Omar Rodriguez- Lopez is one of my favourite musicians. You might know him from At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta, De Facto or his 20+ solo records or you may know him for his films (his most recent The Sentimental Engine Slayer – trailer at end of post). He is incredibly prolific and offers beautiful insight into creativity and life through his eyes. Whenever we catch up we always have the most thoughtful, inspiring chats. I’m super excited about the Australian tour that kicks off on December 9th…I’m even more excited he’s bringing the Mexico/Los Angeles band Le Butcherettes he signed to his label. He will also be joining them on bass! These shows are not to be missed. Seriously.
What’s life been like for you lately?
OR-L: It’s been mellow. I’ve been taking time off and just being around my family.
That’s lovely, family is so important.
OR-L: Definitely! Without a doubt.
You live in Mexico now these days?
OR-L: Yeah. I’m in the process of moving. I’m actually going to move back to Texas to be with my family.
What inspired your move to Mexico?
OR-L: Just being around my culture. I’m Puerto Rican so I like being around Latin culture. I was raised in Mexico as well. We went from Puerto Rico to Mexico and then to America. I just wanted a higher quality of life than what America has to offer.
Do you play music and create every day?
OR-L: Yeah pretty much. In some form or another, yes, I express it every day.
Do you have a daily routine at all?
OR-L: Yeah to a certain degree. I wake up, I eat, basic things like that. It’s not like when we spoke last time and I pretty much had the routine of at 11am to midnight I’d be in the studio. It’s just laid back now. My priorities are waking up and eating right and figuring out the day from there.
You’ve said in the past that your records are just opinions, notebooks and journal entries; you discovering life and beautiful things and learning lessons – is there any important lessons that you’ve been learning lately?
OR-L: Oh sure. There’s a lot. If I had to simplify it and boil it down to its most common denominator it’s that there is nothing more important than love. There is nothing more important than love whatever that is to you—family love, people… everything else has to come second to that. I’m a romantic and with most romantics it’s easy to fall under the illusion that love is enough and that love will fix everything—it’s not enough! Love is an art form, love is a craft, love is like anything else. If you want to be a good piano player you have to practice playing piano. If you don’t play piano for 20 years you’re not going to be a very good piano player. Love is the same way. You can’t just think because you love your mother or you love your father or you love your woman that that’s enough, you have to refine it and you have to work on it every day. What the means is that because it’s a craft and an art form it has to come before anything, it has to be at the top of the list. All things being equal, if love is an art form and if guitar is an art form, painting is an art form, it comes down to you have to decide which art form is more important to you because that is the one you are going to excel at. If you spend most of your time painting you’re going to excel at painting. If you spend most of your time playing piano, you’re going to excel at playing piano. I want to excel at loving and I realise that everything else is secondary. It is the root of everything. If you’re great at loving you’ll be great at playing piano or painting. Everything else becomes so small in comparison. It goes back to why spending more time with the family and doing things outside or whatnot it important.
You’re an avid journal keeper, is that something you’ve always done?
OR-L: Yeah since I was very little. Like any kid, you have your notebook where you draw your dragons and space monsters and whatever else comes to your mind. It’s a way of creating your own personal world. I love keeping a journal.
What’s one of your first musical memories?
OR-L: It would have to be my father and my uncles and my mother, just basically being at home. It’s just part of my culture and my upbringing. Puerto Rican culture revolves around music and food. Everybody plays something even if they are not musicians. Music is used as a language, it’s a second language. Before I ever learnt English I already knew the language of music because it was what was most spoken at my house besides Spanish, those are my musical memories. In other cultures, in America say for example, they have Christmas songs… when Christmas time comes around – I say that because it’s almost Christmas time now – there are a lot of communal Christmas songs that everyone knows and sings, they have that thing where people go door-to-door singing, well, Puerto Rican culture is like that all the time, it’s not just Christmas, it’s everything. There are songs that talk about the food you’re eating, there’s songs that talk about what it is like to be Puerto Rican. There’s songs that talk about what it’s like to be like from this village or that village—it’s just inherent in the culture. For me I’ve never thought of music as something separate from life or family life. I’ve never been cognisant of music like when people ask, did you ever think you’d end up being a musician? It would be like saying, did you ever think you were ever going to eat rice and beans with fried plantain? It doesn’t enter the consciousness when it is something that is around you all the time, it is just something that is there.
