Getting Paid: An Interview with Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez of Sci-Fi Funk Group Zechs Marquise

Imagine a soundtrack for a blaxploitation film starring Shaft in outer space and you’ll have an idea of what Zechs Marquise’s second album, Getting Paid, sounds like. The album is a harder, funkier successor to the group’s full-length debut Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare, which favored ambience and mellow dub.

I spoke with bassist Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez over the phone about the album as well as a number of other topics including why the band is playing at a strip club in Hollywood, bass lines in latin cumbias and west coast hip-hop, Japanese anime, the period of time the band was named Mastodon, and a certain famous sibling.

(l - r) Marcos Smith, Matthew Wilkinson, Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez, Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez and Rikardo Rodriguez-Lopez

So you have a few shows coming up next week.

We actually start on Saturday. We have one here [in El Paso] and then the next one is in Mesa [AZ]. Then we play L.A., then San Diego, then L.A. again.

I was looking at those shows and I see you guys are playing at Cheetahs. How’d THAT happen?

We have a friend who books bands there and he saw that we were coming out and had a day off. And he’s like “It’s this bikini bar!” and the reason why we took it is because there’s no cover and we get to play all of our stuff. So we thought, cool, we’ll have one free show and one where people have to pay. We’re kind of interested in seeing how that works out.

Yeah, I read that and thought “When did Cheetahs start booking bands?”

[laughs] So is it like a bikini bar or like a strip club? I’ve been told it’s both, kind of.

I was there once for a friend’s birthday. It’s not a full-on strip club but you can get lap dances and all that.

Like a middle ground? [laughs]

Yeah, that’s why when I read about that show, I went “huh?”

That’s weird, yeah. [laughs] We thought the same thing too.

And then you guys are playing at Low End Theory later.

Yeah, we haven’t played Low End in like two years and we used to try to do it at least twice a year. Over the last few years, we never had a chance to schedule a Low End show, especially with how we’ve grown over the past couple of years, but we definitely like playing there. I think they’ve only had a couple of rock bands play there but all the residents there consider us residents so that’s cool considering that we don’t live in L.A.

The first time we did Low End we opened for Daedalus and Busdriver. We were totally stoked on that because we’ve been fans of Busdriver for so long.

And you’re actually playing two shows in El Paso.

Yeah, we have another one in October [at La Parada]. I guess it would be the equivalent of El Paso’s Low End Theory. It’s the first Friday of every month at the San Carlos building, which is a building a huge courtyard. They have lots of stores and stuff and they let these guys rent the whole space once a month with a few dj’s and live art. Sometimes they have a dance troupe play, they’ll have a band play, it’s really cool. We’re booking it as our vinyl release party since we’re playing two shows in El Paso so close together and because it’s mostly a vinyl culture as it is.

Are you going to add more tour dates?

We have a tour coming up in November. As soon as the routing and dates are locked down, we’ll be announcing those. The only reason we’re doing this one so short is because it’s right when the record comes out. We want to get out, play a few shows and give it some time to circulate for a minute before heading back out again.

Let it percolate for a bit?

Yeah, exactly. Let it settle with people. It’ll be nice to do these shows. The way it worked out was great with Low End capping it off and [brother/drummer] Marcel [Rodriguez-Lopez]‘s birthday is the following day on the 29th so to come back home after releasing the record, especially after how long and how hard we’ve been working on it, it’ll be nice.

So it’s an album release/birthday party?

Yeah, pretty much. The Low End show is going to be the fun one. That one’s going to be the official album release show and El Paso gets it a few days before it drops. The Low End one is the one we’re looking forward to. Like you said, it’s going to be like a birthday party.

Are you going to have a giant cake with a Cheetahs dancer jumping out of it?

There you go! [laughs] That’s secretly why we did the Cheetahs gig. To take my brother to a strip club or, actually, I guess it’s a bikini bar or gentlemen’s club. I’m not sure what the correct term would be.

Somewhere in the middle, I guess. A not-so-gentlemen’s club?

[laughs]

I was checking out the album art on the new teaser trailer. Who made it?

