Former Mars Volta frontman springs retro-rock sound on Sacramento

Published: Friday, Jun. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4TICKET
Last Modified: Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013 - 9:07 am

The thrill is clearly gone for Grammy Award-winning band the Mars Volta.

In January, frustrated with internal issues, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala announced via Twitter that he was no longer a member of the band.

Breakups are nothing new for Bixler-Zavala, the Redwood City native who helped form the Mars Volta after the disbanding of his influential post-hardcore group At the Drive-In. Known for its explosive live shows, At the Drive-In broke up in 2001 as it was reaching mainstream success with its third studio album, "Relationship of Command."

In recent months, Bixler-Zavala has put his efforts toward his spinoff band Zavalaz. While the Mars Volta featured a progressive rock sound with psychedelic rock, jazz, funk, salsa and electronic influences, Zavalaz has more of a retro-rock vibe, offering "bittersweet and happier sounding songs," he said.

Zavalaz's debut album is being mixed by Noah Georgeson and engineered by four-time Grammy Award-winning producer Robert Carranza. The record will have "a Southern California AM radio" feel to it, Bixler-Zavala said, and fans can get a preview of it when Zavalaz takes the stage Saturday at Sacramento's Ace of Spades. Bixler-Zavala recently spoke to The Bee from his home in Los Angeles about his new group.

What musical influences have informed the sound of Zavalaz?

I've always – well, I guess I should say lately – I've been obsessed with a lot of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) and a record ("Holland") by the Beach Boys. It was like toward the end of their career and they had this guy named Ricky Fataar, who was in that joke group called The Rutles. They have this black guy named Blondie Chaplin, who is singing main vocals at the time. I've just been obsessed with that song "Sail On, Sailor." It's a really rad period for the Beach Boys.

I understand that your wife, Chrissie Carnell, fueled your writing process for Zavalaz?

She's kind of been the person asking me, "So why don't you write music? I don't understand." So I just started to listen to her, sort of asking questions I was always afraid to ask. She was and is my best friend. A real true friend that says the things a friend should say even though they can become uncomfortable and they can put you on the spot, because it makes you a better person at the end of the day. So I just wrote her a lot of love songs, really.

Does being Zavalaz really allow you the opportunity to be more hands-on with the creative process?

Yeah. I didn't really have a lot of that opportunity in the Mars Volta. I did a lot in At the Drive-In. I'd come in and bring a lot of songs with At the Drive-In. Some parts would get chopped or they would become whole songs. I don't think a lot of people knew that just because we had this sort of idea like we're a gang. When the credits come up, we all wrote it, which I think was sort of like this really romantic way of not being egotistical about who wrote what.

It's been considerable time since those records came out. I wrote a lot of stuff on "Relationship of Command," I wrote a lot of stuff on "In/Casino/Out." I wrote a lot of stuff on "Acrobat." Then, when Volta came along, that was just like a good 10, 15 years of not really being encouraged or allowed to write anything. So I was always just afraid of doing it.

At the Drive-In has been on a reunion tour, playing Coachella, Lollapalooza and other festivals. What's next for the band?

It would have been nice to continue. Like I said before, in order for the circle to remain unbroken, you have to want to be part of the circle. I know there's four people who want the circle to remain but there's just one person who doesn't really want to do it. There's really no other choice than to do your own thing and go for it.

You've expressed frustration with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, whom you played with in both At the Drive-In and Mars Volta. Do you think ATDI can get back together and create new material?

Like I said, in order for (a group) to get back together, you really got to want to do it and it can't just be for money. You can't short-change an audience you slaved years and years to attain. If there's one thing about the new generation of kids, it's when they smell blood, they smell blood. They're not stupid. An audience is like finding your soul mate, if you should be so lucky. Don't take them for granted and don't jerk them around.


Where: Ace of Spades, 1417 R St., Sacramento

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $18.95


Call The Bee's Kristopher Rivera, (916) 321-1101 Follow him on Twitter @kgrivera.

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