The Mars Volta are pulling their touring socks up again soon and landing in Australia for Splendour In The Grass (and select sideshows), before releasing their sixth album later this year. Vocalist and lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala is a bewitching feller to watch perform, so why shouldn’t his conversations be any different?
Are you aware of the Splendour In The Grass lineup?
“Well, James Blake, I’m so stoked on that. Omar gave me that album; it’s fucking awesome. Off the top of my head I can tell you right now meeting up with Devendra [Banhart] is always a pleasure. That guy is a fucking force of nature… I love a band and a singer and songwriter who can be so delicate in their delivery that it’s deafening, and as loud as a wall of Marshalls.”
Do The Mars Volta incorporate that kind of approach to dynamic into their own sound?
“I can definitely say this time around: yeah. This is the first time we’ve really embraced small amps live. We record with small amps, which is, you know, that’s the secret. Everyone should know that [laughs]. Small amps make you sound awesome. But yeah, this time around, we have a drummer who really doesn’t have to be reminded, live, to go down on a song. Everything’s so stripped down right now with the band, we’ve really been embracing playing very quietly, and it’s so much fun.”
Is the drummer Deantoni Parks? He’s played with you before, hasn’t he?
“He played with us before Thomas [Pridgen] was in the band, and unfortunately, it was not a good way to showcase him, because we had fired [Jon Theodore] in the middle of a tour. It was a really bad situation. Deantoni came in and had to learn, like, four songs. We were like, ‘Okay, learn this – just kind of improvise it for a while.’ We only had about a forty minute slot opening up for the Chili Peppers when that happened, and then we did some festival shows, but I really felt like it didn’t do him justice, you know? He’s an amazing songwriter too, he’s an amazing re-mixer; a force to be reckoned with. He truly is an artist. He has that capacity to take the Ringo Starr approach, which is respecting the song and not just overplaying like a lot of the past incarnations of our band have been like.”
So he’s been involved in the writing of the new material as well?
“Yeah, definitely. When we let Thomas go, we were in the middle of having to honour all these dates – the Big Day Out – and we were working on this record that Omar had been making with Deantoni, which was a lot of heavy synth and different kinds of song structures. We just jumped on it and made it a Volta record. We started writing more stuff with him, and it became our sixth album.”
I heard a lot of material for the upcoming album was scrapped?
“I read that somewhere too but I never heard the album that was scrapped. There is a seriously big fucking library [of material] Omar has that I have not even heard.”
You often perform with Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group. Is it a different approach to tap into that kind of work as a peripheral participant, or is it similar to how you would approach TMV songs?
“It’s all the same thing to me really, unless I say, ‘This should be a Volta song.” There’s just so much stuff he has: I play drums on one day, and I sing on the other. I don’t even remember. Sometimes it just ends up coming out on a record. I’ll look in the credits and be like, ‘Oh, I played melodica on this song, I remember that day.’ You’re just around him and if he asks you to do something, you don’t know where it ends up.”
Do you ever find it’s hard to find the core of a song with a fluctuating lineup, or does it inform the songs?
“I think, if anything, it is hard, but you have to just embrace the change and embrace that the songs are always going to be played differently. The key thing for an audience to remember is if you don’t watch them during that one campaign, then you probably won’t see it again. So it’s kind of like a necessity in coming to see us. I’m okay with that, I’m comfortable with knowing there’s never going to be a solid band; there’s always going to be a phase one, phase two, phase three. That’s just the way it is, really.”
What else is it about The Mars Volta that’s seen the project survive for ten years now?
“The fact that Omar likes to throw a monkey wrench at the comfort zone that everyone in the band has; the fact that he is really not into swimming in the same waters. I can definitely say there are a lot of songs that might sound similar, but we really, really try to change it up record after record, and I think this new record is going to be really symbolic of that. It’s very symbolic of the failed attempt of the last record to be more stripped back; now we have the right drummer to interpret that, it should be fun.”
The Mars Volta play Splendour in the Grass in Woodford on Saturday July 30. Tickets at moshtix.com.au. They’ll play their Melbourne sideshow at The Palace on Sunday August 7. Tickets through ticketek.com.au.