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Baker's Dozen

Everything's Connected: Omar Rodríguez-López Favourite LPs
Stevie Chick , September 10th, 2020 08:43

Former At The Drive In and Mars Volta member Omar Rodríguez-López speaks to Stevie Chick about the records that shaped his life, from Latin traditionals to how Janet Jackson got him into punk

Omar Rodríguez-López is anxious. But today, the source of his anxiety is not the global pandemic, which has put a dampener on his globe-trotting creative process but doesn't seem to have hampered his prolific work-rate at all. And it's not the news that, in the midst of his disastrous and suspicious bid for the US presidency, rapper and fantasist Kanye West has tweeted that Omar's currently-inert group The Mars Volta “need to finish the album” West seems to believe they've begun together, stirring a tornado of internet speculation (Rodríguez-López' own response to the tweet is an exhale of exasperation along the lines of “This is why I'm not on Twitter”). It's not even the fact that he's just released his first new music under his own name in three years, The Clouds Hill Tapes, a triple-album of music recorded at the Hamburg recording studio that's been his refuge and inspiration for many years, exploring a vast sprawl of the myriad sounds swimming around inside Rodríguez-López's head.

No, the guitarist/ composer/ film-maker/ producer/ polyglot's tension today derives from having to choose his 13 favourite records, a task he's approached with a seriousness and focus that has characterised his entire career. “I always get anxiety about stuff like this! Only 13 records? It's hard to narrow it down.” That Rodríguez-López has struggled with this process is hardly surprising, given the kaleidoscopic nature of his own output, fuelling his muse with punk-rock, traditional Latin American music, avant-garde sounds and an infinite galaxy of further influences.

He's calling from his current bolt-hole in Puerto Rico, where he's waiting out the pandemic. It was in Puerto Rico that his parents met and he spent the earliest years of his life, before his family moved to mainland America, eventually settling in El Paso, Texas. This town on the US/ Mexico border was where Rodríguez-López first discovered punk-rock, starting a slew of bands of his own before joining At The Drive-In, the project of his best friend and enduring creative partner, Cedric Bixler-Zavala.

At The Drive-In's electrifying post-hardcore tumult propelled the group from gruelling no-budget tours along America's punk-rock underground railroad of club-houses and dives to something approximating the big time, their 2000 album Relationship Of Command seeing them tipped as the next Nirvana. But At The Drive-In dissolved while touring the album, in part to ensure that their own story didn't end as tragically as Nirvana's, and in part because the group had been engulfed by internecine tensions, exhaustion and, chiefly, conflicting creative ambitions.

Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala exited the group to found their own project, The Mars Volta, a Grammy-winning arkestra whose bold, fearless albums allowed Rodríguez-López to touch base with his earliest inspirations – primarily, the traditional Latin music he'd grown up with – and celebrating the friends he and Bixler-Zavala lost along the way. That group's ambitions only metastasised, until they went on hiatus in 2012, at which point Rodríguez-López formed Bosnian Rainbows with his regular foil, Le Butcherettes' Teri Gender-Bender, and later began a new project with Bixler-Zavala, Antemasque. Meanwhile, At The Drive-In reformed in 2017 for a new album, inter ali*a. In among all that, he's released somewhere in the region of 50 solo albums, written, produced and directed a clutch  of movies, and produced many albums by other artists.

That's a weighty discography, a whole lot of music. And Rodríguez-López has planned this most autobiographical Baker's Dozen as a path to lead us through the inspirations that defined this creative journey. “I tried to choose albums that pushed me forward in life, and led me to other things,” he says. “Everything's connected.”

The Clouds Hill tapes are out now. Click the image of Omar Rodríguez-López to begin reading his Baker's Dozen selections