Now/It's: An Interview with Christian Lopez (No. 2)

In the ‘2018 Highlight & Retrospective’ post from a couple of weeks ago, you may (if you read it) or may not remember there were references to some changes set for the site in 2019. There are some developments still under wraps (insert Shaggy meme here), but one welcomed change on the site comes in the form of repeat interview features. There once was a point when Now/It’s would turn down a repeat interview in service of some vague, nobel idea of “always moving forward,” but after some consideration and pontification, it became apparent that sometimes it’s impossible to move forward without better understanding the past. In other words, recognizing growth over time is one of many ways one moves forward. Progression, not regression. (Re) Enter Christian Lopez, the final feature interview of our inaugural 2017 run. When Now/It’s first sat down with Lopez, he was at a considerable crossroads - he felt burnt out, rudderless, indeterminate in his standing. An understandable dilemma for who came to Nashville at eighteen only to be immediately thrust into the Nashville machine, for better or for worse. But now, in 2019, Lopez has wizened his ways through offloading bad actors and enacting self-discovery, realization and actualization, placing nothing before his own happiness. Call it a do-over or a renewal, Lopez is “back” and better than ever before.

Now/It’s met with Christian Lopez at Frothy Monkey in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville. You can read our first conversation here.

Christian - How you been?

N/I - Pretty good. Pretty good. How about yourself?

Christian - Same old, same old.

N/I - Are you still splitting time between here and West Virginia?

Christian - Here, West Virginia. LA, now, kind of. Working on stuff out there. My [girlfriend] lives out there.

N/I - Okay nice. How long have you guys been together?
Christian - About a year and eight months. I think it was kind of fresh since the last time we talked.

N/I - It was pretty fresh. That’s why I asked.

Christian - It’s been awhile since the last time we talked. Was it last winter?

N/I - I believe so. It would have been right around this time last winter. It was the last interview for the first year. 2017?

Christian - It feels like yesterday.

N/I - A lot of them do. I guess that’s a good thing.

Christian - Isn’t that nuts how fast things go?

N/I - Things just keep rolling and you have to keep up with things.

Christian - What are you doing now?

N/I - Still doing the website….

Christian - Dude, I love that you’re still doing the website. Love the site.

N/I - Thanks, man. I appreciate that. Outside of that, I’m also working at a radio station - 650 AM WSM….

Christian - Oh man! The Gaylord studio?

N/I - That’s the one. The studio in the hotel.

Christian - Dude, that is like the most badass AM radio station in the world.

N/I - It’s the most literally historic thing I’ve ever and may ever get to be a part of. It’s a super historic station. It’s the coolest. Plus, there’s the connection to the Opry, so that brings in a steady flow of variety. Supposedly William Shatner is going to be playing there soon, so that’ll be nuts.

Christian - He’s playing!? What does he play?

N/I - He’s got a country album.

Christian - What!? You’re messing with me…. William Shatner?

N/I - It’s the truth. Apparently Henry Rollins is on it….

Christian - Henry Rollins of Black Flag?

N/I - Black Flag Henry Rollins.

Christian - It seems like an SNL skit…. I hope it’s great.

N/I - Same here. I feel like it might feel a little bit like an SNL skit anyway, but I figure that might heighten the record if anything else.

Christian - An interesting pairing.

N/I - It definitely is. But anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I’m more interested in hearing what you’ve been up to.

Christian - Man, I’m in the new cycle. Toured all year last year, and the winter was the recharge, separation. New songs. I started rolling with this new crew in Thousand Oaks [California], and afterwards, we’re going to start working together and rolling things out. That’s kind of the plan. Trying to grow each step a little bigger than the last one. It’s been good. It’s been fun. I started writing by myself again. I did way too many co-writes last year.

N/I - Well I remember the last time we talked, co-writes seemed to be a point of contention.

Christian - I looked back at what we talked about that day…. Man, I seemed so pissed off. I was burnt out.

N/I - Not at all, man. I’m not a songwriter, and I have no idea if I’d be equipped to do that as often as it seemed like you were doing it. Two, three times a day of sitting down….

Christian - It’ll burn you out man. It’s quantity over quality. Actually, not long after that last time we talked - I hadn’t been to Nashville in about six, seven months. It was a huge gap for me. Sort of a boycott in a way. Unintentional, but it turns out I just needed the time away. So then I was excited to come back and I reached out to the writers I wanted to reach out to and write with. Everything just seems so much more natural. It feels better. It feels good. I met with all my crew again, and it just feels good. It’s fresh. I got that January honeymoon, fresh take on the year thing going on too.

N/I - [Laughs] That’s always good, though. I’m the same way. With these interviews, I love sitting down and talking with people. I hate having to go back and transcribe them. I don’t get burnt out on it, but there are moments where I just think, “Man, this sucks. This is not the fun part of things.” So that’s my slightly translated version of what you went through, but once the new year rolls around, it’s like “Hey! I’m still doing the same thing, a new year, a new opportunity.” You’re the first person I’ve talked to for a second time….

Christian - Oh really?

