Omar Alfredo Rodríguez-López (born September 1, 1975) is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, writer, actor and film director who was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. He is best known for being the guitarist and bandleader of The Mars Volta from 2001 until their breakup in 2012, and is currently the guitarist for the alternative rock groups Antemasque and Bosnian Rainbows. He is also the former bassist and guitarist for the dub reggae band De Facto and the post-hardcore outfit At the Drive-In, respectively. He has also embarked on a solo career, both in studio and in concert, frequently described as experimental, avant-garde and/or progressive. He has collaborated with numerous artists spanning from John Frusciante to El-P.
Rodríguez-López was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in El Paso, Texas, but spent some of his childhood in South Carolina. He began playing the bass at age 12, but then switched to guitar at 15 because he "needed more strings". It was during this time that Rodríguez-López met Cedric Bixler-Zavala while practicing with friend Paul Hinojos. Since then Rodríguez-López has spent most of his career living and working with his close friend Bixler-Zavala. During this time he frequently collaborated with his friends and future bandmates from El Paso, which included people such as Paul Hinojos, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Julio Venegas and the late Jeremy Michael Ward. He attended Coronado High School in El Paso. He says he enjoys the company of his close friends and family when not fulfilling obligations to his many bands and projects.
At 17, Rodríguez-López left El Paso to hitchhike around the country for a year in the early 1990s, during which he acquired an addiction to opiates. Eventually he got in touch with friend Cedric Bixler-Zavala who suggested he come back to El Paso. With the help of Bixler-Zavala, he was able to return to El Paso where he could begin to reclaim his life from addiction and join At the Drive-In as backup vocalist and bass guitarist. After receiving a record deal with Flipside Records and recording Acrobatic Tenement with the band, he became their full-time bassist before switching to guitar. After several years and two more critically acclaimed albums, for a variety of reasons, Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala left At the Drive-In and the band went on "indefinite hiatus". The remaining members, Paul Hinojos, Tony Hajjar, and Jim Ward went on to form Sparta while the duo focused on other projects.
On January 9, 2012, At the Drive-In announced that they were reforming for a tour.
They refocused their efforts on the dub reggae outfit called De Facto which also included Jeremy Michael Ward and Ikey Owens which they had started years before while still in at the Drive-In. Eventually the same collective of musicians in De Facto would be expanded into Rodríguez-López's new band, The Mars Volta. Once again starting from scratch he wrote and toured with the band which consumed almost all his time and money.
On May 25, 2003 less than a month before the release of their first full-length album, De-Loused in the Comatorium, bandmate and close friend Jeremy Ward was found dead of a heroin overdose. This event, coupled with the memories of the suicide of his friend Julio Venegas years earlier, finally convinced both him and Bixler-Zavala to quit using hard narcotics. Since then he has been clean and credited his newfound musical work ethic on his new lifestyle. The Mars Volta's second album, Frances the Mute, would later be dedicated to Ward.
During the early years of the band he also worked on a low budget movie called A Manual Dexterity which starred Jeremy Ward. The soundtrack A Manual Dexterity: Soundtrack Volume 1 was released in 2004. The release of the second volume, which was originally planned for Spring of 2005, and the film were both delayed indefinitely due to legal problems. Conflicts over ownership of certain footage and Rodríguez-López's reluctance to revisit the project which featured his late friend Jeremy Michael Ward were both cited as reasons for the delay. However, Rodríguez-López stated that he does intend to release both Volume 2 and the film at some point in the future.
On February 8, 2009, he and his fellow The Mars Volta bandmates won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
On January 23, 2013, The Mars Volta officially announced that they had broken up, following a series of tweets posted by Cedric Bixler-Zavala stating that he had departed the band. Their future is uncertain at this point, although Rodriguez-Lopez has not ruled out the possibility of reuniting in the future.
In 2005 Rodríguez-López relocated to Amsterdam, where he eventually wrote and recorded four separate albums. His first solo project was the "Omar Rodríguez-López Quintet". Rodríguez-López played several live shows in Europe with his quintet, which in 2005 also included three members of The Mars Volta Group (Juan Alderete, Marcel Rodríguez-López and Adrián Terrazas-González) and Money Mark.
The songs featured on this tour later appeared on the album Omar Rodriguez. It was characterized by long, improvisational songs with Dutch titles and no lyrics. The Quintet also performed live with Damo Suzuki, parts of which were recorded and incorporated into a 25-minute EP titled Please Heat This Eventually, which was released in 2007.
During this time Rodríguez-López was also working on The Mars Volta's 2006 record Amputechture and composing the score to the film El Búfalo de la Noche, a film by Guillermo Arriaga and Jorge Hernandez Aldana simultaneously to his work with the quintet.
On May 29, 2007 Se Dice Bisonte, No Búfalo was released. It was the third full-length solo album by Rodríguez-López. It featured performances by Mars Volta members Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Marcel Rodríguez-López, Juan Alderete, Adrián Terrazas-González as well as cameos by Money Mark, John Frusciante, and John Theodore. It was written and recorded between 2005–2006 in California and Amsterdam.
