SCV interview with Marcos Smith and Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez of Zechs Marquise
Sound Colour Vibration Interview
w/ Marcos Smith and Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez of Zechs Marquise
Conducted by Zack Lazar June 29 @ Emo’s in Austin, TX
Zechs Marquise formed in El Paso, Texas during the spring of 2003 when brothers Marfred and Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez came together with childhood friends Matthew Wilkinson and Marcos Smith. They hit the studio to record their first album during 2004. That studio effort was later scrapped and the band instead released 34:26, a live improv set showing its range of talents and influences. By fall the of 2006, Zechs was consistently touring the west coast.
The band returned to the studio in 2007, and having learned from the difficulties of their first attempt, the quintet decided to keep all recording in-house. The record, Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare, was completed in February 2008. Zechs Marquise then spent time on the road touring, and in March 2009, played its first shows in Europe. Marcel (Zechs drummer) performed double duty, playing in both Zechs Marquise and the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, of which he is also a player.
In May of 2009, Zechs Marquise signed to Sargent House for management and saw the North American release on both CD/Digital and Vinyl of Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare through Rodriguez Lopez Productions.
Currently the band is touring with Rx Bandits and Maps & Atlases. Their new LP entitled Getting Paid is set to be released September 27th, 2011 on RLP. -Adapted from ZechsMarquise.com
Sound Colour Vibration had the opportunity of sitting down with Marcos Smith (guitar) and Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez (bass) after their Austin, TX show at Emo’s. From the roof of the venue, Smith and Rodriguez-Lopez discussed their musical and personal evolution, doo-wop, and a particularly badass 9-year-old girl. -Zack Lazar
El Paso is a city known for its relationship with Juarez. Its a place of significant social, cultural, and artistic collision and exchange across the border in both directions. How has art culture in El Paso changed and evolved as you’ve grown?
Marcos Smith: It really goes like this (roller-coaster gesture). There was a time in the nineties when the scene was just all good, really awesome. It was super ridiculous. Then it crashed hard. I feel like it started up again, but there’s not as much support in El Paso as I’d like there to be.
Why do you think the scene crashed?
Manfred Rodriguez-Lopez: I suppose it’s really just a lack of motive for a lot of people. A big thing about El Paso is that a lot of people kind of settle for mediocrity and don’t push themselves to the limit they can. Then every once in a while you get this group of people, and it usually goes like that. It’s a group of artists, like painters, graffiti artists, writers, and musicians. I’d put sculptors in that too. They start doing great things, and push themselves. They start defining themselves as those people that work hard.
MS: It’s almost like some bands in El Paso don’t know how to work hard. They think that just because they play shows in El Paso every week that they don’t have to work hard. You’ve got to leave the city, put out albums, go on tour. You’ve gotta work.
MRL: With the people that do do that it’s really good because, as far as cost of living, El Paso is really cheap. My brother Marcel and I had a four bedroom house. (Asking Marcos) What was it 2200 square feet, and we were only paying like a thousand dollars.
MS: In El Paso that’s a pretty huge house.
MRL: When you go out on the road you start learning it’s hard, and you have to make money out there to keep the van going. So for the people in El Paso that are working and getting out there, big ups. It’s very hard to get out there for most people who work two to three jobs.
MS: El Paso is so easy to get comfortable in. It’s cheap, the weather is decent, your friends and your family are there. No one wants to leave or work hard to get out. But you’ve got to do it.
You two have been together for awhile now, both as friends and musicians. How has your personal and musical relationship advanced and evolved over the years?
MRL: It’s changed in a huge way spending all that time around each other.
MS: I also think that when we first started the band, we listened to songs that were fifty minutes long, and were influenced by these epic prog songs. Then we started to listen to more hip-hop and soul. We were like, we’ve got to make that slap sooner.
MRL: It started just as this experimentation. We wanted to be more expansive, and as we went along we went back to our roots. Especially for Marcos, Marcel, and myself, we come from a hip-hop and dub background. Most of the stuff we listened to was reggae and hip-hop. We were realizing that it’s ok to have structure to songs.
MS: It’s ok the have arrangements, and melodies.
MRL: Yeah, we wanted to utilize them. Playing for as long as we have, we can have that free-flowing feel. But being instrumental, we wanted to focus a little bit more. Give it a voice. So that’s when we started using more of the melodies and harmonies, and using them as a focal part of our instrumentals.
MS: Two years ago we would get gigs to play half-hour sets, back then that would’ve been two songs. So basically we’ve matured in that we’re more about arrangements.
Your first attempt to record with Zechs started and stopped. What exactly happened with this ill-fated debut, and what needed to happen in order for Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare to materialize?
