Cedric Bixler-Zavala on the Future of At the Drive-In

Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At the Drive-In performs at Splendour In The Grass on July 27, 2012 in Byron Bay, Australia. Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

The news of At the Drive-In’s reunion inspired a lot of excitement, but the band’s direction remains up in the air. Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the band’s singer, and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, its guitar virtuoso, are both still working on the band they formed after At the Drive-In broke up in 2001, the Mars Volta. In fact, that band’s newest album, Noctourniquet, was released right in the middle of the At the Drive-In reunion. You can count the number of dates they’ve played since reuniting on your fingers: A few Texas club dates, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Australia’s Splendour in the Grass, and the UK’s Reading and Leeds Festivals, and they haven’t announced any more. So it’s fair to wonder: What does the future hold for At the Drive-In? The answer to that question isn’t immediately clear, but Hive caught up with Bixler-Zavala this past weekend at Lollapalooza, and it doesn’t sound like he views this as a one-and-done proposition.

When you’ve played the reunion shows, and you’ve opened with “Arcarsenal,” the anticipation as the song explodes has been really palpable. Is that reaction something special to you?

It’s just felt like a nice hug from everyone. That’s what’s so cool about it.

You guys formed the band when you were young, which means that, in some ways, you’ve been tied to your high school friends for most of your lives. Does playing music together help you relate to each other?

Hm. I wonder. My first band was with Paul’s older brother. Paul and Omar’s first band, we shared the same garage space. There’s more than just even high school – there’s growing up, and the territory, and having this affinity with each other. What it was like to grow up in such a weird place like El Paso. It was even weirder than it is right now. It’s a great place, but it’s like the Mexican Twin Peaks. It’s strange. And that always gave us a strong bond, because there’s no other place like it. It goes deeper than high school, deeper than all of that. We have a strong affinity for each other because of it.

At the Drive-In is a band that means a lot to people. When you guys came up, it made a lot of people in small, shitty towns feel like they could chase their dreams.

I always thought of it as this sort of symbolic struggle for anybody coming up, really. That’s really everywhere, even if you live in a big city. I think it’s just symbolic for everybody.

There’s the Mars Volta, you’re in [the band] Anywhere, and some of the guys have solo projects. How much of your attention does At the Drive-In have right now?

It has all of my attention right now. We just finished the campaign with the Mars Volta, and in the middle of that campaign, toward the end, we did one show. It was kind of a great little introduction on how to juggle both. People have always told me that: “Why don’t you just do both?” Especially all the management and label people. And I didn’t have it in me to have that and process that at the time. So this is kind of like training to see how you can do both.

“You come to a point in your life where you don’t want to just keep repeating yourself. You want to embrace what the idea of pop music is. Not necessarily the stereotype of pop music; there was a time when you’d say “pop music” and conjure up images of the Sweet, or Marc Bolan. That, to me, can be avant-garde still.”

Is that working out for you?

Yeah! For me, it is. They’re two kinds of performances, and two kinds of music, really.

Are you guys planning to do more At the Drive-In shows? There are still a lot of people who want to see your band who haven’t been able to get to Lollapalooza, Coachella, or the Texas club dates.

Yeah, I know. We’ll see what happens in the future.

You guys are starting a label for At the Drive-In. Is that so you can control the band’s legacy a bit?

Yeah. Yeah, you could say that. [It's called] Twenty-First Chapter. The name’s inspired by A Clockwork Orange. Not a lot of people know that there’s a 21st chapter that’s not in the movie. In the movie, the guy still stays a really shitty person. In the book, and I don’t know why it was omitted for a while in some of the reprints, he gets to a place where it’s symbolic: He turns twenty-one, gets a family, he starts ditching all that stupid-ass behavior … But it doesn’t work for the movie, I guess. It’s a really inspirational thing, because of the way the movie is. It’s someone going through some crazy shit and just being an asshole, really. And then coming to a point in his life where he’s like, “Why am I like that? What’s wrong with being normal and nice to each other?” I was explaining that to Jim, and Jim thought of it. That’s cool, because that’s inspirational that not a lot of people even know about that with A Clockwork Orange.

The newest Mars Volta record is really approachable, and At the Drive-In always felt very approachable. Is there a relationship between playing as At the Drive-In again and the new Mars Volta record?

It just goes down to the fact that we’ve done such extremes before, and you come to a point in your life where you don’t want to just keep repeating yourself. You want to embrace what the idea of pop music is. Not necessarily the stereotype of pop music; there was a time when you’d say “pop music” and conjure up images of the Sweet, or Marc Bolan. That, to me, can be avant-garde still.

Has the attention from the At the Drive-In reunion had an impact on your other projects?

Yeah, and that’s my hopeful, romantic notion. That it brings light on everyone, whatever they’re doing. It could only help.

Watch At the Drive-In’s full Coachella set here:


At The Drive In (Live at Coachella, 2012) by coachellasets

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