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The Mars Volta: A Lesson In Progressive Rock

Updated on August 26, 2015

New Beginnings

The Mars Volta was formed in El Paso, Texas after Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala left a group called At the Drive-In in 2001.

Critics and fans have tried hard over the years to affix a label to The Mars Volta's music, and once you give them a listen you will understand why.

"Progressive is not a dirty word for people to use about us. If you're not moving forward, you're stagnant. And that's no way to live." - Omar Rodríguez-López

According to Omar, cinema largely influences his songwriting:

"Creating tension, creating flow, creating scenes, creating fast-paced scenes, creating minimal dialogue - it's one of our biggest influences".

The Mars Volta identified artists and bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Ennio Morricone, Miles Davis, Aphex Twin and many more as their influences.

The backwards vocals at the end of the EP are the lyrics from "Itsy Bitsy Spider".
The backwards vocals at the end of the EP are the lyrics from "Itsy Bitsy Spider".

Tremulant EP

The debut EP by The Mars Volta, Tremulant, was released on April 2, 2002 - this EP was produced by Alex Newport and includes the only appearance of founding bassist Eva Gardner.

Regarding the EP's recording, Eva Gardner said;

"We were in Long Beach somewhere, and it was a really exciting time because it was just this new music. It was a new project for these guys, so they were almost really excited about it. It was great.... I had done recordings before, but it was just home studios with friends and stuff. This was a more established group. It was fun to be in a professional studio, and to play with really, really great musicians."

The Tremulant EP consists of three tracks featured below:

Released on June 24, 2003, De-Loused in the Comatorium is TMV's debut studio album.
Released on June 24, 2003, De-Loused in the Comatorium is TMV's debut studio album.

De-Loused In The Comatorium

De-Loused In The Comatorium is based on a short story written by Cedric and sound artist Jeremy Michael Ward.

The album is about Cerpin Taxt, a man who enters a coma after overdosing on a mixture of rat poison and morphine - the story alludes to the death of El Paso artist and friend Julio Venegas.

While touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jeremy was found dead of a heroin overdose. The band immediately canceled the rest of the tour, and the first single from the album, Inertiatic ESP, was later dedicated to him.

Needless to say, the impact Ward’s death had on his friends and then bandmates was life altering:

“Me and Jeremy and Julio,” Omar says, “we went though everything. Every aspect of what it is to grow up - to be kids and have those special moments when you’re just figuring the world out - we did all of that together. And now there are only three of us left. It was obvious that something had to change.”

“One day, we were all getting high, and Jeremy asked me if I could see he had worms in his head,” Cedric recalls. “I never touched the stuff again. His passing was the final nail in the coffin. We never went back.”

I Need Sanctuary In The Pages Of This Book

De-Loused became the band's biggest hit, eventually selling over 500,000 copies - and, it was featured on several critics' "Best of the Year" lists.

In the October '06 issue of Guitar World magazine, the album was ranked number 55 of 100 in the 'greatest guitar albums of all time' category - Drunkship of Lanterns was also labeled the 91st best guitar song of all-time by Rolling Stone.

You must listen to the album in its entirety above.

Released on March 1, 2005, Frances the Mute is TMV's second studio album.
Released on March 1, 2005, Frances the Mute is TMV's second studio album.

Frances The Mute

Produced by Omar, Frances The Mute incorporates dub, jazz, ambient and Latin influences, and is the first to feature bassist Juan Alderete and percussionist Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez.

The album also includes contributions from saxophonist Adrián Terrazas-González, who joined the band during the tour.

At the end of 2005, Frances the Mute was included on over twenty "Best of" lists.

I Won't Forget What I'm Looking For

In his earlier days, Jeremy Ward had worked as a repo man. One day, he found a diary in the backseat of a car he was repossessing. Immediately, he began to notice the similarities between his life and the writer's - primarily that they were both adopted. The diary described a search for the author's biological parents, with the way being lead by a number of people whose names became the basis for each named track of Frances the Mute.

