Weird, spooky, brash - and that's just the bandmates. Scott Kara reports
Cedric Bixler-Zavala may sing about a smiling hangman, guillotine smirks and bed sores on The Mars Volta's latest album, but his main muse is Helen Mirren.
The 62-year-old actress is the inspiration behind the progressive-art-metal-funk of the song
(taken from her real name, Ilyena Mironov) off
The Bedlam In Goliath
, the band's fourth and most aggressive album yet.
"I called it Helen Mirren because of the kind of Gregorian chant type vocals I was doing and they reminded me of the way it sounded when she was in
, which is great too," says the singer from Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, where the band is based.
While he's more inspired by her early roles, he also rates Mirren's Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in 2006.
"I know a lot of people just know her from
, which is great, she kicked arse in that, but there's things like
The Long Good Friday
"She's just always someone whose work has struck me really deeply, like
The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover
, she's phenomenal in that and I hope we can make our music move someone the way she has moved me with her performances."
The Mars Volta, whose core members are Bixler-Zavala and guitarist and producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, return to New Zealand on June 26 for a show at the Logan Campbell Centre in support of their fourth album,
The Bedlam In Goliath.
Typically, and as the album title suggests, the band combines metal, rock, funk, noise and improvisation into a crazed mix - like the fractured nine-minute epic
, the exotic
and menacing opener
Besides Mirren, Bixler-Zavala - a devoted movie fan who often draws inspiration from films - says his other influences include actress Joan Crawford, skateboarder Mark Gonzales and oddball movies.
His latest discovery is 1970s Filipino film
For Y'ur Height Only
"The main character is a dwarf and it's probably the best comedy I've ever seen. He's called Weng Weng, his acting is horrible, but he gets the girl, flies through the air and jumps out of the window with an umbrella and he's, like, the man."
, there was a more sinister influence and it wouldn't be a Mars Volta album without an elaborate tale about how the album came to fruition. Debut album
De-Loused in the Comatorium
, from 2003, was written about the life and death of artist and band friend Julio Venegas; 2005's
Frances the Mute
was based on writings from a diary a former bandmate found in a repossessed car; and
story starts when Rodriguez-Lopez bought a ouija board in Jerusalem as a present for Bixler-Zavala.
The band dubbed this mysterious board "The Soothsayer" and the more they used it and interacted with an entity who they referred to as Goliath, the more things started going wrong.
The band's drummer quit, they lost recordings of songs, Bixler-Zavala needed surgery on his foot, Rodriguez-Lopez's home studio flooded and the album's first engineer suffered a nervous breakdown.
It might sound terribly melodramatic, and believe what you want about the ouija board, but it got to the point where the band's two leaders nearly chucked it in and started again. In the end they didn't and the story goes Rodriguez-Lopez buried The Soothsayer as a way of warding off the curse before recording sessions continued.
"I like that he bought it and we went through what we went through," Bixler-Zavala says, "because if we were just some boring married couple, musically speaking, it would be dull. And most boring married couples step out on each other so we might as well keep it interesting."
Frances the Mute
, a theme has started to develop with The Mars Volta. That album was the funeral album, the next and more difficult