Inside a small trailer backstage at Coachella yesterday, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was trying to cool down after his first performance of the day, and the dressing room wasn’t much cooler than the triple-digit heat outside. Rodriguez-Lopez pulled double duty on both festival weekends in Indio, California, playing lead guitar with the reunited At the Drive-In on the main stage just hours after a full set on bass with Le Butcherettes, the fiery garage-punk band whose next album he is currently producing in Los Angeles.
Rodriguez-Lopez is a full permanent member of Le Butcherettes, and during the trio’s raging 45-minute set, he stood back with a smile as Guadalajaran singer-guitarist Teri Gender Bender roared through anxious pop hooks with sharp edges, at one point tossing a big Casio keyboard into the moshing crowd. New drummer Lia Braswell slammed a heavy beat from stage left and fans waved Mexican flags, as they would again later for At the Drive-In. Soon after, Rodriguez-Lopez sat with Le Butcherettes for several rounds of bottled water and talked with Rolling Stone about their busy Coachella week.
Is playing two sets a day a challenge?
Rodriguez-Lopez: No, it’s a blessing. Go play music all day? I should be so lucky. Last weekend we played, then we cooled off, we ate, and then just when you really feel like you’re winding down, “Oh, it’s time to play.” It’s perfect.
At the Drive-In and Le Butcherettes are both pretty intense bands.
Rodriguez-Lopez: To a certain degree I’m removed from both of them. In this band, I’m the producer, and I’m supporting what they’re doing. And with At the Drive-In, those are songs I wrote 13 years ago, and I’m seeing fans that aren’t even old enough to have seen us play.
How are the accommodations different between Le Butcherettes and At the Drive In?
Rodriguez-Lopez: Over there we have two big rooms and two buses, but we hang out in a little car with our friends. My family is here. I keep my life pretty simple. I stay away from all this stuff. I don’t relate to musicians. I relate to people that love playing music, and generally speaking those are two different things, especially when you get into a scene. When you buy into this whole industry and big money and accommodations and a certain type of treatment, you start thinking this is reality. It’s happened to my friends, it’s happened to me. It’s not reality. We just get to play music.
So as the producer, you weren’t horrified to see Teri throw her Casio keyboard into the crowd?
Rodriguez-Lopez: No, I thought it was incredible.
I’ve never seen a keyboard thrown into the crowd before.
Gender Bender: I used to do that all the time in Mexico. I felt a little frustration because the cable wasn’t working. So it was like giving up. ‘Bye-bye, keyboard. It’s your time to go.’
Rodriguez-Lopez: I saw her touch the cable and it was going, khhh! khhh! khhh! Oh shit, it’s gone.
Is that the one you’re making the record with?
Gender Bender: Yeah, but we already used it up. Next.
How do you play when it’s this hot?
Gender Bender: I feel like I play with less energy. I felt sometimes like the air would come up and escape me. Don’t leave me here! Come back! I’d get a little light-headed. Play through it, play through it. I don’t want to pass out right now.
What’s the difference between playing a tent and the big stage?
Rodriguez-Lopez: You’re more removed. On the big stages, the people are so far away. When you’re on the big stage, it’s more of an idea about the people. It’s a big mass of people out there. Strange.
Leading up to Coachella, you’ve been spending your days recording with Le Butcherettes and at night rehearsing with At the Drive-In. You’ve been busy.
Rodriguez-Lopez: That’s how it usually is. Recording, playing, doing other projects and stuff. I’m blessed with the opportunity to do whatever I want for a living, so what else do I want to do? When I had a job, all I did was save up and wait until fuckin’ five o’clock to get out and do what I wanted to do. I couldn’t wait to get out to put on my headphones. Now the space that was occupied by earning a living is occupied by the same thing I was doing for fun. It’s a paid hobby.
Is it different touring with this band than with a bunch of guys in At the Drive-In or the Mars Volta?
Rodriguez-Lopez: Of course. It’s a whole different sensibility. The gender thing is pretty obvious. It’s not only a bunch of guys, but it’s a bunch of guys who have been there, done that. It’s a whole different attitude when you’re with people who are excited and looking at the landscape for the first time. I tend to live my life more along those lines. I still find things exciting and brand new.
You drove up to the festival this morning, rather than ease into town last night. Does that add or subtract from the experience?
Gender Bender: I think it adds, because you have the fear of missing the show. ‘Why did I leave this morning? We should have left last night! We should have been more prepared.’ Last-minute thinking. But it adds more excitement, like an action movie.
Rodriguez-Lopez: [Laughs] It’s exciting, our lives. We drove on the Interstate – it’s like an action movie.