Cedric Bixler-Zavala, (seen here in the centre), front man with American band At The Drive-In chats with Kevin Cooper about playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals, his perfect Christmas, their new album in•ter a•li•a, and being Royal Blood’s special guest on their current UK arena tour.

Cedric Bixler-Zavala is a Grammy Award-winning American musician known for his work as frontman and lyricist of the progressive rock band The Mars Volta, and as front man and occasional guitarist of the post-hardcore group At the Drive-In.

At the Drive-In are an American punk rock band from El Paso, Texas, formed in 1994. They released three studio albums and five EPs before breaking up in 2001. Their third and final album before their split, 2000’s Relationship Of Command, received a number of accolades and is cited as a landmark of the post-hardcore genre. Following the breakup, Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López formed The Mars Volta while Ward, Hinojos, and Hajjar formed Sparta. At the Drive-In reunited in January 2012 and played the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as the Lollapalooza Festival. In 2016, the band reunited for a second time, with guitarist and occasional lead vocalist Jim Ward no longer participating. He was replaced by Sparta’s Keeley Davis. The band released their fourth studio album, in•ter a•li•a, in 2017.

When performing with At the Drive-in, Bixler-Zavala is known for his eccentric on-stage behaviour. He frequently does somersaults on stage, swings his microphone (once unintentionally hitting band mate Ikey Owens on the head), throws objects such as cymbals, microphone stands, and trash cans into the audience, salsa dances, adjusts Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s effects pedals and occasionally plays the maracas.

Whilst currently touring with Royal Blood, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Cedric how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and firstly let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s no problem.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

It’s okay thanks, so far so good.

At the Drive-In played both Reading and Leeds Festivals this year. How was that?

I am sadly finding that rock music is rapidly becoming extinct when looking at the main stage of both of the festivals. You could see the blank expression on the young faces in the audience thinking ‘so that’s a guitar’ (laughter). Everything nowadays is so laptop driven. The bedroom together with the laptop appears to now be the driving force behind most new things rather than seeing us old farts jumping around on the stage. After we played those two festivals I was looking at the Twitter feed and I went into the new section and it was at that point that I realised that the powers that be had expanded both festivals into a hue mass of different categories and under the music category you can see everything with the exception of rock music now.

I have to be honest with you and tell you that I am totally confused by it all. Don’t get me wrong At The Drive-In are still out there but I do honestly think that we have now become dinosaurs (laughter). Having said that I feel that we are the kind of dinosaurs who are ever changing along with the technology, and we become irrelevant every three or four years (laughter). I personally feel that the kids today change their taste in music almost as quickly as they change their iPhone. They are always looking towards getting the new one. Pretty soon you are just left with something that sounds like a commercial jingle; at least that is what it sounds like to me.

What I found surprising is that the kids of today are quite prepared to listen to all of their music via their mobile telephone. It sounds dreadful.

Yes it really does, I totally agree with you on that point. Also the headphones which come attached to these devices are totally awful. There are some nice headphones that will be hitting the market shortly but for now, I simply don’t know. I guess that maybe I am a part of an older generation that likes to hear the crackles when I play my music. I believe that the next generation that comes along is going to go back to that and we will be seeing a combination of the old and the new; whatever that is.

I was speaking to an artist last week who informed me that he had actually purchased the application for making the snaps and crackles for his Pro Tools in order to put them onto his forthcoming album release (laughter).

Really, are we really going that far back in time (laughter). That was a trick that we used way back in the 90s.

I have to tell you that my record collection is so old that there are real snaps and crackles (laughter).

That’s good to hear and I will tell you that so are mine (laughter). Back in 2009 I kept being asked by various people to play some of my record collection at clubs and I just knew not to take my vinyl collection with me because there is an undercurrent of people who do find a value in that kind of stuff plus there is the danger that your records could get damaged. Your little treasure trove of unduplicated, hard to find records could be stolen so I decided against that.

Being older than you I’m of the old school who expects a DJ to have a vinyl collection with him. I simply wouldn’t expect them to use either an iPod or laptop.

I know what you are saying and that is very true. The really good high end DJ’s out there are actually still using vinyl.

A lot of the DJ’s here in the UK are having fresh vinyl copies cut of their prized possessions simply so they can take them with them.

Wow that is genius and such a beautiful privilege to find yourself being able to do. However, not everyone thinks that way.

Anyway we should really speak about the band. Do the fans here in the UK appreciate what At The Drive-In are currently doing?

I don’t know but I would have to say that in a sensible setting then probably not (laughter). The average person who has decided that it is okay to spend your vacation time camping in the mud watching a ton of bands getting shitfaced then perhaps they do; I simply don’t know (laughter). What you have to try to remember is that not everyone at a festival is a At The Drive-In fan. However, if people like that shit then hey, who I am to take that away from them (laughter). I think that if they are true At The Drive-In fans then it really doesn’t matter. I think they like what we do now and they have reacted well to the latest EP which we put out whilst we were playing at Leeds and Reading. If you read the comments section on the website then they appear to be excited about it so, who knows.

