By: Dr. Matt Warnock
Saturday at this year’s NAMM show was a big day for major artists making appearances at booths for performances and to sign autographs for long lines of fans. After checking out Steve Vai at Ibanez, Steve Morse at Ernie Ball and Alex Skolnick at Heritage Guitars, I was walking from one side of the room to the other when I happened to pass the Orange amp exhibit, and standing in front of a giant amp, happily signing autographs for his fans, was Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-López.
Being a fan of the Mars Volta, and of Omar’s playing, I waited around to see if I could catch a few minutes with the guitarist to ask him about Orange amps, jazz music and where the band is at with their upcoming record. Though he’d been standing there signing posters and talking to fans for quite a while, Omar took the time to answer my questions, with a smile on his face the whole time.
Though we didn’t get a lot of time with Omar at NAMM, we did get some news about the new album, why he plays Orange amps and where he sees the band fitting into today’s music scene that we wanted to share with our readers. Here’s our short, but very cool, conversation with Omar Rodriguez-López.
Matt Warnock: Why do you play Orange amps as opposed to say Fender or Marshall?
Omar Rodriguez-López: It’s not really something that I can put into words. I tried out a bunch of different amps and Orange sounded like a real amp to me. Everything else sounded like it was missing something. Because I don’t know a lot about the technical stuff, it was just a feeling thing. Orange just sounded like me.
Matt: How much does tone influence your writing, as compared to notes and rhythms?
Omar Rodriguez-López: I think it influences expression, not really writing. I think that writing in its basic form is just an arrangement of notes. So really, they just come out in how you want to express that particular composition, and tone is more about expression.
Matt: With the high level of energy and creativity in your music, how do you see the Mars Volta fitting into today’s music scene, which seems to be leaning more towards Radio Pop than creativity?
Omar Rodriguez-López: I don’t really think about it in those terms. I don’t see myself as having to fit in or out of anything. I’m just a guy trying to do his thing. Eat healthy, play healthy and be outside as well. I’m just kind of doing my thing.
I don’t really think about what’s going on outside the band. I mean, there are groups that I think are great. I’ll hear a group and it’ll influence me to get in the studio and have fun, but I don’t think about it as me in contrast to something else.
Matt: Because of the experimental nature of your music, how much was jazz an influence in your playing when you were coming up?
Omar Rodriguez-López: Oh yeah, jazz was a huge influence, because jazz was an influence on Salsa music, which is traditionally where I come from. So, once the Puerto Rican musicians went to New York they started influencing jazz records, especially in the early ‘70s with the hardcore Salsa movement, which was a big influence on my playing.
Matt: Where are you in the writing process between now and the release of your next album?
Omar Rodriguez-López: I wrote our next album a year and a half ago, I’ve just been waiting for Cedric to finish his lyrics. Actually I’m here and I’ll record him, then we’ll wrap it up.