We sat down with vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala backstage to talk about all the goings on since the band reunited in 2016, to the release of the new album last year.
OD – Now that ‘In*ter*a*li*a‘ is out, do you feel that you don’t have to answer that question anymore about ‘will there be some more new music”?
CEDRIC – Yeah, especially since we tried to put everything together back in 2012, that was constantly being thrown at us and at the time, we couldn’t show all of our cards because we had to figure out if it was really going to work. You have to think about the situation we were in. We were talking about doing this and had to be really sure that is was going to work, so we figured it’s best to keep things to ourselves until we knew for sure. It was kind of like a re-marriage of sorts and we really had to apply all of the things that you would expect from say a relationship counsellor (laughs), in order for us to be able to proceed as At The Drive-In.
OD – So, when did it really become apparent that things were coming together?
CEDRIC – I guess it was around 2015. When we did those shows in 2016, it was a really good feeling to be able to say at the end of each show “we’ll be back with some new material” and fast forward to present day, it’s a great feeling to be able to say with the new EP, ‘Diamante‘ (November 2017) it’s like a message saying ‘don’t ever throw us out of the game‘! It may take a little time, but it’s a human factor that we’re working with and very much an organic process of creation.
OD – Did you ever predict just how much of an important album Relationship of Command was when you were putting it out?
CEDRIC – I think we were always in the mode of trying to get people to notice us. Around that time we were doing some opening slots for Rage Against The Machine which is a really brutal audience to play for (laughing) because their fans are so die-hard and can be a little harsh when it comes to other bands. We were always thinking at the time that we were just so grateful to be able to get such an opportunity like that and especially to be working with a major label also.
OD – Can you give me a little insight in the decision to use Ross Robinson as the producer for “Relationship..”, because he was very much submerged in the ‘nu-metal’ genre with the likes of Slipknot and Korn?
CEDRIC – At the time, the idea of moving into a house and working on the album was just so right for us. Also, Ross was working with a lot of new production tools that we wanted to try out which was very much where our heads were back then. To be honest, I really didn’t know if people were really going to like the record, we just went with our guts on everything and let the music and feel of the album take the lead.
OD – It took 17 years for this to happen and a lot of things have changed in the business sense. Do you feel that the journey you’ve had, although hard at times, has been justified for where you are now with regards to peace of mind?
CEDRIC – Yeah, we definitely have a more mature view of what we are doing as a band. It’s kind of like we are all Dads and the band is our kid, so we’re trying to make sure that it doesn’t fall down and hurt itself. Of course, sometimes we are un-cool Dads (laughing) especially when we are nipping at the heels of record labels to steer the course perfectly and get it right (laughing). We see things a lot differently now as opposed to back then.
OD – When the band started to blow-up around the world and there was a sudden surge in interest in the band from media to labels, was that something you were prepared for?
CEDRIC – When we toured ‘Relationship..” back in 200o, that was the first time I had really experienced a lot of things and one that comes to mind is the show we did in London (Electric Ballroom, December 7th). It was my first time experiencing hooligan bootleggers that were selling ATDI merch outside the venue! I’de never seen that before and I was about to go outside with the opening band and confront them and luckily enough, someone locked me behind the door and was like “no, you’re not going out there because these guys will take you out without any hesitation whatsoever” (laughs).
That whole tour was an experience and in fact, the bootlegger situation right there is an analogy of what it was like (and still is like) when dealing with some of the record companies. You can put it all in the fine print, however, the ‘fine print’ only applies to you and not the record companies. They seem to be able to get away with murder most of the time.
OD – Any advice for your former self regarding this period of time?
CEDRIC – If you’re going to ask for the sky, then ask for the sky. Always ask for more, because they will probably give it to you if they really want you and at the end of the day, when it comes to them they are just going to ignore all of that kind of stuff as they tend to play by their own rules most of the time.
I think we all kind of has that view of things nowadays. Especially, Tony (Hajjar), Omar (Rodríguez-López) and Paul (Hinojos), in fact, Omar more because he ran Mars Volta that way for ten plus years with regard to not letting shit get by us and always being on guard with the business.
OD – It’s kind of terrible that we are sitting here in 2017 talking about how you have to be extra vigilant when dealing with the business side of the music industry.
CEDRIC – You have to be so wary of everything! It’s crazy how many loopholes and bad deals are floating around today. Today, there are also situations where you have accountants like “I’m not used to speaking to drummers about the numbers” (laughing) and for me, that’s a positive sign that some bands are taking the power back into their own hands. It’s like the control is being taken back which is only a great thing.
OD – With regards to writing and how you approach this process, do you think that more artists should use their presence to directly challenge controlling organisations and call out the bullshit and the cover-up’s that are happening all around us in our day to day lives?
CEDRIC – I approach writing in a cryptic way because I don’t want to site any fault on any sort of particular movement. I just hate doing that, as I think humanity can be so broken sometimes. I believe that a small offering of pop-culture can almost serve as a mirror and you need to have the courage to look in that mirror and sometimes that can be really, really scary, which is why I think our version of a mirror, allows you to look a little bit more and think “I don’t really understand what’s there” and then the more you look, the more you’re kind of eased in as a gradient to really get to the bottom of the message.
OD – Would you agree that a good example of this would be ‘No Wolf Like The Present‘ (Opening track on ‘In*ter*a*li*a‘)?