Our friend Zeque Peña. He does most of our artwork. He did the cover for our first full-length and he does all of our tour posters, any kind of flyers and anything we need for artwork. Most of our merchandise our other friend Matt Poe does but Zeque is definitely our main collaborator that we work with. He worked just as hard on that artwork as we did on the record.

Getting Paid album cover

I figure the four characters represents each one of you.

Yeah, actually, the four on the cover, the gorilla, the owl, the lion and the elephant is each one of us. The gorilla is [guitarist] Marcos [Smith], the owl is Marcel, I’m the lion and [guitarist] Matthew [Wilkinson] is the elephant. Originally, we already knew we wanted something hand-drawn the way that he did it but the debate was whether or not to actually put our faces on the record and, in the past, for some reason we’ve had this thing with animals or creatures. So we’re like “let’s just pick animals.” It’s our bodies but he drew on the animals heads and placed them over ours.

And you got the most badass one, the lion!

[laughs] It’s funny because when I tell people about it they’re all “is it because of the afro?” I always say yes. I have a mane and so does the lion so I just tell them yes.

When did you finish recording Getting Paid?

I would say it was probably November or December of last year. Then in January, we handed it over within the first week or two of the year to get mixed and the mixing took about a month or two because of scheduling and then we got it mastered. We had the CD’s pressed two or three months ago.

We finished recording it late because the song “Time Masters” wasn’t even going to be on the record. When we started working on it, we’re like “no, it’s gotta be on there” and then we found that it bridged two songs perfectly. That’s why it took us a little longer plus all the hurdles along the way that came with making the record but definitely that last track is what got us to turn it in so late.

Our original intention was to have it out earlier this year but because of that track and how long it took to mix it, it became a fall release, which we were fine with. We didn’t want to hand it over and then be like “you know, we really wanted to change that one part” or “maybe we should’ve taken that thing out or replaced it with this.” We just wanted to get it as good as we could get it.

We could’ve kept working on it forever but you’re never going to be 100 percent satisfied. I’m pretty sure that’s why it took Axl Rose 10 years to put out that last Guns n’ Roses record. [laughs] 

So were you guys originally shooting for a release date around SXSW?

Yeah. because we were heading out on tour and SXSW was the first show of the tour. Because we were going to be out on tour for a month, it would’ve been awesome to have it ready especially since we had been touring the last record about two years. I think there were two or three festivals we were playing on that tour so it made sense. It was a bummer not to have the record with us.

Was that your brother Riko’s first show?

That was his second one, actually. His first one was when we played La Parada that February at a First Friday thing. The South-By was his second show. He caught on really quick. We thought it was going to take him a little longer but I think within, I want to say three weeks, he already had, with a few exceptions here and there, all the songs down. It was definitely a plus. And now he’s gotten a lot more comfortable with it so that’s really good. He’s definitely a gifted dude.

Did you guys bring him on because you needed an extra person?

We brought him on because, originally, Marcel used to play the keyboards and then when we kicked out the original drummer we started trying out different dudes. We had a tour coming up and a lot of the other guys weren’t working out. There were areas where they were just falling short. Some of them it was personality-wise, some of them couldn’t play, you know, they couldn’t keep up with us, one dude couldn’t hit hard enough, one guys style didn’t fit with the band, so then Marcel was like “you know what? I’ll just play drums!” Drums was his original instrument anyway and the only reason he played keyboards at the time was because we already had a drummer and [Marcel] was leaving all the time on Mars Volta tours. It was easier for us to tour without a keyboard player. It made it a lot easier for us especially considering that, at the time, our songs had keyboards in them but we could get one of the guitarists to do some the keyboard parts back in those days.

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When we were done with the record and when we did that tour in March, the idea was “all right, we’re not gonna play any of the old songs. We’re just gonna play all the new ones and see how people like it.” The new record has lots of keyboard parts that are vital to the song. Riko had already been messing around with keyboards. He was a keyboard player and a guitar player and he knew enough about the keyboard that if he were to listen to something he could catch on really quickly. It was inevitable. It was like “ok, we need a keyboard player now.” Who better than someone who has been around it for most of his life? Or all of his life, I should say. We already knew we could get along with him. We already knew he was a cool kid and that he could play. We weren’t going to get another drummer so Marcel could go back to keys because Marcel is a really, really awesome drummer.

