Taken from El Paso Times (May 16, 2018)
At the Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala reflects on Neon Desert, band reunion, fatherhood
by María Cortés González, El Paso Times, @EPTMaria on Twitter
(Photo: COURTESY OF ATELIER JUNN)
El Paso-born rockers At the Drive-In are set to headline the first day of the Neon Desert Music Festival on May 26-27 in Downtown El Paso.
Last year, the band reunited and performed at the El Paso County Coliseum as part of a tour and the release of their new album, "in•ter a•li•a."
Lead singer and former El Pasoan Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who is now a father of 5-year-old twin boys, said fatherhood certainly helped him with the band's reunion. At age 43, he is more reflective — a bit apologetic of things he might have said in his youth — and looking forward to performing at Neon Desert Music Festival.
"It was a process to get there," he said in a phone interview from California, in which he discussed getting back together with the band that hadn't worked together in 16 years.
He refers to his bandmates as family, noting they had to "get all those dramatic things out there in order to make music."
"I have twins and they constantly fight, so I tried to apply that — and to the person I am now to be able to get over the hurdles," he said.
The conversations were uncomfortable, but the process was rewarding as it led to their being able to make music together again.
Looking back, Bixler-Zavala said, there were things that shouldn't have ever been said after the band broke up in 2001. At the time, the band was at their peak following a world tour.
Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López went on to form The Mars Volta, while other members — Jim Ward, Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar — started the band Sparta. Hinojos left Sparta to join The Mars Volta in 2005.
"Especially in 2003, 2004, there was throwing a lot of the members that were in Sparta under the bus and just talking (expletive) and sort of falling for that," Bixler-Zavala said. "That sort of divisive type of (expletive). I definitely said a lot of stupid stuff; it was where my head was at that time."
Apocalyptic clearing of the air
Given that the band originally was formed when Bixler-Zavala and other members were in their teens or early 20s, some maturing obviously happened as they got older.
At the Drive-In released three studio albums and five EPs before breaking up in 2001.
Time and natural growing up have helped members come together as friends and to start performing again. At the Drive-In reunited in January 2012 and played the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as the 2012 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.
Bixler-Zavala said working together again allowed them to take what they learned with The Mars Volta and bring it to the studio. Along with Rodríguez-López, they had those conversations about where they were now as a band and how to honor their catalog of work.
El Paso-born rockers At the Drive-in will headline the Neon Desert Music Festival on Memorial Day weekend. (Photo: COURTESY OF TIM VALENCIA)
Their third and final album before their split, 2000's
"Relationship of Command," earned a number of accolades and came to be seen as a
landmark for the post-hardcore genre.
"We had conversations where Omar came in saying these ideas are cool, but that is not At the Drive-In," he said. "Everywhere we went, we were writing and recording, after and before concerts and on days off."
The band released its fourth studio album, "in•ter a•li•a," in 2017.
He gives much credit to Rodríguez-López for being the producer and innately knowing what to do — kind of like Elizabeth Montgomery on "Bewitched."
"He knew the key phrases and it was almost like he would wiggle his nose and I knew what it means," he said. "It was really important to have him as producer."
Coming home is almost surreal
As he prepares to come to El Paso for the Neon Desert Music Festival, Bixler-Zavala thinks about what he likes about growing up in the city: introducing bandmates to gorditas, eating at Rincon de Cortez and Moe's with his parents, explaining Bobby Fuller and Jay J. Armes to people, or Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker."
"It's very surreal about growing up and having those people be part of your pop culture and lexicon. It strikes you as interesting and odd."
At the Drive-In will play at Neon Desert Music Festival. (Photo: Courtesy)
And certainly the humble beginnings of playing in a garage to a small crowd, including their parents.
It was a time for feeling "an us-against-the-world" mentality and to prove that a band from an obscure town in Texas had something to offer the rest of the country.
And they certainly proved it.
"When we last played the coliseum, it was surreal that everyone was there," he said. "And people may think 'I was there from the beginning,' but no (bleep) you weren't, but thanks for giving it your best shot."
Ready to rock Neon Desert
Bixler-Zavala appreciates that young people in El Paso have such a popular and growing festival like Neon Desert.
"It's great to be part of something that has finally taken off. To come from my era where our venues were playing at some house and really built on the strength and tenacity of one kid whose parents were cool ... to come back and see something like Neon is a breath of fresh air," he said. "Growing up, we had nothing like that. Balloon Fest catered to grandpa rock. Kids weren't listening to that in El Paso."
He said he's never one to stop and wonder if he still has something to offer.
"I see people just sort of transfixed in some sort of way. Not to say I'm awesome, but it's not in my personal interdialogue to ask that," he said. "I'm a 43-year-old kid that still craves, absolutely craves, one hour a day to express my inner child and that is always going to be there."