Interview: Christian Lopez Grows Up for ‘Red Arrow’
Two years might not seem like a particularly long time, but spend a few minutes with Christian Lopez and you'll start to think otherwise.
In 2015, Lopez -- then just 20 years old -- recorded his debut full-length album, Onward, with Dave Cobb as his producer (Cobb also produced Lopez's 2014 EP, Pilot). Lopez was living in his home state of West Virginia, hadn't experienced a co-writing session and didn't know too many people in Nashville.
"I was very scared," Lopez tells The Boot of his early recording sessions. "[Cobb] was the pilot; I was in the back of the plane holding on."
In 2017, however, Lopez is older, wiser and more confident. Now 22, he's still living primarily in West Virginia, but these days, he knows enough people in Nashville to throw a solid party and has become a fan of Music City writing sessions. What a change two years can make.
On Friday (Sept. 22), Lopez released his sophomore studio album, Red Arrow, on Blaster Records. Mashall Altman -- known for his work with, among others, Frankie Ballard -- produced the disc, which contains 11 songs co-written by Lopez.
"[Working with Altman taught me] to always give 100 percent of myself, [to] take my time, and that a record needs to not only be 10, 12 songs, but one constant narrative, one flow, one piece," Lopez says. Perhaps more importantly, he adds, "I think something he's taught me in life as well is to be a leader. I was always timid in the studio, [and he] loves being honest with people ... so it was a great example for me to trust my gut, be a leader in the studio, be a leader on the road, and to just know what I want and know how to get it done."
Co-writing sessions, too -- with Altman, Dave Berg, Liz Longley, Billy Montana and more -- helped push Lopez out of his comfort zone and discover that, yes, he can do that (whatever that may have been on a given day) in a song. Although he admittedly wasn't a fan of co-writes at first, Lopez saw them as a way to make friends, and learned to love it.
"You find the people you work best with, and you go back to them, and you have a vibe ... You have people who take you to different places ... It's good for seeing what you can do," Lopez explains. "I think songwriting is something that you can get better at as you go, and I think writing with other great songwriters helps you do that."
There's at least a couple of songs on Red Arrow that Lopez says probably wouldn't exist without the help of his co-writers. Specifically, he points to the sixth track, "Say Goodbye," which he describes as "Rick Springfield meets Cheap Trick meets me" -- his "biggest departure" from what he usually does.
"Everyone has their niche, [and] people want to get out of it," Lopez says. "It takes, sometimes, other people, though, to pull you out of it."
Lopez also worked with a couple of special guest musicians on Red Arrow: Vince Gill, on "Still on Its Feet," and the Milk Carton Kids' Kenneth Pattengale, on "Caramel." The latter, Lopez ran into at a show in Nashville ("I made, like, such a fanboy conversation," he recalls) and asked him then and there, while the former came about thanks to Altman's connections. It almost didn't happen, though: After selecting a song and sending it to Gill, Lopez heard crickets.
"Weeks passed, months passed, and I'm kind of mentally like, 'Okay, it's not gonna happen, whatever,'" Lopez recalls. "And then, one day, in the middle of the night," Lopez received an email from Gill, with the completed track.
"It's sort of crazy," he adds, "because Vince Gill played on my record, but I've never interacted with Vince Gill once."
It's Red Arrow's lead track, "Swim the River," however, that Lopez says best represents where he's at right now, "as a kid, just trying to do something big."
"I think it shows off my range, I think it shows off my guitar playing, i think it shows off my musicianship. It's upbeat, it's stuff that I've loved since i was a little kid -- floor-stomping, folk-y, rock-y stuff that I love," Lopez notes. "But, most of all, it's a message about not being perfect but giving everything you've got to make something."
Lopez has a string of tour dates scheduled through the end of 2017. Visit ChristianLopezMusic.com for more details.
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