I know where diamonds come from I ain't about to bling... I ain't got no bullets, and I ain't bullet proof, and you can take your aim, but you can't kill the truth.
--"PG" from Saul Williams
How was the experience of producing it yourself versus working with Rick Rubin?
It was a lot less stressful in that I always felt that I had to explain myself so much to Rick. Primarily because he had very strong ideas of what he wanted from me. And also because he wasn't exposed to a lot of the stuff... This is gonna sound weird, but Rick had never heard a De La Soul album, he had never heard a Tribe Called Quest album, he had never heard a Gang Starr album, he never heard an Ultramagnetic MCs album, he had never heard a Del the Funky Homosapian album, or a Hieroglyphics album, there was just tons of shit. He had never heard that shit. So when I started coming from left field, he had never heard Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch, which was HUGE for me. So when I started coming from left field with what I wanted to do... He had never heard Bjork or Tricky.
Really?! That is really surprising to me.
Yeah. And so I played him all that shit for the first time. His first time hearing Bjork, Tricky, Portishead all that shit. And all that shit was really important stuff for me. And so he was listening to my shit and he [Rubin] was like, "What the fuck are you doing?" And I'd be like, "Well here's a list of influences; check this out, check this out, check this out," and he just really didn't get it a lot of the time. So we had a conflict of interest. He would present me with these beats and tell me I should do something over these beats and I guess both of us had pretty big egos at the time. And I guess the biggest upset was that I had the opportunity to hire him as a producer, but he convinced me that it would be even better if I just signed with him. So it's one thing to say no to your producer that you've hired, but when you are saying no to your label head, it's a different thing.
So you felt a lot more free to just express yourself on this, and again coming back to the self-titled...
Completely. I didn't even know if people would have the opportunity to hear it, I was hoping they would, but this was just stuff I was doing in my leisure.
I can gather how you ended up working with Isaiah Ikey from the Mars Volta with your tour and whatnot, but how did you end up working with Serj [Tankian of System Of A Down] and Zack de la Rocha [Rage Against The Machine]?
I met Zack like... Gosh, maybe five years ago. He'd come out to shows, we both worked with Roni Size and that whole collective. So we met and became friends over time. And Serj I met through Rick. And actually that all happened around the same time; Rick started working with Rage right before they broke up and that was while he was mixing my album and of course he was working with Serj then.
Did Rick lead you to the Mars Volta as well?
No, no, no no no no. I actually led them to Rick.
Is that right? I had no idea.
I was on tour in France; because the album came out a year earlier in Europe then it did here.
Your first album right?
Yeah my first album Amethyst Rock Star came out in like 2000 over there. So I was in France and met them when they were At the Drive In [band preceding Mars Volta], we did a festival together. And I was just blown away by them. And so around that time they started thinking about who they wanted to do their next album with. At the time it was as At the Drive In, and I had exchanged phone numbers with Omar [Rodriguez] and he started calling me asking me about Rick. Because they were tossed up between Brian Eno and Rick.
The Mars Volta
So they kept drilling me about Rick, about what it would be like to work with him.
How did touring with them [Mars Volta] affect you both as a musician and personally?
Well, I just feel like I was able to tour with one of the most amazing bands of our time.
Like I'm a huge Radiohead fan, and to me this was as amazing as it would have been to have toured with Radiohead between OK Computer and Kid A.
Very apt comparison.
Yeah so it was just like WHAT THE? It was just amazing. I did like I don't know how many shows, 40 shows with them, and watched every one. Usually when you're on tour with someone you don't watch the show.
Cedric Bixler Zavala of The Mars Volta
Did that affect how you view what you're going to do with your band at all?
I try not to let it affect it because there's no way I could ever... They've been doing what they do for a long time and it's completely different from what I do. I think we have a lot of respect for each other because we do what we do well, but I am not that, and I have to remind myself of that.