The 59th Sound recently had the pleasure of chatting with the very talented Omar Rodriguez Lopez in the lead up to his solo performance at Melbourne's very own Cherry Rock. You may know Omar from his previous projects like At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta but the music doesn't ever stop and we chatted about what this last year has been like for the multi-talented musician.
We Australians are very fond of you and we're lucky to have you back in November for Cherry Rock, what do you like most about touring down under?
Geez, That's a good question! It's kind of hard to put your finger on it. Australia is such a strange place, you know? It's got all the space like America has but it's still got a European flavour to it somehow. I don't know why that is. I can't even say that it's European, it's kind of it's own thing. The overall experience (in Australia) is really gratifying and really nice.
2012 saw several solo releases, the reunion tour with ATDI and you've been busy with your new band Bosnian Rainbow. How does one manage all of that in just one year?
Um, you know.. geez. It's a lot easier than it sounds. It sounds complicated but I wouldn't give too much importance to it. It's sort of uh, things either work out or they don't. So if someone wants to do a couple of shows here, or if somebody else wants to do them there, you either say "Yes, I can" or "No, I can't." Of course I say it's easy because it's a matter of me saying what I want to do so I'm sure the people like the managers who actually do the work are probably ripping their hair out. So, from my end of it, it's pretty easy, you either agree to something or you don't.
You have what appears to be an empire of prominent bands you've been a part of and so many sounds you've pioneered, how do you know when it's time to move forward and create something new?
Whenever you find yourself stuck or whenever you find something utterly comfortable, you know it's pretty much time to move on.
I guess on the topic of old and new things, this year you took a look into your musical past with At The Drive-In whilst still creating a new chapter in your life. What's it like to juggle something old and something new like that?
Well, are you talking about just At The Drive-In where it's a new era but it's all old music?
Yeah, so were you going into the past to recapture something that was then and trying make it still very now in a creative and personal sense?
Oh right, yeah. I look at it in a very different way. I don't look at it as trying to recapture something from back then, I look at it very much as a moment of right now. You know, which is to say I'm much older now, I've learned a lot of things. I'm an adult and other people in the band are adults now, so for me the whole At The Drive-In experience was about everything else besides the music. The music is the one thing that can not be changed and the music is definitely just a part of the past and is sort of stuck in the past. But everything else, our relationships are new, our relationships have completely changed, our chemistry has changed. Our outlook on life has changed. So for me, that experience and what makes it new is exactly that. I'm rediscovering old friendships and airing out a lot of old problems we had and trying to find new solutions to them. Just being around each other and seeing how we've changed as people and how we deal with problems now and how we figure them out .. uh, the music part of it is completely irrelevant to me. It's just a product of what our chemistry was then and now we have a new chemistry. I have absolutely no emotional connection to the music and no real interest in playing it.
With your newer projects like Mars Volta or Bosnian Rainbow, is it safe to say your songwriting still comes from an emotional place?
Oh yeah, definitely! Definitely, without a doubt. It couldn’t be anything else. I have no sophisticated place that it could come from. I don't have any schooling in music, I don't have sophistication. I have only brute force.
Well you do have this natural art in deconstructing the basic idea of what a song is and creating something completely natural to you. Can you talk me through the process of songwriting for you, from the idea to the recording?
You know, it can all be so different. Its hard to make that part of it completely tangible. Which is why I feel like, you know when they do bio pics on a band? Like a movie about a band like The Doors or any movie about any band, it's always going to be a failure no matter which way you slice it. Because that first moment that you're talking about, that moment of inspiration and creation, it's so intangible. When I watch a movie like that, The Doors movie for example, it's the only one that's come to my mind right now. I don't even like The Doors, (laughs). It's the type of movie where the guy goes "Oh, that's cool! Yeah, play that and maybe we can add a little .. " You know, it's all so fake and contrived because that true moment of inspiration, it really does come from anywhere. I feel a lot closer to people who say, "My best ideas are on the toilet.". I feel closer to those people than the people who are mystifying music and making it grandiose by saying, "Oh, I remember I was sitting on top of a hill when the idea first came to me" and get into this self-importance trip. Because of the media, because of the 60's and 70's people have mystified composing music and put it on a pedestal and made rock stars of people and there's absolutely nothing special about it. The only special thing is music itself and that exists with or without us. So as composers, all we're really doing is translating something. The only art that we're really refining is that there's ideas out in the atmosphere and we're able to take them and act like translators. We're able to translate it and make it tangible somehow. But either way, it's out there. If I don't grab a song from out of space and put in a tangible song, someone else will.
Now you've said your work whether it be film or music is in itself a form of therapy. So in what you do in the sense of translating, are you also translating a part of yourself to get you through personally?
Oh yeah. The process itself is the therapy. Because how you go about the translation and what exactly happens in the translation, that's the therapy. It's the difference between using the word he or she. The people who have the incredible task of translating books from one language to another.. every moment of the way, they're making these little decisions that inevitably and completely effect the outcome of the text. So that process is a very heavy thing. Grabbing the music is something like it's out there all the time, so any kind of exchange can be turned into notes or music. But it's really how you go about it and why you go about it a certain way that teaches you something about yourself.
Just to be topical, you've been known to write from a political stand point in the past and there's currently a presidential debate going on as we speak. How do you feel about this years race?
It's inspiring in some way because it makes me so angry. Other people in my band, I mean, we have these debates all the time and we get kind of fired up about it (because) they believe in the voting system. I think it's absolutely absurd to live in this day and age and know what we know and have all the information at our fingertips and still think that politics is about electing a representative and have a government run for the people by the people. You have to be utterly insane to believe that that's the truth. It sparks all sorts of fierce debates but the bottom line is it's business. The bottom line is money, it's commerce. It always has been, it always will be. If it weren't, we'd have already fed all of out starving people and clothed them and sheltered them. If you tax that 1% what they should be taxed, you'd have enough to do away with homelessness and poverty in this country. Instead this country is fighting wars that it can't even afford. You have to be completely naïve or just lying to yourself to think this country or any country is run by anything other than what's always run the world which is power and greed.
Thank you so much for your time today, it's been fantastic chatting with you and we look forward to catching you at Cherry Rock in November!
Thank you very much!