NO ONE CAN REASONABLY SAY THAT JUAN Alderete’s body of work with renowed experimental rock act the Mars Volta is insufficiently challenging. Their previous record was infamously marred by personnel changes, equipment failures, mental breakdowns, and even a studio flood, and yet the chaotic density and unapologetic freneticism of The Bedlam In Goliath smashed enough musical boundaries to earn the band a Grammy. Their latest, Octahedron, is a deliberate step towards a relatively simpler sonic and musical landscape, and while the famously speed-endowed Alderete can power it out with anyone, it’s in this clearer, cleaner context that his myriad tones (check out that list of effects!), grooves and ideas shine more brightly than ever.
Between the Mars Volta, Big Sir, Alderete’s own ultra-experimental outfit Vato-Negro, and the many side projects of TMV’s guitarist and main songwriter Omar Rodriguez- López, Juan doesn’t always know which of his ideas are going to end up where. And that’s fine with him. “Every time I record, I never know if it’s gonna end up on a Mars Volta record, or one of Omar’s solo records”, says Alderete. “I approach it the same way, with all of my intensity and musicality.”
What was tracking Octahedron like by comparison compared to The Bedlam in Goliath?
It was totally different. On Bedlam, we all tracked together for a lot of the basic tracks, but then Omar would have me recut to the arrangements. On Octahedron, I flew into New York for a few days and tracked to stuff I never heard before.
How much direction did Omar give you in creating the parts?
The arrangements were complete when I got to NYC. He had everything mapped out. Some stuff I got to put my twist on, but really he just knew what he wanted. There are improvised parts, like on “Cotopaxi,” bridges where I kind of just rip, or “Teflon,” where I tried to ape James Jamerson, but other then that he was very particular.
Any thoughts or opinions on the “simpler” sonic environment of this record, especially in terms of how it impacts the bass?
For bass, I think the fretless was more important than on other records. There is fretless bass on every Mars Volta record I have recorded, but I think in the “simpler” environment, it sounds more profound and integral to the music.
Were there any other bands you were listening to that affected what you laid down on this record?
I probably listen to the Jesus Lizard more than any other band I can think of, and their bassist David Sims always has an impact on my playing. He is my favorite living bass player and the Jesus Lizard’s music is timeless. His bass lines are the best. He affects me the way Jaco or Jamerson does. I just want to be as musical as him.
What’s your favorite bass moment on the record?
The chorus on “Teflon.” I love Jamerson and I always try to have him appear through me on records. And on “Cotopaxi” I do my best David Sims impression. I like to give homage to my main influences.
What keeps you interested in playing bass nowadays?
Musicians who are trying to stretch out. Take music somewhere else. A band can be playing the simplest music, but if the sounds they’re using are out there and musical, I’ll be into it.
What do you want to be doing musically in ten years?
Helping musicians I believe in. There is a great indie metal scene going on right now. Metal bands that are not stuck listening only to Slayer or Iron Maiden, but also to Neurosis, the Fucking Champs, Shellac or the Jesus Lizard. These bands put out mainly vinyl and are surviving. Indie rock is so polluted with major labels. This metal scene is more punk rock than indie rock could ever be at this point. I want to help this scene. Maybe start a label.
CHECK HIM OUT
The Mars Volta, Octahedron
2009]; The Mars Volta,
The Bedlam In Goliath [UVMD, 2008];
El Grupo Nuevo De Omar Rodriguez-
López, Cryptomnesia [Rodriguez Lopez
Torche, Meanderthal [Hydra Head, 2008];
Nipsey Hussle, Bullets Ain’t Got No Name
Vol. 3 [Direct Connect, 2009]; Dangerpuss
Basses Lakland Skyline Darryl Jones,
Lakland U.S. custom P/J fretless, 1962
Fender Precision, 1971 Fender Precision
Fretless, Eastwood Hi-Flyer
Live Rig Direct, Éclair Engineering Evil
Twin Tube D.I.; Amp/cab: Two Ampeg
SVT-VR heads, Ampeg SVT 8x10 cab,
Ampeg SVT18 cab.
Effects Dunlop Bass Wah, MXR Carbon
Copy Analog Delay, MXR M-288 Octave,
MXR MicroAmp, MXR Phase 90, “several”
Boss pedals (including CS-2 compressor
and Tremolo), WMD Geiger Counter,
Pigtronix Disnortion, Pigtronix Mothership,
Pigtronix Echolution, Lastgasp Super
Oscillo Fuzz, Moog Ring Modulator, Moog
Freqbox, Maestro Envelope Filter, Ernie
Ball Volume Pedal, Line 6 DL4 Delay, Death
By Audio Total Sonic Annihilation, Sovtek
Fuzz, Electro-Harmonix Bass Microsynth,
A/DA Flanger, Ampeg SCP-OCT Sub-
Blaster Octave, Behringer Vibrato, all powered
by several MXR Bricks.
Studio “My chosen bass into a bunch
of pedals into the Evil Twin D.I.”
Strings Ernie Ball Super Slinky Nickel