Regarding the album's lyrical content, Cedric told Verbicide:

"A lot of it was [written] on the spot. Omar - because he collects TVs - would set up his wall of TVs again.... kind of like in the David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, he had a stack of TVs like that. So he would do that while I would record vocals, and that would be the main inspiration.... And I wouldn’t have [lyrics] written right away; I would just do takes of gibberish and then later try to fix them to make them into words. Sometimes he wanted to just keep the gibberish takes which he liked a lot better because it was the first reaction to the music. It’s just really [about] being in a state of being willing to give up to the producer your scratch tracks, as opposed to really working on it and refining it."

Oddly enough, Frances the Mute's title track did not appear on the original pressing, but you can check it out below:

After finishing the majority of the Frances the Mute tour, Omar traveled to Amsterdam and wrote what became Amputechture, Volta's third studio album.
After finishing the majority of the Frances the Mute tour, Omar traveled to Amsterdam and wrote what became Amputechture, Volta's third studio album.

Amputechture

Amputechture is the band's first studio recording with former At the Drive-In bandmate Paul Hinojos and is also the last with drummer Jon Theodore - the album also features John Frusciante on lead guitar.

Amputechture marked the first time that TMV created an album without a unifying concept. In an MTV interview, Cedric said the inspirations for the album ranged from news stories of possessed nuns to the recent U.S. immigration marches.

Omar stated, in an interview with Switch Magazine, that the word "amputechture" (a combination of amputate, technology, and architecture) was coined by the late Jeremy Ward.

Unlike The Mars Volta's first two albums, Amputechture contains no original artwork; the background of each page in the album booklet is a piece of Jeff Jordan's "Big Mutant", and the CD art is "Dwarf Dancing", also by Jeff Jordan.

While reviews may be mixed, you must experience these Amputechture tracks and decide for yourself - I know I certainly love them:

The Bedlam in Goliath, released on January 29, 2008, is TMV's fourth studio album.
The Bedlam in Goliath, released on January 29, 2008, is TMV's fourth studio album.

The Bedlam In Goliath

The Bedlam In Goliath is the first to feature drummer Thomas Pridgen, and the last to include Paul Hinojos, and Adrián Terrazas-González.

The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 - it became the band's highest charting release and sold over 54,000 copies the first week.

Wax Simulacra was released on November 19, 2007 as the album's first single, along with a cover version of Pulled to Bits - Wax Simulacra won Best Hard Rock Performance at the 51st Grammy Awards.

I Found Something To Shake By The Roots

Again, Jeff Jordan was brought in to handle the illustrations for the album, creating 11 original paintings to go with the theme of The Bedlam in Goliath - he also included a piece from his own gallery.

In an interview, engineer Robert Carranza described the recording process for The Bedlam in Goliath - he said that 'no more than three takes an hour were recorded, as a way to soak in what was recorded and to hear the differences' - this helped to improve the general mood and atmosphere of the album's creation.

Elaborating on the method, Carranza stated;

"...when van Gogh was around he wasn't just painting, painting, painting. I'm sure he took a step back once in a while. You should do the same when you're recording."

Does He Make You Feel Alright?

More delicious tracks from The Bedlam in Goliath:

Released on June 23, 2009, Octahedron is TMV's fifth full-length studio album.
Released on June 23, 2009, Octahedron is TMV's fifth full-length studio album.

Octahedron

Octahedron is the last studio album to feature Thomas Pridgen and John Frusciante - it was also the first album that did not feature contributions from keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens.

Regarding the release, Cedric stated:

"[the band] wanted to make the opposite of all the records we've done. All along we've threatened people that we'd make a pop record, and now we have."

With sales of 29,980 in its first week of release, Octahedron debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200 Album chart.