A better drummer than keyboardist?

I would say so. He’s a great keyboardist, don’t get me wrong, especially his sense of melody and harmonies and how he can play a grand piano, he can play a rhodes, he can play wurlitzer, a clavinet, a synthesizer. Just because you can play a piano doesn’t necessarily mean you can play clavinet because of the way the instrument functions. He can do all that real well but the drums has always been his first love. Before he ever got into playing keyboards, he had already been playing drums for like four or five years and it’s always been a constant thing. He’s been fortunate enough to work with so many great drummers that he’s definitely taken things from here and there and added them to his style. It makes for such an awesome drummer. He’s a great keyboardist but his drumming is just incredible.

He hits really hard. I always make jokes about how he hits so hard, especially when he hits the snare drum, that you hear a small suction sound. A vacuum is being created because he hits so hard! [laughs]

He’s going to be like Vinnie Paul from Pantera. That guy would hit so hard he’d use the other end of the sticks.

[laughs] He’s always breaking sticks. It sucks when we have rehearsals and I look over and he’ll be using timbale sticks, which in most cases, especially the ones that he has, are really thin so he’s breaking those even faster than he would regular drum sticks. Not that it’s happened a lot but we’ve had to end rehearsals early because he’s out of drum sticks.

There goes the band’s budget.

Just on sticks! [laughs] I remember beforehand he would buy them out of pocket and it was the same thing with the guitar player Matt. He would buy all of these strings and pop them left and right so I said “you know what, you guys are spending so much money on that shit! Just put it on the band’s budget now.” Now we do get strings and sticks so it does make it easier.

Were you and Marcel playing since you were kids?

I was maybe 17 or 16 because Marcel got his first drum kit when he was 15. It was something fun for us to do. We really liked dub music a lot and reggae and hip-hop. We were drums and bass so it made sense. We were a rhythm section.

It sounds cheesy but, because we’re brothers, there’s a connection that we wouldn’t get otherwise if we were just friends. We play off of each other real well and our styles go real well with each other.

How did you meet Marcos and Matthew?

They’re old friends. Marcos, Marcel and I went to school together starting in middle school all the way through high school. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years. We met Matt in high school. We’d see him all the time at shows and he had a band called Airplanes Are Better. We’d start seeing his band play at somebody’s show we’d all go to. The funny thing is, all four of us didn’t start playing together until our 20’s but we had been friends since we were 15. Well, of course, Marcel and I have been friends longer. [laughs]

It wasn’t until we were like 19 or 20 years old that the four of us started playing together. Marcel and I would do it all the time, sometimes it was Marcel and Marcos, occasionally it was Marcel, Marcos and I. A lot of times it was Matt and I. It finally got to a point where we decided “why don’t all four of us just play together?!” [laughs]

What about yourself? Have you always played bass your whole life?

I started out playing guitar, which is actually funny because when I started playing guitar, [brother] Omar [Rodriguez-Lopez] was actually playing bass. He started out playing bass. The guitar wasn’t even his first instrument. Somewhere along the way, I want to say, right before or around my 15th birthday I started noticing that the thing I noticed the most in songs anyway was the bass and I loved the way it sounded and the tone, especially because I would listen to a lot of latin music and a lot of hip-hop where the bass plays such a huge role. I really loved the way the instrument sounded and, on top of that, it’s weird because I love the way the bass sounds, I do have my favorite bass players but, I’m more influenced by guitar players when it comes to playing the bass.

That’s one thing I’ve noticed about Hispanics. I’m Mexican and my cousins are all about cumbias but, on the other end, they love Dr. Dre and Tupac.

Latin music and hip-hop is so lively. It’s got a lot of life in it and character especially west coast hip-hop and rap. It has that lively, dancey sound and also the whole bass thing. A lot of hip-hop is about how thick that bass is and how hard it pounds.

