The Mars Volta Biography
"We are really tired of those labels and questions," says guitarist, co-founder and producer Rodriguez-Lopez. "Concept album? How can any huge project that takes up most of your life for a year not have a concept? Prog? How can any innovative, forward-thinking art or music not be progressive? It reminds me of when I first heard the label "Emo," which was the most ridiculous label ever. How can anything you put your heart and soul into not be emotional?"
With that out of the way: The Mars Volta's Frances The Mute is NOT a "sequel" to 2003's De-Loused In The Comatorium. Yes it builds a story around the memory of a dear departed friend--but the similarities end there.
Where De-Loused... was a finite sci-fi narrative that took place entirely in an imaginary universe created for the story (and rife with vocabulary peculiar to the story at hand created by Bixler-Zavala), Frances... transpires in the real world, inspired by a diary found by late bandmate Jeremy Ward (R.I.P.) and the similarity of the anonymous author's life to his own.
"The story is inspired by a diary that Jeremy found in the backseat of a car while working as a repo man," singer/lyricist Bixler-Zavala. "He discovered he had a lot in common with its author. He kept it and let us in on it. The diary told of the author being adopted and looking for his real parents. The names of each song are named after people in the diary. Each person he meets sort of points him in the direction of his biological parents. "Every work of music or art is going to reflect your experiences and feelings at the time," Omar adds. "This record was obviously influenced by the trauma of losing Jeremy. But Cedric consciously omitted anything with too much clarity or resolution, It's like when he was singing 'Now I'm lost...' on the first record: It could be literal or it could apply to anything!
"This could have been a much angrier record. When we made the last record, Julio (Venegas, band friend and mentor whose life and death inspired De-Loused...) had already been dead for 10 years. These feelings and experiences were much more fresh. But we didn't want it to be that literal. And there are things about it we don't want to share, that would be too personal or redundant to even talk about..." "It's a story of abandonment and addiction," Cedric concludes. "As to whether any of it really happened is not certain. That's something best suited for the listener to figure out. We can only provide the pieces."
... Which leaves Frances The Mute to do the talking. Featuring the first in-studio foray of the finely honed Mars Volta live machine and Omar's first time in the producer's chair, Frances... is basically five interconnected songs (the band considers silence between songs "a distraction... like if there were gaps between every scene in a movie"): Trademark Volta crescendos of opener "Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus" dissolve amidst a cacophony of electronic pulses and ambient washes of surf--or are they highway?--background noise, giving way to majestic ballad "The Widow," which itself splinters and careens into the powerhouse stomp of "L'Via L'Viaquez," a showstopper highlighted by career defining performances from every member of the band: Bixler-Zavala' hair-raising en Espanol vocal, Rodriguez-Lopez' guitar speaking in tongues, drummer Jon Theodore alternately invoking Bonham's ghost and taking backseat to half-tempo salsa grooves conjured by bassist Juan Alderete De la Peña, keyboardist Ikey Owens and newest member Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez (yes, fact-checkers, he is Omar's (younger) brother).
Dive in at the 3:45 mark and tell me you're not listening to the classic rock of the future. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" hits full rock throttle around the eight-minute mark before concluding with several minutes of Morricone-esque atmospherics and segueing into the explosive intro of "Cassandra Gemini," kicking off a 32-minute epic that ultimately returns to the opening motif of "Cygnus..." thus rounding out the five-song 75-plus minute epic. Despite familiar trappings such as colorful aliases for amalgams of real-life and fictionalized characters (the title character is the birth mother of protagonist Cygnus), Frances... is a much more organic and reality-rooted experience-it even has a moral: "You learn so much about people from their roots. If I meet my friends' mothers and fathers, I learn so much more about them. That's a big aspect of this story. But if there's a moral to the story, it's the main character's discovery of the meaning of family: He learns that family is the people around you that care about you and that you care about-not necessarily people you're tied to by blood."
Somehow, the Mars Volta's steadfast refusal to deviate from a singular vision has resulted in both artistic and commercial triumph. The band's 2003 debut, De-Loused In The Comatorium, was based on a story by Cedric in which hero Cerpin Taxt (inspired as noted above by the late El Paso artist Julio Venegas) falls into a coma, experiencing fantastic adventures in his dreams, elemental battles between good and bad aspects of his conscience, ultimately emerging from the coma, but choosing to die.
With little to no support from conventional promotional avenues, De-Loused In The Comatorium sold in excess of half a million copies worldwide, bolstered by the already legendary Volta live experience that has since become an SRO experience in theaters and festival grounds the globe over. By the close of 2003, De-Loused In The Comatorium had racked up raves from SPIN (A), ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (A-), the LOS ANGELES TIMES (four stars), BLENDER (four stars) and MAXIM (five stars!), and placed in the year-end Top 10s and readers/critics polls of the NEW YORK TIMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES, TIME OUT, GUITAR WORLD, MODERN DRUMMER, ALTERNATIVE PRESS, REVOLVER, XLR8R, the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS and more. Prior to De-Loused..., the Mars Volta's sole recorded output was the Trimulant EP on their own Gold Standard Laboratories label, while a formative series of early yet still extraordinary shows brought more allies: Rick Rubin signed on as De-Loused... producer; Flea helped out on bass; old friend John Frusciante added guitar to the track "Cicatriz." From the start, however, the core vision and intent was clear and the result is passionate, elaborate, relentlessly inventive and utterly rewarding music, one of those rare instances where musical innovation is matched, measure for measure, by a profound emotional connection.
"It feels like right now is the starting point," Omar concludes. "This is where I would objectively introduce someone to us. The last few years felt like our adolescent period, where we were allowed to go out and play but still had to be home by a certain time. Now that's over. The strings have been cut. Anything tying us to any sort of convention has been severed. We're just a self-indulgent group of friends, painting how we feel."
The Mars Volta Bio from Discogs
At The Drive-In splintered into Sparta and The Mars Volta. Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez were the main duo behind the newly formed Mars Volta, and took the band into realms of hardcore, psychedelic rock and free jazz, rather a drastic change from ATDI's "emotional punk" sounds.
On January 23, 2013, Cedric Bixler-Zavala revealed that he was no longer a part of The Mars Volta and that the band had broken up.