It's impossible not to chuckle a bit when hearing Omar Rodriguez-Lopez describe 2016 as a “pretty mellow year for me.” This is the year when the ambitious and prolific artist-producer will release 12 new solo albums via Mike Patton's Ipecac Recordings, at a rate of one every two weeks until the end of the year.
The third of the 12, Blind Worms, Pious Swine, will be available this Friday, and finds the Puerto Rican sensation taking a slightly darker alt-rock turn from his previous two offerings: Sworn Virgins, with its '80s goth/industrial aesthetics, and Corazones, a pop soundtrack for a film that remains unreleased. It's certainly different from his work in his various other projects, including At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, both of which made him a household name at the turn of the century.
I recall reading some of your interviews years ago where you mentioned all this unreleased material you had. What was the catalyst for finally releasing this music?
It all happened real naturally. It's just how life works out for you. Le Butcherettes, who I produced, Mike Patton signed them to Ipecac so [Teri Gender Bender] became part of that family and … he took them out on those Faith No More dates so we started becoming friendly, going out to dinners and stuff. And between him and his partner Greg [Wreckman], we started talking about … “Maybe we can put out a solo record.” I said, “Well, I haven't recorded any solo records since 2013, but I have some in my hard drive that I can dig up and send your way.” So I started sending them until Ipecac and Greg over there were sort of like, “Cool, let's do it!” I asked them, “Which one?” And they said, “Let's do all of them!”
Oh man …
[Laughs] So we started looking at it … like a series, really like a box set. We both understand that it's a lot of music to take in, but not for fans of mine or people who just really want to hear music. Together, we came up with this series and started pulling them out, having them mixed properly and sent them over to [Ipecac]. They've done a great job with them.
I read in Ipecac's press release that most of these recordings were done while you lived in Zapopan in Mexico.
Yeah, I had a really big creative explosion at the time. Just a lot of experimenting and recording at the time.
I was curious if your time there fueled your creativity in a way that living in L.A. or, say, a place like New York couldn't have done.
Definitely! That's not to say it's better or worse but, yeah, it's completely different. I'm Puerto Rican but I lived five years in Puebla, and El Paso is more like Mexico than Texas. It was definitely some sort of roots for me and all those smells and the culture and huitlacoche and queso panela and all that stuff is definitely inspiring for whatever thing is happening at the time.
How did you decide on the schedule of one album every two weeks until the end of the year?
That's the way it really worked out. Everyone I met with, talking with Shawn [Vezinaw of Ipecac] and Greg and even Buzz [Osborne] from Melvins … it was just organic that way, where we were in the year and the timeline when everything got turned in. It just made sense to do it that way so we could have a box set for the end of the year or early next year. It seemed like a good pace.
Tell me more about the box set.
It'll come out on vinyl and CD. That's really the release. The series is just a way of getting it out there and promotion for it. It'll have the booklet with the liner notes and lyrics and credits. It's a fun project to work on especially because it's a look back on it. It's a nostalgia that takes you right back.
It's almost like looking at old pictures in a way.
That's exactly what it's like. It's like looking at old Polaroids.
The fact that you can release a full-length album every two weeks is pretty spectacular. There's no way a label would've greenlit that even 20 years ago.
You hit the nail on the head. It's more about the label and how it was willing to support an artist. I'm extremely lucky with Ipecac because it's actually way more than 12, the records that we dug up but, we said, “Let's start at 12 and see how that works” in terms of manufacturing and what we can do better and all that.
You can go back to, let's say, Sun Ra! Sun Ra decided back then, like [in the] '50s and '60s, to make his own label and he was putting out tons of records. He put out a lot of records in his time through his own label. I think real artists like that are always expressing themselves and always creating. It must have been something really cool for him.
There wasn't a label that liked that idea at all back then. What's interesting is that originally when the industry started, an artist was supposed to do two albums a year. I think it was The Beatles who did their two albums a year. They did the album at the beginning of the year and another during Christmas time. It's interesting how that changed, and now most artists are encouraged to release one album every three years by the labels.
Are you planning on shooting a video for each album single?
I'm not sure. I'd love to try, but with all the touring that we're doing right now, and we're writing our record with At the Drive-In, I'll have to see how many we can make to support the series. I'm not sure I can make one for each one. [Laughs]
You mentioned reuniting The Mars Volta in an interview with Rolling Stone last month. Is that a sure thing or something you're hoping for?
Oh I don't know, that's just me talking. Of course it would be great at some point to put a lineup together and make a record. These are our babies. They're what we've nurtured, what Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] and I have been doing since we were kids in El Paso throwing rocks in the desert.
You're going to tour Japan with ATDI this month. What happens next?
I think we come back in September and then we have some time off and then we've already been recording and stuff but, as far as an actual tour, we might be touring until next year or start up next year again. For now, [ATDI] is our focus. Once we do that and tour the new At the Drive-In record, then we'll start writing Mars Volta songs.
It's so great, it's so much fun touring with Tony [Hajjar] and Paul [Hinojos] and Keeley [Davis] with At the Drive-In. We have such a great dynamic and energy going. It's inspiring and we constantly have all these ideas coming out and that's the place where artists are supposed to exist. A fun, nurturing environment.
Isn't your birthday coming up next month?
Awww, come on, yeah! [Laughs]
I just had this idea where maybe you were hitting that point in age where you want to reconcile with everyone or something. [Rodriguez-Lopez is turning 41.]
Nah, I think anyone with intelligence doesn't want to have any bad blood. Or I should say that when you have a tad more experience, you're able to deal with conflict in a more intelligent way. When I was a kid, I was just dumb as fuck. No, I'm kidding. When you're a kid, you just have a higher level of ignorance … I mean, I speak for myself. I was unevolved in that way emotionally. You have a conflict and say “screw this” and you run away from it. As you start to gain intelligence, you realize that most conflicts can be resolved if you simply communicate, use your inner intelligence, and as long as you're honest with yourself and with the other person, it can always resolve conflicts.
Especially with family and longtime friends. There's always going to be a connection that's undeniable.
Yeah, exactly. It's completely undeniable. I played with these guys since I was a kid. Paul from At the Drive-In was the first person I ever played with besides my family, besides my dad and my uncles. He's the first person I met in El Paso and started playing with. We all have deep roots.