N/I - Really. That was one of those things where I originally thought “I’m not going to do that, because it won’t be raw, or compelling because we’d already kind of know each other.” So I turned down some repeat interviews because of that. But at the end of this year, I realized there’s more benefit and more interest in being able to go back and reference a prior conversation. I mean, you were saying you felt like you were a little rough around the edges….

Christian - I seemed a little bitter at the end.

N/I - I don’t know if I would call it bitter, but from your purview, you felt burnt out on the way things had gone.

Christian - That shit came back to haunt me…

N/I - Oh man, really?

Christian - In a good way! I remember I sat down with you when I was plotting my secret making a video thing, and I didn’t give a damn. I just laid it all out there. But then my label eventually found out I made the video, did all this shit, and everyone was so pissed. I wound up firing my managers and then my label people were like “You think [we] don’t read this shit that’s written about you!? I knew you were going to do it because I read it!” But you know what, I’m really glad it happened. It was really honest.

N/I - Well I go for the honesty, not the “get someone in trouble” aspect.

Christian - It’s all good. It’s a beautiful looking layout too. I like people being able to see in that format.

N/I - Well I just hope it reads easily…. So with that renewal feeling in the New Year and everything that changed on the [management] side of things, do you have a new or varied perspective? Or is it the same Christian, but new threads, so to speak?

Christian - I think that’s exactly what it is. This year for me was depressing as shit and great for me. I moved out and my parents are letting go of the children, so I’m in it now and experiencing that transition period. That’s the weirdest experience. That happened and I realized happiness should be priority number one. I would stress myself out making sure that all of these things would be done. I would want to be over-productive not feeling right. But I took a breath at the Holidays and I’m out. I’m settled on my own and I’m not here, I’m not there. I’m finally leveling out. That’s affected the music, too. It lets me know my lane and do what I want to do with it day by day. So that was great. But I feel like life-wise, I’m on page one of chapter two. My entire childhood ended at twenty-two, which is late for some people. But I felt like a kid.

N/I - But at the same time, that’s early for an ever-growing section of the population.

Christian - True. Things feel completely rebooted. But the music isn’t going to change, it just feels more natural. This is the first time there hasn’t been a label, me finding a producer, committing to it all and then putting it out there. I went out and played at this party - totally impromptu, they just handed me this guitar….

N/I - Is this out in LA? Or elsewhere?

Christian - This is out in LA. So I went to this party…. It was a Halloween party. No PA or anything, I just played it for these people. But there was this guy, Ken Callait - Colbie Callait’s dad. He produced Rumours, absolute legend.

N/I - No kidding.

Christian - Him and the guy that owns the studio he works out of - Mikal Blue, who produced the Colbie record and did all the Jason Mraz stuff. Very California-y stuff. But they brought me in on a whim, just because they liked what they heard me sing at the party and that eventually has blossomed with me coming to my label and now we’re going to be working with these guys. It was birthed so organically.

N/I - It was more serendipitous than what you’re accustomed to.

Christian - Exactly. We didn’t seek anyone out. We didn’t try this or that, it just happened. It just feels so natural. It feels right.

N/I - So do you feel like before all of this - when you were in the thick of Nashville that first time -  did you feel like there were walls placed around you to prevent you from looking at what other lanes were available?

Christian - I think it unintentionally puts up walls.

N/I - Sure. I mean, by any stretch of the imagination, there wasn’t much else you were aware of.

Christian - That was all I knew. I was down here at eighteen until now, basically. Everything I knew about the music business was everything I experienced in Nashville. So for the first time, I’m trying something else in a different setting, and I think it’s helping. So I can come back here now with a better overall, general idea of what I want to do and what I think needs to happen. I used to think I would only bank on what I was told to do. I was on my own more this year, partially because I fired everyone, except for my label. And it just felt like I had to learn it on my own. I feel like I’m more equipped to handle it.

N/I - I get that. It’s like you said. You show up here at eighteen, and you exhibit some form of promise in other people’s eyes, and when they find out you’re eighteen, it’s awesome for them. To them, you presumably have no semblance of an idea of what to do. And this isn’t just a Nashville thing: it’s an LA thing, it’s New York, Omaha, wherever. Whenever someone sees something that they can benefit from that won’t have a whole lot of adversarial contact….

Christian - I totally get that. I don’t think I was getting taken advantage of, necessarily, because I was open to it. I was like “Yes! Let’s do what you want.”

N/I - As far as you were concerned, that was the way things went.

Christian - It’s all part of the learning process. But that’s what it takes. I was lucky to have that early start. I figured it out.

N/I - I learned something similar when I was twenty-two, too. I was just out of school and I got hired by a pretty big website to be what’s called a “shift writer.” Basically, the shift writer’s job was to write all day from 8 AM to 1 PM and keep track of everything that’s happening in the world and within the world of this particular website. This particular website was a relatively large “heartland” oriented site. So I was doing that from 8 AM to 1 PM. If you announce a tour and every competing site covers the announcement and we haven’t, it was my job to do so. It was only keeping up with all the other sites.

Christian - That’s interesting, you always see when all the other sites are covering the same story at the exact same time. I didn’t know that.

