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Posted February 16, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez: Not looking for any trouble

Bosnian Rainbows
Bosnian Rainbows

The adage “less is more” might not have applied to any of the projects with which guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has been associated in the past. For the past decade or so, the guy made some serious noise with both At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta. But with his new project, Bosnian Rainbows, he’s settled down. The band takes a minimalist, almost-New Wave approach on its first single “Torn Maps.” And the entire self-titled album, which is due out this spring, was recorded live directly to 2-inch analog tape. On the morning of the first date of a U.S. tour, Rodriguez-Lopez spoke via phone about the band’s formation.

You lived outside of your native El Paso for a bit before moving back to the city. What prompted the decision to move back and did that play a role in the formation of Bosnian Rainbows?
I think every decision informs another, either consciously or unconsciously. As far as me moving back, it was to be closer to my family. I spent a long time living overseas in Europe and then I lived in Mexico and New York and I just needed to be closer to my roots, which is ultimately my family, wherever they are. A lot of different things started happening in my life, and my desire to be in a completely collaborative situation grew larger. Being around At the Drive-In again and that type of energy. Mars Volta was always Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] and me. I had a craving to do something new where everyone is participating and from there the idea of the project grew from that. Everything seems to have a simple beginning and from there becomes its own thing.

Is it strange to think that your name has become a brand of sorts?
Sure. It’s an experience that I’m really grateful for. All these years I’ve been able to do solo tours and able to compose film soundtracks and people pick up on it and write it and ask me about it all over the world. That’s pretty crazy. It is strange. I know myself as me. I know myself as something very simple. When my name becomes a brand of sorts, it’s colored by everybody else’s perspective and what they might have read or what they might not have read or what they don’t even care about. It’s interesting, definitely.

Talk about what your singer Teri Gender Bender brings to the group?
She’s great. She brings what everyone brings which is a freshness and ideas and a different spin on things. She brings quality control. It’s limitless. Excitement and energy. When I speak of her, I might as well be speaking of [keyboardist] Nicci [Kasper] or [drummer Deantoni] Parks. A big part of that is them and their personalities. Teri is a great songwriter herself. That’s what attracted me to Le Butcherettes. Nicci is a great songwriter and so is D. That’s the architecture of the group. Everyone is participating.

I read one review of a live show that maintained she practically stole the show and you were like the guy orchestrating the whole thing.
I see myself as a band member. Maybe that was early on or maybe just the fact that I’ve put the group together. My orchestration ends there. I see myself as one person. Everyone is super-opinionated. Because it is a group and we’re not hiring musicians, so it’s impossible for me to be an orchestrator. Everyone has their own band. Nobody has any reason to do this except that they want to be here. Teri was doing great with Le Butcherettes and they were touring and getting write-ups all the time. Nicci was doing production work. D. plays with John Cale and has his own thing. Everyone had to make some sort of sacrifice to be here. As any team starts out, we’re good about curbing each other and saying our opinion. Everyone does every part of the process. They all record themselves, even beyond the songs. Someone will stop a song and go, “The upper mids on that bass aren’t there yet.” That might sound tedious to someone, but it’s actually quite quick.

I think we already had a certain dynamic because I had us all live together for a month when I first put the group together. That’s when you develop a thing because the music of the group is only a byproduct of the chemistry.

You’ve been on the road since August and have played in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. How has the band evolved over that period?
I think we already had a certain dynamic because I had us all live together for a month when I first put the group together. That’s when you develop a thing because the music of the group is only a byproduct of the chemistry. We lived together for about six weeks and saw each other every day. We just watched movies and shared influences. What happens on the road is this dynamic that can only be accomplished on the road and by playing live in front of people in these weird musical spaces. You learn how you can make a compilation that already existed better. That has something to do with playing them in front of people. Your mind works so much quicker on stage than in a rehearsal room. Your mind is so accelerated when you’re on stage with the endorphins and adrenaline and everything else that it seems like you’re playing slow. That’s why bands often compensate by playing fast. You hear The Police bootlegs and they play really fast. This sped up form or face of reality and the compositions has something to do with that. I wish I could describe it better.

When playing those songs, there’s a person and a time that I don’t relate to anymore. He didn’t care about his life and was doing drugs and was really disconnected from the world and a whole lot of other personal stuff that I won’t get into.

That At the Drive-In reunion show at Lollapalooza in Chicago came off well, but you’ve said you feel emotionally disconnected from those songs.
It was a different period in my life and it was a different person who was a part of that project. For me, it’s all about the chemistry between the people. For me, playing together again was to close the chapter on that era. We played those songs so we can hopefully move forward and do new music that represents where we are now. That might sound tedious to someone else or like “God, how boring.” I can’t help that I’m me. I’m really sensitive to those things. They occupy a really important place in my spirit. It’s a whole other thing for me. When playing those songs, there’s a person and a time that I don’t relate to anymore. He didn’t care about his life and was doing drugs and was really disconnected from the world and a whole lot of other personal stuff that I won’t get into. If I give myself to that, I can feel the psychological effects of that personality in the same way that an actor can say it wasn’t healthy for me to live in that role so long or bring that role home every night. I don’t want to go that way so the only way is to keep a distance from it and realize it was music from a different era. I was going through the heaviest personal family thing so it took a lot of energy for me to just be on stage in front of me.

Do you feel the same way about Mars Volta?
Sure. Like I said, with At the Drive-In, the most exciting prospect was that we had our chemistry together and could see what the future would hold. The Mars Volta is a different person and different era and you find a new way of expressing those ideas. Because of all my anger and how I dealt with people, I spent so much of my life just closing doors left and right. At this point, I refuse to close any, only to open new ones. Whatever comes my way — as long as it’s filled with joy and positivity —  I want to give my talents to it. That applies to Bosnian Rainbows as well. I have no interest in orchestrating and only in collaboration and giving my talents to whatever group will have me. That’s the way it is. I’m not interested in throwing tantrums any more or getting in trouble with anything.

Tour Dates

Feb 15, 2013

Feb 16, 2013

Feb 17, 2013

Feb 18, 2013

Feb 19, 2013

Feb 20, 2013

Feb 22, 2013

Feb 23, 2013

Feb 24, 2013

Feb 25, 2013

Feb 26, 2013

Feb 27, 2013

Feb 28, 2013

Mar 15, 2013

Atlanta, GA Terminal West

Asheville, NC @ Asheville Music Hall

Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar

Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church

New York, NY @ Highline Ballroom

Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall

Montréal, QC @ Cabaret du Mile-end

Toronto, ON @ The Mod Club (Early Show)

Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew’s Hall

Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop

Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge

Madison, WI @ Majestic Theater

Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Café

Mexico City @ Vive Latino Festival


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.