Q+A with Christian Lopez

Talking to acclaimed singer, songwriter, and musician Christian Lopez felt a lot like talking to a Carnegie Mellon student. He’s incredibly driven and incredibly busy. Only 22 years old, Christian Lopez released his second album Red Arrow on Sept. 22, kicked off a tour last Friday, and already has plans for his next project in the works. A high achiever, Lopez is driven by a genuine passion for sharing music and telling stories. That passion is made abundantly clear on Red Arrow, a collection of genre-defying songs that deliver stories of youth, love, and sacrifice with honesty and heart. Both on the album and in conversation, Christian Lopez exhibits a self-awareness, intelligence, and humor that come from having a deep under-standing of what it takes to make a dream work. Even feeling the pressure and stress of having just released an album, Lopez had nothing but positivity and excitement to share about being able to do what he loves. And at a school where “My Heart is in the Work” is our motto, I think Christian would fit right in.

In terms of your identity as a musician, what are your thoughts on being labeled one genre vs. another?

That’s the big question or a lot of artists nowadays and it’s very topi-cal for me right now in my life. I’m really feel-ing that [pressure] because I just put out a record that has a pretty large variety of differ-ent styles on it and it’s tough to find a home for it in the business world. But in the listeners’ world, it comes down to the question, “Is it good music?” People ask themselves, “What is good?” and “What is real?”, and that’s why I try to aspire to be an honest musician. Let the people find a home for me. I don’t go into this process searching for a genre home, I like to let the people place the music where they find it fits best. And at the end of the day, wherever that is, I’m cool with it. It’s a beautiful thing in today’s world, being able to make music without labels and have success as an artist because you don’t feel so confined.

Is there a way your process tends to flow? Do you tend to move from a melody to lyrics, or are you struck by lyrics first?

Sometimes there’s a line that I’ll want to work around, but most of the time I have to chase after a song. It starts with something instrumental first, a progression, a riff, or something like that. From there I find the melody and then I’ll let whatever mood that puts me in guide me to where I want to take a piece lyrically.

Was working on this album different for you than working on your past projects?

Absolutely, because on this record I had some co-writers. On my projects before, I’ve written everything solo. So on this record, I went with some different writing techniques than the ones I’ve used the last couple of years. Not necessarily because I was search-ing for them, but because I was sitting down with other people and it just sort of happened. I definitely tried to change things up on this record; it’s good for the mind and good for the songs when I try to find some-thing different.

Are there certain aspects of people or their work that draw you to work with them?

For me, I’d say there are three different angles to approaching collaboration. I work with a publisher in Nashville and their job is to set me up with other writers who I don’t know. They knew this record was in the works so they wanted to get me working with some writers whose work is out of my comfort zone. There are also writers who I’m a huge fan of who I reach out to and sit down with. And then, of course, there are friends. I have friends that I’ve made along the way and we just end up sitting down and making music. Once you’re immersed in the world of all this writing, it’s easy to collaborate. It’s easy to spend a couple hours sitting on a couch with a guitar and just see what comes out of it.

On this album, would you say all the songs are part of a larger narrative or is does each song tell a stand-alone story?

Going into this record, it needed to be a narrative. I like when records have a flow, not only musically, but also emotionally. For me, this record is the story of a restless young man throwing himself into any situation, whether it be life, love, or the pursuit of a dream. It’s rugged and honest and I wanted to showcase the feeling of being young and not giving a damn about what’s going to happen next. The narrative is about being in the moment, especially with romance, because that’s some of the stuff I’ve lived through. I mean, I’m only 22, so I haven’t had a ton of life experience, but what I have had I tried to wrap up into this record and put it out into the world without holding back.

When you’re writing are there any feelings or ideas that keep pulling you back in?

I’d say it’s a mixture of the romantic side of things and the sacrifice that comes with the road. It’s really tough to be gone constantly and maintain relationships, not just romantic relationships, but family relationships, friend-ships, everything. That is probably the truest thing I have experienced and what I feel I’ve been writing about the most. Sometimes, I really have to try to snap myself out of it and write something a little more on the surface instead of being this deep, mopey son of a gun. When it comes to sad songs, I literally have to force myself to stop writing them. I could write sad songs all day long, so it’s something I have to keep an eye on. But at the same time, I have to let it out. When I made this record I brought fifty songs to the table and out of those we had to pick eleven. So at the end of the day, I write what flows and then take it from there.

Do you have any song or lyric that you find particularly meaningful?

On this record, it’s probably, the song “All the Time.” The lyrics on that song really hit home for where I am in my life right now. That’s why I put it dead center on the record because it’s at the turning point. The beginning [of the re-cord] is a kind of careless youthful kid taking a swing at everything life wise, career-wise, love-wise. Then “All the Time” is about understanding the trade-off that comes with going for a dream like this and also having relationships. So that song speaks strongly to where I am in a really honest way.

You’ve touched on the fact that you’re pretty young to be going through everything that comes with being a musician. Do you have any reflections on being a part of the music industry at such a young age?

This is interesting to talk about at this time because right now I’m in the first week of a new record, so I’ve got everyone analyzing everything and giving me feedback constantly. And it’s really stressful. I feel like I’ve been through the wringer and that I’ve handled a lot more stress than I should have. I’m a young man and I feel like I’ve lived a whole sequence of tough, stressful, music business s***. But I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you want something bad enough, you have to push through the hard and stressful times because, at the end of the day, it comes down to the music. And you have to be will-ing to defend your music, to support your music, and to present it constantly. And I’m learning that day-by-day because it doesn’t get any easier, it only gets harder as you go. You can’t rely on other people and you can’t put your faith in other people. You have to believe in yourself, belief in the music, and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away from things or make compromises. The funny thing is, the further I get, the fewer compromises I want to make.

What can people expect from you on tour and in the future?

The show is constantly evolving. I play my songs and the new re-cord, but at the end of the day, we put on a Rock-and-Roll show. And what I’m really in the mood for next is a live album. I’d love to see some sort of live album come out after this tour before the next studio record, but we’ll see. This is a big time of change for me, it’s my second record working with the same vehicle I’ve been in since I was 17 and came to Nashville. So, I’m ready for change and looking forward to what’s about to come. The thing I love most is being on stage and performing my songs, and that’s what I want to focus on. I’d love performance to be a staple of what I am as an artist, not just the record, but also the experience of my live shows.

If you weren’t already a huge fan of Christian, he ended our conversation by calling Pittsburgh, “...one of his favorite cities” and saying he was excited to be back in town on this tour. So be sure to listen to the album Red Arrow (especially the song “1972”, it’s my favorite) and catch Christian Lopez in Pittsburgh this Wednesday (10/11) at the Hard Rock Café.