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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


Bad Brains – Bad Brains
This is the punk-rock group that really spoke to me. Again, I was always drawn to any kind of representation of minorities. At first there was the obvious one, Black Flag, with a Puerto Rican singer. There was Dead Kennedys, who had a black drummer. And then Bad Brains, they were all minorities, and I just thought, 'Oh my god, this is the greatest thing ever'. They were so crazy and energetic. And when I saw footage of them for the first time, and HR is singing and he gets the bottle thrown at his head, and without thinking he moves and the bottle zings past his head and he keeps singing – I thought it was so striking and energetic and aggressive, and it really made me feel like, 'Okay, I could be in a punk band', you know? And obviously, it opened up so many worlds for me – getting into Minor Threat, and later, Fugazi, and all of that. Along with Black Flag, Bad Brains was my foray into punk music, and realising I could play music also, on some level. It's so immediate. And seeing them up there, being all minorities but also being a band was super-inspiring, like, 'We can probably do this'.

That first wave of punk was the hardcore stuff, like Bad Brains or Minor Threat, the super-aggressive stuff, and it led me to Dischord Records and all those bands. And that led me to reading fanzines, and discovering this label called Lookout Records, whose bands I related to way more… I wouldn't have got there without hearing bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat and the Misfits, but the west coast stuff, and Lookout in particular, and Gilman Street and all that, just seemed so much more liberating. I got into Pansy Division, and Spitboy, Cringer, Crimpshine, Bratmobile… The bands were political, and they opened up the whole world for me – that punk wasn't just a musical style, it was also a mind style.

Also, Bad Brains had songs that were dub songs, as well as the hardcore songs. I thought that was super-cool – that helped shaped the way I thought about everything Later, they got more aggressive, more metal and they had these homophobic lyrics, which drove me away from all that. But it had drawn me towards the west coast punk scene, which was more political and more representational, and I was able to see it happen in real-time. That led me to understand that this idea I had the first time I saw Run DMC was actually possible – the idea of being in a band myself, of touring. That's what Gilman Street did for me. But I wouldn't have gotten there without Bad Brains. So this Bad Brains record kicked all that off…