Q: When is The Mars Volta NOT The Mars Volta?

A: When it’s the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group feat. Cedric Bixler-Zavala OR when Omar says it isn’t.


The backstory: The Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group headlined the Sargent House Showcase last Saturday at SXSW at Emo’s Annex, an impromptu stage and concert area built in a small lot on the corner of 6th/Red River. Fans lined up as early as 2 p.m. for a show whose doors/gates opened at 7 p.m. Zavala appeared on stage about 10 minutes before opening time to soundcheck with ORLG. Predictably, Twitter, Facebook and many a carrier-pigeon were sent into the skies of Austin to carry the news prompting the line to stretch out like an intestine up the street and behind the “venue.” The group (Rodriguez-Lopez, Bixler-Zavala, Deantoni Parks, Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, Juan Alderete and Lars Stalfors) took the stage at 12:50 a.m. to a capacity crowd that included fans who filled up the alley behind the stage and down the sidewalk.

Here’s a clip of the madness and the music by Refused TV:

Everyone naturally assumed that this was a secret TMV show that was originally billed as an ORLG show. ORL however says it wasn’t:

The ORLG shows are not Secret The Mars Volta shows. They are ORLG shows – Cedric has always been part of this group. Should not be a surprise or a secret.

Which is true. Let’s jump back in time to the year 2004 ORL’s first solo release, A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack, Vol. 1 and listen to the closing track:

Yes, that’s CBZ on vocals. Now fast forward three years after the fact to the release of Se Dice Bisonte, No Bufalo. The track, “Rapid Fire Tollbooth,” features vocals by CBZ.

But wait…there’s more! (RIP Billy Mays) The song reappeared a year later on The Mars Volta album The Bedlam in Goliath under the name “Goliath.”

CBZ also contributed vocals to El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’ album Cryptomnesia. And yes, that group is different as it was composed of CBZ, Alderete, Zach Hill and Jonathan Hischke.

This situation reminds me of Daniel Dumile’s rap career. To date, the guy has worked under the following monikers:

  • MF Doom (either MetalFace or MetalFingerz)
  • Doom
  • Zev Love X
  • Viktor Vaughn
  • King Geedorah
  • The SuperVillain

Same cat, different names/characters. Or as he explained to URB magazine two years ago:

Last question: Will DOOM ever put down the mask?
The character himself, DOOM, will always have the mask. No one will ever see him without the mask; maybe in his own private quarters [laughs]. It’s important to remember that I’m not DOOM. I just write as this evil super-villain rapper named DOOM. Zev didn’t rock a mask and I have other characters that don’t wear masks too—and they all have their own thing that makes them stand out. My albums are all characters and together they’re part of this lineage of stories and albums written by me. I’m a writer. It just depends on the type of shit I wanna continue to come forth with.

What separates TMV from the rest of Omar’s output? The main difference is the more experimental nature of most of his solo work while TMV remains anchored to the genre of Rock.

Take, for example, last year’s Tychozorente.

Artwork by Sonny Kay

The album is a collaboration with DJ Nobody of L.A.’s Dublab/Low End Theory fame, clocks in at just over 30 minutes and features no guitar work at all whatsoever. That’d be inconceivable for a TMV album. Fans would shave their heads in protest! Listen to the single “Polaridad” below for a taste.

Another example: Despair

Artwork by Sonny Kay (?)

This album is a venture into musique concrete: a collection of drones, noises, samples and groans that are heard briefly in some TMV songs. There are 40 minutes worth of those sounds on Despair.

ORL’s solo work also allows him the freedom to work with a variety of musicians he wouldn’t be able to with in TMV such as:

  • Damo Suzuki
  • DJ Nobody (Elvin Estela)
  • Zach Hill
  • Ximena Sariñana
  • Jonathan Hischke
  • Mark Aanderud
  • Lisa Papinaeu
  • Money Mark
  • Lydia Lunch

Think of ORL’s solo work as a playground where he’s free to roam and experiment in any way he wants to. ORL can compose an acoustic album, an electronic album, a pots-and-pans album, etc. The results can later leak into The Mars Volta but in a way that is distinctly TMV.

2 thoughts on “Q: When is The Mars Volta NOT The Mars Volta?

  1. “There is no difference. I use my name as a solo act only because Warner Bros. owns the name The Mars Volta. But all of the processes are the same – I write the music, Cedric sings on it, I put the record out, I plan our tour, I plan our video, and so on. Not only don’t I separate The Mars Volta from the solo stuff, I don’t separate it from the films I make, the photos I take, the conversations with my mother, or the food I make. These are all just reflections of me.”

    “When you sign up with a label they buy your name, which means you can only put out one or two record each year, and that’s very limiting”, said the musician. “I can keep creating and playing as a solo artist, that’s why I created this other band –with the same musicians from The Mars Volta– and have a good time without any limitations, he added.
    We’ll be playing new music that hasn’t been released already. All my musicians are coming. Right now we are rehearsing and planning which songs we are going to play”

    “For projects such as The Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group I can do anything, play songs by The Mars Volta, play new songs that nobody knows”

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