Zechs Marquise is a prog-funk-jazz band from El Paso, Texas. Their album, Getting Paid (set to release this year) is their sophomore attempt. When I heard them last year, I felt instantly transported to 2004, Roseland Ballroom, where I was exposed to The Mars Volta and their energetic mix of funk, blues, jazz, and ambient noises for the first time. Soon after, I found out why there were so many similarities; two brothers of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Mars Volta co-brainchild and all-around sage), Marcel and Marfred, formed Zechs in 2003, under the moniker Monolith. They were joined by Matt Wilkson and Marcos Smith on guitar and were recently joined by yet another Rodriguez-Lopez brother, Rikardo, who plays the keys and trumpet.
Zechs have been touring pretty consistently since their formation and right now is no exception. They’re in the middle of a month-long East Coast tour with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, ending in their hometown on April 30th at the Neon Desert Music Festival.
I got a chance to talk to bassist Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez in between concerts. We talked about their new album, how it is to be on stage with his brothers, and about the creation and proliferation (hopefully) of Zechs Marquise. Also download a track from their debut album below for FREE.
You came out with your first album, Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare, in 2009. How was it received?
I know that most weren’t great great reviews, a couple loved it, but there were a few negative ones. But overall it was pretty well received.
It took a while to come out, were you completely satisfied once it did?
Yeah, we were definitely satisfied with the end result because it was something we weren’t planning on doing. It was gonna be, maybe, three to five tracks for an EP, and it turned out a lot more material than we expected. It got taken in a whole new direction.
How is the follow up, Getting Paid, different from Stranded Nightmare?
It’s got a little more energy in it, it’s rougher, not as dark. The first is a very dark record and this one is, not to say lighthearted, but it’s got a lot more kick to it.
How has touring with your brother Omar and Cedric Bixler-Zavala been?
Oh it’s great, we had a tour in Europe a couple of years ago with Omar’s group. We all had a good time. When we came out with this one we knew it was going to be awesome. It’s good to be out and have three brothers with me and Cedric, who I‘ve known since I was a young kid, like 16 or 15.
Is it like old times collaborating with them?
Yeah it kind of is, in a way. It’s been a while since we got together like this. I mean, we hang out constantly, at least Omar will fly into town, my two brothers and I still live in El Paso. It’s great to be with them and the rest of the guys. We never stopped playing with our other brothers. Marcel and I have always played with each other just because of how close we are in age, but that never stopped us [from] playing with our other brothers, too.
How is growing up in El Paso different than growing up in other places in Texas, say Dallas or Houston?
Everywhere else is super hardcore. El Paso is so far west, it feels like it’s in New Mexico or Mexico really. No one in El Paso has that Texas accent. Because El Paso is a little isolated, it kept us focused on what we were doing, which was writing music, getting better at playing music, and getting better at playing songs. El Paso is a good place for that; there’s not a lot to do. Though I’m not complaining, it’s actually refreshing, especially coming home from tour.
WHEN WE WERE YOUNGER, IT WAS ALWAYS THAT YOUNGER-BROTHER-IS-A-LITTLE-EMBARRASSED-PLAYING-WITH-THE-OLDER-BROTHER EMBARRASSMENT.
What do you like most about your fan base?
I guess that they are all more involved with it. It’s great to know people come out and enjoy it. We’re kinda just playing stuff. Not to say we don’t like dancing and stuff. If we can dance to it, then others can, too.
What kind of influences did you have growing up and playing music?
I guess early on a lot of older rock like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, a lot of hip-hop like Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest and Black Star as well, they just influenced our kind of style, just because hip hop is sample based off those old records we used to listen to. So, it just goes hand in hand in a way.
The Latin influences are subtle in Zechs, is this on purpose or purely subconscious?
It’s subconscious. It’s the way you said, it’s subtle and the way it comes up because we all contribute something to the songs. It’s not so firmly planted in the Latin genre. I guess a lot of that is because, all of us, we all fell into the hip-hop phase. I mean it was the only thing that we listened to, that comes out a little more in our rock kind of music.
How have you guys grown together as a band and as individual musicians?
I guess because the older we get the more we’re learning, so it makes it, I don’t want to say easier, because it doesn’t, but in a way it does. When we were younger, it was always that younger-brother-is-a-little-embarrassed-playing-with-the-older-brother embarrassment. When we got passed that then it got better. It’s definitely fun because as weird or corny as it sounds, there is definitely a connection there. It comes out in weird ways at different times and it’s a really good thing I enjoy it.
What did you start playing first? Did you go with power cords when you were younger or did you have a different sort of progression?
Marcel and I grew up playing together. Hip-hop and reggae were always huge influences for us, just because being a drummer and a bass player and the way the drumming is and how it works with the bass lines. We come from a more jazz-blues background. Our sound was probably bassier before, now we’ve learned to play with melodies and harmonies and learn how to cut all the fat from the songs. There has definitely been that progression but we were never into power cords all that much.
What kind of music do you like and what are you listening to now?
I like most genres, but newer country I just can’t do. I’ve been listening to a lot of old soul bands, a lot of Isaac Hayes, James Brown, even some David Axelrod. Mostly things that aren’t too heavy. I haven’t really thought about it, lately I just leave the iPod on shuffle. But when I do pick records I have been listening to soul.
Did you do anything in New York while you were there?
We went out for some sushi after the show. Whenever we come to New York we just kinda walk around the place, place to place, no specific mission, no final objective.