MRL: It’s weird because when we did that we had spent this money to do a recording. We invested this time to get these songs to where they were, and had nothing to show for it. We decided to save the money we were using to go into the studio, and use it to buy recording equipment. We went out and bought a mac, a digi-kit, Pro Tools, a rack mount, really good microphones. At first we we didn’t have great microphones, then worked up. Everyone had their own gear, so it was just other gear to add on. We kind of wanted to keep it in-house, because we had that free time. It wasn’t like, “We have three hours today, let’s get in there and get a song down”. We were able to experiment a little more. Now, because you can use the studio as a tool, an instrument, you can go back and chop things up. Make weird rhythms with it. If you don’t like something, you can chop it up.
MS: Save it just in case.
MRL: Everything you record, and from there it was a gradual process. From there we learned we could write songs that way. We could come in with a melody, and then someone can get creative with it and make it more expansive. A lot of times people play better when they know they have infinite time, some people play better when they know they have a strict time slot to work with. Some guys don’t even form that well when you have to go in and record something. It’s good just to know you have that cushion. Being that comfortable with it, at least for us, the creativity flows better. Now it’s almost like you don’t have to work like that. Now it’s like, “What was that one thing we taped? That one thing we played the other day”.
MS: Going back a little bit, in very short terms, what happened [with the original attempt to record an album] is that the engineer got in a lawsuit with the record label. That basically stopped everything. They lost our hard drives. We had to scrap that material. We didn’t even bother to re-record it. It’s like when you hear a song and it takes you back to the time when you first heard it, it’s kind of like that. It was this one specific time. We were a great group and had a great time. We never even went back to record it again, because then you print it and if people listen to it and like it, they wonder why you never play it.
Getting Paid is coming out in late September. How did recording this album differ from Our Delicate? Was it a significant departure in terms of the writing and recording process, or did it progress in a similar manner?
MRL: The initial recording process was very similar to Our Delicate. We wanted to record a record, and we wanted to write new songs for it. The main difference was that there was a focus, an ultimate goal to make songs we really enjoyed playing. Something that could be sampled. The way we got turned onto a lot of the older music we listen to was through hip-hop. We were all big fans of hip-hop. We wanted to make something someone might want to sample. Most important, we wanted to give that energy to our live shows. We’re aware that we didn’t get in touch with that with Our Delicate. We didn’t have that mindset yet.
MS: The type of material we were going to record the first time before the lawsuit with the label, we forgot all about that. Now we’re like, let’s record this as we go. We originally wanted it to be something small and then it turned into an album.
MRL: It’s funny because we always said we were going to go back and record that first stuff, but for this one, we wrote them as we were recording. When we had those roots for the song down, we took them out on tour and played them. Then we kind of took out the fat. We’d be playing and feel, “I don’t really like this part anymore” or “This part doesn’t feel right”. We went back, re-recorded it all with the new additions and subtractions from the songs. It was something we felt really really good about. In the end, we were proud of Our Delicate, but this one we feel was more focused. The end result was exactly what we wanted. Something that is more focused, has more energy in it. Something people might want to sample now or in the future. Something that captures the energy of one of our live performances. Putting all that energy into something and not letting it get away from us. It really helped to bring us together as a band because we all felt the same way. Let’s do something fun to play. Where it’s not what do we play and what don’t we play.
Manfred, growing up in a family of musicians, how did that structure impact your personal and artistic development? How did this influence your path to creating music of your own?
MRL: My dad has always been a musician at heart. He still composes songs, still sings. When he was younger he had a choice to pursue a career in music or do better for his family. He chose to do well for his family. He went to medical school, got his degree, and speciality. From there, it was encouraged in the household that music was a part of everyday life. Whenever our parents weren’t home, 98% of the time that’s what we were doing. We grew up very cultured in music. Listening to a lot of music, and eventually we all reached the age where my parents asked if we had any interests. Before our parents put us into sports to be active, like baseball and soccer, I was about seven and my parents asked me, “What do you want to do?”. At this time, Omar had already been doing music for a couple of years. Music was always something fun for us, but it wasn’t something Marcel and I took seriously until 11th or 12th grade.
MS: For awhile I lived in a different part of town from these guys. If you were ever into punk rock, you loved At the Drive In. Chances are you went to shows to see them. As a non family member, it’s hard to be in a band and not be influenced by that name.
MRL: The whole thing is, Marcos and Matt are people we met before all of that. We met in school, and had that interest in punk shows which is where us two (gesturing to Marcos and himself) and my brother Marcel met Matt. Then it was always, “You want to come over and listen to the new Fugazi record” or “Dude, I f*cking found an old Fear record”. It was always these get togethers, and from there it branched out. The unique thing about our friendship was that we didn’t just go to punk shows. We went to hip-hop shows too. A lot of kids in El Paso, and in most places, feel there is “that scene” and “this scene”. For us, music is music. Someone might say, “I don’t like country music”, but that person probably likes one or two country songs. There’s always that possibility when you’re open to music, when you’re a music lover, when you’re someone who goes out and buys albums. Someone who listens to full albums. Someone who goes out to see a band live because they liked the album so much.