Do you enjoy the time that you spend here in the UK?

Oh yes I do, I always seem to have a great time whenever I am over there in the UK.

Have you managed to get your head around our warm beer yet (laughter).

(Laughter) yes I have. The first time that we were over there playing in Europe we spent some time in Germany so we all got used to that (laughter). The good thing is that I am actually not that much of a drinker. However, I do feel that when in Rome don’t be an American and ask for ice (laughter). My mom visited Europe later on in life and she would be forever telling me “they don’t have ice” (laughter).

Your fourth studio album was entitled In•ter a•li•a which translates as ‘amongst other things’ so just what other things have we got to look forward to?

Wow, you have been doing your homework. What can I say, the broken nature of the world at the moment maybe (laughter). When someone asks why someone is bending at the knee, when someone asks you why you are standing up for women who have been raped, when someone says that we have got a couple of fucking toe headed idiots trying to run the fucking world, amongst other things which are broken. What can I say; it’s a snapshot of the world from a child’s point of view.

I know that we are both laughing and making light of things but there is a serious undertone there isn’t there?

Yes there is a serious undertone but laughter and making fun of the situation is sometimes the best medicine. Being able to take the piss out of yourself is a good thing, knowing that the thing in question will eventually pass. We here in the States have a lot of work to do; repairing the shitty choices of others and I think that a lot of the time those shitty choices exist because the people simply don’t trust the powers that be. All races and all genders at the moment seem to be broken and pretty much fucking fed up with each other simply because of all of the meddling. We are once again starting to turn on each other and I think that is exactly what the six families who run the world want us to do. They want that to happen. It’s unfortunate but at times all that you can do is laugh. Sometimes it is a nervous laughter whilst you are thinking of the possible consequences.

If it is any consolation at all let me just assure you that we here in the UK are at this moment in time in just as much shit as you are over there in the USA.

I know what you mean. I keep watching the news about Brexit together with the shit show that might be attached to it in the coming months and the coming years. What can I say, these are crazy times that we are living in.

Never mind, good old rock and roll will hopefully get us all through it.

It gives us a sort of escapism but at the same time there are things that I write which are meant to be five minutes in front of your face which maybe will give you some relief. Maybe not in an escapism way but they will tell you that I am here with you too, this is what I see and this is what I fear. They will try to show you just how broken everything is and just how complicated everything is.

There has been a seventeen year gap between your last two studio albums, Relationship Of Command released back in 2000 and in•ter a•li•a which you released earlier this year. Why is that?

I honestly feel that is just simply down to how we work within At The Drive-In. We weren’t on the horse for doing another At The Drive-In album but once we commit to doing anything we just work. Whenever we see those gaps of time for days off we either take those days off or we try to work. We never rest on the narrative that it has been seventeen years, we are simply now back in the game, and when you are in the game you want to do what an artist is able to do and that is to create. It works for me and I have to tell you that it is fun which makes me want to work.

I understand that you have fully embraced social media, is that correct?

Yes I have, I have found that social media is great for me to find other people to collaborate with. If I stumble across someone’s webpage who makes music and I like what they are doing I will contact them and ask them if they want to make music with me (laughter).

What drives you on; what motivates you to keep making music?

Making music is like oxygen to me so I simply keep breathing or in a way I don’t really stop swimming. Being totally honest with you, making music is just a natural thing that happens to me even more so now that I have kids. I will keep going and continue doing what I do because that is what allows me to fend for my family.

I have been playing in•ter a•li•a for the past couple of weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a great piece of work.

Thank you, that is so kind of you to say that.

Were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

I think so although I really should tell you that I try to stay away from that kind of stuff because you simply cannot make everyone happy and now, the downside to having social media is that everything is geared up to the person who is taking you out to dinner and who wants to speak to the manager if the food isn’t exactly to their liking. I try to ignore it but then sometimes it is just in my face. In most part the people are excited and let me put it to you this way; when we play in Japan we usually play around four shows finishing in Nagoya. We have recently played Nagoya and there are fans there who don’t speak any English but they are all singing along to the new songs. They know every word to every song and that to me is an indication that we are still doing something right.

My favourite track on the album is Ghost-Tape No. 9. What’s the back story to that particular track?

I have always had an interest in psychological warfare and through the internet I stumbled across a piece of audio which had been used by the American Military against the Vietcong. They played on their religious beliefs that when they die their spirit ends up being a ghost that wanders through the jungle forever. The Americans designed this tape which they called Ghost-Tape No. 10 which was basically someone speaking in Vietnamese pretending to be a ghost. They would play this really loud plus they added some echo together with some really spooky sounds to the tape in order to deter the enemy and make them turn around. The Americans hoped that they would continue to believe in their religious believes, drop their weapons and return home.

