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Revolver Mag: Octahedron Review/InterviewUPDATE: New web-exclusive interview w/ Cedric


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#1 somber_vertigo

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 03:54 AM

EDIT:
I don't normally buy Revolver, but I happened to remember that they did a piece on Volta for Bedlam, so I picked it up in the store, and there it was. It's the longest review in the issue. I can't scan anything, but there's really no need - it's just the same press pictures we got earlier.

Revolver Magazine Review: "Interstellar Overdrive"
With their self-described "acoustic album," prog-rock psychonauts The Mars Volta dial back the amps--and just about nothing else.

The Mars Volta
Octahedron (Warner Bros.)
3/5 stars

Even before 2008's The Bedlam in Goliath hit the streets, Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was telling interviewers that the neo-prog rockers' fifth studio record would be "our acoustic album." For most bands, such a distinction would entail lots of campfire-style strumming and plodding tempos topped with copious emoting, all conceived in an atmosphere so precious you can practically smell the burning joss sticks. But in the case of Octahedron, well...let's just say that you won't find a whole lot of kumbayas on here.

Since 2001, when Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala waltzed their girl jeans-clad asses out of At the Drive-In, The Mars Volta have always been unrepentantly single-minded in their pursuit and creation of challenging music. Like Mastodon, a band with similarly progressive (though far more metallic) leanings, the Mars Volta have somehow managed to become more popular even as their records have gotten weirder--as exemplified by the band's Grammy win for "Wax Simulacra," a song from an album (Bedlam) allegedly based on a run-in with a malevolent spirit unleashed by a Ouija board.

While there doesn't appear, at least at first glance, to be any kind of convoluted lyrical concept at the heart of Octahedron--the album title may simply refer to the fact that there are eight songs on this 49-minute opus--there's still plenty of challenging music and insular lyrics in the mix. The glacial opener, "Since We've Been Wrong," throws any initial "acoustic album" preconceptions out the window on the wings of some searing electric guitar sustain, though it does take a good five minutes before the drums actually kick in. The song's aching melody meshes perfectly with Bixler-Zavala's introverted promise to "find a way out through those eyelids," as well as the track's melancholy air of alienation and resignation. As Bixler-Zavala muses at one point, "I seem to feel like I don't belong here." [sic]

There's a similar lost-in-space vibe at work on "With Twilight as My Guide" and "Copernicus," both of which use ominously plucked arpeggios, stately keyboards, and echo-drenched electric leads to create an almost Pink Floydian effect. Bixler-Zavala's high pitched vocal stylings--which generally make Geddy Lee sound like Phil Anselmo--are actually quite beguiling in this particular atmospheric context. Far tougher to take are his overwrought performances on harder rocking tracks like "Halo of Nembutals," the Led Zep-ified "Cotopaxi," and the eight-minute closer "Luciforms." Not only do they distract from the band's impressive interplay but they occasionally even make Rodriguez-Lopez's wicked guitar freakouts sound soothing by comparison.

Then again, musical excess has always been an integral part of the Mars Volta experience, and if rampant self-indulgence doesn't sound like your kind of good time, Octahedron isn't going to be the record that converts you to the cause. But Mars Volta diehards--as well as prog rock fans who enjoy a bit of space travel mixed in with their mind-boggling blasts of technical proficiency--will find much to love.

- Dan Epstein


The Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler-Zavala
On his favorite tracks from Octahedron


"Teflon"
I've been listening to a rough version of it for a while now, and it had no drums. It was just an electronic piece. I always loved it. It reminded me of some B-side from Girls Against Boys, but our style. I had been writing the lyrics and sort of testing the waters of how much I could say if McCain had won the election. I don't usually write anything about things like that. I think "Teflon" is my favorite because it kind of has that slacker attitude of someone who doesn't vote but at the same time is giving a fuck. I think a lot of people could maybe understand that.

"Halo of Nembutals"
We got to use an old sample from [former Mars Volta member] Jeremy [Michael Ward], who passed away to begin this song. It starts off one of his old MiniDisc noise records that he worked on; he had the sample leftover that he'd done for De-Loused that we never got to use. Omar just had it and it fit with the song he was writing, and it made me really happy because I hadn't heard that sample in ages. It just took me back. It reminded me that he's still here.

"Cotopaxi"
I liked writing "Cotopaxi" because the time signature was really odd. I was really, really pissed off having to work on it. I wrote some lyrics on the spot and had to edit it and take away some connecting adjectives and stuff like that because the time signature was so different that it was just really, really hard to sing to. It was a fun challenge. At the time, I was mad. I was throwing things around and getting pissed off because I'm not used to fucking up. I was mad that I finally got a song that was kicking my ass. It was challenging me and beating me. So I liked writing that one the most.

