Brian Lopez is a singer-songwriter from Tucson, Arizona. Though his first passion was playing basketball, Lopez was forced to take a music class at school at the age of twelve. He originally wanted to play the drums, but ended up choosing the guitar as there was only one drum kit for the entire school. Being a fan of The Beatles from an early age, Lopez began teaching himself Beatles songs on the guitar. After playing in several bands throughout high school, Lopez went to college on a classical performance guitar scholarship, and graduated with a BA in Music. Before performing as a solo artist, Lopez was in a three-piece band called Mostly Bears. He's also played with Calexico, and has toured with Howe Gelb and his band Giant Sand. In 2012, Lopez released his debut solo album, Ultra, on Funzalo Records. Inspired by his mixed (Hispanic and Polish) background, as well as a study abroad program in Barcelona, Lopez writes music in both Spanish and English.
Ever since the Mexican army won the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, the Cinco De Mayo holiday has been observed as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. So what better way to celebrate than with singer-songwriter Brian Lopez? Based out of Tucson, Arizona, the part-Hispanic (including Mexican and Spanish), part-Polish troubadour has just released his debut album, Ultra. Partly inspired by his time studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, the album features lushly orchestrated songs in both English and Spanish. The sighing strings in “Red Blooded Rose” are utterly heartfelt accompaniments to Lopez's romantic croon. And his cover of Echo and the Bunnymen's “The Killing Moon” has a haunting, film noir feel with stark echoes of ringing bells and ominous cello lines. Alongside working as a musician, Lopez has been working at a vocational school teaching medical office support to young adults. We spoke with Lopez on one of his last days teaching, to find out what inspired the creation of Ultra, what's on the horizon for the rising musician, and how he almost went with the stage name, Shark Scar.
Band of the Day: Question: How would you compare taking the stage to getting in front of a class and teaching?
Brian: You know, there’s a lot of parallels between that just because you have to own it. People have to know that you’re there and you’re in charge, you know? Just because you have to put off a vibe of knowing what you’re doing and being in control.
Band of the Day: So do you get the same sense of stage fright?
Brian: No, actually on the stage I never get nervous really. Before a show just getting my set list together and trying to setup the merch, sometimes I’ll get flustered because there’s so many things to do. But that’s more of me being nervous because I didn’t do something before the show. Once I’m on stage I always feel really at ease.
Band of the Day: Have you always been like that? Or was there a time when you weren’t so comfortable?
Brian: Yeah there was definitely a time when I didn’t feel comfortable. When I didn’t really know what the fuck I was doing. When I didn’t know how to work my guitar pedals, and I didn’t know how to tune my guitar right and it would go out of tune all the time. I’d get worried about that stuff all the time. But as you get older and you do it so much and you have your routine, then it’s all a matter of just having confidence. And once you get that, there’s really no looking back.
Band of the Day: What first inspired you to pick up a guitar at the age of 12?
Brian: Through force because we had to take music in school. It was either that or play drums. I actually wanted to play drums but there was only one drum kit in the classroom versus, like 20 guitars. So I decided to do guitar 'cause at least I would be able to play it everyday, instead of waiting in line at the drum kit. And I just found out like immediately that I was pretty good at it. I just liked it a lot. And everyday after school I would find tablature and teach myself Nirvana songs, and Pearl Jam, and all that stuff.
Band of the Day: What was the very first song you learned on guitar?
Brian: Either “Come As You Are’ by Nirvana, or maybe some Stone Temple Pilots song? Early 90s. Early 80s bar chords. It was a great time to be a beginning guitar player because all the cool stuff on the radio was really easy to play on guitar and sounded cool. It was okay to be a rock band.
Band of the Day: Did your friends think it was cool to play guitar?
Brian: Yeah I had a couple of friends that were in that music class with me. I played sports growing up all the way through high school, and stuff. So guitar was kind of my other world that I got away from like my family and stuff. It was like a foreign world for them when I started playing so much music.
Question: Being Hispanic and Polish, how does your background play into your music?
Brian: I’m a quarter polish and three-fourths Hispanic (Mexican and Spanish.) Growing up in Tucson, Arizona is kinda hard for all of the Latin side of music to not really be in your veins. I mean we are 40 minutes away from Mexico. A lot of our population is Hispanic. Spanish speaking is pretty normal here. Yea, I mean, it’s just something I’ve grew up with, so it’s normal.
Band of the Day: How did you decide to sing in different languages?
Brian: I really like the aesthetic of Spanish language, as well as French and all other languages. But Spanish seemed to be the quickest one to get across on audio. I didn’t really decide to I just decided to test out a song on the new record, it’s not like I had a grand master plan. It just worked out that the song sounded good enough to make the record. I tried to filter it through more of a modern sense so that even non-Spanish speaking people would pick up on it and like it, regardless of whether or not they understood the lyrics at all.