MS: Part of it is that you discover prog rock, and you’re passionate about prog rock. Then you discover soul, and you’re passionate about soul. Then hip hop, and before you know it , you’re listening to every type of music.
MRL: The thing about our friends was that nobody turned down any weird or obscure records that anyone else brought in. It was like, “Have you ever heard The Dramatics? How about the Delphonics or Mastadon?”. Still, we do it now.
MS: People that come and see us as a rock band might be surprised that we listen to doo-wop. We love the harmony and the groove. We love that sh*t. How can you not love The Temptations and love music.
MRL: It’s like The Beatles and Frank Zappa, they loved doo-wop. People are quick to sh*t all over things.
MS: You can’t f*ck with a doo-wop harmony.
MRL: You can’t say that you hate a certain type of music, because maybe there’s a group in that genre that’s doing something you’ve never heard.
MS: Nobody who listens to music can listen to a barbershop quartet from the fifties and say that sucks. Those dudes have f*cking soul. If you listen to that, those guys knew what was up. George Clinton was in a doo-wop band.
MRL: Frank Zappa too.
MS: Those were some of the dudes that created some of the wildest funk bands. That proves you can be way out there, but still know what’s up with doo-wop.
You’ve had to make some adjustments to your lineup, like finding a stand-in different drummer for this tour. How have you adapted to this new lineup?
MS: For me, it changes everything. When we lost our first drummer, it was different but felt good and we liked it.
MRL: Marcel went from keys to drums.
MS: Everyone is so different, and it shows up in their playing. It affects you. For this tour, we have a fill-in drummer.
MRL: Marcel is doing a Mars Volta tour. Sh*tty enough, the Mars Volta tour fell in the exact six weeks the Zechs tour fell, and Marcel is on a retainer with Mars Volta. Each drummer has their own feel. Marcel filled that gap in the band. He gave it the shot it needed, which is why he’s always going to be the drummer. Right now we have Joseph. He does the tours Marcel can’t.
MS: It’s different, but good.
MRL: It’s hard to find someone in El Paso that can play drums well. When we approach someone, we want to know if you can hang. Not that you’re the most accomplished musician, but someone that can sit in and make us feel good about playing live shows. It’s good to have that guy we’ve known since high school, that we’ve know for the past twelve years. You can never find someone that plays the same way as anyone, but people have been receiving it well. When you take someone out of the core, sometimes people are thrown off.
MS: It’s a whole new dynamic. It changes everything, but it’s good and different.
MRL: This guy is all about playing in the pocket, time signature, beats per minute, and the rest of us have that roots feeling. To have someone with that knowledge keeps us on our toes. Playing with different people helps us learn. It’s all learning. It’s good to have that unpredictability.
How does playing live inform how you write music?
MRL: Overall, the thing is basically groove. At the very least, we’re going for if you can tap your toe to it or nod your head. You don’t even have to be dancing, dancing is optional. Some people don’t like it. For us, a lot of it is if I feel like taping my toe to it and nodding my head and having a good time playing, that’s always been something important to me.
MS: If we’re playing a show and we play a certain part in a song and people react hard, that feels good. It’s super addicting. I want to make people react.
MRL: That’s one of the things we learned from Rx [Bandits], you can see they enjoy playing all of those songs. If anything, this new set has shown me is exactly that. You just want to keep punching people in the face musically. The thing is, you feed off that energy to achieve a sound.
MS: Our shows are a hundred times better when people are feeling it.
MRL: We’ll still play the songs, but you need that energy. It’s that mutual feeling. Even if it’s just that one person in the crowd, which was always something that would keep us going when we were playing dive bars. Those one or two people that were totally into it.
MS: That pumps you up, and it definitely influences you.
MRL: It doesn’t matter if it’s five people or five hundred people your playing to, it’s good to know people can be affected by something like music or a movie.
MS: If we’re playing a show and it’s that one person getting into it, it’s like, “Damn, that dude loves us and I’m going to f*ck this solo up so he can f*cking feel it.”
MRL: One of our favorite shows of all time was one we did in Bakersfield. The only person watching us play was this 9-year-old girl, totally digging on the songs. She made her dad buy her a CD after the show. That’s forever etched in our minds. She liked the music, so it’s not like we put on a half-assed effort. We were like let’s make her remember this forever, because for all we know that was her first show.
MS: At the same time you see that little girl dancing you think, I better f*ck shit up. Because if that little girl stopped dancing or walked out (laughs), we would’ve been like, “Damn, what did we do?”
Zechs Marquise is:
Marcos Smith – Guitar
Matthew Wilkinson – Guitar
Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez – Bass
Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez – Drums
Rikardo Rodriguez Lopez – keys