Let's just say the L.A. scene wasn't his thing. Mainland Mexico is much more his speed nowadays.

Wise beyond his years and working without the haze of drugs, Omar has transferred the all encompassing time and energy it takes to be a full-time junkie into creating art, and this delicate combination of timing, place, talent and experience has given us one of the most prolific and, as history will likely prove, important artists of our time.

And you'll notice I didn't simply say "important guitarists of our time," because to call Omar a Guitar God is limiting, nay, insulting. Although true, his rapid fire bunches of notes, alien-channeling effects and sonic storms certainly make him one of the most gifted guitar players alive (Rolling Stone lists him in their current "Top Greatest Guitarists of All Time"), but he is so much more. He's a brilliant composer (he writes every single note you hear on a Volta album as well as his solo work), bandleader, producer (he's produced every solo and Volta album since their 2001 debut, which he co-produced with Rick Rubin), label/production company owner of the newly formed Omar Rodriguez Lopez Productions (which grew out of GSL Records when it closed in 2007) and perhaps most important, a visionary.

When he and Cedric broke free of At The Drive-In and formed The Mars Volta in 2001, Omar knew what he wanted. He had a vision and he was finally able to seize his destiny. He would control every aspect of the music, Cedric would handle all lyrics/vocals and he would rule the music with an iron fist.

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