“When you’re writing music, you’re really just translating it. You’re tapping into something greater than yourself, much greater than yourself,” opens Omar Rodríguez-López, in what would become an enrapturing discussion of music, its intrinsic relationship to his approach to living, and his ever-evolving persona. “That means it exists with or without you. That’s why I always make the point that writing a movie or a song or record, there’s absolutely nothing special about it. Any asshole can do it. What’s special is the fact that [the metaphysical source] is out there. It’s out there for us to tap in to, for us to see it, and for us to define our skills at seeing it and translating it into something tangible so we can all share it. Whatever music is, whether it’s a god, energy, whatever – it’s fucking humbling.”
The last time I spoke with him, Rodríguez-López had just reversed his attitude to recording music, and realised that complete dictatorial control was ill-suited and misdirected.
“I’ve gotten much further into what we were talking about last time we spoke, about collaborating with people. My whole life is a collaboration now. For the past 11 years I’ve just been doing whatever I’ve wanted all the time – my music, me, me, me – and making everyone bend to that will. I’m just a completely different person now. I’m working in a collaborative group, that’s what you really have to understand – music is just the result of the process, which means it’s just the result of how you’re living as a person. As controlling as I was with my music, people should realise that was an extension of my life, and that means I was just such a bummer to be around.
“Now, my whole life is a collaboration. I’m in a completely different place. There’s no greater feeling. That was no way to live. If you’re not sharing it, you’re not really experiencing something…Now, I can share experiences with my friends and the act of giving: that’s such a big thing. I’ve given away about 60 percent of my belongings over a year ago. Just paring everything down to the essentials: ‘Do I really need this? Do I really need all these books? You haven’t read that, here you take it’. They’re all small details but those things do add up.
Rodríguez-López is infamous his unreleased collection of records despite his prolific output; some of his solo records were released almost ten years after their date of recording. With this newfound exploration of collaboration, I propose to him the idea that maybe he should share his albums with his fans as they’re made, in an extension of his philosophy.
“Umm, wow, it’s an interesting proposition. I’ve never thought about it that way. It’s a pretty cool idea. That’s a good idea to explore. That would be nice to try. Again, my whole thing is that I just love the process so that’s why putting it out is almost like the fucking painful part or something; it means the party’s over,” he laughs, “or at least it has in the past. Or really you get done with it and you get excited about doing the next one. When you’re doing it for the process, then they start to stack up in your closet, because you’re not doing it to say, ‘Hey look how great! Look what I did!’ You’re doing it because you love doing it. They start to pile up. That’s true of whatever, people who are passionate about something and just love doing it, that’s what happens. They start stacking up. Back to what you were saying, that’s a pretty cool idea of doing it and then just put it out there, almost live or something”.
While Rodríguez-López’s accomplishments throughout his career have included winning a Grammy and collaborations with a multitude of brilliant artists, I wondered, as a person, what he’d like his legacy in life to be.
“I’ve done everything I’ve always wanted to do. Now it turns into doing things I’m afraid of, like heights, so I’d like to go skydiving simply because I’m fucking terrified of heights. Travelling, I did that early on because when I was a kid I left school and just went hitchhiking and started doing the band thing. Anything I ever dreamt of as a kid [I’ve now done]. The reality was bigger than the dreams were. Now, at least consciously, the only things that seem left are to conquer all the things I’m afraid of.
“My ultimate goal would just be,” he pauses and stutters, “just to be everything that my mother always told me I was”. Rodríguez-López’s tone has now shifted to something sorrowful and numb, as he reflects on the words of his late mother. “To be perfectly in tune with others, and the universe, which is what she told me that I was from the beginning. My biggest accomplishment would be to be a perfect,” he pauses once more, his scattered voice laden with grief, as he appears to fight back tears. At this point I’m unsure if he is crying or not, and I can’t quite make out what he’s saying. To be a perfect what? I hear something that sounds like ‘family system’ in the recording but it’s inaudible. And that’s where I’m left again – in a state of mystery and intrigue – after having the privilege to speak with this very special, open-minded artist, whose approach to life is directly reflective of the genre he has grown to be synonymous with: progressive.
BY NICK TARAS
OMAR RODRÍGUEZ-LÓPEZ plays with his new group Bosnian Rainbows at the inaugural CherryFest at AC/DC Lane on Sunday November 25, and The Corner Hotel on Sunday December 2.