Prog rock group finds musical inspiration in the unbelievable

By Darren Young

Suppose while traveling the world you stumble upon a Ouija board possessed by evil spirits and, out of the kindness of your heart, give it to a friend as a gift. Now suppose that upon using the board, your lives are thrust into turmoil that can only be conquered by burying the board as deep in the earth as you can dig. Such is a day in the life of the Mars Volta, and the subject of their latest release The Bedlam in Goliath. The group is infamous for the chaotic and almost unbelievable occurrences that seem to follow them, but as guitarist/producer/composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez insists, these events are far short of being tall tales.

“[The stories] are all concrete fact,” says Rodriguez-Lopez. “So many people are able to view it and they isolate us as a group. The more people that are able to view our lives, the more opinions they have.”

Though it is difficult to concede that Rodriguez-Lopez delivered a possessed board game to vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, nearly bringing about the demise of the band, Rodriguez-Lopez believes he and his bandmate are magnets for bizarre and inexplicable activity. Consider the tale of their 2005 release, Frances The Mute, based on a diary found by their late sound technician in a repossessed car, or the 2003 offering, De-Loused in the Comatorium, centred on their late friend Julio Venegas, who was in a coma for several years. By these stories alone, it is hard to dismiss the paranormal magnetism of the Mars Volta.

“You’re going to attract chaos if that’s what’s in you,” explains Rodriguez-Lopez. “The simplest example I can give you is this–if you’ve done drugs before, even when you stop being that person somehow you still have that mark on you. Even though I haven’t touched that stuff in almost a decade, when I walk down the street at night or during the day, it’s like I have a mark on my head.”

The theatrical essence of The Bedlam in Goliath is fuelled by more than just a confusing concept. It is a statement of faith, not specifically in the religious sense, but in the capacity to believe in the extraordinary and the metaphysical. Rodriguez-Lopez believes that we are not alone in this universe and the structure of life includes entities that are not physical.

“My religion is everything around me,” says Rodriguez-Lopez. “I don’t have a set of rules on it and I don’t think there’s a rule that dictates God. The planets evolve, they revolve, the universe changes, planets die, suns die and everything works that way. I definitely don’t think something as huge as the universe could be understood by any of us.”

Now that the demons of the soothsayer Ouija board have been unleashed from the studio, the Mars Volta are hitting the road to tour in support of Bedlam. Recreating music live is a difficult procedure for any band, but for the Mars Volta, it requires nearly a dozen people. Rodriguez-Lopez is thrilled to be touring again, getting his hands dirty in venues across the globe and putting on intense performances.

“The live performance is everything,” says Rodriguez-Lopez. “It is the essence of the music. Making records is a cold medium. You can look at pictures, but it can never compare to what it felt like to be at the wedding.”

After their current tour, the band already has plans to jump into the studio for their next endeavour. The album is expected to showcase acoustic sounds–less familiar territory for the generally loud and bombastic Volta crew. With laurels and loyal fans pushing them further, it seems all they need is another earth-shattering catastrophe in their lives to inspire them once again.

The Mars Volta visit MacEwan Hall May 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster

Leave a comment