A short talk with Omar from The Mars Volta

Prog now!

Prog now!

Their new album Octahedron is imminent and it’s a fantastic piece of work. This is a transcript of an interview done a few years ago essentially for a sidebar on prog that appeared in Metal Hammer.

The Mars Volta

What is prog?

“Progressive means pushing the boundaries of music, always trying new things. I don;t think it means that you sound like Yes circa 1973. I mean in another hundred years are we still going to be listening to songs that have that same verse chorus bridge verse chorus structure? It needs to push forward. There’s something that John Wetton says ona King Crimson album: “Well here’s our next assault on culture’ and that’s what I hope we’re doing, not that we would dare to compare outrselves with King Crimson.”

Do you consider what you do to be prog rock?

“I hope so, I hope it is progressive. It’s for other people to say whether or not we always succeed in being progressive, but we always try to do something new. I know that we do sometimes repeat ourselves. I have such a short attention span and get burned out on the old stuff really really quickly so we are constantly trying new things.”

Why are so many prog bands embarassed to be called prog?

“A lot of people are quite happy with music that doesn’t do anything particularly different and that’s fine. We had that annoying person Courtney Love hanging around us at the beginning and she was like ‘You guys are gonna have to tighten up…tighten up’ and I was like Why?”

Some ‘prog’ bands seem to be retrogressive – ie apeing the sounds and styles of Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Rush etc – can they still be prog?

“No I don’t think so. When I was in At The Drive In I felt so limited. We toured with bands that just blew us away, who were doing something different every night and that made me feel like such a fraud. We were getting a lot of attention, probably because we were so young, but to me everything we were doing with At the Drive In had already been done better by bands like Nation Of Ulysses. I don’t see any point in repeating things.”

What do you think of the following interpretation: in the 70s prog rock got too indulgent, with too many guitar solos and 20 minute songs, so punk came along and brought things back to basics, killing prog and staying true to the spirit of rock’n’roll?

“I’m not sure. I mean, after punk it was really unfashionable but then you had bands like Public Image Ltd who were doing similar stuff, mixing up rock and dub. I see us as having as much to do with Black Flag as with Can. I mean, in terms of what we listen to it’s more krautrock than prog. You listen to Greg Ginn’s guitar sound though and that’s out there.”

Is there more than one kind of prog rock? [eg are Tool part of the same prog rock as Dream Theater etc]

“I’m not putting them down but I listened to Dream Theater and I can’t really see that they are doing the same thing as us at all.”

Is a high standard of musicianship essential to prog?

“Well as one of the non-musicians in this band we’ve always surrounded ourselves with people who can really play who really know what they are doing.”

Is it possible to make prog cool again?

“I don’t care whether people think that it’s cool or not.”

Do bands like Opeth, Tool and The Mars Volta have more to do with the original spirit of prog than the likes of Dream Theater or Queensryche?

“Well that’s for other people to say.”

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