Our music feature this week focuses on Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, a giant of the progressive rock and post-hardcore scenes who seemingly wants nothing to do with them.
The mastermind behind Mars Volta and At the Drive-In tries to tell us he's not a musician, for all kinds of deep and philosophical reasons. He might start out talking about how many hours of sleep he gets nightly, and end up describing the principles of some ancient religious text. In other words, he's one deep human being. Below are excerpts from our meandering interview.
On doing interviews:
People get bummed out or consider it arrogant when they ask me what are my influences and they want me to talk about records. I could care less about records. I'd rather talk about how my influences were my mother, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Roberto Clemente's life. Those are the real things. Because that's music.
On his own "music theory"
People who go and they buy the same amp Jimi Hendrix had or they play the guitar upside down -- you ain't never gonna sound like him because that's not his music. His music was the fact that had a tumultuous relationship with his father that he never got figured out. His music was the fact that had a brother that he absolutely loved and wanted to be with all the time but he was in and out of jail. His music was the fact that he wanted to be accepted by the black community but he wasn't until the very end of his life. That's his music. The other stuff is just a vehicle.
Passion's the only thing that's going to make you good at anything. You can learn the technical aspects of anything but that ain't going to make you necessarily good or tasteful. Look at how many awful musicians come out of Berklee and all these music schools -- just faceless, mindless musicians that are being churned out under the concept of, like, 'Well, you know all the theory so there you go, you're good to go. You excel at theory.' Like, big deal.
On why he doesn't think of himself as a musician:
Musicians definitely get stuck in this pitfall of having to think about things in terms of theory and how theory fits together and why that can work or why it doesn't work. I have absolutely no interest in any of that. I'm only interested in the simple element of does it move me or not. Because at the end of the day all I'm here to do is to express myself. I have to stay true to that. Any deviation from that path is treated like a dagger pointed at my heart.
I'm basically in most peoples' eyes just a product, they know me as the At the Drive-In guitarist, The Mars Volta whatever. It's funny to be diminished to just a guitarist, which I don't even consider myself. It's just one of many vehicles.
I had very informal music training. I had true music training, which is the fact that I come from a culture that is enveloped and surrounded by music. Everyone in my family plays music, none of them are musicians. When my ancestors were slaves, when they were conquered by the Spanish -- I'm Puerto Rican, a lot of people think I'm Mexican -- in any culture music and laughter is what gets you through any kind of trauma, you know?
On At the Drive-In's break-up: