On Sunday, after a fan of experimental psychedelic-rock band The Mars Volta wishfully tweeted about the possibility of a new chapter in the band’s career, lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala responded, “It’s happening.” In a follow-up tweet Bixler-Zavala said, “It’s in its infancy right now. No deadlines, no ball tripping, no drama, just 2 grown ass men using essential oils and bold new perfumes shooting ideas and scooting their ass across the fucking lawn trying to get rid of these worms.” As far as explanations go, it was confusing. But in terms of explanations for Mars Volta reunions, it was perfect.
In March, the band gained some media attention when their name appeared in headlines alongside that of presidential hopeful and Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke expressed interest in having the band play on his campaign trail or at his inauguration if he were to be elected president in 2020. This wasn’t just wishful fanboy stuff, however. Before politics, O’Rourke played bass in a band called Foss, which just so happened to feature fellow El Paso punk Bixler-Zavala on drums — (Here’s a performance from the band on a local public access show in 1994). After O’Rourke lost the senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz, Bixler-Zavala tweeted, “[Beto,] I can only hope you run for president.” The news of the band’s reunion, which so quickly followed O’Rourke seemingly empty promise to get them back together, made me wonder: Did Beto O’Rourke have something to do with this?
Formed in 2001 by Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, following the dissolution of their renowned post-hardcore band At the Drive-In, the Mars Volta put out six studio albums before going on hiatus following the tepid reception of their 2012 album Noctourniquet. The pair have reunited for various projects in the following years, but nothing they’ve done, including a full-on At the Drive-In reunion, can hold a candle to the work they did as the Mars Volta. To paraphrase O’Rourke himself, man, they were born to be in it (“it” being “the Mars Volta”).
O’Rourke, too, has also been on the decline lately. The Texan was the source of much hype and hope during his run to claim Cruz’s Senate seat for the Democratic Party. Following his loss, however, he spent weeks driving around, writing Medium posts, and pretending he didn’t know whether he was going to run for president, before deciding he was going to run for president and promptly falling flat on his face in a tone-deaf Vanity Fair cover story. O’Rourke’s popularity and poll numbers have fallen since he declared his candidacy due to his lack of actual policy goals and also because he’s always doing weird things like standing on tables and countertops when he speaks in public. The narrative has gone from, “Beto O’Rourke is the coolest and best dude who is going to be the boss of America” to, “Can Beto bounce back?”
Well, reader, there is one surefire way to bounce back, and that way is to get the Mars Volta back together. So did Beto play a hand in this? I reached out to his campaign asking for O’Rourke’s thoughts regarding TMV’s reunion, and received a note from a staffer saying my question had been passed onto his press team. As of now, that press team has not gotten back to me with a response. Their silence is deafening — almost as deafening as Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s all-encompassingly heavy and eclectic guitar riffs.
Here’s what we do know. The public record indicates that Beto and Bixler-Zavala have kept in touch since their Foss days. In November 2012, during his first run for Congress, O’Rourke tweeted at his old bandmate, that he was “at our alma mater mesita closing out the campaign.” (A quick google search reveals that “Mesita” is an elementary school in El Paso, which suggests that Beto and Cedric went to elementary school together, I guess?) Meanwhile, a year later, O’Rourke tweeted the following at Bixler-Zavala:
A few notes here: It’s impossible to know what, if any, tweet of Bixler-Zavala’s that O’Rourke was responding to, as Bixler-Zavala seems to have deleted the majority of his twitter archive. However, “NOU” probably refers to the D.C. hardcore band Nation of Ulysses, seeing as the second link in the above O’Rourke tweet is to a performance by their fellow harDCore band Fugazi (“harDCore” = “D.C hardcore,” which is something Beto O’Rourke and his close personal friend Cedric Bixler-Zavala would both know). But maybe “NOU” stands for “Nenorandum of Understanding,” and it was a document promising that The Mars Volta would make new music if Beto were to ever run for President. I tweeted at Bixler-Zavala asking if O’Rourke had anything to do with The Mars Volta getting back together, but again, crickets.
With no answer from O’Rourke or Bixler-Zavala forthcoming, The Outline turned to the experts for some clarity on the matter. When asked via text if he thought O’Rourke might have helped the reunion happen, Jeremy Larson, a Senior Editor at Pitchfork (and occasional Outline contributor), simply responded, “No.” After being asked to clarify his remarks, Larson added, “I take these kinds of things very seriously. I’m a music journalist, after all.”
Paul Blest, News Editor at Splinter and a former member of a band himself, felt that O’Rourke’s public support for getting the band back together might help his poll numbers, especially in the much-coveted demographics of “prog-rock guys and people who like festivals where you camp.” Even still, he didn’t think that O’Rourke had anything to do with a revived Mars Volta. “It feels like it was getting to be around reunion time anyway. That festival money is hard to turn down,” he said. When asked if he thought O’Rourke was going to take credit for making the reunion happen even though he didn’t have anything to do with it, Blest replied, “Absolutely, yes.”