Source

In an I Like Music interview, Cedric spoke about the kidnapping/vanishing themes of Octahedron, saying;

"Lyrically, I wanted to incorporate elements of traditional songs. So that it would sound like our world had these handed down, traditional songs that were to do with real random vanishings and kidnappings. That is a big part of Latin culture. People get kidnapped all the time. I wanted to cover everything.... We had two friends that we knew from Texas who just randomly vanished. We've never known whether they just took off or if they met foul play. I found it an interesting subject matter to tackle. I wanted the lyrics to instill that bleak feeling you can get from living somewhere like El Paso. Even though I haven't lived at home for ages, it's still with me. The stories that come from across the border still hit home really hard. I just wanted to have a soundtrack for that really."

The Walls Between Us Will Never Break

Shortly after the album's release, Omar had hinted that Octahedron would be the final album he records where he would give bandmates their parts without any knowledge of how they fit into the equation. However, he chose to continue with this technique for the band's last album, Noctourniquet.

Feast on more Octahedron tracks below:

Released on March 26, 2012, Noctourniquet is The Mars Volta's the sixth and final studio album.
Released on March 26, 2012, Noctourniquet is The Mars Volta's the sixth and final studio album.

Noctourniquet

Inspired by the Greek myth of Hyacinthus, and the children's nursery rhyme, Solomon Grundy, Noctourniquet is TMV's final concept album - Cedric explains;

"It's about embracing life for what it should be. There's a view of the elitist lifestyle - that being an artist is unattainable. I'm trying to write this story that reminds people that we're all artists."

On January 23, 2013, Cedric revealed that he was no longer a part of The Mars Volta via Twitter, and that the band had broken up, stating:

"Thank you to all Volta fans you deserved more, especially after the way you rooted for us on this album. I tried my hardest to keep it going, but Bosnian Rainbows was what we all got instead. I can't sit here and pretend anymore. I no longer am a member of Mars Volta. I honestly thank all of you for buying our records and coming to our shows. You guys were a blast to play in front of. We could never had done it without you.... Thank you a million times over for ever giving a fuck about our band.... All I can do is move forward with my music and just be happy that Volta ever happened at all. God Damn we had a blast! Thank you again...."

To use an appropriate cliché, all good things must come to an end... one of life's hardest lessons to learn. Fortunately for us fans, The Mars Volta's ending was just as phenomenal as its beginning - and, we're still getting new music from these bold, adventurous artists; Bosnian Rainbows and Zavalaz.

Don't Go Wandering

If you don't have time to listen to the whole album above, sample a few of my favorites below:

B Sides & Covers

And finally, here are some TMV tracks you probably haven't heard... enjoy!

Unreleased Tracks

Bosnian Rainbows

Bosnian Rainbows, released on June 24, 2013 is the band's self-titled studio album debut, via Clouds Hill, Sargent House and Rodriguez-Lopez Productions.

Bosnian Rainbows consists of former The Mars Volta members, Omar Rodríguez-López and Deantoni Parks, as well as Le Butcherettes vocalist Teri Gender Bender and keyboardist Nicci Kasper.

The album was recorded at Clouds Hill Studios in Hamburg, Germany in October 2012 - it was recorded and produced by Johann Scheerer and produced on analog equipment, without the use of computers.

If you've made it this far, you might as well give Bosnian Rainbows a shot. They sound nothing like The Mars Volta, and that's perfectly fine.

You Dig Right In Me

Take a chance on these standout tracks, or listen to the entire album above:

Source

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    • profile image

      Tallin 2 years ago

      Super exticed to see more of this kind of stuff online.

    • PosettaNicole profile image

      Posetta Brown 3 years ago from Charleston S.C.

      Nice..:)

    • IslandBites profile image

      IslandBites 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Good job with the hub.

    • GoForTheJuggler profile image
      Author

      Joshua Patrick 4 years ago from Texas

      teaches12345 - These musicians achieved a notable amount of success, despite their unique sound, lyrics, and vocal range. I have yet to hear any of their tracks on the radio, which can almost be considered a good thing these days.

      Now that they have gone their separate ways, the prices for their limited issue vinyl are skyrocketing. I plan on using some of their music in projects throughout my film career, so maybe I can talk them into reissuing their albums on vinyl - here's hoping!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      This is quite an interesting bit of news and fascinating. I do not know this group, but it I am more informed after viewing your post.