Omar Rodríguez-López

Get the latest from Beat

Omar Rodríguez-López


“My biggest aspiration is to be more open, and that’s why I think collaboration is a road to that. Years ago I thought, ‘I don’t want to collaborate because it means my ideas won’t be as pure, it won’t be my ideas only’. Through that journey, I realised that really was a false front for the real issue, which is my insecurity, that I’m afraid that if I collaborate with people that they won’t like my ideas. How you get rid of that is you create a world where you’re at the top and you’re the leader and nobody can challenge you. But that really just comes from insecurity and so that’s exactly it – my biggest challenge or the thing that I want to do most is I just want to be open and I just want to believe in myself because that’s just one of my biggest problems on a personal level. It’s why I don’t go out very much, it’s why I have a hard time meeting people, it’s why I’m shy or uptight about how others might perceive my shyness and all that type of stuff and I don’t want that anymore in my life. I don’t want to keep being this neurotic person that I’ve been; I don’t want to be 60 and still be the way that I am, or have been now at 35 which is reclusive and scared to go out in the public and be around people and feel that everyone’s laughing at me. This is all stuff that’s left over from your adolescence, stuff that was left over from coming to America and being laughed at for my name and colour of my skin and all that stuff, and so I just wanna throw all that away. I wanna go back to how I was when I was a kid, when I was just myself everywhere and I liked going out around lots of people and liked going to a party or something – that’s what I need to get over”.

Rodriguez-Lopez was until recently infamous for his dictatorial approach to recording, where he was even once tongue-in-cheekily dubbed by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala as “little Hitler”. However, just as the band is known and appreciated for their commitment to evolution and progression in creativity, Rodriguez-Lopez learned the importance of implementing these ideals to his own recording process along with the significance of unifying his personal and musical philosophies.

“I haven’t even done any recording for a while now because of [that change in process], being able to step back and have some breathing room for myself and give myself space to grow and the change – it’s my nature to control everything and write all the parts and that was cool, it was cool for ten or eleven years doing The Mars Volta but now definitely I’m more into collaboration…Eight years of At The Drive In and by the time I was done with those eight years I said, ‘Forget it. I don’t ever want to collaborate again. I just want it all to be my vision because it could’ve been better, so I did that for ten years. And now I’m like, ‘Forget it!'” he laughs. “Being in control of everything is not the answer. Happiness becomes real only when shared with others.

“That’s where it got tricky because in my in my expression, life was exactly that. I was doing the opposite of interaction which was just dictating and saying how it was gonna be there and controlling everything. And I had this false notion in my head that you can live your expression or art one way, and you can live your life another way, and it doesn’t really work. What ends up happening is that when you do your art or your music in that sort of controlling way, that eventually, no matter how hard you try, it seeps into your normal life as well – your everyday life. You find yourself controlling everything – without noticing it – you’re controlling everything in life, your interactions. Going to dinner – it’s gotta be here, it’s gotta be this way. So it starts to seep into your life because it’s really hard to separate the two…now I only want to collaborate; musically it’s more in harmony with how I see myself living my life”.

This conception was obviously influenced by his experiences, but for an individual so interested in books and film, I wondered what was most important in shaping his worldview – ideas found in art or his own personal experiences and lessons.

“It all comes from intuition and experience. I mean I love books and everything as much as anyone else but when we talk about books for the most part, 99 per cent of the time we’re talking about intellectual knowledge, and intellectual knowledge is completely useless unless it penetrates the heart. It’s the stuff that you know in your heart, that’s when it becomes real knowledge. You can say to yourself whatever. If you’re a drug addict you can say, ‘Drugs are bad and it’s ruining my life’ but if it’s just an intellectual thing and you’re saying it in your mind – you’re never going to get off drugs. The day it seeps into your heart, the day that same information, the exact same information goes into your heart and you say, ‘God, drugs are bad and it’s really hurting my mother, it’s really hurting my father’, once it quits being an intellectual thing and starts to come from the spirit and the heart and it’s emotional – then it’s real knowledge and then action proceeds with real knowledge. So yeah, most of my experiences, if not all my experiences come from people, from this life and this knowledge seeping into my heart…also learning through example, when you watch someone be themselves and be giving and be courteous, and be great to their fellow human beings, that stays with you more than any book you could ever read.”