The Quintet later resurfaced in 2007, now known as "The Rodríguez-López Group" to perform on the "white" stage at The Fuji Rock Festival in Japan on July 28. Performing with the group for the first time were singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and drummer Thomas Pridgen.
On October 8, 2007 the EP Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & Lydia Lunch, a collaboration with spoken word poet Lydia Lunch, was released. The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange is a double LP featuring the original quintet and was released on vinyl November 20, 2007. It was also released for digital download. Calibration, a record that Rodríguez-López recorded during his stay in Amsterdam, was released February 5, 2008. It was described as being influenced by electronic music and acid-jazz.
On June 10, 2008 a recording titled Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & Jeremy Michael Ward was released. It was a collaboration between the two and was recorded in 2001 before the formation of The Mars Volta. The LP consists of various ambient tracks based on field recordings in the musique concrète tradition. Rodríguez-López has continued to release a series of albums recorded in 2001 which include Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fungus and Minor Cuts and Scrapes in the Bushes Ahead, both released in late 2008.
Another new album, Old Money was released in October 2008, with a vinyl version becoming available in early 2009 on the Stones Throw record label. Sonny Kay, co-owner of the former Gold Standard Labs label with Omar, created the album covers (and has done so for the majority of future Omar releases). Two Omar Rodríguez-López solo albums were released in Europe on January 26, 2009 from the Netherlands-based record label Willie Anderson Recordings: Megaritual and Despair. Despair is best described as a field recording, while Megaritual is a collaboration jam between Omar and his brother, Marcel Rodríguez-López.
In mid-2009, a new entity has been created called El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez Lopez (the New Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group) to release the first in a series of three recordings completed in 2006. Thus far these recordings have only been known as the Omar and Zach Hill collaborations. The first recording titled Cryptomnesia was released on May 5, 2009. Vocals written and performed by Bixler-Zavala were recorded in 2008. The lineup for this entity is: Omar Rodríguez-López on guitar, Cedric Bixler-Zavala on vocals, Zach Hill on drums, Jonathan Hischke on synth bass, and Juan Alderete on bass.
The Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group toured Europe in March 2009, supported by Zechs Marquise.
At the end of 2009, Rodríguez-López released three albums, Los Sueños de un Hígado, Xenophanes and Solar Gambling digitally through Rodríguez-López Productions. While Xenophanes was also released on CD and vinyl, Los Suenos De Un Higado and Solar Gambling only had a limited vinyl release. Rodríguez-López also created a video for "Asco Que Conmueve los Puntos Erógenos", from Xenophanes, and posted it on YouTube on November 30, 2009.
In January 2010, Ciencia de los Inútiles was released under a new group, El Trio de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The trio features Rodríguez-López on acoustic guitar, Ximena Sariñana on vocals and Aaron Cruz on upright bass. A video for "Miércoles" was also released. In May 2010, he released a collaboration titled Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & John Frusciante with John Frusciante, free of charge through his website, with the option to donate. All money raised will go to the Keep Music in Schools programs. On May 30, 2010, the album Sepulcros de Miel by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Quartet was digitally released, which also featured Frusciante.
The album Tychozorente was scheduled for release on November 1, 2010; however, it received an early release on September 14, 2010 as a digital download. Another album, titled Cizaña de los Amores, was digitally released on October 11, 2010. CD and vinyl versions of both albums are only available in Europe. Mantra Hiroshima, another Omar and Zach Hill collaboration, was digitally released on November 29, followed next day by Dōitashimashite, album of live material recorded in September during the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group's first US tour. A video for "Agua Dulce de Pulpo" from the upcoming album Un Escorpión Perfumado was also released during that period, and the album itself was released on December 20 in digital form, with CD and vinyl versions to follow.
On April 16, 2011, Omar released Telesterion a compilation album featuring 38 songs from Omar's solo albums. Although this has been the only release of 2011, other projects have been hinted at, such as Двойственность вздохов (Russian for Duality of Sighs), a documentary about the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group's Russian mini-tour, directed by Omar and shot by Paco Ibarra. The Vinyl edition of Telesterion also contained artwork for 6 solo albums that have yet to be released, and featured a new track, "Cásate Colmillo", off of an album supposedly titled The Somnambulists.
On the 8th of April 2014, Omar announced a new musical project called Antemasque with former At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta band mates Cedric Bixler-Zavala (Vocals) and David Elitch (Drums) as well as Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have released their first song, entitled "4AM".
Flea has since come out and said that Antemasque is a project between Omar and Cedric, and that he is only a contributing artist as opposed to a full-time member of the band.
Aside from music, Rodríguez-López is also heavily involved in filmmaking and photography, having been passionate about both since childhood. Beginning in his At the Drive-in days he started to document all kinds of things: live shows, sound checks, dressing rooms, hotels, airport lounges, sightseeing, encounters with colleagues. Since 2001 he produced a large number of films, of which The Sentimental Engine Slayer was the first to be released. Rodríguez-López wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, which was premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in February 2010 and saw the DVD release in January 2013. Another film directed by Omar, Los Chidos, was premiered in March 2012 at SXSW. Furthermore, Rodríguez-López and Hans Zimmer worked together to compose the score for the 2009 Guillermo Arriaga film The Burning Plain. The film was his second collaboration with the writer/director after scoring the 2007 film El Búfalo de la Noche with The Mars Volta; in addition to some original material, the score also includes material used in Amputechture. Rodríguez-López's first photo book, Hunters in High Heels documenting the years from 2000 to 2006, was slated to release in 2013 but was since postponed indefinitely due to unknown reasons.