Yeah…that and Sublime.

Right?! [laughter]

I never understood the obsession with Sublime.

It’s the white dude’s reggae.

[laughs] Did you guys get your name from Mobile Gundam Wing?

Yeah, actually, when Marcel and I were younger we used to watch it. We had these two Chinese friends and, on summer vacation, they’d go visit their aunts, uncles and grandparents over in China. They’d always come back with all these VHS’s and toys of Dragonball Z and different kinds of Gundams and this other anime called The Guyver. They would come back with all this weird stuff and we were like “this is really cool,” especially because American cartoons weren’t really like that, much less the toys which were more like models. We were drawn to it and I specifically liked the Gundam stuff because it had to with space and giant robots, which I was a huge fan of when I was a kid.

This isn't the Zechs Marquise you're looking for...

Gundam Wing was my favorite one and, when we were looking for a name, I was watching the series that had just been released on DVD so, of course, I went out and I bought one. We went to rehearsal one day and we were throwing out names and, because I had just come from watching it, I just threw it out. “What about Zechs Marquise?” Everyone was like “I like that! I really like that!” Marcel was the only one who knew where it was from but then they were all like “where is that from?!” and I said “it’s a character from a Japanese cartoon.” They were like “I really like that! Let’s use that!” [laughs]

It’s funny too because there are kids that get into the band solely based on the name. They’re like “oh man, I love that TV series and I really like that character! I hope that band’s awesome!” So they’ll check us out and end up liking it. Or some people end up hating it. [laughs]

I was listening to Getting Paid and, to me, it sounds like an outer space, blaxploitation soundtrack.

[laugh] That’s good, that’s kind of what we had in mind. Each song tells its own story. That’s exactly more or less what we had in mind. Time travel and space travel and just “out there” things. The idea for the artwork too, all these different creatures, basically it’s like a representation of what fundamentally how people are all the same but the outside is what makes us different. There’s your character right there, personality and outward appearance, and that’s kind of where each of the creatures come in.

We’ve always had that idea of space travel and the unknown. One of the big ideas for Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare was of the unknown and the sea because man hasn’t explored the ocean in its entirety.

We had a lot of fun with the record because the whole thing was “all right, we’re going to put more energy in it” and make it something that you can nod your head to and tap your toe. Especially with instrumental music, without that voice of a lead singer, you kind of have to use all the tools you have with your instruments, which, for the most part was heavy rhythms and catchy melodies and, most importantly, harmonies to give it that extra layer to make it slightly larger than it actually is.

Why did you guys decide to not have a singer?

Originally it was just because none of us could sing. When we first got the band together it was more, this sounds ridiculous or cliche but, we were just having fun. We would always just show up and they weren’t even really practices. It was more of “hey dude, do you want to go jam later?” So we’d meet up and just jam and there was never anything really written. Occasionally, someone would have a riff, we’d play it and everyone would play along. When we did realize “well, let’s start writing songs,” none of us are really vocalists or lyricists, so to say, but we really liked these songs. So we’re like “let’s just keep it instrumental” because at the time we really liked Hella and a lot of the early Floyd stuff after Syd Barrett right before Dark Side was very light on the lyrics. There were these spacier parts. We liked the way a ton of these bands worked without vocals so why can’t we try it?

Through that process we learned that somehow we have to replace that absence of the singer and that’s when we got into the idea, “maybe we’ll just use extended solos,” which was always the solution before. Now we’ve learned to focus it a little more. Now we’ll have a cool melody that traditionally would be sung by somebody but it’ll be on the guitars instead of the keyboard or the keyboard will play it and the guitars will play two different harmonies. We never put the idea in our heads that there wouldn’t be singing, that there wouldn’t be vocals. It’s a matter of using them correctly.

