What was your relationship with producer Ross Robinson like?
On that record, Ross basically ran the show. I was very eager to be learning at that time. I always say I’m still in training. I’m still learning, but the root of my training was from [producer] Alex Newport, who came before Ross. Then Ross and then Mario [Caldato Jr.], because De Facto—the other band Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] and I had—recorded with Mario C right around the same time. Then of course, there was Rick Rubin. My schooling was watching those guys and seeing what pieces of gear they had and asking questions about why they’d choose to use that particular gear. Ross, at that time, had the reputation for being the wild guy who would throw things or drive you around, doing things like method acting, but for whatever reason, he didn’t really do that with me. I know he threw a trash can a couple of times, and he took Paul [Hinojos, bass] and drove him in an SUV really fast through the hills in Malibu, where there was no barrier, to get his adrenaline going and recorded him that way. But with me it was a very different type of relationship.
How did Iggy Pop wind up on the record?
That was by way of Ross Robinson. He had been talking to Iggy because they were gonna work together. I don’t know if they ever did, but they’d sort of been chatting, so Ross had passed him our previous records and he liked them. So, of course I brought up the idea, “Why not [have Iggy] come and do something on the album?” Ross mentioned it to Iggy, and he was completely open to it. He came down to the studio for a whole day in which he sang [on “Rolodex Propaganda”] and did the ransom note on [“Enfilade”].
When you were making Relationship of Command, was the band already divided into you and Cedric versus the other three?
It was always like that. You see, that’s a thing people don’t understand because we never really talked about our internal affairs. There wasn’t the “reality show” approach to bands like there is now. It was like that from the beginning. It was always me and Cedric. We were in tons of bands before At The Drive-In and we continue to be in bands after At The Drive-In. It was always sort of us against particularly Jim [Ward, guitar] and his candy-coated way of doing things. For example, people always say we broke up out of nowhere and we imploded because of the popularity, and that’s something that always makes us laugh. We’re all good friends now. We all talk now. I invited Tony Hajjar [drums] and Jim and Paul [Hinojos, bass] down to my house in Mexico and had them over. I flew them down here. We’re all good friends, and we still laugh about that [rumor] because [the break up] had nothing to do with that. It was just that I felt it was our time. I felt that the lifespan of the band was over and I broke the band up. It was all personal affairs. It was very much a life thing, it had nothing to do with external pressure and all those theories. Going back to this point again about the way people say that we imploded out of nowhere, they don’t understand the context that we broke up at least three or four other times before we finally broke up. There were three or four times where I or Cedric or Cedric and I both talked about leaving the group because our desires were so different [from the rest of the band]. Looking back on it, it’s part of the beauty of that band and what made it work. It wasn’t what we wanted versus what they wanted. It was a really special dynamic, even though it was volatile in that way. It was what made the band what it was. I don’t regret it at all.
If the band hadn’t broken up, what do you think the album after Relationship Of Command would have sounded like?
It would have been a heartless piece of garbage. I mean, I can only assume that because I wouldn’t have been doing it for the right reasons, and I don’t think that expression or art should come second to anything else. I think the only reason to [play music] is expression—getting out the thing you have inside that can’t be conveyed through any language, whether it be English, Spanish, Japanese or German. So I think when something isn’t real, people will perceive it. Even if they don’t, I just think we would have imploded. I would have been very unhappy; Cedric would have been very unhappy doing it just to do it; and then a true resentment and a true hatred for each other would’ve grown. That’s what happens in a normal human psychology—you start blaming each other. Even though I would have only blamed myself for not leaving, that would be the true blame. It would’ve been easy for me to blame someone else and be like, “Oh, they’re the reason this record sucks.” When in actuality, I would have been the reason—for not being honest. You know, it’s like I always say when people ask me about the breakup: It’s like staying in a relationship with a woman you’re not in love with. It doesn’t work for anybody. You’re lying to yourself, you’re hurting yourself and in the process you’re hurting the other person. You know the way life is. Life is not gonna make it easy for you when you’re living a lie.
What’s your least favorite thing about the album?
