The subtle moments that have led us to the here and now are culminated in The Bedlam In Goliath, the band’s fourth studio release, and—like their first two records—it is also a conceptual piece. A hauntingly rich adventure, the album is the result of an on-the-whim trip taken to Jerusalem by Omar, and the mysterious talking board that he gave Cedric as a gift. “Omar stumbled upon this flea market one day (in Jerusalem), and was singled out by this guy who took him to this shop which was away from the flea market. It had a lot of occult items, a lot of taxidermy—a lot of stuff that I would love as a gift. He just found this talking board—really old and dilapidated—and it looked like an antique. So, he bought it for me because he knew I would like it.” What would start out as being a means to cure boredom on tour would become an item of fixation for Cedric and the band. “The more I played it, the more I tried to recreate that feeling of a first high. It just got to the point where Omar had to have an intervention because I was really, really into it.” Attached to the talking board was a poem that the band had translated, which revealed the story of an adulterous love triangle. “It kind of told the story of this honor killing that happens in Muslim society. I took a lot of common myths about Ouija boards, and essentially tried to tap into what it would be like to be deprived of human contact, and being under the foot of male oppression that goes on in that religion.”
But The Bedlam In Goliath is more than just the story of love that went wrong at the hands of an antiquated swain. Harrowing elements surrounded The Mars Volta all throughout the sessions for the album. Omar’s home studio in Brooklyn would experience the “random disappearances” of recorded tracks, and was even the subject of a flood. But as if the supernatural elements surrounding the record weren’t enough to contend with, drummer Jon Theodore more and more disliked being part of an eight-piece band—and he hated the sound and the direction the band was going in. “It’s like a bad marriage that went wrong,” says Cedric. “You live with people for so long you get to know what they’re really like. I realized he wasn’t in the band for the right reasons, and he wasn’t as in love with it as we were.”
Theodore’s departure from the band is the evidence that creativity and forward-thinking comes at a high price, but if any band can rise to the occasion, it’s The Mars Volta. After all, Cedric and Omar had been through tension like this before in their previous outfit, At The Drive-In. When At The Drive-In’s third album Relationship Of Command was released in 2000, they were poised to become the next darlings of a burgeoning (and terrible) post-hardcore/emo scene. Feeling restricted by the sound, Cedric and Omar opted to pull the plug on At The Drive-In, leaving a bitter rift between them and the rest of the band.
Still, there would be no such fireworks in The Mars Volta once Theodore expressed his disdain. “I think he’s a great drummer, but I just feel he’s been given this gift and he doesn’t take advantage of it. There are so many more things that he cares about that are extracurricular. I also think that a lot of people have the misconception that Jon Theodore wrote material, and that he wrote time signatures for the songs, but anyone who knows Omar knows that his songwriting is so specific that you could never stray from it, and anytime Jon was invited to contribute material, he never did. There was just tension growing because of that.”
Deantoni Parks was brought in to replace Theodore, but he left to fulfill obligations he had to another band. Then 24- year-old Thomas Pridgen was recruited to fill the empty space behind the kit, and listening to Cedric explain his impact, it appears there has been nothing but glory ever since his arrival. “Now that we have Thomas in the band, it’s a different attitude completely. It’s like this fountain of youth. It’s a lot of confidence. Now we have a happy pastor, and the sermons are fucking hilarious. And fun. We smile on stage, and we laugh and we make jokes… I feel as though I’m 23 years old!”
Separation and loss within the lineup of The Mars Volta aside, there will always be an aspect within the band that will strive to find a cause for celebration in even the darkest of places. “What is dominant in Latin cultures is the celebration of death… (our music is) sort of a New Orleans jazz funeral procession version of that.” Cedric, who lost many friends along the way while growing up in El Paso, makes a personal obligation to give tribute to the fallen. “I always felt it was my job to tell the world about these kinds of smaller spirits that didn’t get the chance that I got. I want to tell people because I am the way I am because of these people having touched my life.” He continues by saying, “Ya know, half of my family celebrates El Día de los Muertos—‘The Day of the Dead.’ It’s a celebration; (Death is) not something to fear. That’s a constant in our material—to embrace Part Two of the experience; it’s a celebration of the unknown, and it’s exhilarating.” Happy pastors, they are indeed.
The Mars Volta’s latest album, The Bedlam In Goliath, is in stores now. For more visit themarsvolta.com
Photo Credit: Ross Halfin