In 2012, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Le Butcherettes vocalist Teresa Suarez, drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper—having initially formed as a variation of the ambitious, constantly evolving Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group—all moved into a house in El Paso intending to make music together. But a funny thing happened in the process. For several weeks, they didn't even touch their instruments and, instead, focused on simple day-to-day activities together, be it cooking, watching movies or talking about politics.
Fast forward several weeks, and the four musicians ended up back in the living room where they'd set up their equipment, writing 17 songs over the course of two days. Without much rehearsal or plan ning, the band assembled more than enough material for an album—and ample fodder for 10 months of touring.
In a phone conversation with CityBeat, Rodriguez-Lopez says the catalyst for their creative process was the closeness they'd developed after spending so much time together and the unspoken metaphysical understanding they'd cultivated.
"We just spent six weeks in this house, and we were there every day together," he says. "So, a sort of psychic thing starts happening. Ask anyone who's been tied up in a small place with someone for a long time without any real contact with the outside world. Strange things start to happen."
Eleven of those 17 songs ended up on their self-titled debut, which comes out June 28 on Sargent House Records. Stylistically, it's a stark departure from the intense posthardcore that Rodriguez-Lopez made with At the Drive-In and the complex prog-rock arrangements he crafted in The Mars Volta. It's no exaggeration to say that Bosnian Rainbows is the most pop-oriented project he's ever been involved in, though, like those two bands, it still bears some level of arty abstraction and darkly textured sound.
The album puts a strong emphasis on Kasper's dreamy new-wave synthesizers and Suarez's evocative vocals, which at times bring to mind the powerful pipes of Siouxsie Sioux or Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. On the whole, they adhere to an aesthetic that bears a strong influence from early '80s post-punk bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Gang of Four, but Bosnian Rainbows find a lot of diversity under this umbrella. There's a horror-flick-score intro to "The Eye Fell in Love," some meaty keyboard-driven hooks on single "Torn Maps" and scratchy funk guitars on "Dig Right in Me." And much like the way the songs were written, the direction of the album didn't come as the result of a decision so much as a compulsion.
"The same way you decide where to go eat, you just know, instinctively, what your body needs," Rodriguez-Lopez says. "If you do something long enough, you're more interested in the contrast of that. So, if I was doing real long, intricate arrangements and different tempos and time signatures for 11 years, now the exact opposite seems like what I was craving—to do something completely elemental and simple and delicate.
"It's easier to play loud and fast than it is to play soft and slow," he continues, noting that the transition isn't necessarily an easy one. "If you place the wrong note somewhere, the whole thing falls apart."
As much as Bosnian Rainbows' music is the result of four people working together on a similar wavelength, Rodriguez-Lopez doesn't call their system a democracy. He prefers the term "collective mentality."
"Normally, in a democratic system, if you're outvoted three to one, there it is," he says. "Here, it's the opposite. If one person feels uncomfortable with something, it's not worth it to do it, because that one person is left out. Of course, we have different opinions. But when you sacrifice yourself to the good of the whole, when you're in service of something greater than yourself and not just what you'd like to see happen, then a lot of the selfishness that usually happens goes out the window.
"Even if you try to hold on to that selfishness, like, My idea is better,' the truth comes to the surface," he continues. "You'll try everyone's idea, and everyone will know right away when you play it. Like, Oh yeah, it's way better that way.' When you're serving the music, it's way easier to say, Yep, I was wrong. Let's do it that way.'"
With another month of tour dates on the horizon, the band's brief period of rest will soon end. Yet, whether Bosnian Rainbows is on the road or just occupying the same living space, Rodriguez-Lopez says, the project is a full-time commitment.
"It's a living project," he says. "There's no clocking in or clocking out."
Bosnian Rainbows plays at The Casbah on Monday, June 24.