WATCH NOW: Brian Lopez Debuts Stripped-Down Home Sessions Series to Accompany New Album

Madison RutherfordSeptember 15, 2023
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Brian Lopez | Photo by Puspa Lohmeyer
Brian Lopez | Photo by Puspa Lohmeyer

For singer-songwriter Brian Lopez, the Sonoran Desert is palpable in all of his musical endeavors – from early indie rock ensembles like Mostly Bears and Calexico to his Southwestern-inflected band XIXA (pronounced chee-cha) and Latin-influenced solo projects.

Since the early aughts, the Tucson native’s name has been synonymous with the Southwestern sound. The singer and guitarist refers to it as “indie chamber pop.”

Born and raised in the Barrio Sobaco neighborhood near downtown Tucson, Lopez credits his career to a music class he took in sixth grade while attending Roskruge Bilingual Magnet School in South Tucson. “They had 12 nylon guitars and one drumkit,” he recalls. “Our instructor told the class, ‘If you want to learn guitar, get on this side of the room. If you want to learn drums, go on that side of the room.’”

Lopez wanted to be a drummer so he could play the punk songs that were popular at the time. “It wasn’t a very practical decision since there was one drumkit and like 30 students, so I just opted for the guitar,” he says. This was the catalyst for a “trajectory of musical decisions,” including staying late after school to practice, pursuing formal training in high school and being awarded a music scholarship to the University of Arizona. In college, he started the three-piece band Mostly Bears during an era in which indie rockers like Arcade Fire and Interpol were experiencing a meteoric rise. He went on to play with major folk and indie outfits like Calexico, Giant Sand and KT Tunstall.

Lopez admits that academia wasn’t a boon for his creativity. “I learned more with Giant Sand than I ever did with any formal school setting,” he says. “I learned more with Mostly Bears, in an indie rock band touring across the country, than I ever did in a [classroom].”

Cover art for TIDAL by Eric Cox
Cover art for TIDAL by Eric Cox

Lopez released his fourth full-length album, TIDAL, this summer. “It’s a COVID album – not that it’s about COVID but in that I wrote it and recorded it during COVID,” he says. The musician, whose creative process includes collaborating with other artists, says it “was interesting to be a creative person during lockdown because you can only have so many people in the same room at a time per CDC guidelines.”

The pandemic afforded Lopez the time to finally reflect on his relationship with music after writing, recording and touring for more than a decade. “For the first time, the world kind of stood still and I wasn’t having to go on tour or quickly hammer out an album so I could tour behind it. There’s just no time to think,” he says. “You’ve been doing it for so long and you wake up one day like, ‘Do I even like this or am I doing it because it’s all that I know?’ I kind of had to reprogram my brain to fall back in love with the process of making music and just being creative.”

For Lopez, that looked like dedicating time daily to write. Over the course of quarantine, he had amassed 15 full songs that he felt ready to record. Because of the limit of people who could gather in the studio, he admits to “Frankenstein-ing the album together” via artists and engineers across the country and the world. “Every song is a little different. I don’t have the same drummer in every song… but I think that’s what makes this album special – that it’s all me and that’s what makes it cohesive.”

In July, Lopez released a music video for the track “Black Mountain,” which he says was one of the album’s sleeper hits. “It kind of surprised me that so many people gravitated toward that song,” he says. “It’s not super up in your face.”

The song is an homage to growing up in Tucson and the artist’s memories of a simpler time. The video features a woman dressed as La Catrina, which is associated with the Hispanic holiday Day of the Dead, to portray the city’s Latin culture and Lopez’s reminiscence of his upbringing.

To promote the album, Lopez has recorded a series of live acoustic performances at his home studio. “It’s a completely different perspective and performance – much more intimate…. the bare bones of the song,” he says.

The first video of the series features Lopez performing the album’s debut single, “3000 Stories,” and is being premiered exclusively through PHOENIX magazine below.

Though Lopez still plays live with XIXA and Calexico, he says he will always make time to work on solo stuff. “It’s like brushing my teeth. That’s not going anywhere,” he explains. “I always check back in with myself to see if I have anything interesting to say. If I do, I’ll record it and put it out there for people to ingest.”

He also routinely nods to his Southwestern roots, right down to the art on each of his album covers. Phoenix-based artist Eric Cox created the artwork for TIDAL and his previous release, Prelude. Both feature abstract, psychedelic portraits of Lopez.

“I take from everything and infuse that into my solo work. [Artists] should evolve with each album,” he says. “You learn a bunch of stuff from everyone and just take little bits and pieces.”

Watch the “3000 Stories” live home studio session below.