What do you do when your prolific, platinum-selling band calls it quits after 11 years? If you’re Cedric Bixler-Zavala, you start again. Following The Mars Volta’s messy January breakup, the singer took to the web to air his complaints with longtime bandmate and collaborator Omar Rodríguez-López.
“I guess a break from Mars Volta means starting another band and ignoring all the support the fans gave us,” Bixler-Zavala tweeted in January in reference to Rodríguez-López’s new act, Bosnian Rainbows.
Nowadays, though, the singer is far more interested in looking forward than dwelling on the past. Last month he unveiled the title of his new project, Zavalaz, and this week he hits the road for the band’s first string of tour dates, which includes a stop at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Wednesday, June 19. Speaking recently via phone, Bixler-Zavala offered some insights into the new sound, as well as some thoughts on the demise of The Mars Volta.
So, how did this project come together? Well, it started off with me just having the courage to play my guitar again. My wife would listen to me play and be really encouraging. I was writing a lot of really ballad-y stuff for her; it was all predominantly love songs, really. Then Robert Carranza is this engineer I know — we worked with him with Mars Volta a while back — and he worked with people like Los Lobos and Jack Johnson and was really complimentary. Juan [Alderete, Volta bassist] came in to help with drum ideas, and eventually it just felt like ethically and spiritually it was the right thing to do to make a band.
So there’s an album in the works? Yes. It’s being mixed right now by Noah Gorgeson. Leif Podhajsky —who does most of the Tame Impala stuff —he did a record cover for it, which is great. Otherwise we’re just looking for a home. Hopefully it will be soon, but we still need to work out the kinks when we play live. You don’t know what it’s really like until you play in front of a bunch of people.
How would you describe Zavalaz’s sound? It’s part of that classic Southern California ballad music for sure. There’s a lot of harmonies and a lot of me sort of paying homage to the music my parents listened to when I was a little kid. There are some obvious Fleetwood Mac influences and some obvious Neil Young influences. I’d like to think, maybe naively and romantically, that I’m not ripping them off. [Laughs.] That’s where I’m at right now.
Are there any other major influences? I’ve always had a thing for the ballad-y parts of Roky Erickson. There’s a big audience that loved him for his crazy mental imagery and his heavier rock songs, but that guy is a fucking master when it comes to playing ballads; they’re always heartbreaking. There were such brief moments in the chaos of what [Mars Volta] was known for; I just wanted to embrace a lot of that, because it’s probably the most uncool thing I could do with my career. [Laughs.]
Did you entertain the idea of a solo record prior to the breakup? I always thought that I could never fully realize any sort of solo thing unless I could put my all into it. Plus, I didn’t like doing anything else because I always felt like, for me, it was a conflict of interest; it would have diluted the band if I would have started doing a grip of solo things. I’m old fashioned that way. I think if you’re going to dabble in other stuff, it should be a brief thing, and you should really give a project your focus. It’s like, if I’m in a gang, I want to be known for that gang; I don’t need to be known for any sub-affiliate gangs.
Where are you and Omar at nowadays? We’re not really on speaking terms. The falling out had been four years in the making, so the final announcement on my part was really just to let the children know that Mom and Dad were splitting up. I think there’s a lot to be identified in Kim and Thurston. [Laughs.]
Zavalaz plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, June 19, at 8 p.m. with Dot Hacker. For tickets and info, call (805) 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com.