The hajj to Nashville has long been viewed as a "rite of passage" for any up and coming musician, artist, etc. trying to bring a dream into reality. Some view it as the only way to "make it" - to come to the city and bend to it's bidding - but it's 2017, those conceptions have been long overdue for a revamp. Enter Christian Lopez, a West Virginia americana upstart who's doing the "Nashville thing" on his own terms, and it's working. He released his second full-length record, Red Arrow, earlier this fall, and he's just getting started in reaching his stride. He's got a solid head on his shoulders, and seems poised to continue making moves that further his success in doing things on his own terms.
Now/It's met with Christian Lopez at Barista Parlor, off Gallatin Avenue in East Nashville.
Christian - What’s going on man?
N/I - Not a whole lot.
Christian - Five dollar coffee. Can you believe that?
N/I - Tell me about it [laughs].
Christian - Drives me crazy. That’s why I split time between here and West Virginia. It’d be a buck and a half.
N/I - So you still spend a lot of time in West Virginia?
Christian - Yeah.
N/I - Majority of the time?
Christian - All the time.
N/I - So how often do you wind up coming to Nashville, then?
Christian - How often do I come to… I’ll say at least once a month. For at least ten days out of the month.
N/I - Alright. So I assume you were in West Virginia for Thanksgiving, then?
Christian - Oh yeah.
N/I - How was that?
Christian - Amazing. It was great. I love being home, man. Any chance I get. What about you?
N/I - I’m from here, so….
Christian - [Incredulously] You’re from here?
N/I - Yeah. Grew up around the area.
Christian - Wow. That’s interesting man. You don’t see much of that any more.
N/I - Yeah. It was fun. It’s been fun to keep doing.
Christian - So did you start Now/It’s: Nashville?
N/I - I did. So I wrote for some bigger publications and just kind of figured it was high time I take a chance on myself.
Christian - That’s awesome. I dig that.
N/I - I appreciate that. Anyway, enough about myself - how long are you in town for? The typical ten days bouncing around?
Christian - This one, I’m only here until the second, maybe? Brief. Monday through Friday, then I go home Saturday, and then I come back on Sunday. Ten hour drive. Can you believe that?
N/I - That’s wild.
Christian - Because I’m here with my car. I have to go home to get my van and trailer, come back down, pick up my band, go to Memphis, and then head out for two shows in Illinois. But this is a writing trip, basically.
N/I - Sounds like a whirlwind. You’re obviously accustomed to time spent on the road then, but if you’re going back and forth between Nashville and West Virginia, does that put a peculiar strain on you mentally? The constant movement?
Christian - I think I would have a mental problem, so to speak, if I stayed here full-time. West Virginia helps reconnect me.
N/I - A proverbial grounding state.
Christian - That’s probably the primary reason why I go back so much. So I can remind myself of why I want to be here, and all the while, it’s simple up there, so it’s nice to remember why I liked spending time there in the first place.
N/I - So it levels you.
Christian - Definitely.
N/I - If you weren’t doing that, do you think things would be where you’re at now?
Christian - If I wasn’t….
N/I - If you were here full time. If you weren’t splitting time between West Virginia and Nashville.
Christian - You know, I probably would be doing better in the…. My publisher would probably be happier. They’d probably be way happier. I’d probably turn in way more songs. That would probably be much better, however, I think that’s about it. Everything else would be…. Well, you know what? I’d have more relationships.
N/I - Sure.
Christian - I have a nice group of people who I love to hang with while I’m here, but I do think the general social things would stronger, which is important. And then the publisher thing, really. Because other than that, we’ve just been paying our dues on the road. That’s where we are ninety percent of the time, so that’s what it comes down to for us - selling those records.
N/I - So it doesn’t really matter where you’re spending your time, as long as it’s somewhere. The cost benefit is more of you finding what what makes you most comfortable in everyday life, as opposed to most liked. Because it sounds like you’re not going out of your way for a ton of co-writes or anything like that, are you?
Christian - I mean, I do a lot when I’m not touring, but that’s second priority for me.
N/I - I see. So what do you do when you’re in West Virginia?
Christian - Just hang. Try to write on my own. Just try and get back. It’s so rare, these days, though. This is the time of year that I get to really go back.
N/I - So I assume you’re just winding stuff down then, for the push that was Red Arrow.
Christian - We’re winding down for the year, just since the charts stopped and everything sort of breaks for a while. But we’re picking it up really strong start of the year.
N/I - And do you think that’ll be all the way through 2018? Or half of it?
Christian - I really do. Pretty much all year, but with a few breaks in between.
N/I - Was that a similar process with Onward? Or is everything a little bit bigger with Red Arrow? Or has it been an entirely different enterprise altogether?