At one point, we didn’t want to bring anyone in from outside because you have to make sure you get along with them, that they’re good people, they have to be able to write lyrics that everyone likes or that we could at least all agree on, they have to be able to sing well and a lot of dudes would come up to us and they were kind of mediocre singers. If that’s what we’re going to be dealing with then why don’t we just be the mediocre singers? That’s also why we did those bits of vocals on the record. We could do that little bit.

There are a few tracks that have some vocals on it. Who is the female singer on “The Heat, The Drought…?”

That’s our friend Genevieve Sunny Baker but she goes by Sunny. She’s this great singer from around here. She has a group called Crooke and Color. Matthew Poe who I mentioned earlier who does some of our shirt designs has a twin brother, Joseph, who actually filled in for drums for Marcel on our last tour. She’s his girlfriend and we went to go watch them play a show because he plays drums in her group. She has a really awesome, soothing voice.

When we recorder her, we showed her old soul records and with that she did it all in one day, if I’m not mistaken. Maybe two days just so she could get comfortable with it. She went back to listen to it and she thought she could do better, which she did, she killed it. It’s a lot of people’s favorite song. A lot of our friends that have heard it are like “that’s my favorite track on that record.” She did a great job with those harmonies.

It’s funny because she was so shy. She was like “just show me how to record and I can do it.” We recorded the vocals inside of a closet at her house so we moved the computer into the closet with her and the microphone and she sat inside there by herself recording the whole thing. My brother and I just chilled in the living room with her boyfriend while she recorded the parts.

Let her record while you chill in the living room with some beers and a PS3.

[laughs] It was awesome because we were like “we’re going to be here for three or four hours. Let’s go get some food” but, no, she was like “no, I’ll record it.” She did it just fine.

What about the vocals on “Static Lovers?”

That’s actually the four of us. Marcel and I do the soprano, Marcos is doing a falsetto and then Matt is singing a harmony so it gave it this weird layered effect. It was cool. When we did it we were like “there’s kind of this Bee Gees thing going on.” None of us are huge fans of the Bee Gees or anything but we liked how you can hear a tiny voice, the mid-range voices playing off each other that makes it sound a little bigger and then you got the dude doing the harmonies. It sounds like he’s down a hallway singing it. It sounded cool the way it came out.

None of us are great singers but all we had to do was figure out what key it was in, practice it a few times and record it two or three times.

You had to pull off a Captain Planet move: combine the four to make one.

Yeah! [laughs] Exactly. When your powers combine, I can sing songs! Individually, our voices sounded terrible but all four together, it’s passable. We actually were surprised with how well it sounded at first. It was the first song we did the singing on and we were unsure about it when we were doing it. Then we played it back and we’re like “wow!”

You can’t really hear it but on the song Sunny sings on, we do backing vocals but it’s super low on the mix.

Going back to the recording process, was it during your very first album or was it during Nightmare when you had trouble with the recording studio?

It was before Nightmare. It was even before the live EP that we did. The way that it happened was that we went to the studio, we paid for studio time, we went in, recorded…I think it was five songs and then we went on a Christmas break. The engineer that was working on the record went back to Mexico to visit his family and Matt’s parents live in Oregon so he went up there. We took a two or three week Christmas break. We came back, wanted to go back in to add some overdubs to some of the songs but the engineer was in some kind of legal dispute with the studio owners.

During that whole thing, we were in limbo and we didn’t know what to do. Eventually, we took a hard drive to get all of our stuff. [Bobby the engineer] was going to set up a home studio and that’s what we were waiting for. We were going to get the tracks and finish them up ourselves. When we showed up to get them, the current engineer looks for the files everywhere and can’t find them. So we went back to one of the studio owners, the one who was a little more familiar with it because he was there all the time when we were recording, and he explained to us that they had gone through and erased pretty much everything that that guy had worked on. I guess it got really bad between them and they deleted all the files, all the stuff he had recorded and got rid of it.

So we’re like “wait, we paid this money to get these songs and now we have nothing.” And the guy’s like “well, you’re dealing with Bobby so you’re going to have to talk to him about that. There’s nothing we can do for you.” Basically, we were fucked then but right before we left on that holiday break, we had one song that actually bounced for us but it was unmixed. So we just had this one thing out of the five that were recorded so we thought we’ll just scrap it or keep it somewhere.