Rodríguez-López's compositional and playing style is characterized by, among other factors, riffs, melodies based in minor modes, changing meters, unresolving dissonances (in particular a heavy use of the tritone), chromatic passages, and lengthy improvisation. He is also known for his vast array of effects pedals; in a feature appearing in Guitar World, Rodríguez-López stated that he "began to see effects as allies in my war against the guitar". In that interview he also stated that he hated the guitar for a very long time. He only utilized it because it was the instrument his bandmates could "relate to". He said he "wrestled" guitar by adding effects and playing oddly to attempt "making it sound like anything besides this thing I hate—the guitar!". However, he claimed to feel more comfortable with the instrument on Amputechture.
Rodríguez-López plays guitar left-handed. He has cited salsa pianist and bandleader Larry Harlow as his primary influence. Both Rodríguez-López and bandmate Cedric Bixler-Zavala have often stated their admiration for early 1970s krautrock group Can, and have even recorded with former Can lead singer Damo Suzuki for the Please Heat This Eventually EP. In the progressive rock genre in which The Mars Volta are often categorized, he has professed that he "like a lot of those groups, particularly King Crimson and early Genesis." As such, he has cited Crimson's Robert Fripp as an influence, as well as jazz fusion guitarist John McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix. He has also stated that film is a primary influence on him, likening his recording style to that of a film director, where the "scenes are shot out of sequence and the final creation is in the hands of the director.".
Omar has endorsed Ibanez guitars since The Mars Volta's inception in 2001 and previously used Squier Super-Sonic guitars while playing with At The Drive-In. He also recorded De-Loused in the Comatorium with a Gibson SG II from the early 1970s which he also used in live improv shows with Flea and John Frusciante. In 2008, Ibanez released the ORM-1 Omar Rodriguez-Lopez signature guitar, which was produced continuously until 2012. He uses Seymour Duncan Little '59 pickups as well. Although he tunes to E standard tuning, Omar uses Ernie Ball .013-.056 gauge strings with a wound G string, saying that "they feel more real than the really thin ones". Omar also plays through an Orange Rockerverb combo amp as well. In recent years, Omar has taken a minimalist approach to his pedals, which at one point was a very complex setup. During The Mars Volta's 2011 tour with Soundgarden, he used a Boss DD5 Digital Delay, an MXR Phase 90, an Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy analog delay, a Boss PS-6 Harmonist, a Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler, an MXR M133 Micro Amp, an Ibanez WH10V2 wah-wah, an Ibanez TC7 tri-mode chorus, and a Line 6 DL4 delay modeler.
During The Mars Volta's final shows and At The Drive-In's reunion tour, Rodriguez-Lopez switched back to a full-sized Ibanez Jetking guitar, although retaining his preferred single-pickup and volume knob configuration and 24" neck scale. In a recent interview with TC Electronics, he is seen using a blue Ibanez Jetking with two full-size humbuckers.
Most recently, while performing with Bosnian Rainbows, Rodriguez-Lopez began to use a mid-1960s era left-handed Supro 3/4 scale guitar with a single pickup in the bridge position. Shortly afterwards, he was seen playing a custom Ibanez guitar that closely resembled his Supro. In addition, Rodriguez-Lopez now uses flatwound strings on his guitar. Rodriguez-Lopez's pedalboard currently consists of a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, an Empress Superdelay, a Blackout Effects Whetstone analog phaser, a Catalinbread Semaphore tremolo pedal, a Boss DD-5 Digital Delay, an Earthquaker Devices Rainbow Machine, an Empress Fuzz pedal, a Catalinbread Calisto chorus/vibrato pedal, and a Boss SL-20 Slicer.
Rodríguez-López is also notable for his recording, producing and songwriting techniques. He has been known to refuse to let other musicians in a session hear each other's parts, or the context of their own part, thus forcing them to play each part as if it's a self-sufficient song. Yet Rodríguez-López has stated that he believes Octahedron will be the final album he records in this "gun-in-your-face mentality" as "gonna have to come up with something new, because everybody's getting used to it (2012's Noctourniquet being the last one).". He has claimed that he is "ignorant of music theory" and that thus he lacks knowledge in writing music in standard notation, claiming that his songwriting "comes from emotion completely". Rodríguez-López claims to write all of the music for his projects, then dictates the performance to the musicians involved.
In addition to his producing credits with The Mars Volta and his solo albums, he also produced the only LP from the defunct LA-based band Radio Vago and in 2009, handled the production of a recording titled "Terra Incognita" from actress/singer Juliette Lewis' band The New Romantiques. Omar also produced (as well as contributed bass to) Sin Sin Sin, the debut LP from the band Le Butcherettes, which was released in 2011 on Rodriguez-Lopez Productions.