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Progressive rocker Cedric Bixler-Zavala exposes a softer side

June 23, 2013


June 23--As way of warning: Cedric Bixler-Zavala's new project is not a rock band.

Not the one you'd expect anyway.

The band is not the progressive musical assault of his previous work -- notably with At The Drive In and The Mars Volta -- and the singer won't go crazy, jumping off of speaker cabinets. Don't expect the odd time signatures and shredding, either.

"I'm not screaming," says Bixler-Zavala, who plays with his new band, Zavalaz, at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Strummer's, formerly The Starline.

The show is one of 12 dates on a tour that kicked off June 15 in Las Vegas. It's the first string of shows for the band and the first time fans will really get to hear the music.

Only a snippet from an upcoming album was released on YouTube earlier this month.

Bixler-Zavala started hinting at a solo project soon after The Mars Volta disbanded in January. At the time, it was just a bunch of love songs he had written for his wife. They were "mellow and ballad-y things," he says.

It was while trying to turn those songs into a proper solo album that the band -- guitarist Dan Elkan (Them Hills, Broken Bells), drummer Gregory Rogove (Megapuss) and bassist Juan Alderete de la Pena (The Mars Volta, Racer X) -- was born.

"We realized that spiritually and financially, it would make sense to make it a band and come at it like that," Bixler-Zavala says.

The mellower tone might be unexpected to longtime fans, but the singer always has had an affinity for this type of music. The Mars Volta tour manager used to make mix tapes for him to take on the road. They were always full of murder-ballad country tunes.

He's always claimed psychedelic rock-icon Roky Erickson as an influence, but he says it was the softer, quieter moments in the music that held the most appeal.

"I am a Californian who lived in Texas most of his life and has an affinity for my parents eight tracks," he says.

Zavalaz is his version of those influences.

It's something he's never tapped into. Not that it wasn't there, it was just hidden in the music. "It's always been sandwiched into other crazy sounding stuff," he says.

Once he started writing these songs, once he got a vote of confidence from those around him, it felt he was coming into his own.

If it's a tough sell for fans of his previous work, he has experienced that before, in the final days of his band At The Drive In. "These French hard-core kids looked at me like I killed their mother because I said I was bored with At The Drive In," he says.

He won't say that he is done with the rock scene, or that the raucousness is all out of his system, but this is where he is at now, artistically. He hopes audiences can appreciate the fact.

"It's one thing to be a DJ and take requests. It's another thing to be an artist," he says. "When I die, I hope that's how people remember me. I'm an artist."

Show info

Zavalaz, the new project of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta, with Dot Hacker. 8 p.m. Tuesday at Strummer's, formerly The Starline, 833 E. Fern Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $15. (559) 485-5356,

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at


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