An Interview with Omar Torrez
by Christopher Schnieders
The following is an excerpt from an interview on March 14, 2009 in Venice, California. Torrez had finished a big stint as lead guitarist on Tom Waits’ “Glitter and Doom” tour and then completed a new recording with his own group. We talked about many excellent things that day and here’s a glimpse of…
CS. To start, why not talk about where you’re at right now and where you’re going to be traveling?
OT. Where I’m at musically?
OT. Well I just finished my new record, I guess I can use the word record because I don’t like to use CD, it’s kind of ambiguous what that means because people pull singles off the internet, but for me it’s a record. I just finished a record. I’m really excited about it and I think it’s the best thing I’ve done on a lot of levels.
CS. Do you have a name or how many tracks you’ve got?
OT. It’s eleven tracks, it’s called “Corazon de Perro” which is related to, or based on the book by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov called “Sobač’e Serdce,” The Heart of the Dog. I’m releasing this record through a Mexican label, Independent Recordings is their name, we’re releasing it in mid-April in Mexico.
CS. How did you hook up with them?
OT. You know how life is, something happens when you plan for something else. I go to Mexico how often I can because my father is from there, he’s from Puebla, but you know, I got this gig with Tom Waits, and then I got this email half way through the tour from these Mexican promoters. Carlos emailed through MySpace and he said, “We’re trying to get Tom down.” And I said “Hey, you know what, I don’t know if I can promise bringing Tom down, I can tell him, but I’m going to Mexico City so maybe we could meet up.” He said, “Yea sure,” so we met up in this beautiful old 19th century bar, Bar le Opera, and had few drinks as one might have in Mexico, and we hit it off really well. I gave him a link to all my music and he listened to that and really liked it. They heard my excitement about Mexico and wanting to sort of return, at least on a sort of a spiritual level, so they decided, well, hey, let’s put out a record, and I thought that would be awesome, so of course, that’s what we did.
CS. So we’ll talk about Tom Waits a little bit. How did you get the gig? I heard it was MySpace. Is that really true?
OT. Maybe. I know that he called me. I was at a café here down the street. He was one of the blocked caller IDs, and I was like what is it, a credit card company, should I get it, so I got it, and it was [Waits impression] “Hello, ah, is Omar Torrez there,” and wow, that sounds like Tom Waits. I kinda knew it was because he has a distinctive voice. It was like if someone, if Ronald Reagan calls you up, you know that voice.
CS. You don’t expect to hear that voice.
OT. No you don’t expect it, but when you hear it, it’s like oh, that’s Tom Waits. That’s funny I thought, but okay, “What’s up Tom?” He says, “Did I catch you at a good time?” And I said, “Sure.” So we talked, spoke for about an hour, he said he was putting together a band for a tour. He said, “I know you have your own band, but would that be something you would be into, you know, playing for someone else?” I said, “Well, not normally, but with you I would love to.” So he said, “Okay.” And we just talked about things he heard, the sound. He researched me. He knew my bio by heart, knew all the styles I played, he spent some time on the internet is what I realized, with his wife I assume, Kathleen, figuring out who they’re hiring or who they’re trying to hire. So he already knew all the different things I play, and everything about me, where I live, toothpaste, everything. Then he said, “Yea. I’m filming a movie but please send me a CD of songs. I know that my music is different than yours, but send me a CD of songs that you think have some connection with what I do.” So I put together a CD and sent it off. Two weeks later he called me and said, “Oh, we just love it. We want to fly you up for an audition.” And I said, “Well, yes, let’s do it.” This part is all kind of eerie to me. I’m not trying to get too excited about it. I’m like yea, whatever, Tom Waits called, sure, maybe he’ll fly me up for an audition. He probably has some friends. So then his road manager called me up and gave me a schedule and they flew me up, rented a car. I came in and the audition was for one hour but I was there for three and a half hours.
CS. What happened in that audition?
OT. Just had a bassist and Tom. He played some stuff on stereo to see what I would do. I was never really a fan of Tom Waits but I always liked him a lot. A lot of my friends were fans, so I knew, I think this helped me, I sort of knew the feeling, the vibe, more than the actual music. So I had to learn the music, but I knew the vibe, because it was usually at five in the morning that my friends would put it on and we were all drunk, and that’s the proper vibe, so that’s kind of the way I approached it. I came in there, not all reading this sheet music, or practicing scales or chords, inverted sixth chords. Nothing like that. It was more like, I know the vibe we’re after, so I’m just gonna nail that vibe and give him my something new. I know Marc Ribot, all those cats, totally ignore that, not totally, but 90 percent ignore all the other guitars players that he used, and go for what I do, but in a way that fits. So I think that really hit, but I’m sure a lot of other guitar players, in fact I know because I heard, I think they’re intimidated and they’re trying to sound like the previous guitar players. But me, I’m like no way, here’s the chord, I’ll just play these chords, and I’ll do the little gypsy thing that I do.