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Most of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's music is defined by storminess. In the past, his creativity came in whirlwinds, thunderous opinions drenched in acid rain and an eccentric fogginess that left fans, friends and band mates no choice other than to blindly brace themselves for his next move. But that stressful excitement can take its toll after a while, even when you're the guy orchestrating it.
But the 35-year-old genius recently decided to abandon this creative flurry in favor of uncluttered skies. And it's no surprise it has resulted in a rainbow—more specifically, his new band, Bosnian Rainbows. "I've always taken comfort in being long-winded, and now I've really been trying to articulate myself in a clearer way," he says. "In the same way that I now try to communicate with friends; everything else in music is simply a byproduct of what's happening in your life."
When it comes to rainbows, Bosnian or otherwise, the coolest thing about these streaks of floating paint is each color's ability to hold its own vibrant place in the atmosphere while together representing an innate oneness. Even before the release of Nocturniquet—the Mars Volta's latest effort—Rodriguez-Lopez's thirst for collaboration after so many years of musical dictatorship in that band told him it was time for a change. It's not as though he needed to go very far to find the personnel he was looking for to hatch a new project. Much of the inspiration for Bosnian Rainbows was begotten from never-released recordings he'd made with thunderous Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks.
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"When I recorded the last Mars Volta record, Deantoni recorded his parts in just a day. We had four days left over, and we just started messing around like I hadn't done in about a decade," Rodriguez-Lopez recalls. "We recorded all these ideas we had, and we kinda kept the dialogue going about that material throughout the years."
This week, Rodriguez-Lopez comes to OC to test out the newest of his stripped-down, psychedelic endeavors. After blitzing through Europe with Parks, guitar-playing wild woman Teri "Gender Bender" Suarez and synth player Nicci Kasper, the band recorded an unreleased album to turn this passion project into a concrete statement about Rodriguez-Lopez's new creative intentions. "That happiness that comes through sharing with people," he says. "It's a whole different thing than doing something in which only your opinion matters; you can only take that enjoyment so far. . . . There's no bigger high than serving something bigger than yourself."
Though the project revolves around the deep, lush synths played by Parks and Kasper (both collaborate on similar work for their own side projects, KUDU and Dark Angels, respectively), much of the electricity onstage runs through the limbs and vocal chords of Suarez of Le Butcherettes. (Rodriguez-Lopez currently plays bass in that band as well.) Their chemistry is palpable—and it's no accident. Before playing their first shows earlier this year, Rodriguez-Lopez says, the band held rehearsals that were akin to hangout sessions. "It didn't matter if we played a single note, whereas in the Mars Volta, I'd have the band practicing 12 hours a day," he explains. "But here, we'd take trips together and watch movies together, so as a result of that, when we decided to exchange musical ideas, it all came together very quickly."
One of the most noticeable challenges in Bosnian Rainbows is that aside from performing triple duty on drum machine, live drums and keyboards, Parks has stripped his kit of cymbals and toms. Coming into the project, that was an aspect of the sound that he and Rodriguez-Lopez agreed on. "At this point in my life, I fucking hate cymbals. Maybe it's having been around rock & roll for so long," Rodriguez-Lopez says. "But you'd say this to a normal drummer, and they'd have problems. But Deantoni just looked at me and said, 'I don't wanna play my toms either, then.'"
But more than the collaborative musicianship and digestible riffs, Rodriguez-Lopez has a new, practical mode of thinking in every aspect of his life. "Nowadays, when I'm out with friends, and people want to go to a restaurant that I've never been to, instead of making a fuss about it, I'll loosen up and go along with it. Because in the end, I know that good living is only real when you share it with someone else, when you forget about your own desire and your own neuroses."
This article appeared in print as "Flying Solo No More: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez searches for golden collaborations with band mates in Bosnian Rainbows."