MTV IGGY // Family Time: Rockers Zechs Marquise on Brotherly Love and Hip-Hop
El Paso-based prog band Zechs Marquise released Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare in 2009 and the much tighter and more original Getting Paid on On Rodriguez Lopez Productions via Sargent House in 2011. Getting Paid received appreciative reviews but the band was often written about in terms of the bassist and the drummer’s older sibling Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and his prog-rock band The Mars Volta. Zechs Marquise contains keyboardist Riko Rodriguez Lopez, bassist/vocalist Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez and drummer Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, who also plays keys in The Mars Volta.
It’s no coincidence that both bands have similar influences. “We get a lot of comparisons to Mars Volta because of our relation or whatever, but the main difference is that Marcel and I were heavily influenced by hip-hop, where our brother Omar was influenced by punk rock, and salsa. We were influenced by hip-hop and salsa. So, it has that dynamic. We were all in the same house growing up listening to the same music. You influence each other, living together for so long. You develop each others tastes in a weird way,” Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez says over the phone.
One might wonder if there could be any sibling rivalry among this clan of intense prog fiends. In a word: nope. The Rodriguez-Lopez members of The Mars Volta and Zechs Marquise tour with each other and gig with each other. Zechs Marquise opened when Omar Rodriquez Lopez’s earlier band At the Drive-In played a hometown reunion show. When they get done with all of that they take a break, in order to hang out with each other.
They are, in fact, doing exactly this when Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez answers his cell for the interview. The brothers are driving back to Texas with their dad after a weekend spent going to baseball games in Los Angeles. “All of us spend our fair share of time away from home, so it’s nice to get to have these last-minute trips with our dad,” says Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez. Empirically speaking, it is the sweetest thing ever.
Lately, reviews of the Zechs Marquise live show and the slow-building recognition for Getting Paid have be taking the band from status as the little brother of The Mar Volta to a known quantity in its own right. Note to aspiring indie rockers: a little touring had something to do with that. Also, Getting Paid is some fine music. The twelve instrumental tracks fuse funk and prog-rock without being tedious or anachronistic. Cerebral and psychedelic it might be, but it’s also brash and pugnacious: Old music for young heads by young heads. Rodriguez-Lopez confirms the secret ingredient is hip-hop.
“We were listening to these old hip-hop records that we hadn’t listened to in years. You know these bangers where you kind of nod your head and tap your foot? I like the feeling of a lot of these songs. A lot of hip-hop songs have that. That was one of the ways that hip-hop influenced Getting Paid. We liked that swing, that groove,” he says in a phone interview.
In music histort, funk led to hip-hop. But Zechs Marquise reverses the story. “When we were growing up we just listened to a lot of hip-hop as a group. Our love for hip-hop is what got us into old rock records, prog-rock records, soul records, jazz records. Because in hip-hop there is a lot of sampling going on and a lot of it’s from these old records,” Rodriguez-Lopez recalls. In this case, hip-hop led a group of millennial audionauts to funk.
The hip-hop influence is most readily apparent in the album’s swagger and hyper-rhythmic emphasis. It goes beyond funk. (Post-funk?) The band plays Los Angeles often and not-surprisingly they often share a bill with Low-End Theory beat makers like DJ Nobody, The Gaslamp Killer and Mono/Poly.
Knowing that hip-hop has been their Rosetta stone makes the unorthodox way they composed Getting Paid seem less strange. It was recorded twice, cut and mixed to perfection the second time. “We recorded the first time, the writing of the songs. It was good to go. And there was the learning them part for part and then taking them on the road and seeing what we could do with them. And from playing live we noticed different things would happen. And then we went back and took out all the things we didn’t like and rerecorded them. We used touring as a way to test proof the songs and then when we ended up finishing Getting Paid it was something we were absolutely one hundred percent happy with,” the bassist explains.
Still, funk and prog are the meat and bones of the work even if it has hip-hop in its post-modern soul. The band members are inspired by the way Parliament Funkadelic took on rock elements following the experience of plugging into bigger-than-usual speakers once when sharing a bill with a rock band. But Zechs Marquise is more the inverse of that. “We’re guys in a rock band who wanna play funk music,” says Rodriguez-Lopez.
But genre distinctions are kind of beside the point for this group. “A lot of prog rock, especially the bad prog rock, they make it complicated and technical for the sake of making it complicated and technical. There no soul. there’s no life in it. Prog rock is one of our influences, one of the tools in our shed if you will. But it’s not the main thing. We’re more about having a good time and you can see it when we play. We get up there and have fun with each other and smile and laugh. We do take our music seriously, but we like to have a good time with it. We want to make it fun,” Rodriguez-Lopez assures.
This spirit is probably what allowed them to truly find their own sound, despite growing up around, well, the guys from The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In. The first album had more similar influences to The Mars Volta, including psych rock and jazz, but with time their sense of exploration brought them to the independent badassery of their sophomore release.
The trick was not to think about it. “Yeah, we did kind of just block it all out and did our own thing, just let ourselves mature musically, figure things out along the way, with no particular thing in mind. I’ve found out that that’s when you begin to falter creatively, when I think about it too hard,” Rodriguez-Lopez reveals. If the group sticks to these methods, and they surely will, it’s the opening of an entirely new book in the musical family’s saga.