----

WEB-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: THE MARS VOLTA'S CEDRIC BIXLER-ZAVALA ON GOING POP, WINNING GRAMMYS, AND MIXING WITH GERMANS
http://revolvermag.com/node/3345

In Revolver’s August issue, out now, we interview vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala of prog rockers the Mars Volta about their new album, Octahedron (Warner Bros.). For those of you who didn't get enough (or are too cheap to buy the magazine), here's the best of the rest of our wide-ranging chat.

REVOLVER What was the writing process like for The Mars Volta on this album?

CEDRIC BIXLER-ZAVALA A lot of it was written on the road. The first song that’s on the record was finished when we did [2008’s] The Bedlam in Goliath, but we didn’t know if it fit on that album and at the time we had different managers. We showed them the song but they really didn’t even say anything about it. So we just kind of left it because we really wanted to make an acoustic record. We had seen this guy Vic Chesnutt play and it kind of gave us the inspiration to move in a more mellow direction. That song was done a long time ago and everything else just came into place from being in studio on days off from tour.

You say you wanted to make an acoustic album. Is that what Octahedron is you, the Mars Volta’s acoustic effort?

I’ve always been into the ballad-sounding songs from, like, Roky Erickson. We saw Vic Chesnutt play when we were doing press for our last record in Paris. We initially didn’t know anything about him. We went to watch him because we knew Guy [Picciotto] from Fugazi was playing in the band and we wanted to see what Guy was doing. So we went and saw it and the whole band was sitting down. It was just really beautiful. He covered a lot of Nina Simone songs. It was just really beautiful music and it was mellow. It’s stuff that we wanted to do. We knew we had that side to us but it just never came out, and if it did come out, it was just one song on a record. But people would always ask us to play those songs. This time around we wanted to do something that’s opposite, kind of an alienated record, something that’s mellower, a little more simple. People know us as writing over-the-top, long songs. So we wanted to try honoring the threat that we’d always talked about, which was making a pop record because no one would expect that from us.

I know that in the past Omar [Rodriguez-López, guitar] had everyone in the band play their parts completely on their own in order to have you guys play without any kind of preconceived notions as to what was being done before you did your take. Was that the same approach that was taken for this album?
Here and there, yeah. We would practice little parts and improvisations. But for the most part the whole thing was just written separately from what we were doing live. It would be kind of impossible for us to improve a lot of the acoustic stuff in what we do already. We were trying to. We were trying in Germany but people would just be really rowdy and they would just be yelling in between or during the acoustic stuff. So we just kind of gave up on it. It’s not easy, just because half of the time I’m gonna have to spend arguing with them to shut up. I don’t wanna blow my voice yelling at everybody to shut up. And the funny thing was it was a German crowd yelling at Omar to play with more heart. For a German to tell a Puerto Rican that is kind of funny.

What did Omar respond?

He didn’t finish the song. He was just thoroughly insulted. You gotta understand that every time we go to Germany, the culture over there always finds it necessary to tell you how they feel or their opinions about a song. It’s kind of funny that we would deal with that over there. There’s always this preconceived notion of being obsessed with starving artists, and we always joke about it. You know, “Last time you came here you were sick, your lungs weren’t working, it was so good, there was no PA. This time the PA works, you have clothes on, you’re healthy, it’s not so good.” Typical German view.

Can you tell me a little more about the lyric-writing process for Octahedron?
Everything just comes out right away. I used to spend a lot of time taking a song home with me and treat it as homework. What I’ve grown to like is to just write a song instantly, on the spot. If you change a song, it kind of dilutes it. So I like to write on the spot.

How does Octahedron compare to your previous records?
I would say it’s our take on making a pop record just to amuse ourselves. I think we’d be really bored if we made another album that had super-difficult music. It’s just the album that’s honoring the threat that we’ve been saying for so long: that the most revolutionary thing we could do in our system was to make simple pop songs. It’s what we do listen to when we’re not in the band. I personally don’t sitting at home listening to Mahavishnu Orchestra or a lot of jazz fusion. I do love a lot of that shit, but I get really burnt out on it. Sometimes I just like simple songs. I like a lot of 50s oldies and stuff like that.

Do you have a favorite pop act right now?

The last thing that I really was fixated on as the Klaxons. I thought that they had a lot of good pop formula but they did it in a really interesting way with a lot of falsettos, which I like. I feel that sometimes I don’t identify with people and am shaped differently because of my voice. So I utilize a lot of higher singing because I can. I figure if anyone is born with something like that, they should use it all of the time and not be afraid of it. I just thought they were cool. I like their presentation. I liked everything about them. I liked that they didn’t rely on using that disco beat that plagues a lot of Williamsburg. I just thought they were cool. It was different for me and it was pop. And then a lot of older stuff. Badfinger, which is like the poor man’s Beatles. I love shit like that.