Christian - This is much different, I’d say. The last one came out in May, so we had summer, full fall, whereas this one has only been out for seven weeks now, and we just wanted to get to a good place chart-wise, before they turned on the Christmas music. We knew fourth quarter…. I’m speaking like my label right now [laughs].
N/I - There’s nothing wrong with that.
Christian - Yeah, you get it.
N/I - I get it, but I also think that’s something that’s interesting to a lot of people in general, artist or not. At the end of the day, you’re still a small business. And how a business is run is always of interest.
Christian - You are, man.
N/I - So you have to look at things within the parameters of a small business, and to some people, they might think “What do you mean a solo artist is a business?” Anyway, all that to be said, you’re not trying to paint a perverse picture of it.
Christian - Yeah. It sucks. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to think about any of it. We knew it was going to be different putting the record out then end of September, we’d have to really buckle down in October, November. And we have. The whole process has been better has been better, and I think it’ll only continue to get better.
N/I - Why do you think that is? More experience and the passage of time?
Christian - I think I’m learning more. I have more control of my team, or at least, I have more of a leadership role. I used to just let them push me around…. Not in a bad way, but I just didn’t know. I was just like “You guys are the pros, I’ll follow your lead.” But that is the opposite of what you should do…. Unless you want to be a pop star. It took me awhile to get. But now that that’s the case, I feel pretty unstoppable. But at the same time, it forces you to adapt and compromise with your label, your team. So it’s challenging.
N/I - So in a way, it’s more collaborative? Is that something you seek out quite a bit? Or is it not collaborative?
Christian - It’s always been extremely collaborative, but it’s just now that I’m really putting my foot down, and let people know that I have some ideas.
[Christian’s coffee arrives.]
Christian - Do you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm?
N/I - Absolutely.
Christian - I feel like Larry David, nowadays. Or at least, I feel like I think like him. I’m curious as to what he would say about this [points at Barista Parlor coffee carafe and cup on serving board].
N/I - He’d absolutely hate it [laughs]. Whenever I do come here, I always order a drink to go, because I can’t get into the pomp and circumstance of the presentation.
Christian - [Laughs] I’ve got a quarter of a cup in there, and the rest is here, I guess. What’s with that?
N/I - I understand. It’s a tad bit over indulgent in that regard.
Christian - I do like this place, but it’s very hipster.
N/I - Sure. I’ll come here for interviews….
Christian - Yeah! I was glad to hear it would be here. In a way, it is refreshing.
N/I - It’s pretty convenient on the East Side, in the sense of it being just off of Gallatin. I try and think of places that are accommodating and relatively easy to get to.
Christian - This was close. And I was already near here this morning, so it was convenient. Do you live in East Nashville?
N/I - No, I live on the West Side, actually.
Christian - Oh really?
N/I - Yeah. I was going to be over here earlier, so I figured to meet somewhere in the general vicinity would be good.
Christian - Where in West Nashville?
N/I - Closer towards Hillsboro Village.
Christian - That’s cool down there.
N/I - Yeah. I like it a lot. Growing up, I always thought that was the coolest part of Nashville, so to get live in that area as I’m older is some sort of affirmation of a youthful aspiration. It may not be quite as “romantic” as I thought when I was thirteen or fourteen, but I still love it.
Christian - How old are you now?
N/I - I’m twenty-four. So we’re close in age.
Christian - Yeah, close. You’re definitely a lot taller than I am.
N/I - [Laughs] I suppose I am.
Christian - It’s a good thing.
N/I - But I digress. So you’re staying on the West Side? Whereabouts?
Christian - Yeah. I’m on the West Side with some buddies of mine.
N/I - Is that the crew that you usually stay with when you’re in town?
Christian - Sometimes. When my girl’s in town, she likes to stay at hotels. So tonight, we’re switching to a hotel, and then we’ll be there for the rest of the time I’m here.
N/I - Is she a girlfriend?
Christian - Girlfriend. She’s from out of town - she’s from LA - and she came with me to West Virginia for the holidays, and then on the road for a tiny bit. She comes [to Nashville] a lot. It’s a good meeting point. She’s a movie girl.
N/I - Movie girl? Alright. So was that time over the holiday her first time in West Virginia? I would assume probably not.
Christian - She’s been a couple times before, but I brought her for the first time.
N/I - How was that?
Christian - Oh it was great. It’s hilarious, because I took her to her first Waffle House, took her to her first Dairy Queen, her first Wendy’s, her first Walmart. And then she takes me to LA, and we end up going to the Spider-Man premiere. We go to the Star Wars premiere. We got to all this shit, so my reaction to all these crazy Hollywood, huge things, is her same reaction to a midnight meal at Waffle House.
N/I - How so?
Christian - I don’t know. She just absolutely loves it. She’s never seen anything like it. Even though it’s all so minimal compared to what she does, it’s nuts man.