Rodriguez-Lopez was last here in August when The Mars Volta debuted new material that was only previously played by Rodriguez-Lopez in his solo shows at SXSW. Whilst his tone is laden with deep affection when talking about the “paradise” of Australia, Rodriguez-Lopez’s newfound philosophies prevent him from being able to explicate what fans can expect from his solo show.

“I haven’t made a setlist yet. It’ll probably be some newer songs, some older songs. It’s all just music…At the time that we played those songs, they weren’t Mars Volta songs at all. There’s no separation, Mars Volta’s my baby and I write music so I made these songs, Cedric sang on them, we went on the ‘ORL’ tour. It went really great and our fans were really excited about and writing that they loved it. And so we said, ‘Oh you know what if they liked it so much then let’s make those Mars Volta songs’. [the last visit to Australia] was just a point in our lives that Cedric and I both were just a lot more laid back about those types of things and really tried to discover ourselves. Life starts to get more and more intense and before you realise it…I forget that I’m 35…I don’t feel 35, I still feel like I’m in my 20s, but when I realise I’m 35 I realise that this next part of my life is happening now…I don’t want to be the 60 year old who’s still afraid of water and a germaphobe and doesn’t like to go out in public, that’s not the life I want from myself. When I leave my body, I wanna know that I was at peace with my existence as a human being and so when you look at it that way then things start to loosen up a lot more. That’s the thing – before I would’ve planned for months this tour in Australia. I would’ve planned every little detail. But now I haven’t even picked the setlist yet, what songs we’ll play, and when I do I know it’s whatever sounds fun to play or if Juan has a certain song in mind he wants to play or Deantoni, I’m open to all those suggestions that I wasn’t open to before and it’s just a funner way to live.

“Before I would’ve freaked out and made my life and the people around me miserable trying to control that…and now, it’s just music. It’s not real problems. That’s the thing in general in the entertainment industry, everybody takes them so serious and gets worked up about this stuff, but none of it’s real. These aren’t real problems. Our record’s getting pushed back to next year – big deal. Before I would’ve freaked out about it, now my perspective is different, that’s not a real problem. Taking care of my mum, that’s a real issue, that’s a real concern. Me having a better relationship with my brothers after all these years living in the cave and only caring about what’s going on in my world, that’s an important thing to worry about. Whether or not my record gets pushed back, it can be frustrating for a couple of minutes and then I remember it’s not a real thing. I’m a lucky, blessed individual. I get to travel to Australia because I did some stuff that in my bedroom in my father’s house when I was a kid and now as an adult I’m lucky enough that people show up and support what I do and they think what I do is beautiful or striking…taking time out of their lives to drive down to the club and stand and watch it for an hour, and for me that’s mindblowing”.

Rodriguez-Lopez expresses to me his fondness of creating music, but it’s clear that his recording paradigm has changed, and with this shift comes a different level of output from the man who comfortably used to release multiple albums in the space of a couple of months.

“It’s something that’s very fun to do. It’s something that’s interesting and magical – the whole process. No matter how planned out you have things, there’s always surprises and twists and turns and a lot of synchronicity. To me, music is already magical and especially when you try to capture it someway like the recording process. It’s just the closest thing you can teach to magic or the universe being personified in an action. It’s just utterly exciting. And also beyond that, you learn something every single step of the way about yourself, not just technically…it stares back at you; it’s some form of therapy because of that. You constantly learn about yourself and it’s a pretty amazing tool in that sense”.

“There’s a rough plan [for the future] but it’s very laid back again. I want to play shows that make sense. I have another film coming out next year and so we just turned that into the film festivals, so I’d like to go do that and travel with the film and present it at the festivals and see what other collaborative projects come my way. At the end of the year I’ll probably put out a couple of records that were sitting on the shelf but from this moment on, next time I step in the studio, it’s not gonna be to do my composition, it’s gonna be to do compositions with other people and to collaborate. That’s my only real plan”.