The Mars Volta: ‘Essentially the most revolutionary factor we might do was to make a pop document’

When Cedric Bixler-Zavala joined the Church of Scientology in 2009, he considered it as flippantly as “signing up for a yoga class or a self-help group”. Having been launched by his new spouse (TV star Chrissie Carnell) and buddies, the frontman of the revered US rock band the Mars Volta underwent an induction course of designed to deal with his $1,000-a-week weed habit (basically a month of rigorous daylong sauna periods). He discovered it useful till he realised it got here at a worth. “Scientology turns into recurring, [a] crutch,” he says. “What changing into concerned really did was to alienate me from numerous shut buddies.”

Prime of this checklist was Omar Rodríguez-López, his pal since childhood days in El Paso, Texas, and the one different fixed member of the Mars Volta. As Rodríguez-López says bluntly: “Cedric becoming a member of the Church of Scientology contributed to the Mars Volta breaking apart [because of] the varieties of absolutist concepts he began to consider.”

Bixler-Zavala admits that the faith put him “up on a cloud” from which he seemed down on everybody round him, whom he thought-about to be “caught” with out the faith. He determined to attempt to flip them on to Scientology regardless of understanding that the response would in all probability be adverse.

Followers have been surprised when the band split in 2013. Since forming the Mars Volta in 2001 from the ashes of punk band On the Drive-In, the pair had recorded six fiendishly complicated idea albums, drawing collectively jazz, metallic, Latin music and prog. It wasn’t a complete rupture – throughout the hiatus, the pair toured extensively with the reunited On the Drive-In and shaped a supergroup, Antemasque. It took till this summer time for the group to announce their reunion. A brand new, self-titled album, which the pair have been engaged on in secret since 2019, is launched subsequent month

Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López in 2003.
Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López in 2003. {Photograph}: Peter Pakvis/Redferns

However, we converse on separate calls: Rodríguez-López is affable and insightful, regardless of battling Covid; Bixler-Zavala is pleasant and beneficiant. However my repeated requests to interview them collectively, to get a really feel for his or her rejuvenated relationship, come to nothing.

Each bristle on the point out of Scientology. Not solely is it one purpose behind their cut up, but it surely additionally provides their new album its theme. In 2016 and 2017 4 ladies, together with Carnell, accused Danny Masterson, a Church of Scientology member and star of the US sitcom That ’70s Present, of raping them within the early 00s. Carnell – then Masterson’s co-star and girlfriend – alleges she was unconscious throughout one in every of these assaults. The legal trial begins later this month in California and Masterson will withstand 45 years in jail if discovered responsible. He denies all counts. The ladies are additionally suing Masterson and the Church of Scientology for alleged conspiracy to hinder justice. The ladies declare they have been adopted, harassed and surveilled by brokers of the church, whereas Carnell additionally claims that two of her canines have been killed by folks performing on their behalf. The go well with alleges that, within the eyes of Scientology, the ladies are “honest recreation” for violating sanctions the church imposed on its members by involving the police. Each Masterson and the church strongly deny all allegations.

Bixler-Zavala can be a plaintiff within the civil case, so he chooses his phrases fastidiously. “What I’m writing about on this album is watching my spouse and her [spiritual] sisters undergo an ideal deal. For me it’s an act of listening, observing the emotional toll and saying: ‘You aren’t alone.’ There’s a view of [the Mars Volta] as loopy, warlike folks, however these feelings come from a violent a part of the human coronary heart, and right here I’m simply performing in an emotional help capability.”

Heavy material is nothing new for a bunch whose founding mission was to “honour our roots, honour our lifeless”. Beforehand, nevertheless, these tales have been abstracted or transformed into fantastical narratives. Bixler-Zavala’s new lyrics, he says, “take the air out of the room” and are, for him at the least, unusually clear and to the purpose. “I’ll shine the blackest gentle to the offender on all fours,” he sings on the single Blacklight Shine.

This time, the levity is within the sound. When the Mars Volta reunited, the true shock for followers was that that they had returned with – comparatively talking – pop songs with out their labyrinthine, heavy hallmarks: Blacklight Shine has a languid funk groove that speaks of David Bowie in mid-70s Keep mode, or Steely Dan at their Latin-inspired finest. It’s a long-in-the-making volte face – and one other contributing issue to their cut up. Bixler-Zavala wasn’t receptive to the thought when his bandmate talked about experimenting with pop in 2007, he says.

“I’m not sure by style,” says Rodríguez-López. “The one factor that issues is that if music makes you’re feeling one thing.”