Then we got the idea, “let’s just record one of our sets.” [laughs] We had a friend with a Mac and he had just gotten Pro Tools and we recorded it. That was our solution: we’re going on tour, let’s just record a live set, slap it together, give it a little packaging and we’ll sell that on the road.

Later, we started getting the idea, “let’s start recording another record,” but we didn’t want to go through that whole process again of having to pay someone for studio time, then having to make sure that all of us can go in and setting up a schedule. It was just a hassle so we figured that all that money that we would’ve put in to recording at a studio, why don’t we just buy our own microphones, our own computers, our own Pro Tools rig? And that’s exactly what we did. We recorded Our Delicate… and Getting Paid ourselves with all of our own gear. As time went on, we got better mics so that’s one of the reasons why Getting Paid sounds so much better than Our Delicate…

So do you have your own studio built now?

It’s a funny thing because when we recorded Our Delicate…, my parents have a three-care garage and they weren’t using it anymore and it’s huge. It’s an enormous three-car garage. We set up our gear in there, our computer, the mixing board and everything and Omar, Marcel and I were talking with my dad and telling him that we should turn it into a studio. Get some hardwood floors in there, get some real doors instead of those metal garage doors. [laughs] It has fluorescent lighting so there’s always this buzzing going on if you have the lights on so we kind of made it into a studio. It’s worked out from there because it’s about the gear you have and how you use it.

We recorded most of Getting Paid in Marcel’s and my living room. It’s where we recorded the drums and we did the keyboards, the guitars and the bass with the rigs inside of different closets. It helped contain it a little more so the neighbors wouldn’t complain because the neighborhood Marcel and I live in, the houses are pretty close together.

Now we’re back at the studio at my parent’s house now that they’re done remodeling their house so we can start tracking for the new record there. It’s great because we don’t have to make recording schedules with anybody. We can do it at our own pace. We can record as much as we want in a day or as little as we want in a day. There’s no setbacks other than our own. There’s no shortage of funds because it’s all of our equipment.

How did that change the songwriting process? Obviously, it was less stressful.

Yeah, absolutely. When we recorded the other record, the one that got scrapped, it was all pre-written material and the songs that we worked on, we went in and just hammered them out. With our own studio, we can write songs when we’re in there recording, which is how the last two records were done. We went in with one basic idea and just wrote the song. It helps us even more because if we come up with something cool while we’re recording, it can be recorded real quick and get back to that later.

How did you meet Cathy at Sargent House?

She actually came to watch us play at Low End Theory the last time we played there. If I’m not mistaken, she’d seen us play twice before that. I think Sonny Kay turned her on to us. She came and saw us play and after we played Low End two years ago, I think it was April of 2008 or 2009, right after we got back from Europe, and after we were done playing, she came up to us and said “I want to sign you guys to my label.” She explained to us how the whole thing was and when we first heard from her, she e-mailed me at my personal e-mail right before the L.A. show and offered us a tour with Rx Bandits.

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Originally, we had been touring Our Delicate… for a year, promoting it and printed it ourselves for that whole year. When she picked us up, she was originally going to do a straight-up Sargent House release. During that time, she was in talks with my brother Omar because he wanted to start a label. She calls him up and tells him “how come you didn’t tell me that your brothers have a badass band?! I’m going to sign them.” And Omar being the guy he is says, “all right, but if you’re going to put that record out, put it on my label.” The cool thing is Cathy wanted us before he even mentioned anything. He was into it and Sargent and RLP [Rodriguez-Lopez Productions] are the same thing anyway. RLP is whatever bands are on there because Omar likes them.

There’s a really cool, futuristic Funk vibe to the album that I like.

Cathy really enjoyed it when we first played it for her but now that she’s listening to it more, she’s saying “this record is so funky!” When people ask Marcel and I “what does this record sound like?,” we would always say “it’s like sci-fi funk.” Cathy loves how funky it is because her big complaint about Our Delicate… was “you guys have a 15-track record but only seven songs” and our argument is always “well, that depends on your definition of a song.” [laughs]

Nightmare definitely had a lot more ambience to it.

