Brian Lopez opens up with 'Static Noise'
While talking about his soon-to-be released record "Static Noise," Tucson singer-songwriter Brian Lopez presents a fascinating study in contrasts. Lopez becomes passionate and animated when he is describing his project and then retreats into quiet reserve when he is finished.
At the release performance of his first record, "Ultra" two years ago, it was clear he had captivated the audience with his considerable talent. Appearing composed and enigmatic when he began his set, Lopez drew a crowd at Plush to the very front edge of the stage with his powerful, emotive voice and brilliant guitar. Those who heard Lopez for the first time that night enthusiastically purchased the record after the spirited performance.
Lopez, who'll celebrate the release of his latest recording at Club Congress on Sept. 26 and 27, said that he took up guitar "out of curiosity."
Lopez quickly discovered that playing music came to him easily, first deciphering simple guitar tabulations. His growing passion for playing classical guitar soon trumped his love of playing basketball. It was then that Lopez realized that he would have to make a choice: sports vs. music.
"I love and miss the competition in basketball." he mused, idly twisting one of his ringlets around a finger. "I play basketball now to keep in shape and it's an ideal "reset button" for relaxation. " "If I weren't playing music, I'd probably being playing basketball."
That's not much of a surprise since Lopez' father coached basketball at Pima Community College's West Campus for many years. When asked if any other family members played music or sang, Lopez replied that "My grandfather had an amazing, beautiful voice. I'm told that I got my voice from him."
With a range of several octaves, Lopez' considerable voice has been compared to the likes of Jeff Buckley. He uses his talent for perfect falsettos sparingly but employs it at just the right time. Lopez is deftly able to sing ballads with a "cry "in his voice which delights his female fans.
Lopez is a native Tucsonan. After graduating from Tucson High School, Lopez earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Arizona to study classical guitar under Dr. Jorge Pastrana. Lopez persevered in pursuing his dream over 17 years. In 2006, Lopez formed and played front man in the local band Mostly Bears, gaining loyal followers and further attracting attention to his talent. Reviews of Mostly Bears compared the group to Arcade Fire and Radiohead.
This from Wikipedia, quoting from a review in the Arizona Daily Wildcat: "Mostly Bears are an experimental rock group from Tucson, Arizona. Their music is a difficult to categorize fusion between alternative, progressive and newer indie rock, like 'Radiohead circa 1996 getting in a gang-fight with Arcade Fire.'"
"The band began playing at parties and locally in Tucson before releasing 'Only Child,' a four-song EP in July 2007. The album was well received by local press and has begun to attract a following on college campuses from coast to coast."
In 2012, Lopez produced his first solo record, "Ultra." The record received critical acclaim in several national reviews. The recording encompasses aspects of Lopez' classical training, his roots in mambo and cumbia, and love of psychedelic guitar in ballads swept with romance and intricate compositions that transcend language.
In an interview, TucsonSentinel.com asked Lopez to introduce his new album:
TucsonSentinel.com: Tell us more about the contrast between your first record "Ultra," and your new record, "Static Noise."
Brian Lopez: When I created "Ultra" I really wanted to get my work out there. I didn't give a great deal of consideration in trying to create or identify with a certain sound. Basically, I think it's me not really knowing what I was doing. "Ultra" is very eclectic in comparison to "Static Noise."
TS: Your listeners have given you acclaim in spite of your not knowing what you were doing. What inspires your songwriting?
BL: I've been fortunate to gain songwriting experience in collaborating with Howe Gelb and K.T. Tunstall who are totally different in musical styles. Howe Gelb is a friend and master lyricist who just lives down the street. On "Static Noise," the songs are more carefully, mindfully crafted. The writing is much tighter, stronger and inherent to this record. I took the time to hone the songs, music and arrangements more judiciously. I didn't want to go into the studio until I was completely satisfied with the result. I examined the work very closely this time, adjusting the amount of tension or laxity in each song. I wanted the music to be potent, compelling.
TS: "Static Noise" has a distinct, persuasive rock feel as opposed to the romantic ballads on "Ultra." How was that accomplished?
'I was able to be open about being in a vulnerable place and feeling unmoored.'
BL: By playing rock guitar, I wanted the music on "Static Noise" to be immediately available to listeners, therefore the rock n' roll atmosphere. Also, this time, the song writing was influenced from a very solitary place. I drew on my experiences from being on the road. The long hours, the solitude, and the loneliness can get to you. I processed the ups and downs, the ins and outs of my life at this time through my music. Writing the songs for "Static Noise" was therapeutic in a way. I was able to be open about being in a vulnerable place and feeling unmoored.
TS: You mentioned that one song, "Crossfire Cries," (listen in sidebar, right) was inspired by the 2012 presidential election. What's that about?
BL: People often assume I'm this really serious guy, but I do have a sense of humor. I like to punctuate my writing with sarcasm and irony now and then. I'm sometimes transfixed by politics. I'm a big fan of the series House of Cards. At the time I wrote "Crossfire Cries", I was following the presidential debate with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The debate process became almost comical to me. Here were these talking heads and the media spin doctors making a lot of nonsensical noise, hurling barbs at one another. Noise with no meaning, noise for the sake of noise, not unlike static noise.
TS: You are also one of the front men for the local cumbia band Chicha Dust, along with another prolific songwriter Gabriel Sullivan. Your shows have been packed.
BL: We have a lot of fun and work hard. We have really great chemistry as a band and I think that translates successfully into the music. It's like teamwork in basketball, we take our positions, work together and strategize, coaxing the best performance out of each other. Early on, I got interested in Chicha music from Peru, like The Destellos and other psychedelic cumbia bands who are celebrated showmen as well as musicians. We (Chicha Dust) just finished a new record this week and it was a huge blast for all of us. The energy was high and extraordinary. We really celebrated our accomplishment by dressing for the occasion, eating delicious traditional Mexican food and soaking up the camaraderie. We're proud of the record and think our fans will enjoy it.
TS: With someone as talented as you, a question must be asked: Why Tucson? Why don't you live in L.A., New York or even San Francisco?
'Tucson is a wonderful place to come home to when you've been on the road.'
BL: Tucson is my home. I've been a downtown Tucson kid all my life. I used to sneak off from Roskruge Elementary School with my friends to buy candy at Chocolate Iguana on 4th Avenue. My nana Julia, helped raise me. The cafeteria at Roskruge is named after her, honoring her dedication to the kids and the school. I attended Tucson High school and loved to play sports with my neighborhood friends. I value my roots and love the unique charm of the southwest. Tucson has a livable pace. It's also livable financially. Sure, rapid success might be possible elsewhere but what would you have to sacrifice? My family, friends and community keep me grounded. I feel supported here. Of course, it's fun to leave Tucson and explore the world. I loved traveling in Italy and France and immersing myself in the culture. Tucson is a wonderful place to come home to when you've been on the road. I've found that I have to stay disciplined and on task in Tucson. You have a soft landing, but it can be like quicksand if you don't keep moving forward. I love to leave Tucson, but I also love to come back.
TS: You are a true native son, Brian. What do envision in your future?
BL: At this age (31), I have started to feel some societal pressure to settle down, have a family, a home. All of which I think is good. But I have to wonder if I can have a "normal" life and still play music? I know artists who have gone on tour and sacrificed great deal of their family life to play music, missing important and precious family events. Fortunately, technology is such that you can create music from anywhere. You can heal the world with music. You can touch hearts. I feel good about what I'm doing and I'm fortunate to be able to work with some very talented Tucson artists. I'm going to keep doing what I love.