N/I - Well there’s always an appeal in minimalism, at least in my mind.
Christian - It’s just the chillest thing .
N/I - And Waffle House is such a strange congregation of people, especially at midnight and after that, I figure it’s a lot like that painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.
Christian - Oh yeah!
N/I - That’s what comes to my mind. I really like that kind of imagery, so I would imagine whatever that appeal is is the same appeal to someone who’s going to Waffle House for the first time.
Christian - Absolutely.
N/I - But so while you’re in town now, what are you doing? Are you writing stuff? Co-writes?
Christian - Some writes. A couple radio things. Two interviews, and then that’s it. Whenever I do come in town, I try and condense it to a pretty solid work week. But writes are the bulk of what I’m doing this time around.
N/I - I don’t have much of a reference point in what a co-write actually entails - well, I do and I don’t - at least from a first hand account. What is your take on co-writes?
Christian - I’m still fresh in the publishing world, man. It’s probably the part that I talk about the least, because it can make things seem a little formulaic in some people’s eyes. But I’m still fresh on the “blind dates,” where you meet at this place at eleven, and then ask for this other guy, and the first hour and a half of the co-write is small talk, and then we try and write. It’s weird man. But I’ve found my stride with certain writers, and I slowly make friends with people that I go back to. It’s interesting, though, because of that, I have more co-writes on my record, because of that, and I’ve made some great friends that I’ve written some great songs with. But the majority of the focus is writing great songs that we can give to the publishers. Usually, we all share the same goal, so that’s what makes it not awkward. But at this point, I’m trying to go back to my friends. At first, I hated it, but now I dig it.
N/I - Well that’s fair. Like I said, I have no first hand experience, but I’d imagine it gets more familiar. Sure, it has a reputation amongst certain circles as a “formulaic” approach to art, but in the end, it’s how things work. I mean, that’s kind of the same way that we met up this morning - our through like was your publicist, and we went from there.
Christian - Totally.
N/I - But that’s kind of the nature of Nashville at this point.
Christian - Nature of Nashville, man.
N/I - So what else do you hope to do while you’re in town this week?
Christian - You know, I love The Holidays in any city, so my girl flies out on Wednesday. She still loves tourist-y things. I do too, I’m guilty of that.
N/I - There’s nothing wrong with that. Nashville’s a great city to do tourist-y things.
Christian - And I never go to Broadway when we’re both in town. What we do is we get our Movie Pass and go to movies every night, but before we do that, she likes to go to the Opry Hotel gardens, and she likes to look at the lights. And I’m right there with her, so we’re going to do that tonight. We’ll go out to eat - that’s my favorite part - I love all the restaurants, and there are so many great choices here in town. But other than that, hang with friends. I’ll have my once a month meeting with all my people, which comes with the territory. I’ll try and enjoy the three days that she’s in town, and then just buckle down the rest of the year. On Friday, I have a radio thing at noon, gets done at two, and then I’m going to try and roll to West Virginia as soon as that’s done.
N/I - What are some of the restaurants you try and hit up while you’re in town?
Christian - One of them is on the West Side, Korea House. So good man. I go there at least once every trip. The dude that made my first couple things of music, my EP and my first album - Dave Cobb - he always had a great sense of food. Because he was from LA and spent a lot of time in New York, and he hated landlocked city in terms of food, but he would take us to a handful of places, and Korea House was one of those places. It is just so good.
N/I - I’ve only eaten there a couple of times. It’s great.
Christian - And it’s such a great little hole in the wall.
N/I - But at the same time, I don’t want to go too often, for fear of overdoing it.
Christian - I love it..... Where do you go for sushi in town?
N/I - Well, PM is very close to where I live, so in terms of pure proximity convenience, I’d say there.
Christian - They have those sushi burritos, don’t they?
N/I - They do, but I’ve never gotten them. I’m kind of dubious on sushi burritos. That just seems like you’re asking for trouble by eating one. I love sushi, but not sushi burritos. I’m fascinated by the “art” of sushi making, so a sushi burrito kind of seems like sacrilege. I know that'll read as supremely obnoxious.
Christian - Do you make it?
N/I - I’ve tried, but not with much success.
Christian - That’s impressive, though. I’d love to try.
N/I - But all that to be said, I like PM. Rusan’s was good, but I don’t think it’s there any more. Samurai is always good.
Christian - See, I’ve been to Nama. And of course, Virago on their Monday night specials. I love to search for the good sushi places. It can be tough. Other than that, I love barbecue. I always get to Edley’s once the briskets all sold out, so that pisses me off. But you know, I stick mostly to the cheaper side of things.
N/I - It’s always good to stay within margins. I say that as I sip a five dollar coffee.
Christian - [Laughs] Right. Just go to Kroger and stock up where you can.