You won a Grammy this year. What was that like?

Well, originally I set up a party at my house because everyone in the band was like, “We have to go,” and I didn’t really want to go. So I had a party set up and the party was called “We just lost to Judas Priest.” And then when we got back from the party it was like, I can’t believe we just fucking won. We were there watching and everyone was dressed nicely. We were making fun of every category that was being announced because Lil’ Wayne was winning every category. So we were like, “Best Soap Opera Star: Lil’ Wayne.” We were laughing so hard and making fun of everybody else that when they announced it, we just couldn’t believe it. We were rolling on the floor laughing like we pulled the biggest bank robbery ever. And then we walked by and we saw the Zappa crew cheering us on and that’s when it hit.

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#2 Guest_killer7_*

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 04:47 AM

sucks TMV isn't on any magazine covers like years past.
this year sucks as far as promotion goes

#3 somber_vertigo

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 04:52 AM

sucks TMV isn't on any magazine covers like years past.
this year sucks as far as promotion goes


I was thinking about that today, which really prompted me to head over to the magazine section at the store and peruse the issues for any Volta-related news. I'm interested to know what's in Warner Bros' contract. Maybe the distinct lack of press-related obligations is a reason why they decided to sign with WB. They never really enjoyed doing photo shoots and interviews when they were with Universal, and they made it known.

#4 Guest_killer7_*

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 04:58 AM

funny how 3 minute cotopaxi kicked his fucking ass.
and sweet how the ghost of Jeremy is still making music.

#5 Guest_killer7_*

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 05:00 AM

sucks TMV isn't on any magazine covers like years past.
this year sucks as far as promotion goes


I was thinking about that today, which really prompted me to head over to the magazine section at the store and peruse the issues for any Volta-related news. I'm interested to know what's in Warner Bros' contract. Maybe the distinct lack of press-related obligations is a reason why they decided to sign with WB. They never really enjoyed doing photo shoots and interviews when they were with Universal, and they made it known.

This sucks, because i need more Volta mag covers to frame!

#6 flipzoso

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 05:05 AM

The Cedric insight part is very very interesting.

Thank you for writing it out.

#7 Lewis T

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 09:33 AM

Thanks for typing it up.

All the reviews seem to be 3/5!

#8 The Nephilim

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 10:48 AM

Thanks for the write up.

#9 hui43210

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 02:54 PM

cedric part is the best. that makes the first part of halo even cooler now

#10 90adZAP

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 06:32 AM

wow
thanks for postin'
i like ceds insight

good article

#11 flipzoso

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 06:08 PM

9 responses to one of the most interesting articles, pffft lemme fix that and bring more attention to it.

#12 cymbaline12

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 06:17 PM

cheers! i'm eating this shit up!

#13 cymbaline12

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 06:43 PM

put this on the coma's latest news yo!

#14 Athleticist

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 07:09 PM

That sample stood out to me i'm happy to know where it's from now

#15 ryan

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 07:55 PM

wow, this album always gets 3 out 5 stars or and 8/10

3+5 = 8.


o_O

#16 25snakesaredrowning

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 08:03 PM

"Halo of Nembutals"
We got to use an old sample from [former Mars Volta member] Jeremy [Michael Ward]


Very cool. That's the first part of the album I really enjoyed.

It's rare to hear Cedric's perspective of individual songs. Thanks for typing this.

#17 itsgonrain

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 09:11 PM

Haha Halo came on as I read Cedric's insight, thanks for the write up bro.

#18 somber_vertigo

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:26 AM

No problem guys, I was happy to type it up.

The Jeremy part is very interesting to me, especially Cedric's mention that the sample was supposed to be on Deloused. To me, that kind of ties in with the "dragging the lake" lyric. I know Cedric often re-uses motifs and phrases, but that's a very unique one to use again.

Two throwbacks on a 49-minute, eight track album.

I guess what I'm saying is - as much as Cedric and Omar seem to want to shake the past surrounding Deloused, it still sticks around and manages to creep back up on them. (I'm not one of those people who pines for Deloused, so that's not where my comment is coming from.) I just think it's interesting that their past plays an equally important role as the future in each album.

#19 swansong200

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:56 PM

"girl jeans-clad asses" :laugh: :laugh:

#20 somber_vertigo

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 04:27 PM

Bump - new web exclusive interview in the first post.




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