The Mars Volta Unveil 18 LP Career-Spanning Box Set, Reveal Its Origins in New Interview
Omar Rodríguez-Lopéz and Cedric Bixler-Zavala are still pretty pissed at their former label
If you’re a fan of the Mars Volta and a vinyl collector, boy do we have some good news for you.
The iconic duo and curly-haired portion of At the Drive-In have announced a massive career-spanning vinyl-only box set comprised of 18 LPs called La Realidad De Los Sueños (“the reality of dreams,” for those of you who didn’t take middle school Spanish) that will release on April 23 through Clouds Hill.
In addition to the band’s six albums and initial Tremulant EP, the box set also contains unreleased material that diehard Mars Volta fans have been looking for since the mid-2000s. Landscape Tantrums is the official title of the sought-after unfinished original recordings of 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium, while “A Plague Upon Your Hissing Children” and “Eunuch Provocateur” are a pair of never-officially-released tracks from the same legendary album. Throw in a book of exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and stories as well as a couple of collectible pins, and La Realidad De Los Sueños becomes a must-own for Mars Volta collectors (particularly since they’re only making 5,000 of them).
The group broke up in 2013.
In a conversation with British journalist Stevie Chick from which the transcript was provided to SPIN, Omar Rodríguez-Lopéz and Cedric Bixler-Zavala shared some insight on what went into crafting the box set.
“Everything was in my vaults, all the original artwork and masters,” Rodríguez-Lopéz told Chick. “But it took time to deal with bureaucracy and to correct things like making the ‘jellyfish man’ the actual front cover to De-Loused In The Comatorium, as was intended, and not the ‘egg-man’ on the Universal version. Johann [Scheerer, Clouds Hill founder and owner] did a lot of going back and forth with the original sound and artwork files and original pressings. Eventually, we decided, ‘Let’s just do 180g black vinyl.’ We’d talked about doing them as they were originally: interesting colors, picture discs, and stuff like that. But we decided that to make it sound the best, 180g vinyl was the way, just to make sure we undo haphazard damage Universal did with these bootlegs. I’m not online or involved in any way with social media, so if it wasn’t for Cedric’s online digital presence and interaction and connection with the fans, I would never have known about these bootlegs.”
“People don’t know the hoops Omar had to go through to get the initial deal with Universal put into place,” Bixler-Zavala added. “The fact that he had to go into this mob-like meeting room and be belittled for being the artist and fighting for these things they thought weren’t important. And you can tell they’re not important to them, because they’re just a corporation. To them, it’s like, ‘Oh, the McRib is back. Who cares if it’s not real meat or real bread. There it is, we need to make some fuckin’ money.’ He fought hard for it.”
As is plainly laid out in the interview with Chick, part of the band’s desire to release this box set is to get their catalog on vinyl the way they want it. After allegedly negotiating their initial deal with Universal Music Group to include owning the rights to press their own vinyl, the label’s release of the first handful of Mars Volta albums on vinyl caught the two friends by surprise, and they’re still pissed about it.
“They did a shitty job,” Bixler-Zavala said of Universal’s vinyl offerings for the band. “It was very basic, beige and bland. They didn’t have any love for it, it was just product. They weren’t nerds about it, and that’s what fighting for the aesthetic was about. ‘I’m not gonna trust you to put something out.’ When De-Loused came out on CD, someone on their own at Universal decided to make the ‘egghead’ the front cover, when Storm Thorgerson had designed ‘Jellyfish man’ as the actual front cover — putting no text or logo on the back cover to make it be interchangeable. So that if you put it down the ‘wrong’ way at the record store, someone would see the other side, and it would be this conversation — what most nerds today call ‘Easter eggs’ — something cool to find out about. Big corporations didn’t think like that. We came from a different world — cool shapes, cool colors, cool shit you could do with it. Shit that’s just not fuckin’ ‘normieville.’”
“They literally are not using the master that came from me, the one used for the original analog pressing,” Rodríguez-Lopéz said. “They have the digital master, from which they made the CD and the digital releases. But you have to then make a completely different master to cut the lacquers. So their attitude was basically, ‘Eh, good enough,’ but it wasn’t how it was supposed to sound.”
In addition to the band’s issues with the quality of the existing vinyl releases from Universal, the experimental post-hardcore legends told Chick that they’re also pretty sold on them being outright illegal.
“What Universal did was illegal, and a blatant and egregious breach of contract. If power structures were in any way held accountable, they would have had to pay us damages because they went into multiple pressings of the first four records and then kept pressing Bedlam in Goliath after the first cease-and-desist, so we had to get really aggressive about it. I told our lawyers ‘I want to sue them because they’re in breach of contract,’ and the advice was, ‘That’s not really gonna happen. You can try and sue them. It will just eat up tons of your money and tons of your life, and in the end you’ll get no result.’”
SPIN has reached out to Universal for comment on the duo’s multiple accusations.
So instead of wasting time, effort, and money on a lawsuit, the Mars Volta decided to take matters into their own hands and release La Realidad De Los Sueño on their own through their friends at Clouds Hill. You can pre-order the box set now if you’ve got a spare $500 laying around.
Additional reporting by Daniel Kohn.