Hell Paso: Early At the Drive-In Side-Project Surfaces

Cedric Bixler-Zavala in his most recent project, Antemasque, at Fitzgerald's in 2014.
Cedric Bixler-Zavala in his most recent project, Antemasque, at Fitzgerald's in 2014.
Photo by Jack Gorman

In 2000 and 2001, At the Drive-In was an inescapable force. The El Paso natives made their name off the single “One Armed Scissor,” an unlikely MTV hit that paved the way for mainstream emo as we know it today. But the story didn't start there for front man Cedric Bixler-Zavala. His band had toiled in obscurity since 1993, when they released their first EP, Hell Paso. A struggling young musician who was waiting tables to make ends meet between tours, Bixler-Zavala played in many bands around town, most of whom were far weirder than At the Drive-In.

That's where Thee Gambede Meatleak came in, a recently unearthed and nigh-unrecognizable early project for the screamer-turned-operatic-singer. Though fans were familiar with demos from bands like Los Dregtones, Foss, and the Fall on Deaf Ears, all bands Bixler-Zavala sang in before At the Drive-In hit it big, Thee Gambede Meatleak is one that was heretofore unheard of. Even fans who thought they had heard everything were missing this one.

Then, on April 30, someone uploaded their lone demo recording, entitled The Crab, the Bear, the Tiger, the Moose, the Bird, to Bandcamp. It didn't take long for Bixler-Zavala to share it on his Twitter feed the same day.

Was he the one behind the upload? He didn't say. One thing is for sure: for fans, this is an extremely fascinating look at some of the most extreme experimental music of Bixler-Zavala's early career. Those accustomed to his latter-day bands, the aforementioned At the Drive-In or even the more experimental Mars Volta, will probably have trouble with this one.

There are no pop hooks. There are constant sound clips and samples, much like the samples of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew which play continuously through the Fall on Deaf Ears' lone recording during this period. There is much, much noise. This is closer to Melt-Banana by way of Mr. Bungle than it is anything else under the sun. The band cites their influences in a short message on the Bandcamp page as “King Crimson, Melt-Banana, Scratch Acid, and the Kids in the Hall.” While King Crimson definitely informed Mars Volta, I don't hear much of it here. The others are obvious.

Regardless, it's an interesting, never-before-heard, early document of a musical auteur running wild through the streets of his small hometown.

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