So I wanted to create a situation like that within the story of this record but I wanted to utilise some modern things that happen today. I used the story relating to the Dopamine epidemic which occurred in South America. Dopamine is completely undetectable; they can blow it on to you, you smell it and become totally under the control of the person who has blown it onto you. People in South America were being robbed, they were emptying their bank accounts and they were doing this with a smile on their faces. So I started thinking about Ghost-Tape No. 10 and how it could be an audio version of dopamine which could be applied to society. And that is the true population control within one of the chapters of the story.

Are you always writing?

The simple answer to that is yes (laughter). I’m always writing stuff down, I am always using my phone to get stuff down, I am always writing stuff down in notebooks, and I am always writing with my kids which I find fantastic because they could actually mean something in the future.

Without going into detail there has been a lot of tragedy in your life. How do you keep going and rise above that?

I try to rise above the tragedies by trying not to let it get to me. I always try to keep fighting and not giving in to whatever tragedy I am faced with. There tends to be a lot of money when you speak out about certain things against you, together with a lot of spiritual darkness that you have got to fight mentally too. You have to stand up, put your adult pants on, face things head-on and go for it. When my kids grow up I want them to see that both mom and dad stood up for what was right and what they thought was right.

Has there ever been a time when you have simply thought ‘that’s it, I have had enough with this industry’?

You can walk away from the industry whilst you can still continue to function; that is where we come from, that is the nature of the word indie rock, it is independent. You can remain independent but you also continue to exist outside that system. My favourite movies tend to be that way, my favourite books tend to be that way, I am a huge Philip K. Dick fan and he really didn’t get recognised until he had died. So he pretty much existed outside the system until one day Ridley Scott made a movie out of one of his books. And now there isn’t one single science fiction movie out there that doesn’t come from a Philip K. Dick book.

That is totally inspirational to me and helps to keep me going. You may not see the fruits of your labour while you are alive but believe me, you will leave a mark somehow, maybe in death. However, as far as the industry goes, you really do get fed-up with it, simply the nature of it is something that lends itself to servitude. You have just got to fight the fight and be prepared to sometimes compromise with certain things but the important thing to remember is to make sure that you get your music out to all parts of the world.

You are currently touring the UK with Royal Blood, how is that going?

It is going really well thank you. We have been talking about getting outside of our comfort zone which is where we have been lately, so that people who have seen us working with other bands will finally say “there is that opening band that had fifteen minutes. Let’s go along and see what they can do”. That is where we shine the most and we have managed to get people to notice us. So we were looking around trying to find someone who we could open for and honestly, Royal Blood was the first name on our list. And then magically they made us an offer. We hadn’t even been talking to them so that was really great. They are younger than us so it was just great and so now we will get to play for some of their audiences.

You are here in Nottingham on the 25th November, just what can we expect?

Lots of energy and hopefully lots of people walking away saying “what the fuck was that? I think I want to go and buy what they are selling” (laughter).

How long have Royal Blood given you on stage?

They have kindly given us thirty minutes.

Who has musically influenced you along the way?

I know that this will sound crazy but now I feel like it was Philip K. Dick; he is a major part of my diet every day.

When you are playing here in Nottingham I will be photographing the gig so would you please give me a heads-up as to whether you will be throwing anything off the stage?

(Laughter) I can’t do that. If I warned you it simply wouldn’t be the same would it (laughter).

In that case could you at least make sure that it is something big and soft please?

(Laughter) let me just assure you that it will be something visible.

Moving swiftly on from all things that are able to be thrown at photographers, what was the first record that you bought?

My parents let me buy an eight track tape of Destroyer by Kiss and after that I went out and bought Love Gun another album by Kiss. I am truly grateful that they allowed me to buy those two albums because the cover of Love Gun has lots of scantily clothed women surrounding Kiss (laughter). For the parent of a seven year old kid to be cool about that really did surprise me. It was because of those two albums that I really wanted to play music in the first place. For me, growing up in the mid-70s in America, Kiss was just an American group that were impossible to ignore. However, as you get older you finally realise just how much of it was goofy and how much of it was actually cool.

Four guys wearing women’s clothing and makeup trying to take on the world. Obviously they didn’t do it first but they took a lot of the credit for that. For me as a kid to be able to see someone making a living by doing that and then spending everyday as if it were Halloween, that sealed the deal for me.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That would have to be one of the songs by Anthony And The Johnsons. They have always been super inspirational to me.

As the festive season is rapidly approaching, just what would be your perfect Christmas?

That’s easy, being with my family. Being able to mentally capture all of the pictures of my kids, together with all of the Christmas smells and to experience Christmas through their eyes, which are so unclouded by anything. That’s the perfect Christmas for me. To be with all of my family because time is a hell of a mother fucker and we never know exactly when people will come and go.

On that note Cedric let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been good. You take care and remember to look out for flying objects up there in Nottingham (laughter).