Some of the songs on Christian Lopez’s recently released debut album, Onward, were written when he was only 14. Wise beyond his years, but still fresh-faced now at 20, the West Virginia-based tunesmith is quickly emerging as Americana’s next great artist behind an authentic sound that’s steeped in lyrical honesty.
To make his new album, Lopez traveled to Nashville and worked with one of the hottest roots-revival producers in town, Dave Cobb, who helmed Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Lopez isn’t as edgy as the two aforementioned songwriters, but he clearly has a dusty soul, channeling his Appalachian heart through a clear pop-minded voice.
“The music is still changing,” Lopez says when asked about his sound. “I don’t try to confine it, but right now if it’s falling into that Americana world, I’m happy to be there.”
Lopez grew up in Shepherdstown, inspired by the surroundings of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, specifically the Potomac River. Musical influence first came from his dad’s record collection, which favored the classic rock of AC/DC and Pink Floyd, but as Lopez got older he started digging country icons Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and then young revivalists like the Avett Brothers and Trampled by Turtles.
In high school he got an acoustic guitar and started writing songs, eventually developing the courage to sing them at open-mic nights at local spots like the Blue Moon Café. Lopez tried to tangle with the industry machine, twice becoming a Hollywood finalist on American Idol, but he’s since realized he’s more suited more for the grassroots scene, gigging incessantly with his namesake band.
He’s opened for Zac Brown Band and Dave Matthews Band, but as a headliner Lopez is still working his way through clubs and bars. He’s particularly looking forward to the chance to make new fans during the band’s three sets at FloydFest later this month.
“We’re working towards a lot of goals, and that keeps us going,” Lopez says. “We’ve got a lot of hope, and gas in the tank. That’s all we need.”
Lopez penned all the songs on Onward, except for a twangy version of the traditional “Oh Those Tombs,” which was made popular by Hank Williams. His originals move between introspective country on the “The Man I Was Before,” the weary front-porch ballad “Seven Years,” and the breezy modern rock of “Will I See You Again” and “Pick Me Up.”
“They’re songs that I’ve had with me my whole life,” Lopez says. “They were written from the time I was 14 to the months before we went to record, so they’re personal to me. In the studio we tried to capture the first reaction from everybody’s first listen. That’s something Dave (Cobb) likes to do. The first or second take is your body, your mind, and your heart’s first reaction to the music. Whatever comes out is the way it should be.”
This summer Lopez will be mostly living in his motorhome, touring with the band through August, playing shows as far west as California. Despite his new cred in Music City, he says whenever he gets a break, it’s always taken back home in West Virginia.
“Everybody in Nashville asks me, ‘When are you going to move down here?’” Lopez says. “I won’t ever leave West Virginia. It’s a great place to call home—good people, good food, good music—everything you could ask for.”
West Virginia’s Christian Lopez Delivers a Tight Twangy Debut
Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit is reuniting for a full tour.
The short-lived underground favorite came out of Atlanta at the tail end of the ‘80s with an exploratory rock sound that blended jazz chops with an outer-limits attitude. With Hampton as the ringleader, the outfit featured a list of all-star players who have gone on to bigger success, including bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers), guitarist Jimmy Herring (The Dead, Widespread Panic), and drummer Jeff Sipe (Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams).
The band started with weekly gigs at Atlanta’s Five Points Pub and went on to play large amphitheaters with Phish, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler on the H.O.R.D.E. tour at the dawn of the second-generation jam band explosion. While many feel ARU was the best of the bunch, the group disbanded in the mid-’90s before reaching its full potential. While reunion shows have popped up over the years, the band is finally getting back together for a full tour, starting in Colorado at the end of this month and heading to its native South for a bunch of dates in early August.