At its core, Zechs Marquise is about exploration. Specifically outer space exploration. As previously detailed in the 8/24 edition of Riffs, Rants, & Rumors, the band has close familial ties with the progressive rock band The Mars Volta”they even share a keyboardist. However, with the recent release of their latest work Getting Paid, the band demonstrates that they have taken steps towards creating a real sonic separation from any musical comparison to TMV or any other band out there. Bassist Marfred Rodriquez-Lopez stopped by to give us an idea of how Zechs Marquise manages to separate themselves from their peers, what influences the band musically, and the story behind supporting the last tour of one of their longtime friends, RX Bandits.
OS: When the band first started it was called Monolith. What was the reason to change the name besides the obvious reference to Gundam?
MR: (laughs) It is mainly because we realized there was something like three or four bands with the name Monolith from Texas. It’s funny, because they were from each of the major cities. There was one based out of Dallas, one based out of Austin, one out of Houston and another one out of San Antonio. So that was the main reason. We all loved the name, but then we were like Oh man, there’s another band with that name? And they’re from Texas as well?
OS: Were you were just chilling out, watching some episodes of Gundam Wing and just decided to go with that or…
MR: Well, we’d been watching it since I was a kid. And around that time, they had recently re-released them to DVD. So, I was watching some of the episodes at home one day before rehearsal and one of the things we all went home with the day before was Alright, let’s come up with a new name. Just because I had Gundam Wing fresh in my brain, we were all sitting around and I was like What about Zechs Marquise? I kind of actually threw it out there as a joke, because my brother and I were watching it earlier. I kind of laugh about it now, because everyone was like You know, I kind of like that. So we kept it. You know, he’s one of the cooler characters in the TV show. He’s the bad guy at first and then he’s a good guy and then goes back to being a bad guy. It all depends on what your view of good and bad is.
OS: You sometimes refer to Zechs Marquise as a sister band to Mars Volta. What is your perspective on the main difference between the two bands?
MR: The main difference, obviously, is we’re instrumental primarily. But, that’s more of an obvious thing. I would have to say is the direction of what the music speaks. Mars Volta is very prog, if you wanna call it that, in terms of the crazy time signatures and the long songs and the vocals. The whole way the music is done, it’s a little more rooted in punk. Ours has mostly got this groove and heavy funk. It’s more hip hop. Not to say we don’t mess with time signature changes and stuff like that, but we approach the way we write our music very differently than what The Mars Volta does.
OS: Mars Volta is more infamous for going off on tangents and jamming a lot live. Do you feel you do that too or is that also another difference?
MR: We do, but not on such a grand scope. We kind of leave it for some parts. We will take parts in different directions, but we don’t like to get too carried away. We like that cohesive tightness, but we also like expression of improvisation. We like having that there to keep the songs fresh. We do keep it more under wraps than The Mars Volta does.
OS: Your music channels a fascination with outer space, space travel, and stuff like that. Were there any other non-musical influences that really impact the music?
MR: A lot of it, for sure, is whatever we got going on that reflects itself a lot in the music. I wanna say, for me personally, different kinds of movies. I love watching movies. You know, I have a TV, but I don’t have regular TV channels. I’m always buying DVDs, looking for new movies to watch. It’s a fun medium. Also literature; mostly graphic novels. I love the idea of telling a story with pictures, because there are some times where I don’t want to read a lot. But, it’s kind of influenced from everywhere really.
MR: Definitely. For the most part, it was any kind of theme like space travel and time travel. Blaxploitation movies were one of the big ones with the funky soundtracks that a lot of those ones had. I’ll admit, some of those things were so over-the-top. And it’s the same thing with a lot of sci-fi movies. Westerns, especially too. My brother and I were very influenced by old Westerns from the ’60s and ’70s.
OS: One of the main things that you notice right off the top of the album is the album art. Is this an intentional reference to The Sound of Animals Fighting? [Editor’s Note: The Sound of Animals Fighting is a band that is known for exclusively wearing animal masks in all their promotional material.]
MR: Oh yeah, we’re friends with a couple of those dudes. But, it mostly just comes from [the fact that] we’re all animal lovers. (laughs) Ever since the very beginning of the band, because we have no vocalist, one of our things to do a lot of times especially in pictures and videos we would shoot is we would wear masks. Sometimes they were animal masks, sometimes they were weird like a Buddha mask or a Godzilla mask. It’s the same thing as when we would all go out for Halloween. We were all in [Texas] kind of at the same time and our friend had a birthday party [around then] a few years in a row. We’d all just dress in suits and put on animal masks. Like that was our outfit. Yeah, animals are dope. (laughs)
OS: What went into the recording process for the album? Was there a certain way you developed the songs?