Actually, when we recorded it, it was just going to be an ambient EP. It was going to be drums and bass and be pretty consistent the whole way through with just changes in guitars and keyboard parts. We ended up with all this stuff so we’re like “let’s just make an ambient record.” It was exactly the way we set out to make it as an ambient EP but it ended up being a full-length.

The whole of idea of [Getting Paid] translates perfectly especially because the whole idea was “let’s get something that’s more like what people see when they come to watch us play live.” Even those songs that we play off of that first record we would alter them, not drastically, but they were definitely heavier songs when we played them live. We wanted that to come through our next record.

Are you going to play some tracks off Nightmare at the show?

I don’t know. We’ve been talking about it but, I think for this tour, we’re just going to do the Getting Paid stuff. We’ve been talking about doing “Pigeon Shit” and “Sirenum Scopuli” off of Nightmare. When we went out in March, we realized we’ve been playing these songs for two years. Let’s give them a little break. We also haven’t played “Magmar” in a year and a half, and “Black Ark Dub” we haven’t played in about the same amount of time, and “Chase Scene.” So we’re figuring maybe it’s time we go back and spruce up those songs a little bit so we can play them live again.

As much as we’ve been around and as much as we’ve toured, it’s only been the past year or so that people have familiarized themselves with the last record. For us, it was like “well, no one knows these god damn songs anyway so no one’s gonna care if we don’t play them,” but on the last two tours we’ve gone on, we’ve had lots of people go “why didn’t you play ‘Chase Scene’?” Or they’ll yell out in the crowd “Black Ark Dub!” [laughs] So we realized maybe we should bring those songs back a little. Cathy’s always wanting us to play “Chase Scene” because she hasn’t heard us play it since that day at Low End Theory. [laughs]

And you said that in November is when you’ll have a full tour?

Yeah, so far the routing looks like the South, the East Coast and the Midwest. I think we come home right before Christmas so we probably would make it out to the West Coast in February.

The good thing is that because Sargent House is in L.A., it’s only a 12-hour drive and we do pretty well in the San Diego, L.A. and Frisco, so it’s easier for us to do something like a week and a half tour where we play eight shows but they’re all California, Nevada and Arizona shows.

Will these all be headlining shows or are you going to open for someone else too?

I think it’s like a week and a half of headlining shows and then two weeks doing support for another band.

Do you know who you’re playing with yet?

We do but I don’t think we’re supposed to tell anybody yet. [laughs]

Did you have to sign an NDA?

I know the band that we’re going out with is still waiting to hear on who the other band is going to be.

Oh, so it’s still up in the air?

Yeah, it’s a three-band bill and we know who the headliner is. Then there’s us and we’re still waiting to hear on who the other band is.

That makes sense. You don’t want to spill the beans and have it changed afterward. The dream bill is ruined!

Right? [laughs] It would’ve been great if it was Mastodon. [laughs]

Wasn’t your first band name something like Mastodon?

Yeah, actually, we had two names. Mastodon was one that we considered. This was back in 2002 so, I think at most at that time, Mastodon had only done their first two EP’s. Either way, we had heard of them and, in this age of the internet, we google-searched it and that band came up. So we were like “there’s already a band named Mastodon! Fuck!” Little did we know that eventually we’d end up loving them.

Monolith was the one we went by for a while, like maybe six or seven shows. We looked it up on a search engine and there were four metal bands from Texas named Monolith. Not that we were a metal band but there were already four metal bands named Monolith! That’s when we finally got Zechs Marquise.

I always thought it was funny that Mastodon was one of the choices and Mastodon is this huge band now. The first thing we heard of them was Leviathan. The one they did two years ago catapulted them and they’re selling out shows every night. They’re one of those bands whose momentum was up all the time. It never slowed down for any of it.

Behold: the face of approval!

They have some great riffs.