CEDRIC – Absolutely! That track addresses the trust issues people have with the police in America right now. Being 43 years old, I can’t come out and go “fuck the police” because I don’t really have that stance anymore. If I was 17 years old, I could give you a whole manifesto about ‘fuck the police‘ (part of it being hormones), but we are attached to, or at least three of us are related to detectives or police officers and that track really brings up the statement that there’s no time like the present to have the uncomfortable, conversation about what’s going currently on in America with the police and the African community, or any ethnic community for that matter.
The mindset behind that track was to encourage and empower the good cops to be able to have that uncomfortable conversation with their comrades who are making it hard for people to trust them. I just write the way I do so it’s more of an idea if you like. My lyrics are intended to make the listener think and open their mind to different views.
OD – Looking back over the band’s discography and even with the other projects, you have always approached writing this way.
CEDRIC – I always try to latch on to the way David Lynch does stuff because his movies have so many layers of thoughts and ideas embedded into a concept. I’ve watched his movies so many times and by the millionth time, I’ll have a totally different idea of what the purpose of the film was about (laughs). He’s (David Lynch) has said that himself when he’s in the editing room.
OD – With the resurrection of ATDI to the demise of The Mars Volta and the surprise of Antemasque, did it ever cross your minds to keep both entities alive and active or was that just too much?
CEDRIC – When we first put ATDI to rest, we were asked why couldn’t we do both projects at the same time (The Mars Volta) and I think history needed to unfold the way it did and we needed to prove that side of our brain to people, but now we are definitely in the space of thinking “well, lets allot the next 3 years for one campaign and 3 years for another“. So, when this tour cycle ends for ‘In*ter*a*li*a‘ in about a years time, we will try to get The Mars Volta going again.
OD – With regards to Antemasque, where are things at the moment?
CEDRIC – The next Antemasque LP is finished and ready to be released at the right moment. That would be the second one. Basically, we’re going to try to juggle each project and create a work ethic that works for everybody.
OD -I’ve seen some of your art/designs and wanted to talk to you about your main influence on the style that you have going on?
CEDRIC – I use just pencil and then ink. I would take old National Geographic magazines and get some inspiration from the interesting pictures and just come up with a few ideas from there. I also have a lot of old vintage pornography from the 20’s and 30’s and even the 60’s and 70’s and really like the poses back then. Also, the strange burlesque stuff that would usually happen within pornography from that era. I like the celebration of the human body and the ephemeral aspect of it because eventually, gravity will prevail and we all get old and things start to head south (laughs).
I’m celebrating it like architecture and not trying to objectify anyone or any gender. I just find that fascinating. In fact, one of The Mars Volta albums is called ‘Amputechture‘ 2006 (see below) and that’s the way I view when I draw.
OD – Who would you cite as an influence on the style of art that you create?
CEDRIC – I really like the style of Moebius (aka Jean Giraud, aka Gir the legendary French artist) and I have a lot of copies of Heavy Metal magazine from the late 70’s and early 80’s to which I draw influence from as those visuals were always around me growing up.
OD – Did you have any encouragement with regards to your approach to art?
CEDRIC – As always it takes a high school teacher to invalidate you, and in this case, we had to turn in a project and I spent weeks and weeks working on it. At the time, I was really into Samhain and did this really large stippling style piece and handed it in. She gave me an ‘F’ because it was occult related and I was so heartbroken, even though I knew better than to trust a teacher (laughing). So, after I got over it, that teacher really inspired me to keep drawing.
I’m also a huge fan of Rudimentary Peni (80’s UK Punk Rock/Deathrock) and I’ve been seriously influenced by Nick Blinko. They’re not necessarily an offshoot of Crass (70’s UK Punk) but that singer (Blinko) has schizophrenia but his art is magnificent and had a major effect on me and my style.
OD – Do you work on your art while touring or is it something that you keep for being relaxed and off the road?
CEDRIC – I do all of my painting/drawing at home. If I had a good moment here and there on the tour schedule, then I’ll do a little as I have done in the past, but normally, it will be something that I do when getting back home. For more information on Cedric’s art, please visit this link.
OD – When you embarked on that first tour last year, were you all taken aback by the overwhelming response to the news of ATDI’s return?
CEDRIC – I guess you could say yes for sure. Not only mentally but also psychically. We started off with two shows in L.A and then we came to Dublin, (Ireland) May 2016 and as soon as we landed I lost my voice! I literally couldn’t talk and we had the show that night. So, we had to call the ‘rock-doctor’ and I was given a shot of prednisone and I spent the entire tour on either cortisone or prednisone and I couldn’t talk. It was referred to as the ‘show must go on serum’ (laughing) and it totally helped me. But the shows were so much in demand, there was no question of cancelling and that was an overwhelming thought on its own for us all.
OD – You must have been totally stressed on the eve of that Dublin show?
CEDRIC – I was shitting my pants about the show which was totally sold out. I was like “I need the rock-doc” and luckily she helped me out and instantly felt good enough to do the show and literally had to walk on the stage like 10 mins after she gave me the shot!
OD – What are you most proud of from all of your projects to date and why?
CEDRIC – Probably, an EP called ‘Vaya‘ (1999) because at the time we were really trying to buck our own system of what we wanted to create and I think a couple of years previous, Brainiac (American Indie band from the 90’s) released their final EP ‘Electroshock for President‘ and I thought that was the biggest game-changer for guitar-based rock because the sound is all over the place and the production is amazing.
I always wanted to execute my Brainiac influence and we would just go to Omar’s parent’s house, as he was still living there. Each morning we would meet at a coffee place at 8 am and then just spent the rest of the day belting out everything that became ‘Vaya‘ and that was a really special time for us where we really bonded and had conversations about the new direction of our sound, which was later executed on Relationship of Command the following year in 2000.
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