By Andy Tennille
"Sometimes Omar and I have to tell people to just trust it. Not everyone fully trusts. There's a vision with what we do, with so many left and right turns, so we can't just sit down and explain it to everybody. There's about eight of us in the band now, and I think it would be really rough to have to explain everything from scratch about every song to everybody."
Cedric & Omar - The Mars Volta
The frustration in Cedric Bixler-Zavala's voice is palpable. The lead singer of prog-rock torchbearers The Mars Volta is discussing the recording of the band's new album, Amputechture, and with every word that leaves his lips, the El Paso, Texas native's ire grows.
"For me, that's what's so self-defeating about being in a band - that people tend to over-talk the situation," he explains. "There's no need to be a fuckin' method actor. If you trust the end result, and hopefully everyone in the band does, then it'll work out. But I think sometimes they just don't get it."
Jon Theodore may be one of those folks who didn't get it. On July 28th, a little more than a month before the new album was due to hit the streets, the band announced the departure of Theodore, the drummer for The Mars Volta since 2001. In a statement to Modern Drummer, Theodore said the decision was "long overdue and unquestionably the best thing for everyone involved. We had a great run of things, made some decent records, blew it up for a minute, and had some really great times. But the life ran out of it."
Theodore isn't the only one who's feeling out of the loop. Reviews of Amputecture have been spotty at best, traversing the spectrum from outright snarkiness (Pitchfork) to effusive praise (Mojo). It seems one either loves the complex cacophony of The Mars Volta's music or despises it for the very same reason. The critical praise heaped on the band's two previous albums - Frances the Mute and Deloused in the Comatorium – has been notably absent for Amputechture, an album that finds the band exploring a more subtle, mellower side of their music. Whereas reviewers in the past have associated the band's epic compositions and fire-and-brimstone subject matter with the likes of Led Zeppelin, the mellifluous quality of Amputechture sounds much more influenced by Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd. As fate would have it, I spoke with Cedric on July 7th, the day Barrett was found dead at his home in Cambridge, England due to complications with diabetes.
JamBase: I wanted to start out with something because it's kind of topical. I don't know if you heard the news, but Syd Barrett passed away today...
Cedric Bixler-Zavala: Yeah, I just heard that.
JamBase: "Vicarious Atonement," off the new album, sounds a lot like an eerie, haunting Pink Floyd ballad to me. I wanted to ask you how, if any, has Pink Floyd influenced you as an individual musician or The Mars Volta's music specifically?
Cedric Bixler-Zavala: Well, with our last album and just the way we sound in general, everyone's always throwing Led Zeppelin at us, but I think it's important to clarify; If we're going to own up to anything, it's Syd Barrett's influence. I can't even think of how much he's influenced what we do. I mean, I even just got this really bitchin' fuckin' photo of him with two big sugar cubes in his mouth while he's in Sausalito, which is the tour that he went crazy on in The States, I think. It's a really beautiful, beautiful, beautiful picture of him. What else can I say? He's the original punk. I always dug his guitar playing, but I loved his lyrics. His music, especially his solo albums, those really did it for me. They made me want to make songs like that. Syd Barrett's all over what we do in The Mars Volta. I tend to think that Omar's guitar playing is a weird combination of Greg Ginn, Sonny Sharrock, and Syd Barrett, especially when Omar uses the slide. For me, Syd Barrett is one of the main influences of The Mars Volta.