Yeah, they’re badass. We were surprised when they came out to watch us play in Atlanta in March. We were stoked on it. It was funny because we were talking with Brent [Hinds] and my brothers have crossed paths with them before. Marcel and I were talking to him and he thought that Zechs was just some new band and he thought we were getting the shows that we were getting because of our connections. Marcel’s in Mars Volta and our brother’s Omar but then he and Brann [Dailor] saw us play and he’s like “holy shit! So this is for real? You guys have been doing this for a while.” And we’re like “yeah, for seven or eight years now.” And then he told us, “I thought this was just some band that you guys put together and your brother was helping you guys out.” We’re like “no no no, we’ve been doing this for a while” and he’s like “that’s fucking awesome!” It was cool to give him something that he wasn’t expecting.

It’s like a Kelly Ozbourne thing. Daddy’s paying for your studio time and everything.

[laughs] Some people rely on that. One thing we all agreed on, because we knew that stigma was going to be there with Marcel and I because our last name is Rodriguez-Lopez and we’re brothers, we did everything we could without asking Omar for help. We always knew it was going to be inevitable. One of the things that we agreed to do from the beginning was we’re gonna do this on our own. We’re not gonna call our brother and be like “hey, can you help us out?”

Even when Sonny was helping us out, the very first time he saw us play, Sonny was touring with Year Future and they were coming through El Paso. He knew we had a band out in El Paso so we booked a show and played with them. Every time we went out to L.A., he would help us get at least one show. We were doing a lot of e-mailing places, calling them to see what their schedule was and, slowly but surely, we started getting that help.

Omar’s that way too. He probably wouldn’t have given us any help because he wanted to know that if we wanted to do it that we’d do it on our own if we had to. He’s told me before along the lines of what he likes about our band and it’s simply that we’re instrumental. It’s more or less influenced his solo career, which a lot of it is instrumental music. He liked that we were doing that.

Yeah, most of his solo stuff is instrumental and, for whatever reason, he finally started doing his own vocals.

I think he was taking vocal lessons for that. When he played in his first few bands, he was actually the singer for them and then he got more involved with the guitar. In fact, when he first joined At The Drive-In he was playing bass for them and then he switched over to guitar.

Pretty good move on his part.

[laughs]

Does it ever get annoying though? I did a google search on Zechs Marquise and I’m reading through all these articles about the band that start off talking about “their brother OMAR!!!”

Yeah, if anything, if you’re going to put that in there, mention it after you’ve talked about our band for a minute. Don’t get me wrong, we know that Volta fans are going to come out to our shows because of the connection but it’s more annoying when people come up to me and they ask me questions about Omar and what’s going on with Mars Volta. I’ve actually had to tell people after they’ve asked me two or three questions about my brother, “ok, now ask me something about me and my band.”

It definitely does get a little annoying and, like you said, I’ll read through these reviews or interviews that I do with people and they’ll open up with a whole paragraph about my brother and his two bands and that’s how they introduce us. “This is a band with two, now three, of his brothers.” Well, why don’t you just talk about our band first and then you can make the point that Omar’s our brother? Just mention it in one sentence. [laughs]

My favorite one was when an interviewer asked me “how does it feel being in his shadow?” or that we feel that we might not ever get out from underneath Omar’s shadow or whatever. I don’t even look at it like that. We cast our own shadow. Like I’m over there wondering “oh my god, will people ever notice us more than they notice Omar?” I don’t give a fuck. We do what we’re doing and we do it because we like doing it and not because we’re looking for approval from someone else.

It’s incredibly presumptuous to even say that. “Let me look into my crystal ball and judge your career.”

[laughs] I want to tell them “how do you know our brother isn’t stealing our songs and making them his hits?” [laughs] He has the access!

It’s an inside job!

About Afroxander

Afroxander is the nom de guerre for writer/photographer Ivan Fernandez, based in Southern California. His work has appeared in The San Bernardino County Sun, Modern Fix magazine, The People’s Dance Party blog, The Rockit magazine and other outlets. He currently freelances for LA Weekly, Remezcla and anyone else willing to send him out on an exciting adventure.
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