Omar Rodriguez Lopez: Genius Set Free

This is my band. You'll be playing my music. If you're not okay with a dictatorship then this is not the place for you.

-Omar Rodriguez Lopez on The Mars Volta

Photo by: Hadas

But before we can get to The Mars Volta main event, we have to do our training. This year's regimen began with the release of the Rodriguez Lopez Production's Megaritual on January 26.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez
"Megaritual was a really fun one," says Omar. "I was living in Amsterdam at the time, and my brother [Marcel Rodriguez Lopez] came to visit me. That one started as just an exercise to be closer to my brother. Because of our age difference I didn't really get to know him because I left home at a very young age. We're eight years apart and I dropped out of school and left home when I was seventeen, so he was very small. When I finally came back to the family structure and made amends then I was always on tour. And so I got to discover my brother by inviting him into the band. It was sort of always the idea that I would bring him into the factory eventually. When I did that's how I got to know him - through being on the road and being on tour. Then when I moved to Holland, I would invite him there to come visit me, so it could be just me and him. And that's what this record was; it was an exercise in just me and him. I went to the studio and I showed him the songs and he played drums, and between me and him we played all the instruments. There was nobody else, so it was just a really nice moment for us."

Next there was Despair, also released on Rodriguez Lopez Productions on January 26.

"Despair was just when I went back to Amsterdam from Israel, and it was sort of my meditation on Israel, Palestine and Syria, and sort of what the experiences I had had there and the things I had brought back with me." Which include the infamous Ouija board purchased from an Israeli flea market which became the catalyst behind the band's "cursed" 2008 release, The Bedlam in Goliath (read more about this from Kayceman's 2008 talk with Omar and Cedric here).

Then there was the January 31 release of Old Money, which was a "meditation" on American corporations and yup, you guessed it, their dirty, stinky, old money. Most recently, the May 5 release of El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodriguez Lopez' Cryptomnesia, which in addition to Cedric and bassist Juan Alderete (who is involved in almost everything Omar does – including the Volta), features Hella drummer Zach Hill.

"Cryptomnesia was a meditation on bad manners," sighs Omar. "This drummer that I had for a minute in The Mars Volta was such a bum-out and just had such bad manners in general that this was sort of my little vacation. And I called up Zack Hill, who's an amazing individual and very conscientious and very wonderful to be around and really, really great to work with. I say it's a meditation on bad manners because the conclusion I came to was that it doesn't have to be this way. It doesn't have to be a struggle. It doesn't have to be like pulling teeth."

The obvious question now is, which of the two previous Mars Volta drummers is Omar refereeing to: Jon Theodore or Blake Fleming?

Thomas Pridgen & Cedric Bixler Zavala by Scavo
"Both of them," he says without hesitation. "Jon was in the band for a while and he just…I still don't understand why he was in the band. He didn't seem to like my music. He didn't like me directing him. He didn't like certain people in the band but yet he was in the band, and it was such a strange marriage because I just kept going, 'Ah well, after the next record I'll fire him.' And that turned into two or three records. This is very unlike me. Usually I'm a person who moves on very quickly, and so finally I moved on. Then I made the mistake of giving Blake another chance because I'm a strong believer that people can change."

After the experiment with Fleming blew up Omar started to question himself. "What is a bad attitude? Can I blame the other person or is there a part of me, too?" he asks. What he learned was that "it's just a matter of personality. It's like the progress reports when you're a kid - 'Does not get along well with others.' It's like some people enjoy misery... From this idea was where [Cryptomnesia] was born."

This totally pleasant experience working with Zach Hill provoked Omar to start his search for a new Mars Volta drummer. Hill was and is deeply involved with Hella and Omar had no intention of poaching, so he just manifested a new drummer. "When you meditate on something, when you pray for something, when you give yourself over to something I think the universe or God or whatever it is you believe in always makes room for you," says Omar. "And so the universe delivered Thomas Pridgen to me."

"The addition of Thomas was the missing piece," continues Omar. "Like I said before, I had two really negative drummers and all of us were trying to be on this high, on this wave and believe in what we're doing and believe in my music and believe in Cedric's storytelling, and even if you have seven [bandmates] that are like that, if you have one that is holding you back that's like a ship that's docked with a rope holding it back. Thomas believes wholeheartedly and he's very involved in the band and he always has positive energy, always, even when things get a little weird. He has such a great attitude that I just can't help but think that last piece was in place. All of that at the same time has carried us into this insane wave of energy that's been 2008 and now into 2009."

Continue reading for more on Omar Rodriguez Lopez...

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