MR: When we first sat down to record the songs, we first discussed the direction we want the album to go in. And then, when we had that idea down, Marcel recorded some sequences where we played percussion over them. And then he went back after we recorded the percussion and chopped all the sequences and made them into movements. From there, we all went in at different times in the studio and added our parts. First, I went in and recorded some bass lines and then Marcel did some keyboards and then Marco and Matt did some guitars and we did the drums last. It was super ass-backwards, the way we recorded the record. From there, we took a listen. We took parts in and out, and saw what worked and didn’t work. Then we went back in and recorded all the stuff the way we had put the songs together to give it more of a natural feel and make it more of a live record. It was a matter of getting comfortable with them and playing [them] so that [they] sounded as good as we could possibly get [them] to sound.
OS: So you didn’t have anyone to fill a traditional producer role where they oversee everything, or did you take turns doing that?
MR: We all took turns with our parts of course. Occasionally, a couple of us would be there when someone else was doing their part. But, Marcel was the one constant. He was always in there. He engineered the record and he actually got the title of producer for the record, because he spent so much time and he was always the one there. If, for some reason, we couldn’t make it, he was always the guy there giving his input and putting out ideas. If anything, he did serve the role of producer, but it was very much in the sense of how we all do it, learning as we go along and using new techniques that we found in the last record or just hanging out with friends and doing different things.
OS: Do you tend to try and stay away from, say, Omar’s stuff or Mars Volta when going about that process?
MR: Subconsciously, the influences are always there. Marcel plays keyboards in Mars Volta and has been writing a lot of their keyboard stuff for the last three records or so. Some of that sound will definitely transfer over, because he records our keyboards on our records. And the three of us grew up in the same house, so a lot of those musical influences are there. As far as taking things straight from them, we try not to listen to too much new music or even, more precisely, say for example my brother Omar puts out a record. We’ll listen to it only once or twice. We kind of want to stay away from sounding too much like anyone that’s out there now or before that. That’s why we try to take our influences from movies and life, because that’s our own take. As opposed to like I really like that one song by that one band. We should do something like that in that same tempo, because before you know it, you’re just writing your version of someone else’s song.
MR: (laughs) It’s very very easy to do that.
OS: Moving away from that a little bit, how was being on tour supporting RX Bandits last year?
MR: It actually started two years ago. RX Bandits were doing a co-headlining tour with Dredg and they needed an opener for a two-week spot, because they had three openers for that tour. We were one of them for a couple of weeks. They asked us to tour with them for those two weeks and we went out and I would tell you, like the second or third day, it was like the eight of us had all been friends, like we had known each other from before, even though it was the first time we were meeting each other. We developed almost like an instant bond, an instant friendship that felt like we had been in for years. We just kept in touch after that. They actually took us out again the following year when they went out on tour with The Builders & The Butchers. Then, when they did announce the farewell tour, they wanted homies, friends and brothers along. So when they called to see if we wanted to do the tour, they were like We want some real friends around to do this last run and we really would love if you could do it with us. So, we did it.
OS: It sounds like it was really special. Do you have any fond memories from that tour?
MR: Specifically, it was when we went to Lake Chaplin in northern California. It was a day off and we had already been on the road, at that point, for five or six weeks. They rented one of those pontoon boats and they were like Alright, if we rent you guys a boat, you have to come. They told us this, but, unbeknownst to us, they had already done it. (laughs) But, we went and it was, hands down, the best day off that we’ve ever had as a band.
OS: This month you’ve been touring with Thursday. What are your thoughts on touring with a band that sounds significantly different from you?
MF: It’s interesting. RX Bandits and us have that heavy rock sound and like to extend parts of songs. It’s the same thing as when we tour with Omar’s group. We usually tour with groups that you can, more or less, put in the same category, I suppose. I guess that’s what appealed to us about the Thursday tour. We’re familiar with them and the music that they’ve been doing. So, when they asked us to tour, we were like You know what? Fine. Let’s see what we can do with a different audience. It’s more about the adventure to see how fun it could be. (laughs)
You can find out where to listen to and pick up Getting Paid at Zechs Marquise’s official Web site, not to mention to check out their upcoming tour dates. Watch the simply awesome trailer for the album below.