Considering singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s impressive track record, it shouldn’t be difficult for him to build an audience with his latest project, Zavalaz, even though it sounds so different from his previous bands, At the Drive-In (post-hardcore) and Mars Volta (prog-metal).
He describes his new group sound as ’70s, AM radio–inspired love ballads. We’ll have to take his word on that because not much is known about Zavalaz otherwise. The band is currently on its first tour ever, which includes a date at the Blank Club on June 24.
Despite having an entire album recorded (tentatively titled All the Nights We Never Met), Zavalaz has so far only released one 39-second clip to the public. While the sound is softer than that of Mars Volta, it doesn’t exactly bring 70s AM radio to mind.
“It was really our bass player’s idea to have that one be the first thing we release, because he felt it’s like a gateway for everyone to be like, ‘Oh, we recognize that rock part of you,’ but really I think people will be pleasantly surprised at how dainty and how more ballad-y the rest of the album is,” Bixler-Zavala says.
It shouldn’t be too big of a shock that Zavalaz would represent a departure for Bixler-Zavala. He’s never been the primary songwriter in any of his other bands. At the Drive-In’s songs were mostly written as a group, and all the music in Mars Volta was written by guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
“This is really my first real effort into songwriting,” Bixler-Zavala says. “I wasn’t really encouraged or allowed in my past incarnation. It’s really liberating.”
Zavalaz started as a solo project several years back, but obligations with Mars Volta didn’t leave Bixler-Zavala with much opportunity to work on it. When he did, he often collaborated with different musicians, eventually making it a band. The current lineup includes Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete de la Peña, Them Hill’s guitarist Dan Elkan and Megapuss drummer Greg Rogove.
Bixler-Zavala and Rogriguez-Lopez got into a conflict last year when Mars Volta was only able to play 19 shows in support of their album Noctourniquet, none of which were in the United States, because Rodriguez-Lopez needed to take a break. Soon after, he announced that Mars Volta was on hiatus and moved back to El Paso but then started a new project, Bosnian Rainbows.
“The tipping point was being told that he needed time off, then all of the sudden it was like here’s this other other thing that he’s got, and it’s got a name, and it’s got a full tour,” Bixler-Zavala says. “If anything I was the one person that tried to make it look like we were a gang and not doing other things.”
In January, Bixler-Zavala went on Twitter and announced that Mars Volta had officially broken up and explained that the falling out had started four years earlier.
“My main function for saying it out loud in a venue like Twitter was sort of like letting the people that buy our records and buy our tickets and our shirts know: don’t wait around anymore,” Bixler-Zavala says. “It was always under the façade that we can go do separate things and come back to it. It was a good run, we had a lot of fun doing it, but they shoot [old] horses, you know? You got to know when it’s over.”
Looking back, Bixler-Zavala feels like a critical point that truly disturbed the dynamic between him and Rodriguez-Lopez was when Bixler-Zavala was finally able to get sober in 2010. Bixler-Zavala, clear-headed, was no longer comfortable being the passive voice he had been in Mars Volta for so many years.
“It has such a domino effect,” he says. “Being sober gives you the courage to say, ‘I don’t like that chord’ or whatever. It really shook up what was known as a natural chemistry for 10 years. People should have been able to hear my voice musically, as well. I was sort of convinced that that’s the way it was. You learn to not rock the boat and speak up. That just goes with that whole Stockholm Syndrome mentality that this is the chemistry that works. My biggest regret is that I never spoke up, not until I got sober. That rocked the boat.”
With Mars Volta a thing of the past, Bixler-Zavala is giving Zavalaz his complete focus, and what he’s got to say lyrically is much different than in Mars Volta. It’s straightforward and direct.
“My past incarnation had a lot of that adolescent little boy I-want-to-play-sci-fi-games stuff,” Bixler-Zavala says. “I think being married and having kids and having given up a lot of my past lifestyle has changed that. This record is a small glimpse into the reality of my life. It’s the most revolutionary thing I can strive for right now.”
Monday, June 24; 8pm; $15/$20
Blank Club, San Jose