Band of the Day: With your album Ultra, I read that you were completely anti-digital instrumentation. Can you tell me more about that?
Brian: Yeah on Ultra, we didn’t use anything. It was all analog stuff. We had to dump a lot of the taped files onto ProTools, just to mix them and stuff. But I mean, as far as recording it I wanted it to be as analog as possible. So I mean, we don’t have any synthesizers, or cheap tricks like vocoders or anything. There’s no auto-tune on my voice. Basically anything that’s totally like industry norm now I wanted to get away from, and do more of a classic album where you have the band playing the song live in the studio and you add the overdubs later. I mean you even have church bells on there that are all analog.
Band of the Day: Why did you want to do take a stand against what's trendy these days?
Brian: 'Cause I wanted to go for a more timeless sound. I wanted to write timeless songs that would live on forever. When you listen to old Roy Orbison or Patsy Cline, or stuff like that. Like, that shit just doesn’t fade out. It’s just amazing. I think a lot of it had to do with the technology of the time, and the fact that they had to record a certain way, and get like one good take out of a whole day of recording. As opposed to just recording what you got, and editing everything to hell, and over producing it, and putting it on the radio so it could sound like everything else that’s overly produced.
Band of the Day: What do you imagine, 20 or 30 years from now, people will think about your music today?
Brian: I don’t know. Hopefully it would stand the test of time. I don’t think it sounds like much out there right now. So I don’t see how it could really be pigeonholed as like one of those genre things, like grunge era, or like hair metal of the 80s. I don’t think it’s straight. Which for me is a good thing, but for my publicist and stuff, is probably a nightmare. But like for me that’s the ultimate compliment when people [can't pigeonhole my music]…I hardly ever hear me compared to like the same two people. Everyone’s always got a different opinion, which means nobody really knows what the hell to say (laughs)!
Band of the Day: How much of an impact would you say studying abroad in Barcelona has had on your music?
Brian: It has a lot. A lot of my songs have themes that are based on Barcelona, the city. “Montjuic” is the first song on Ultra, and that’s a place in Barcelona. I had a song on the Mostly Bears album called “Passeig de Gràcia,” and that’s one of the main streets in Barcelona. Oh, “Leda Atomica” is a Salvador Dalí painting. Dalí was from Barcelona and that’s one of the paintings I studied when I was living in Barcelona. So I mean, themes always come up that extend back from Barcelona.
Band of the Day: What were some alternate album titles, and how did you settle on Ultra?
Brian: I was done with the production of the record and I still didn’t have a title. I was in the studio trying to find inspiration on a title, anything, and I came across a Salvador Dalí interview where he basically was describing an illustration in an autobiography that he did, and it’s basically him looking out into the ‘non plus ultra’ which is a latin phrase meaning “nothing further beyond.” It’s kinda like the end of the world. To me that really, not even knowing what ‘non plus ultra’ meant at the time, aesthetically I really liked the way that phrase looked and rolled off the tongue. I was gonna call the album ‘non plus ultra’ and then I decided that simplicity is usually best, so I shortened it to ‘Ultra’. For me it still has the same aesthetic and I like the feel of that word too.
Band of the Day: If you could’ve written one song in history, what song would you choose?
Brian: “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys.
Band of the Day: What is your favorite song to sing while driving in a car by yourself?
Brian: I was singing [Bonnie Tyler's] “Total Eclipse of The Heart” recently. That’s because my roommate had to play a wedding and they were rehearsing in my living room. It was an hour of “Total Eclipse of The Heart,” and I was like, “God dammit, why can’t you get out of my head, ‘Total Eclipse of The Heart’?!” [laughs and starts singing].
Band of the Day: Did you ever consider going under a moniker?
Brian: Briefly. The whole point of me trying to get away from being in a band was just so I could be myself. Maybe it would’ve been more commercially viable to have gone with like a really hipster cool name. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to be myself. And to just like, afford me that luxury to be myself for the rest of my life. I don’t have to be like, Shark Scar, or something cool like that, for fifty years. People can still call me ‘Brian’ and I’ll respond to it. Shark Scar was what I was gonna go with for a second, and then I thought to just go with Brian Lopez.
Band of the Day: If you could have a theme song play every time you entered a room, what would it be?
Brian: What about the “Saved By The Bell” theme song [laughs]?
Band of the Day: What’s one thing you hope the next generation gets from your music?
Brian: Umm...syphilis [laughs]! People can say, “Brian brought syphilis to the next generation!” No, I’m just playing...no, seriously. [laughs]