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Ouija Board Helped Mars Volta Make New Album

Of the Oakland Press

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To say The Mars Volta’s new album, “The Bedlam in Goliath,” did not come easy is an understatement of almost, well, biblical proportions.

Frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala says he and partner Omar Rodriguez-Lopez — who formed The Mars Volta in 2001 after leaving their previous band, At the Drive-In — were cursed by an Ouija-like board game Lopez bought as a present for Zavala during a trip to the Middle East. Investigating it on the tour bus, Zavala recalls, introduced them to a number of characters — Goliath, Mr. Mugs, Tourniquet Man — and the story of adultery and what he calls “an honor killing” that informed the lyrics he was writing.

“It was a great pastime and a great activity,” says Zavala, 33. “But the karma kind of turned around on us later.”

Indeed, while making “The Bedlam ...,” the group’s engineer had a nervous breakdown and fled the project — with tapes in hand. “We had to hire people ... to bust in his door and take ’em,” Zavala recalls. “That was the biggest indication we’d tapped into something we shouldn’t have with the (game board).”

Lopez, the group’s chief instrumental composer, also suffered his own breakdown and period of prolonged depression, and Zavala — who feels it was the board itself trying to prevent him from writing about the story it contained in his songs — had to step up in order to keep his partner from waving the white flag.

“The spirit utilized my closest surroundings and took all its anger out on the people closest to me, just ’cause it wanted to show what it could do,” Zavala explains. “But I had this attitude of, like, ‘Throw whatever you want at me. I still have the power of a strong vote in this band, and I vote we keep going for it.’

“It just reminded me of my mom in high school and doing art; ‘Why do you have to draw pictures of such grotesque things? Why can’t you draw pictures of angels?’ When somebody tells me that, the pictures just get more grotesque, that’s all.”

The Mars Volta performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 23) at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $35. Call (734) 668-8397 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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