Published on August 2nd, 2013 | by Kiran Archaya0
This Is The Apocalyptic Vision: Bosnian Rainbows
Broccoli, rock and a sixty-watt smile: From the ashes of At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez returns as a happy man in a party of four.
The secret ingredient is broccoli. Bosnian Rainbows recorded their debut album in Berlin, but struck upon the green stuff when keyboardist Nicci Kasper discovered that there’s more protein per calorie in broccoli than there is in steak.
“Which is actually shocking,” he says. “I just take broccoli instead of meat now. It is meat.”
It’s a question of consciousness, of healthy living and happiness, says singer Teri Suarez. And her guitarist agrees.
“It’s all about a good high standard of living,” says Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. “We’re all concerned with what food goes into our body, what ideas come into our head, y’know? And if you believe it makes you feel good – if you know it makes you feel good – then it makes you feel good.”
The results are obvious. The quartet – completed by drummer-keyboardist Diantoni Parks – chatter merrily before their first London showcase under the red lights of the subterranean 100 Club beneath Oxford Street. All four are hell-bent on having the craic and making each other laugh, often in mock-despair at the crumbling world above. Their shared spark makes a clear current running through the music, a smoky and seductive mix of keys, drums and guitar. No bassist but they suffer no lack, Kasper’s stacked keyboards covering the low end as Lopez’ guitar moves from ripping garage rock to shiny chimes and wedged-in arpeggios. Tonight their set is a direct performance of the debut, from opener ‘Eli’ to eleventh song ‘Mother, Father, Set us Free’. Those broccoli-fuelled sessions have already, apparently, given the band more than two more records worth of material.
You don’t need to see Bosnian Rainbows to hear that Suarez is the star, her elastic lines lifting and dipping like a slow rollercoaster, mixing with the synths, harmonizing with Lopez. Later there are nautical echoes and fuzzy chords, sonar sounds and choruses creating the sense of a quest and small cross-border missions in pursuit of an elusive lover. It’s emphatically not At the Drive-In or the Mars Volta. To mention Lopez’ past is to throw a damp blanket over fireworks.
But during the At the Drive-In reunion shows in Coachella and Brixton, Lopez gave everything to his guitar and little more than the cold shoulder to everyone else. Bosnian Rainbows is an unparalleled, happier situation. ‘I get to learn all the time,’ he says, casting an open hand towards his bandmates. “I’m outweighed by everybody in the group, so it’s the best place I could be in. I have to work harder all the time to be better. I only had one equal or person that was better than me, and that was Cedric.”
Are he and Bixler in touch in any meaningful way? ‘Not particularly,’ he says, ‘but that doesn’t mean we’re not friends, y’know?’ Although The Mars Volta seemed like a pretty broad canvas for a guitarist, something had gone awry. There’s no real drama to poke around for, save for asking why the engine ran dry.
“Because a playground isn’t fun of you’re there by yourself,” says Lopez. “It’s that simple.” Not everyone wants to be like The Rolling Stones, running victory laps for cash until their legs collapse. “It’s the same thing of you asking me if I’m still friends with Cedric,” he says. “I’m sorry – I don’t mean to offend you but I’m just saying what I’m thinking right now – it’s such a small question. I couldn’t possibly answer it. I’ve known him since 1988. We’ve suffered the deaths of four of our closest friends together, you know what I mean? So whether we’re talking or not right now is such a small thing. And plus, I don’t have an insight into what the future is. I have many talents but that is not one of them.”
Any indignance is delivered with an honest smile, and Lopez’ explanations – like all his talk – are rapid, happy, utterly of the moment. “It’s hard to talk about not because it upsets me but because it’s such a hard —it’s like trying to describe music. I won’t answer the question when somebody goes ‘what do you sound like’. I don’t know – use your ears! You’re the one perceiving us – how can I possibly know? You’re the ones who decide how I am as a person, not me. I’m living my life and trying to do the best I can with the tools I have. These unanswerable questions… they’re funny.”
And his happy laughs are matched by his bandmates. Suarez explains that Bosnian Rainbows have a core of criticism without cruelty that keeps them all on the crest of a wave. “It’s like “oh you like that movie? What’s wrong with you?” Or, “you’re going to eat that? It has like 38 grammes of sugar. You’re crazy!”.”
“It’s based in respect,” says Lopez. “You know right away when somebody doesn’t respect you when you’re talking to them: They don’t look you in the eye, certain body language… If something’s based in respect it’s a constructive criticism, but if it’s based outside of respect somebody’s just shitting on you.”
The upshot is that if Bosnian Rainbows trust one another’s criticism they can also trust one another’s judgements. It’s not easy to open up to criticism, but what Lopez says of Bosnian Rainbows seems true of all relationships: “Once you accept criticism and see it as the golden gateway to becoming better, you can embrace it fully.”
Remember the broccoli. Bosnian Rainbows are passionate about all things becoming better. Lopez speaks so generously and merrily that you can practically see sparks leaping from his ears. What does he want to transmit or communicate in music at large?
“Just all the knowledge of my human experience,” he says, straight-faced. “What can anyone translate besides that?” Laughing again. “Like everyone else we all exist within our own heads, how we view the world and how we’re seeing it. So that’s what our spirit is trying to express, all the time.” We’re limited by language, he says, mentioning the Russian writer Ouspensky, noting that the greatest philosophers routinely refer to the musical scale when trying to communicate their ideas. And he’s off: arguing that we’re at an all-time peak of being dumbed-down by consumerism and commercial forces – “to the point where some guy in America says that ketchup is a fruit or a vegetable, like it counts towards your daily intake” – while dismissing critics of vegetarianism before conceding to watching the occasional shitty TV show then swerving to question the very status of knowledge itself. “The whole world has been dumbed down by society and money. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact! The average IQ is at an all-time low. And so considering that we live in the most technologically-advanced era in recorded history that we know of, then, again, something is seriously wrong.”
“And,” says Kasper, “There’s such a limited amount of quality movies out these days…”
“Yeah. All the arts! It’s really crazy,” says Lopez. “We went to see a movie – that was Star Trek though. Yeah, we were bored, you know? No we weren’t even bored – we like going to the cinema and our options were Star Trek or Oblivion—
What was he biggest shortcoming of the Star Trek movie?
“It was great!” he says. “It just lacked originality, script, character development, a story of any kind, any true type of tension, cinematography, editing, pacing, acting, or invisible technique. Besides that it was really cool to look at! Besides all that, it was good!”
When the laughter subsides he does his best to sum things up. “These are the conversations we have because we want a higher quality of life,” he says. “People talk about the apocalyptic vision, but they don’t understand they’re living in it. They think they aren’t, because they have a thousand Starbucks and a million malls and the Internet. But this is the apocalyptic vision: When we live in an age where people could take care of themselves, but they can’t.”
It sounds like a bummer, but the sentence ends with a sixty-watt smile. Kiran Acharya
Bosnian Rainbows is out now via Sargent House/Cloud Hills
Images courtesy of Phil Sharp