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Mister Natural

14 November 2012 | 7:00 am | Lochlan Watt

"It's just all natural. It’s all happening all the time. Inspiration is just life itself... Life is happening to me. There’s plenty to be upset about, and there’s plenty to celebrate, and there’s plenty to have questions about. That’s all that music is, really."

"It's just all natural. It's all happening all the time. Inspiration is just life itself,” says 37-year-old Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – multi-instrumentalist, producer and filmmaker – on the notions of influence and motivation.

“Life is happening to me. There's plenty to be upset about, and there's plenty to celebrate, and there's plenty to have questions about. That's all that music is, really. It's all those things that are happening on the inside. You just find a way to manifest them in a tangible form on the outside. You just live your life and things are constantly happening.”

Make no mistake – constantly is definitely the correct word. Noctourniquet, the sixth studio full-length from The Mars Volta, a group Rodriguez-Lopez formed with fellow former At The Drive-In member Cedric Bixler-Zavala in 2001, was released in March. Un Corazón de Nadie, his 20th album as a solo artist, was released in May, with Saber, Querer, Osar y Callar and Octopus Kool Aid following in June and July respectively, bringing the tally to 22. To put things into context, Rodriguez-Lopez only released his first solo record in 2004.

When prompted, the Puerto Rican-born musician is able to specifically narrow down the source of his endless inspiration – “anything and everything” is evidently in large supply these days.

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“I hate to sound so vague but you know, how can I explain it? I'll use today as an example, just because we're here right now. I haven't been feeling too well – I think I'm coming down with a cold or something. All of a sudden my energy level is kind of grim, or weaker than it normally would be, so I'm sitting there in the backstage a minute ago, my guitar's there, so I pick it up and I play it in a completely different way to how I was playing it yesterday, when I was really hyper and upbeat, and feeling really energetic. And so I recorded something just earlier that's like… you know, The Germs is what I labelled it as because I got some germ from someone somewhere, and now I'm getting a cold. That's the best example that I can possibly give right now. It's all happening from moment to moment. Every single thing, no matter how small or insignificant it could seem, actually turns into a really huge inspiration.”

With an output as consistent as his touring schedule, one wonders how on earth the time is found to produce so much material. Rodriguez-Lopez writes and records on the road, and though he admits it's not a daily occurrence, he does confirm that it's a regular habit.

“I quit travelling with tape machines and analogue equipment a couple of years ago, and just gave in to the portability of computer studios. So basically I use a high-powered laptop – the most high-powered laptop you could get – coupled with a two terabyte hard drive, some sort of audio interface with a couple of mic pre's in it and a small selection of microphones, and you're pretty much good to go these days.”

Having only played 19 shows off the back of Noctourniquet, The Mars Volta were put on hiatus not long after due to Rodriguez-Lopez essentially finding himself “lonely and bored” with a project that had become more about functioning around him than functioning as a band. That's when he decided to start Bosnian Rainbows; the group toured through Europe in December, and will come to Australia this month. As it turns out, both tours were booked under the premise of it being the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, but he altered the situation to help launch a new beast entirely. The group features Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes on vocals, as well as Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks, and just recorded their debut album at Cloud Studios in Hamburg, Germany, for an early-2013 release.

“It's a brand new group, so it will be a different experience in that way,” he says of what those who have seen him perform under the solo moniker before can expect this time around. “It's all new songs, this record that we've just recorded and everything, so it will be a different experience for people who came last time.”

It's not enough to just be playing and recording the music: Rodriguez-Lopez runs a record label under the name of Rodriguez Lopez Productions. In addition to releasing all his own projects, the label has, often with the help of Sargent House, handled releases for groups such as Le Butcherettes, Mono/Poly, Zechs Marquise and Big Sir. When such vast quantities of material are being released, one wonders if Rodriguez-Lopez has found a way to make running a record label sustainable in 2012.

“The first words that came to my head were 'absolutely not',” he says. “I wish we could find a way. It's definitely a labour of love. It's just the excitement of music itself, and being able to give some sort of opportunity to people, because I was blessed with opportunity. That's how I got here. So if I can use the smallest bit of opportunity by pressing up 1000 records for someone, or even just using whatever kind of pull my name might have to make somebody check something out, then you feel good about it.”

While he can quite clearly see that the industry around him is in a constantly changing and threatened state, Rodriguez-Lopez doesn't believe he has anything to fear, and has no intention of ever not releasing music for others.

“I can't say that it won't become less or something – you still have to deal with the reality of finance and everything. This is what's exciting to me. People pour their money into things, and I don't have a very extravagant lifestyle at all. I don't own a car, I don't even own a house yet. Where somebody else might be pouring their money into hot rodding their 1967 Mercury Cougar or something, somebody else might be buying you know what, people just find something to put their money into. I get to put it into these projects, and it's what makes me feel good. “

After teasing the nation with a single performance at Splendour In The Grass late last year, what does he have to say of rumours that At The Drive-In will return to Australia for a full tour in 2013? Rodriguez-Lopez prefers to live in the present rather than rehash the past, a notion evidenced by his lacklustre stage presence at said band's reunion shows.

“That's most definitely a rumour. Right now we're concentrating all our efforts on this new group, Bosnian Rainbows. Neither myself nor Dian will be participating in any tour with Mars Volta, At The Drive-In or whatever. Life is simple. We've got this new band called Bosnian Rainbows, that's what we're doing, that's how we're expressing ourselves. Anything else is exactly that – a rumour.”


With Rodriguez-Lopez having worked with promoter Robert MacManus of Heathen Skulls on both his prior and current Australian tours, we ask him of his thoughts on the recent blow-out between the promoter and Sunn O))). The US band cancelled their Australian tour and went public with their justification, citing “complete inconsideration towards the basic requirements of our agreement together”. The event certainly caused a storm in Australia, but as it turns out Rodriguez-Lopez has not heard anything of it.

After being given a brief rundown, Rodriguez-Lopez sums up his thoughts.

“Shit, they sound like a bunch of fucking crybabies to me,” he says of Sun O))). “So you're telling me that a promoter was wishy-washy with some of the shit that he promised? Fucking join the club, that's why there's promoters and that's why there's people who make music. It's like… that's the way it goes down. I'll put it to you this way – if we were to cancel a tour every time that a promoter didn't come through with what they said it was going to be like, we might have gone on one tour in this past 20 years. Promoting in general… you go to Mexico and the promoters are all tied with the Mafia, same thing with Russia. What can you say about it?”
Rodriguez-Lopez only has good things to say of Heathen Skulls.

“Our last Australian tour was incredible. We had a great time. Robert was great; maybe he had an odd sense of humour or something, but shit, who doesn't?”

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez will be playing the following shows (with Bosnian Rainbows):

Friday 23 November - Fowler's Live, Adelaide SA
Saturday 24 November - Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
Sunday 25 November - CherryFest, Melbourne VIC
Thursday 29 November - The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Friday 30 November - Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay NSW
Saturday 1 December - The Hi-Fi, Sydney NSW
Sunday 2 December - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC