Just over a month ago, followers of our Instagram page were able to tune into our first ever live-stream interview, featuring renowned The Mars Volta and T.R.A.M. instrumentalist Adrián Terrazas Gonzales.
He’s cited for his influential body of work with progressive icons in several genres, and has a fantastically informative guest appearance on Pedals and Effects we’re sure the majority of our readers are familiar with as well.
But his recent work with bands like Candiria, Parazít, and Lee McKinney’s (Born of Osiris) solo project demonstrate an even larger scope of artistic ambitions. Even with multiple awards and countless great records already attached to his name, Terrazas Gonzalez seems all but poised to swoop in yet again somehow with another grandiose movement of kind. But where? And how?
In the following transcription, Adrián speaks candidly with our Deputy Editor Michael Whiteside about the importance of self-care, meeting The Mars Volta, and how settling down into a “new normal” isn’t something that’s going to happen any time soon.
FB: I think it’s going… sweet. We can see some people already. Excellent, thank you Adrián so much again for being with us, just so everyone knows our guest today is Adrian Terrazas González; you know him from T.R.A.M., Mars Volta, Big Sir, Halo Orbit… thanks for being here… you want to just dive right in?
Adrián: Yeah, go ahead! I have a class right after this so let’s do it.
FB: Let’s start with a little bit about our roots, you were about eleven years old when you stated taking it pretty seriously?
Adrián: Yeah, that is correct. I’m a flautist primarily.
FB: Excellent. When did you start listening to John Coltrane?
Adrián: I started listening to hear the laws first, like in all the classical repertoire. And then Coltrane around fourteen or fifteen.
FB: And was that about the time you started writing your own music?
Adrián: Just about! My first composition I think was about the age of sixteen.
FB: Awesome. I don’t quite know what year that would have been, but in your bio, it listed you as a teacher’s aid in Ponca City, OK? What was that like?
Adrián: Oh shit! (laughs) Yeah. It was a student exchange program. I did so well during the high school music program that my last semester in the Ponca City school system was at a junior college. I was substitute teaching for an elementary school.
But that was a crazy time, man. I don’t know if you know about Ponca City, but it’s mostly Native Americans. Their whole culture is amazing. Especially for somebody like me, where I was just grasping American culture at that point. It was amazing for me.
FB: That’s a really interesting intersection between the two cultures. Or really, the three, being American, your own, and Native American… so, was it about ten years later you met Mars Volta?
Adrián: Yeah in 2004. August, 2004.
FB: Was that through school?
Adrián: No. Well, kind of! During my college career, I was a musical director for Marcel Rodriguez Chavarez, a salsa orchestra which is Omar’s dad. And that’s how I met Cedric and Omar! (laughs) I was just playing salsa music with his dad during college.
FB: You know, they say those are the best years of your life, so… what a great connection to make. So I guess, a little more recently, you started jamming with Lee McKinney of Born of Osiris?
Adrián: Yeah, we started that collaboration last year. I started writing some of his melodic lines and producting some more of his stuff. I don’t know man, I like metal a lot. (laughs)
FB: The other thing I just listened to, Parazít, was super heavy.
Adrián: Exactly. They’re an instrumental band like Animals as Leaders, or how we formed T.R.A.M. with Javier Reyes and Tosin Abasi as well.
FB: I wanted to ask! What’s it like being a bandleader with Javier and Tosin around while they’re slapping away? Is it fun watching them play crazy stuff?
Adrián: Oh yeah. For me it was great because I really wanted to learn how to write for an eight-string guitar. It was becoming a popular thing within the metal world, and I took advantage of the fact that they really wanted to play a music with a horn player. So I wanted to go down that avenue and starting writing for that type of ensemble, and especially when we have a crazy, shredding drummer like Eric Moore, and the time, he was with Suicidal Tendencies still so he’d come with his baseball hat all suicidal and sweaty. (laughs)
FB: I remember seeing a video of that when you first came out and what initially caught my eye was the way Eric drums. It’s just… *boom* … he destroys it. So opposed to any of that though, you write a lot of your own material, how did you approach writing Cu Taan?
Adrián: Yeah, Cu Taan… ah, how can I explain it to you… well, I was writing that album throughout that transition of me really hitting heads against Omar. We were not getting a long.
You grow as a musician though. Juan and I, we were always shedding and trying different things. So I started writing my own thing about 2009. That was my take.
FB: That’s cool though, I like the theme. It’s much more laid back. I put it on when I was thinking about what questions to write, and it actually just helped clear my mind in general.
Adrián: Yeah, it’s cool. I wanted to keep the feel of mainstream jazz but still have the liberty to play more avante-garde. But really it was a very therapeutic album for me, and that’s how it came out, where a lot of people also told me what you just said.
FB:Right, right. You dealt with it and you sort of pass it on in a way. Sick. So when you’re working on stuff, do you listen do other people’s music or just focus on your homework?
Adrián: Totally. I love hip-hop, I really enjoy it and I’m listening to that all the time as well. Sometimes I know more about who or what is happening in the hip-hop world or jazz world sometimes. But the hip-hop world and jazz-world are so linked up right now, it’s easy for me.
FB: To go backwards a little bit, when you were working on I think your last album with Mars Volta, Bedlam in Goliath, did it ever run through your head that you’d be getting awards for it?
Adrián: No, no, no. I believe we were nominated before but we were so caught up on playing shows and writing music that we never took that seriously. But it was kind of a given when the management forced us to go. It is surreal.
FB: Do you have an INDI-O award you’re most proud of?
Adrián: The second one is for playing chamber music for one of my mentors, and I think that was way more challenging because I had to practice so much flute and clarinet. It was contemporary classical music, and before that I had just been doing prog rock and heavy music.
FB: Would you say that was your biggest challenge in your career so far?
Adrián: I like to put myself in very weird situations, that’s why I ended up in The Mars Volta, and it’s why created the album with T.R.A.M. with the guys. But I don’t want to say I created it, just to backtrack a little, Tosin, Javier, and I got together in my apartment every day to just write music and that’s how we came out with that.
I love to put myself in those situations. There are other venues… sorry, my Zoom thing is popping… so, getting into Mars Volta from a classical background was a really hard thing to get used to. But I don’t know, my senior recital was a bitch because I had to play three instruments.
Lee McKinney’s music is challenging because I had to learn all these crazy guitar metal lines on the sax, and his band is fucking amazing. Being involved with people like that usually keeps my chops up, you know? They’re incredible musicians.
FB: Yeah, no one takes it easy on you. I just have a couple more questions here, in your bio it mentioned you were really interested also in philosophy and spirituality. I wanted to know if you still bring those elements into your music?
Adrián: All the time. It does depend though, like it should. I’m not the same imbecile I was ten years ago, hopefully. (laughs) I don’t know, man. I’m very into absorbing my peers genius to see where I fit.
Because really, I did a cleanse of friends and peers that did not have to be in my life. That’s why I took so hard what just happened with Juan. That guy is the sweetest, and just a beast on the bass. He didn’t deserve to go through that, especially before this whole pandemic man. But other people, I just chuck it away and just focus and meditate on what it is to be me. To be a musician, or performing, composing, arranging, whatever.
FB: I was really glad to see progress with Juan recently. It was just good to see him smile again. So before we leave, one final question. What are your plans, if any, for the rest of 2020 if shit ever goes back to normal?
Adrián: Well, from this, there’s no going back to normal. Like, for example, there is always ‘before and after 9/11.’ Nothing went normal after that, man.
FB: What’s one thing you’d like to see change, and one thing you’re looking to get back to?
Adrián: I would like to see some changes in people taking care of themselves. I don’t hear anything on the web about teaching people how to get healthy about their music. I have peers that exercise, and I love Jiu-Jitsu and I do that almost daily. But we know what we have to do to keep our immune system up, but most people need to stop eating McDonald’s and stop smoking.
The data is there, but if you keep living the life that you were, being stuck at home isn’t going to do you any good. Now you’re not even going out. Talk about spirituality, really coping, trying to be creative.
And like, I’m looking at your stuff, and… you look like a creative individual?
Adrián: So your brain has to be going crazy right? You have to do this and that and you need to read, you know? It’s an intellectual challenge to not just go in there and do the average.
FB: Absolutely. I do tend to think of reading as a mental workout in a way. Sometimes I won’t even like what I’m reading, but I know it will push my dumb thoughts out and replace them with someone else’s.
Adrián: Also obviously, in terms of what I’d like to see, I would like to play for people again. I might move to Texas. Fuck California! (laughs) California is too expensive to live. Move to Colorado or something, it’s beautiful man.
But homelessness has raised a huge percent in the last year from what we had before. We need to be aware. I’m not a politician and I don’t know how shit has to run in office, but I’m a taxpayer, and right now, your leaders, our leaders, are sucking. Sorry, man.
FB: Agreed. Oh, looks like we got a final question from the audience here… what are some of your big musical goals that you still have?
Adrián: That’s a good question, Jeff! I want to do an orchestral album with basically just strings and horn. I have three arrangements already, but of course I want seven more. (laughs)
Keep an eye out for more Terrazas González in the near future, and give us a follow on the ol’ gram if you’re so inclined. Special thanks to Juan Ricardo Yilo and Robert Chappell for helping me set this up, and to all of you all over the world for making moments like this possible. Cheers, everyone.