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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


La Sonora Ponceña - Hacheros Pa' Un Palo 
All thirteen records in this list could have just been 'traditional' records, 'salsa' records. But I tried to only pick only a few, and this one is the most important for me. Every song on it is perfect – it really embodies the beauty of salsa music. I should explain… 'Salsa' is how most people know this music, but, like 'classical' music, salsa is a lot of different styles of music that, for simplicity's sake, were just lumped together under one title. So, 'classical' music is waltzes, and sonatas, and so on – different types of music – but it's all 'classical'. Same with salsa – it's Guajira, Guaguancós, Son Montuno…

And this record is just a beautiful blend of all those styles: it has great Boleros on it, it has great Guajira, great Guaguancó… A little bit of everything. And like the other records I've picked from the salsa genre, it's a good starting point for anyone who wants to get a feel for what our music and our culture is truly about. Because I feel like salsa cross-pollinated into Mexican culture, so in America the only time you hear salsa music is in a Mexican restaurant. So people think, “Oh, okay, 'Latin music' means Mexican music”. But there's so much more to it than that. And this record is a good way in for someone who wants to know what the heart and soul of our music is actually about.

As a kid, I was always super-drawn to this record, because of the legend it had around it, that the piano player, Papo Lucca, was just 17 when he joined the band. Being a little kid, eight-or-nine-years-old, and thinking in maybe eight years I could be in a group like that, it blew my mind open. Because when you're a kid you always think that grown-ups are playing this music, and you'd have to study your whole life to play it yourself. Obviously, that kid was a prodigy, and he was the bandleader's son.

If people hear this, they'll understand that while the Mars Volta was painted as 'prog-rock', our sound was more our traditional music, fused with punk. You'll hear that our traditional music, our pop music, is laced with tempo changes, and changes in time signature, and intricate horn arrangements. The Mars Volta was not really about this 'prog' tag that was put on us – when you listen to this and other traditional records, I feel like you can hear where I'm pulling from.

And the actual sound of the record… it's obvious everyone's in the same room, engineering-wise, production-wise – you can hear the singer is imperfect, and “out” sometimes. But the tone of it, the sound of it… It's this type of feeling, this era of salsa in particular, that really drew me to punk when I first heard it – it had the same feeling that I'd later get from the rawness of punk.