N/I - Exactly. So I was like “Yeah, this kind of sucks, but at the same time, I know if I do this, there’s bound to be a passion pitch article in it for me.” So it would be like nine articles for them and one for me. Or something to that effect. And that last one would be where I get to interview Christian Lopez on that site and it would be a big deal, but I only got that opportunity once or twice. But I still had to write at least fifteen articles a day, so if you do the math, it’s not working out in my favor. But I assumed that’s how it goes, but it was a scenario in which I was set up to fail. And when I did fail, it forced me to take a step back and reassess how I wanted to go about things in that world. That I wanted to do what I was doing. That it gave me purpose. So I started this site.

Christian - And what a liberating feeling.

N/I - Absolutely. And that was it. Now, I don’t mean to knock it, I’m just knocking my personal experience. There were a ton of great writers there - and I learned recently that they unfortunately offloaded a large portion of some of the best writing staff, so that sucks, but a lot of them have gone on to Rolling Stone and other similar publications. But in my experience, I didn’t know any better than to write all day, and I assumed that’s what was best because I was writing all day. So that’s what I think of when you talk about that co-writing slog. Or at least my equivalent.

Christian - That’s a really good example.

N/I - It probably helps that they’re both writing oriented.

Christian - Yeah. We both felt like we were going through the motions. It burns you out quick.

N/I - Truly. I remember the last article I wrote for them was Carrie Fisher’s death. It was one of those things where I understood she was Princess Leia and an icon, but in relation to country music, she was what? In Blues Brothers? But that’s what my marching orders were, so I eulogized her death on the site and got fired a day or two after. It was interesting. But that’s my attempt at extending a similar experience.

Christian - I get that one hundred percent. Being in control of one hundred percent of yourself is so good. It’s so good. The best feeling.

N/I - It is. I’m curious, are you doing more of the “clerical” work that’s required of an artist? Like sitting down each month and looking at margins or what you need to do content-wise? Or does the label help with that still?

Christian - Ever since I got rid of my old management, I’ve been doing it myself. The only time I talk to the someone else is when I send music to the label and they give me feedback on the songs. So I had to learn how to do scheduling when I’ve never had to. It’s always been handled. But if I want to keep the train on the tracks, I have to book the shit that needs to happen three months in advance. My phone notes have become my Bible.

N/I - I’m the same way.

Christian - I would be lost without the notes in my phone. But that’s been nuts. [My girlfriend] Skyler handles the hotels. Plus, she gets those influencer deals like crazy, so that’s great. I’ve had to do all of that. I have a guy who’s sort of helping me and my agent, of course. But I don’t want to seek out a new manager until these songs are done in the studio, just so they know exactly where my head is and where I’m headed. I don’t want the cart ahead of the horse.

N/I - Sure. And I would imagine in that scenario, you would have a little more ability to dictate who you’re working with, because you have everything done. That way, you can start courting management and say “Hey, this is what I’ve got, what are you going to do for this. What vision do you have to make this even more of what I want to see?”

Christian - Exactly. I can give them the foundation and they fill it out. They don’t have to wait on me to finish making things for them.

N/I - Well again, the old scenario that you were in was distinct in its ability to frame your mind into thinking if someone is showing interest in you, you need to retain that interest by doing what they want. It’s fascinating. Because you’re left to assume you’re the brains of the operation, when in fact you may just be the apparatus.

Christian - That’s a good analogy. You should be a writer [laughs].

N/I - [Laughs] Yeah, I’ll give it a go one of these days.

Christian - But yeah, it’s nice to be on my own for this amount of time. Not for much longer, but for this past six months, it feels great. And when I do bring in the next person, I’ll have much more control of who I am and what’s going on in relation to me. When I was a kid and I got here, I didn’t realize that my say was the final say at the end of the day.

N/I - Really?

Christian - Well they were all in their forties and fifties, so they were parental figures to me. It took me a while to understand that I had the power.

N/I - I feel like sometimes - and again, not just in music, not just in Nashville - with anything, there’s always going to be an idea that when working with someone older, more experienced, and you’re not a sociopath, the thought will be “I don’t want to step on this person’s feet or make them think I don’t respect them.” So I can’t imagine being eighteen or twenty-two and having people who are the potential head honcho of an operation just say, “That’s not good.” or “I don’t like that.”

Christian - That hits you hard. Then you’re like “Let’s not do it, then!” You lose faith in your decision.

N/I - You had the benefit of being younger, but after a while, that stunts you along the way. It’s like being around someone that you’re constantly worrying about hurting their feelings.

Christian - Exactly! And shit just gets dark!

N/I - You tiptoe around anything and everything, not saying anything in fear of hurting their feelings.

Christian - That resentment happens quick, man.

N/I - It does.

Christian - But it was never with my label. My label has lots of good folks.

N/I - That makes sense. I figure it wasn’t everyone involved. Just a couple bad actors.

Christian - Exactly. You just learn. If there’s anything to take out of this whole thing, I’m trying to take this year and turn it into the most successful year. Outside of success, I also want to make it the most positive. The most collectively happy. Same goals, same mission day by day. Like I was saying man. The name of the game is happiness, and I feel like I’ve finally realized it. And I want it to stay that way and I will, because it’s only up to me.