However, each have been preempting a adverse response to their new model. The feedback below the movies for Blacklight Shine and Graveyard Love are overwhelmingly optimistic, but Bixler-Zavala has rooted out the few adverse responses. “Some folks would possibly see it as betrayal.” He laughs, defensively: “I’ve seen some folks name it yacht rock. However yacht rock slaps so onerous that hip-hop producers pattern it on a regular basis.”

“Shedding ‘followers’ is baked into what we do,” says Rodríguez-López. “I don’t know a higher happiness than shedding ‘followers’. A real fan is somebody desirous about what’s occurring now, after which there’s everybody else attempting to manage what you do or undertaking on to it. I’ve an aversion to that. That appears like college. That appears like the federal government. That sounds just like the police. And sadly that’s what lots of people who suppose they’re followers find yourself pondering like.”

Maybe the shortage of any actual pushback is an indication of how music has modified throughout their absence. Pop has been the battleground of the avant garde for the last decade that the Mars Volta have been on ice. Their most distinguished fan of latest years is Lizzo, who clearly doesn’t care about style partisanship, and nor do her Zoomer viewers. “Essentially the most revolutionary factor we might do could be to make a pop document, actually,” says Bixler Zavala. I wish to consider them, however on paper there isn’t a lot to separate this concept from the narrative arc of most bands: merely mellowing with age.

The one argument in opposition to this being an train in industrial survival rests on the standard of the brand new materials. Their single Vigil is the catchiest factor they’ve written, touchdown between Corridor & Oates, mid-80s Peter Gabriel and early Speak Speak; Shore Story is pristine R&B that makes it sound as if they’ve been enjoying this music their entire lives. Bixler-Zavala, who was born in Texas to Mexican dad and mom, appreciates the outline: “R&B shouldn’t be alien to our DNA. It’s cholo music. It’s what my dad and mom listened to after I was a child. As soon as my skateboard session was over, I’d go house and there could be numerous Sunny and the Sunliners, numerous the Penguins being performed.”

The Mars Volta performing in Manchester, Tennessee in 2009
The Mars Volta performing in Manchester, Tennessee in 2009. {Photograph}: C Taylor Crothers/FilmMagic

If Bixler-Zavala’s direct response to his spouse’s alleged trauma speaks of a newfound artistic maturity, it’s a shift in perspective that’s shared by Rodríguez-López. The guitarist was born in Puerto Rico and his curiosity in shining a lightweight on the colonial historical past of his homeland has formed the Mars Volta’s new movies. Their visible aesthetic was as soon as unique, surreal and garish, however the 11-minute movie accompanying Blacklight Shine is given over to a bomba efficiency recorded in Puerto Rico, that includes percussionists and improvised dance, talking each to the indigenous tradition of the island and its roots in slavery. The brief movie for Graveyard Love goes a step additional, providing a prolonged studying checklist relating to the island’s colonial historical past and an epigraph from the liberty fighter Lolita Lebrón, who carried out an armed assault on the US Capitol constructing in 1954: “I didn’t come to kill anybody, I got here to die for Puerto Rico!”

That concept of familial lineage has proved to be therapeutic within the group’s reconciliation. When Bixler-Zavala grew to become a father to twins in 2013, Rodríguez-López says that holding his pal’s kids for the primary time was a “breathtaking second … I’m certain it helped break the spell”.

So, too, has the dedication to acknowledging the darkness that stems from their roots. Rodríguez-López nonetheless names his lifeless kinfolk and buddies 5 occasions a day. “It’s deeper than the music. American folks have a pathological worry of dying however what they don’t perceive is that it’s already occurred. It’s inevitable, however right here with us on a regular basis. However the nearer to dying you’re, the nearer you’re to life. It’s more healthy that manner.”

“I feel on a regular basis life requires embracing unhappiness, and embracing sure feelings that Scientology teaches you to disregard,” Bixler-Zavala concludes.

Eradicating the crucible of the Mars Volta helped too; their time in On the Drive-In and Antemasque helped to clear the trail to reunion. “The Mars Volta is a sacred floor as a lot as it’s also a playground,” says Rodríguez-López. “The entire parts needed to be precisely appropriate for my creativeness to confide in it. And that occurred naturally over time.”

Bixler-Zavala concludes that they’re again for the foreseeable future: “We’ve labored on this in secret for a very long time now. Omar mentioned the Mars Volta might be no matter we would like it to be, which was refreshing because it units the parameters of us not being a heritage act that depends on previous songs. We will redefine what we’re and transfer forwards. Our unique feeling was that something was attainable and now, as soon as once more, it’s.”

The Mars Volta is launched on September 16.

Within the UK, Rape Crisis affords help for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. Within the US, Rainn affords help on 800-656-4673. In Australia, help is offered at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Different worldwide helplines might be discovered at

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