The history of music is full of exceptional creative couples… And as regards the new millennium, the tandem made up of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez must be one of the most iconic.
But this is not only because of what each one represents as musicians, because their individual value is undeniable whether on the guitar, on the voice or in the studio. To speak of them is to refer to a combo that together has been able to reinvent itself, complement itself and take itself to new levels at every moment that they have opened the door with a new musical project.
Get attention for good and Succeeding with different bands is not an easy thing. But these two are the exception. And what a legacy they have left… what’s more, since we are nostalgic, let’s remember some of the best musical projects in which both have participated together.
At The Drive-In and its powerful post-hardcore
There was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when post-hardcore boomed on the global music scene. And there, At The Drive-In they were one of the absolute masters of the style.
But they were different from other bands of their kind in the sense that, for example, his lyrics were more cryptic and were not as direct or easy to interpret. From that moment, you could already see in Cedric Bixler a tendency to explore unconventional writing.
The vocalist born in El Paso but of Mexican origin, was in various bands on the Texas scene until he came to ATDI. And after a while, decided to bring his old friend Omar Rodriguez -who wandered aimlessly around the world- to be added to the project. Tremendous success.
Omar’s energetic style on the guitar revolutionized post-hardcore speaking of the instrumental theme. And that is noticeable when we see the noticeable change between the disc Acrobatic Tenement (where the lead guitarist was Jim Ward while Rodríguez López played bass) until In/Casino/Outwhere the evolution of a band that went from purely ‘punk’ compositions to a sound that remained aggressive, but also experimental, is evident.
After several years as a cult band, ATDI gained international fame after the release of Relationship Of Commandthe masterpiece that catapulted them to bigger stages where a massive audience was finally able to witness the madness that this Texan group was capable of displaying.
Because if there is a definitive trait of At The Drive-In, it was those chaotic presentations where Omar seemed possessed while playing. And what about Cedric, whom seemed not to care at all about freaking out in any corner of the stage. Over there on YouTube you can find some videos of his presentation at the Big Day Out of 2001, where we can see the madness of this bandota. His comeback from 2015 to 208 was amazing, by the way.
Some cool songs to remember: “Cosmonaut”, “Arcarsenal”, “One Armed Scissor”, “198d”, “Hulawoop Wounds”, “Napoleon Solo”, “Lopsided”, Hourglass”, “Rascuache”.
De Facto and experimentation in dub
To the misfortune of the fans, At The Drive-In broke up after Relationship Of Command. But in the last years of the band, Omar and Cedric were already beginning to explore their more experimental side with a project they called De facto (after several names that were shuffled around).
Far from the post-hardcore that they had been driving for a long time, this little band was born only in order to organize some jam sessions where dub was his main motivation, adding touches of reggae, some minor salsa touches, some electronic music and a lot of influences that make it very difficult to pigeonhole what they did.
And here, Omar switched to bass while Cedric raffled on drums. Really, the charm of De Facto was in the other two members of the band: the legendary keyboardist Ikey Owens (died in 2014 while on tour in Mexico with Jack White) and Jeremy Ward, a sound technician and old friend whom Omar and Cedric met as a cousin of Jim Ward (ATDI’s second guitarist).
However, De Facto had many well-known musicians in sessions and gigs, being one of the most remembered the very John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But well, beyond that, De Facto was the other root that Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala would soon take advantage of to take their joint creative genius to the next level…
The maximum splendor came with The Mars Volta
With the new millennium upon us and reaching 2003, nü metal was dying little by little, pop-punk took on emo overtones and indie-rock rose as the trend to follow with New York and the United Kingdom as standards. Was there then room in the music scene for a different band? Yeah and that was The Mars Volta.
Omar and Cedric continued to collaborate with Ikey Owens and Jeremy Ward. Also, in those early years of the 2000s they met more and more musicians, all of different levels and abilities like Eve Gardnerthe considered first official TMV bassist with whom the extended play Tremulant.
That material somehow combined the post-hardcore fury of At The Drive-In with the more psychedelic elements of De Facto. But the degree of experimentation and improvisation reached another level, in the understanding that the excellent drummer Jon Theodore, Gardner herself and Owens they amplified the very abilities that Omar and Cedric kept contained in their other projects.
Sure, The Mars Volta also owes an eternal debt to Jeremy Ward, who as Bixler and Rodríguez’s trusted sound engineer gave this new band a distinctive sound. In fact, Ward passed away shortly after the group released the acclaimed De-Loused in the Comatoriumwhich interestingly (and fatefully) was a concept album based on the story of another old friend of Cedric’s named Julio Venegas deceased in 1996.
Before that debut album, Eva Gardner also left the group, so many other musicians like Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea they came to the remove in some tracks. John Frusciante also contributed, since his friendship with the band was already more than cemented.
The world music scene did not understand if this was experimental post-hardcore material with overtones of metal, jazz, salsa, electronics, psychedelia, and so on. But the music that was in it was so vast and full of textures that calling it alternative rock was too small for him. And well, the experts of the musical press in any case decided to pigeonhole them as some kind of progressive rock with a very punk essence for its frenetic display.
Basically, the following albums by The Mars Volta like Frances The Mute, Amputechture, The Bedlam In Goliath, Octahedron Y Noctourniquet followed that line De-Lousedwith intricate and mysterious themes, music taken to the highest level of execution (Thomas Pridgen’s drums in the Bedlam, for example, are to freak out), frenetic performances and more. Some better received than others, but each album has incredible songs that make them essential.
Songs to remember: “Inertiatic ESP”, “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)”, “Televators”, “The Widow”, “”L’Via L’Viaquez”, “Viscera Eyes” “Asilos Magdalena”, “Wax Simulacra ”, “Ilyena”, “Conjugal Burns”, “Teflon”, “Desperate Graves”, “Dyslexicon”, “The Malking Jewel”.
You can also read: Let’s remember the impressive show of The Mars Volta at the 2003 MTV Latino Awards
Antemasque, the cool project that wasn’t so epic
After many great albums, The Mars Volta disappeared in 2013… but not the creative combo of our already mentioned ad nauseam Omar Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler.
His next effort was called antemasque, a band that only released one album in 2014 and received fairly moderate attention from the public. But he deserved more because that self-titled album is pretty good actually. Of course, the material feels like a more conventional experimental garage rock for what was TMV, but that was still in the line of energetic and powerful music ever.
The truth is, this band deserved more time of existence or at least had the potential to give us more cool things. In addition, Flea again entered the bass to record and at some point Blink-182’s Travis Barker became their drummer..
Honorable Mention: The New Group of Omar Rodríguez-López
Well, every fan of Omar Rodríguez-López’s work knows that this Puerto Rican likes to work on many different projects. And beyond At The Drive-In or The Mars Volta, he has plenty of bands worth listening to.
There they have the aforementioned Bosnian Rainbows, El Trío de Omar Rodríguez-López (which includes collaborations with Ximena Sariñana) and in one of its alternative facets to TMV, was also born The New Group of Omar Rodríguez-López.
That band also included Cedric Bixler and Juan Alderete, with the addition of Jonathan Hischke on synths and Zach Hill on drums. your drive Cryptomnesia from 2009 sounds a lot like something they would have done with TMV, but we don’t say that clearly in a derogatory way. It’s worth giving it a listen again.