Brian Lopez returns from his eclectic debut record Ultra with a more focused sense of songwriting and a direct, potent rock ‘n’ roll sound. Lopez wrote Static Noise over more than two years, producing dozens of songs before choosing the best compositions, narrowing the album’s focus and capitalizing on his guitar and vocal talents.
Lopez, whose voice recalls the atmospheric heights of Jeff Buckley and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, brings his entire past to bear on Static Noise. The classical guitar training, the psychedelic indie rock, the mambo and cumbia, they all come together in a uniquely compelling mix. Since Ultra, Lopez has added even more depth to his playing, collaborating with both Howe Gelb in Giant Giant Sand and KT Tunstall, skillfully navigating the disparate styles.
Lopez recorded Static Noise at Waterworks Recording Studio in Tucson, co-producing with Jim Waters (Sonic Youth, The John Spencer Blues Explosion). Stuart Sikes (The White Stripes, Cat Power, Modest Mouse, Loretta Lynn, The Walkmen, Phosphorescent) mixed the record. Sean Slade (Radiohead, Pixies, Hole, Ben Folds, Morphine) provided arrangements throughout the album.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Lopez to discuss the record, which was released via Funzalo Records in September. This is what he said about it.
When did you begin writing the material for the Static Noise?
Most material began working its way out around the time that my first album, ULTRA, was released in October 2011. Scribbled-upon cocktail napkins, voice memos of half-worked song arrangements, a plethora of notebooks containing lyrical passages etc., etc. quickly accumulated throughout the duration of two to three years whilst traveling Europe and North America on tour.
It wasn’t until about March 2013 that I began making sense of all those napkins, notebooks, and iphone voice memos. Like a detective on the case, slowly putting together ‘songs’ out of the sonic evidence of my experiences. By 2013 I was in the studio recording “Modern Man” “World Unknown” and Wrong Or Right.” For the next year I’d slowly finish the rest, bit by bit —- basically whenever my proximity to Tucson allowed for it.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
Perhaps the song “Glass House” because the initial recording began in Aarhus, Denmark in 2011 as an experiment with local Danish musicians (the only track on the album not recorded in Tucson). I didn’t think much would come out of it. Not much later the music supervisor for Baz Lurman’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ had asked my manager for any new material I had to contribute to their soundtrack…I gave them a rough cut of “Glass House.” They passed.
So I revamped the song. I wasn’t content, So I revamped again a year later. Finally, having lost most perspective of what I was going for in the first place, I sent the audio files to Stuart Sikes, my mixing engineer in Austin…and he put a completely different spin on the song. He stripped some parts and added to others. It was nice to have that fresh set of ears since I had been sitting on it for almost three years at this point. The end result is what you hear on the album now.
Sadly, I feel this new re-vamped version of ‘Glass House’ would still not make the ‘Great Gatsby’ soundtrack as it would have sounded wildly out of place between all the Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Jack White tracks, which the soundtrack bolstered.
Which of the songs on the LP is most different from your original concept for the song?
The demo-version of “I Don’t” sounds much more like melancholy Elliott Smith from Either/Or. I was having a hard time believing in the song….I didn’t think it was good enough to make the album. So I played my demo version for Sean Slade, who helped me through some arrangements. He loved it.
He had an idea to give it more of the lively beat you hear on the album. Almost like a Motown type of thing. Well, I can’t really do Motown correct….so it ended up sounding like Thin Lizzy with horns….which may be even cooler…depending on who you’re talking to.
This record features a cover of The Zombies classic, “She’s Not There.” Your last record Ultra also had a cover; a gorgeous rendition of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon.” Is this coincidence? Or do you make a point to try to include a cover on your records? If so, what might be next?
I don’t necessarily make it a point. I’ll usually record a few covers in production just to have them on file. I’ll always do something weird to each to make ’em more my own. Ultimately, the majority sit on the shelf and hope for a sync deal or a B-Side to be released.
In the case of “Killing Moon” and “She’s Not There” they just so happened to mesh well with the other songs on the album, ya know? They played nice. It was a seamless transition from original to cover. Hopefully, if anything, I can introduce some of these amazing classics to a younger audience that otherwise would never had known the original song/artist song existed.
You recently did a two night record release show; one night electric and one night acoustic. Which songs elicited the strongest reaction from your fans? Were they different for each night?
Both nights were great and drastically different. People seemed to love “I Don’t” during the electric show. I had a whole brass section brought up on stage for that song which, of course, adds to the spectacle.
“World Unknown” also translates really well to a live show. I had cool lights and some off-color stage imagery to accompany the 7-piece band. It was very shoe-gaze and went off really well for the packed house. Though the full-on production can get quite stressful for me, as I’m the one overlooking every last detail of the event.
In the acoustic show, everything seemed to work. The crowd was seated for a more intimate interpretation of show, which they got. The concept was “Simple.” I played songs on guitar, piano, and had a couple of guest musicians come up on stage; a violin and cello section, as well as another guitarist for a brief period. I told little anecdotes about certain songs; how they came to be etc. It was a real special show. I seem to enjoy doing the solo gig more and more…and luckily I notice my audience preferring a solo show more and more too — as evidenced by the acoustic show being sold out.
(Learn more about Lopez here: http://brianlopezmusic.com/.)