I will always count myself very lucky to have been a part of The Mars Volta. The level of creativity of every single member of that band was beyond anything I had ever been apart of. Luckily, one of the leaders of the band, Omar, is also a bass player and from early on he would often let me rip a solo. There were so many times where I was thrilled, as well as times I was scared as hell. So much goes into actually pulling off a successful unaccompanied solo, and I think I can break it all down here in this Throwback Thursday post.
From 2003 until 2008, I was called upon to play a solo while all the members left the stage to hydrate (I remember one time, wanting to end and having my bandmates wave for me to keep going because they needed more hydration!). There are bootlegs from the De-Loused In The Comatorium tour in 2003, as well as a video from our show at the Electric Ballroom in London. I don’t recall too much except that I wish it wasn’t 100 degrees in the venue. My hands kept getting full of sweat which impeded my ideas. In the end, I resorted to hitting delays and effects since my initial attempt wasn’t going to go as planned. Here is that solo around the 5 minute mark:
There are maybe some other solos that came off well, or not (I actually met a fellow musician at a festival tell me “yeah, I saw the Mars Volta once and this bass player did a five minute bass solo…who the fuck wants to hear a bass solo let alone a five minute one?) and I think that’s usually how improvised solos go. You try to stretch your own ideas to places you have never gone, and sometimes it takes a minute to get there. There are times your ideas hit with the audience, and moments when they get lost amidst the challenges of the evening.
I do remember pulling off some fairly good solos whenever we played in Los Angeles. It’s my home town and I want to do my best to honor the opportunity to perform where I was born. There is stress knowing that everyone of our friends are in attendance, but having grown up playing in Racer X I got used to playing in front of my peers. Yet nothing compared to doing this while in The Mars Volta. First and foremost, I wanted my band to dig what I was doing on stage, and the thought of soloing in front of my fellow musicians in addition to the crowd is enough to make your heart pound 100 times heavier.
There were shows at the Henry Fonda Theater and Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles that were some of the most intense performances I can remember playing – I really had to come through with some legit solos. I think all that energy elevates your mind, similar to an out of body experience, and I really only remember thinking at the end of the solos…”shit…I have no idea how long this solo has been going on…I should probably end it.” I have never heard bootlegs from those shows, but I do remember seeing Flea in the parking lot after one show and he said “Juan…that solo tonight…it was beautiful.” Bruce Bouillet from Racer X was with me and he turns and says “you just got props from Flea!“
Years go by and sometimes I got called on to do solos when we headlined, and we even had a song – Day Of The Baphomets, where I rip a solo at the top of it. But my favorite improvisation was a particular night in Columbus, Ohio. So many reasons went into the success of that night’s Mars Volta show and I think that is what really makes a musical performance, special.
We had cancelled on Columbus twice because of illness and I remember the last time driving away with fans being bummed and yelling at our departing bus. It couldn’t have been helped but I remember thinking Columbus might not book us again but yet they did and in a bigger venue than what we had cancelled on! We sold out this Columbus show and when we drove up, I had kids asking me if we were going to cancel and I said no way.
The energy that night was insane from the audience’s standpoint and our own. We wanted to give back to Columbus and Columbus wanted to see us, badly. We really had a fantastic show and I got to do a bass solo and here it is:
This is my favorite solo to date. It is the perfect documentation of where I was as a musician at the time. I blended bass soloing with effects use that was musical, and Marcel was kind enough to play some tight synthesizer while I improvised. If anyone who cares about unaccompanied bass solos by me, I tell them to check this one out. Thank you Columbus, Ohio and thank you to the Mars Volta.