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Omar and the Howlers 

A holiday in Hamburg helped launch Bosnian Rainbows

Last summer, former At the Drive In/The Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez put together Bosnian Rainbows, a new band featuring Le Butcherettes singer Teri Gender Bender, bassist Nicci Kasper and drummer Deantoni Parks. In order to build chemistry, he had everyone spend six weeks living in Hamburg, Germany at a friend's place that he describes as a "compound" of sorts.

"I have a big history in Hamburg and I spent a lot of time there in the '90s," Rodriguez-Lopez recalls. "[The members of Bosnian Rainbows] lived together for about six weeks over the summer and saw each other every day. We just watched movies and shared influences. There's one of the best falafel places that anyone of us have ever eaten at."

Once the band gelled, it went on the road, playing Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan even though its self-titled debut had yet to come out (the record is due out this spring). The band played some West Coast dates last year and has just started a tour that will take it to the Midwest and East Coast for the first time.

"What happens on the road is this dynamic that can only be accomplished on the road and by playing live in front of people in these weird musical spaces," says Rodriguez-Lopez. "You learn how you can make a compilation that already existed better. That has something to do with playing them in front of people. Your mind works so much quicker on stage than in a rehearsal room. I wish I could describe it better. It's just about creating dynamics and micro cutting everything out."

The band's first single, "Torn Maps," is far more accessible than At the Drive-In, a noisy post-hardcore band that created a visceral racket, or the Mars Volta, a prog-rock outfit that delivered highly conceptual albums with sci-fi-inspired themes. Bosnian Rainbows singer Teri Gender Bender sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees as she screeches a bit on the catchy chorus. For Rodriguez-Lopez, the collaborative process of making the album, which was recorded on analog equipment in one take, sent him in a different musical direction.  

"I see myself as a band member," he explains. "Everyone has their own band. Nobody has any reason to do this except that they want to be here. Teri was doing great with Le Butcherettes and they were touring and getting write-ups all the time. Nicci was doing production work. Deantoni plays with John Cale and has his own thing. Everyone had to make some sort of sacrifice to be here. We're good about curbing each other and saying our opinion. Everyone does every part of the process."

Rodriguez-Lopez says that playing reunion shows with At the Drive-In last summer made him think about working in a more collaborative environment again. He says that while the shows inspired him to form Bosnian Rainbows, they also made him realize how much he no longer connects with At the Drive-In's music.

"For me, playing together again was to close the chapter on that era," he says. "We played those songs so we can hopefully move forward and do new music that represents where we are now. When playing those songs, I thought, 'Here's a person at the time that I don't relate to anymore.' He didn't care about his life and was doing drugs and was really disconnected from the world and a whole lot of other personal stuff that I won't get into. If I give myself to that, I can feel the psychological effects of that personality in the same way that an actor can say it wasn't healthy to live in that role so long or bring that role home every night."

He says he doesn't feel exactly the same way about the Mars Volta, a band over which he and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala had complete artistic control, even though when he formed Bosnian Rainbows, it essentially put the Mars Volta on hiatus.  

"Like At the Drive-In, The Mars Volta is a different person and different era and you find a new way of expressing those ideas," he says.

He doesn't rule out another Mars Volta album and says he now tries to never say never when it comes to collaborations, film projects, or other musical endeavors.

"Because of all my anger and how I dealt with people, I spent so much of my life just closing doors left and right," he says. "At this point, I refuse to close any, only to open new ones. Whatever comes my way - as long as it's filled with joy and positivity - I want to give my talents to it. That applies to Bosnian Rainbows as well. I have no interest in orchestrating and only in collaboration and giving my talents to whatever group will have me. That's the way it is. I'm not interested in throwing tantrums any more."

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