It’s like breathing.
You also film lots of things. You’ve been filming since the beginning of At The Drive-In and documenting your journey as a musician; why do you feel you have such a need to document everything so avidly?
OR-L: Because I can, because it’s there. It’s another brush stroke and another colour on the palette of paint. I was born in era where the average person can walk into a store and buy a video camera. Thirty years ago that was only something that was there for rich people. We live in an era where you can get a couple of hundred bucks together and you can by a camera and document things. Going back to it again, it is how I was raised. When we moved to America and my father starting doing well with his business, one of the first things he did was by one of those VHS camcorders. He used to film all of our family outings (pretty normal stuff, families film their family outings) that was always stuck in my head. When he first brought a camera he showed me how to use it and I started filming right away. I’d make little short films. It felt very natural. My dad didn’t film family vacations in the normal way, he always turned it into a narrative somehow. There was always a narrator. He’s always would turn it into this big fun event that would involve everybody, so then everybody wanted to play with the video camera. Being the second oldest son I was allowed that luxury. It’s just there in your subconscious or the makeup of how you do things. When I grew to be an adult and At The Drive-In started making some money, one of the first things that I did was go and buy myself a video camera. I filmed stuff because I thought it would be a cool thing to show my mom back home and eventually my children.
Do you think the footage will ever come out to the public?
OR-L: I’m sure parts of it will, yeah definitely. I have about three films in my closet/vault, together with unreleased records. I imagine at some point as the years pass by I won’t care and I’ll just put it out. Over the years they’ve just been journal entries. I cut together a small film of my experience of At The Drive-In. I cut one together about my experience in De Facto. I started to cut one together about my project The Mars Volta, about what became very, very long. You also start to lose interest after a while and you start to film other things or become interested in other things. I imagine at some point parts of it will come out definitely.
I know that the new Mars Volta album has been finished for a while, the musical parts were finished for a very long time while awaiting the lyrics/vocals. In an interview recently when someone asked you about what the record sounded like you said ‘The first thing that pops into my mind is that it sounds like me and Cedric finding answers and insight into each other’s spirits.’ I thought that was really beautiful. I was wondering what insights you found?
OR-L: It runs pretty deep so it gets tricky. Off the top of my head some things would be like, I never realised how much my controlling-ness or my dominate personality affected him. I just always saw it as I was doing it for the greater good of us both. I never stopped to think about how it affected him and in inadvertent ways. I was able to see that during that process. It’s hard to get into because it is so layered and a lot of it is so personal which is why I usually just try to speak in general broad brush strokes. You learn a lot about yourself when you do a project and you learn a lot about whoever you let into that project. At the end of the day that’s the only real reason to do anything – to make records, movies or anything else – it’s to learn.
I know exactly what you mean. I learn so much from each conversation I have/interview I do. Our last chat taught me so much.
OR-L: Exactly. I remember it well.
You are bringing Le Butcherettes (pictured above) to Australia on your tour. I’m so excited to see them! I read an interview with Le Butcherettes’ frontwoman Teri Gender Bender and she said that you discovered them when you went to a show they were playing. She went on to say that the power went out and that they keep playing regardless. What was it that you saw in them?
OR-L: What I saw with them is something that is undefinable. When you talk about it you can only use general terms like, I saw that spark or that spirit. It’s so abstract in a way. You see that thing in people where you know that it is honest, you know that they are doing it because they have to do it, you know that it’s a primordial type of urge.
There’s people that like entertainment, there’s people who like playing music and then there are people that are searching for God. God not being… I’m not talking about Christianity or Judaism or anything like that, just in broad terms for whatever the fuck you want that to be. Those are the three different sections that I found when you talk about art: entertaining, people that are being expressive and that want to play music, that love to play music and there’s people that are trying to communicate with God—they fell into that category and that was what I was able to see very quickly. Like you were saying, the electricity went out but they still played! Somebody else would say, well what’s the point of playing with no electricity? Another person would say, because they absolutely have to, this is how I’m trying to communicate with God. God could be me, it could be myself, I could be trying to get to know myself—the point being, it is absolutely vital. That’s what I saw in Le Butcherettes.
Trailer for Omar’s latest film – The Sentimental Engine Slayer:
Omar Interview about his latest film:
For Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & Le Butcherettes Australian tour dates check the event Facebook.
Love & light,