In a heartbeat I could tell you, one of my only regrets out of anything I’ve ever done is the way that record was mixed. That record was ruined by the mix. Up until I moved to Europe in 2005, I had the rough mixes that we made on the console [for reference]. Those CDs that I kept were so much more potent and raw. People think that was a raw and energetic record, but what they’re hearing is nothing compared to what it truly was before it was glossed over and sent through the mixing mill that was Andy Wallace—who is a wonderful person and a very talented mixing engineer and has done great albums—I’m not trying to offend him… And I understand he had the pressure of the label and all the people who had dreams of it being this grandiose thing, and being played on the radio, which it was, [but] that record was ruined by the mix. I just find it the most passive, plastic… It’s the one record [I played on that] I still to this day cannot listen to. The mix ruined it for me.
The cover art has a lot of Trojan horse imagery—was that related to the lyrical content, or was it that you guys felt the band were sneaking into the mainstream or something?
It was a running concept that Cedric had going through his lyrics that we all noticed. It wasn’t even a conscious thing for Cedric, but it was more looking at the overall thing that we had created and seeing the lyrics and the music and the themes we talked about at the time. We realized that, first of all, it’s a nice story. It can also be seen politically. I think we always thought of it conceptually more as ideas or a passion. You’re surrounded by something that’s passionless and you bring a heart inside. I don’t think it was ever as grandiose as us sneaking into the mainstream world. We had no idea what that record would end up doing. We were just happy to be making our album. I think it ended up taking on that context for people, but at the time, being in the middle of it and making the record, it was way more of a personal thing. In all of our music, whether it’s evident or not, our politics are in that music. At the time, we toured a lot with other bands and were exposed to a lot of people. For me in particular, I just became completely disillusioned and saw what bullshit the music scene was. It’s why to this day, I don’t have opening acts. It’s like the term “Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.” Rock ’n’ roll, which is supposed to be the musical aspect of it, comes last—sex and drugs are first. It was the sort of thing where you run into other bands and they talked about anything else but the things that were actually important. So it just seemed like a lot of the illusion of what art was and why you do music were shattered when you met all these bands who were really just interested in partying and girls. They put very little time or effort into their craft. So what that means to me is that it’s something without soul and something without heart, and that’s what I relate about coming in with heart and being surrounded by a sea of things that don’t have anything truly to do with the path of healing.
How did the album come to be released by Grand Royal?
That was our dream come true. We used to put out our records ourselves, and then we did them on Fearless and Flipside. When the idea first came that labels were asking about us, we had the conversation with our manager about what would be the ultimate label for us. This was years and years before [Relationship of Command], but we said Grand Royal. It just seemed like the perfect thing. They had the right attitude and seemed to be doing it for the right reasons, yet they were sort of considered a major. They had some push behind them, tour support, all that kind of stuff. So if we could dream, it would be Grand Royal. Then years later, when we got signed after Fearless, we signed actually to a company called Den, and they were really ahead of their time, actually. It was sort of like this internet label. In fact, that was kind of the weight that crushed them. They were making TV shows that were gonna be strictly on the internet. They gave us a digital camera when we first signed with them that was nicer than our own. We kept filming everything and cut them up and with that we made these little programs. But at the time, most people’s internet connections weren’t fast enough, so it didn’t work. You’d sit there to watch the TV show and you’d give up. Then Den crumbled under some sort of scandal, I don’t know what it was. I wouldn’t wanna start a rumor, but one day the owners told us, “Den is closed. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that you’re gonna be on Grand Royal.” It literally happened from one moment to another. We couldn’t believe our ears. So the same core of people we were working with remained the same, just all of a sudden now we were talking to [Grand Royal owner and Beastie Boy] Mike D. Mike went on to put out a De Facto record, and we never asked him to. We never pushed it on him and said, “Oh, by the way, we have this [album from our other band].” He sort of just heard about it and put it out. Once I broke up [ATDI], I drove straight to L.A. and he was the first person I told. He was kind enough. I expected him to be mad at me and never want to talk to me again because they had gotten distribution with Virgin based purely off At The Drive-In. But instead of being mad at me, he said, “Well, whatever you do next, I definitely want to put it out.” So he was gonna put out the first Mars Volta record, and then Virgin pulled out completely and he decided to close Grand Royal.
Any more solo albums coming this year?
There’s four that have already come out and there’s six more coming this year. Then I’ll be releasing another film that hopefully will be in the winter festivals and then one that I’m making now that’ll hopefully be in the spring festivals. And touring in between all that, of course.