We caught up with Colorado singer-songwriter Antonio Lopez to discuss the influence of his home state on his music, how he chose the guitar he plays, and the thought process behind his Cloud 9000 EP series.
The Antonio Lopez Trio will play their EP release concert at Swallow Hill Music on Saturday, February 27 in Tuft Theatre. Theresa Peterson will open the show.
You grew up in The San Luis Valley and now reside in Longmont. Has the move to the Front Range affected your songwriting?
Antonio: Growing up in rural Southern Colorado is the biggest influence on my songwriting. There is a certain magic and mystique that exists down there. The natural landscape is more intact and has less signs of human expansion than the Front Range. That environment was the perfect incubator for my art. I graduated from Adams State University in Alamosa with degrees in guitar performance and composition and I feel fortunate to have that foundational groundwork underneath me as a working musician.
My songwriting has been affected by the move in a positive way. I have attended the Rocky Mountain Song School in Lyons and have enjoyed immersing myself in the songwriter community here. Everyday, I find new inspiration in the work of my peers. Longmont is now home. While I have cherished memories from growing up in Alamosa, there are also some I’d rather not mention. This collection of songs is my farewell to the past. This EP brings closure to that chapter of my life. The closing lyrics of last song “Better Days” echo that sentiment best; “There are better days in front of us than the ones we left behind.”
Your show at Swallow Hill Music on February 27 is also the release concert for Cloud 9000 Vol. 2, also known as the Alamosa EP. This is the second of three EPs in a series. What are the advantages of releasing your music as a series of EPs rather than releasing all the songs on one album at the same time?
Antonio: There are several reasons I chose to break Cloud 9000 down into three EPs instead of one full length album. Each volume is being recorded in a different city with a different producer and set of musicians, so logistically it makes sense to release each session on its own. I wanted to include all the different musical communities I am a part of. Cloud 9000 Vol. 1 was released in 2014 and was recorded in Minneapolis, MN. I worked with the same crew that I used on my debut album The Romantic and The Realist (2011). For Vol. 2, I chose to record in my hometown of Alamosa with musical mentors from my youth. The third and final volume I am going to record with musicians I have met since moving to The Front Range.
Do you have a time frame for when Volume 3 will be released?
Antonio: Yes. I plan on releasing Vol. 3 in early 2017. Justin Roth in Fort Collins is going to be producing this time around. My trio is going to form the core for the session, and I do plan on having some special guests involved.
Your cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” changes up the song’s cadence and phrasing to allow the song to breathe in an unexpected way (and to great effect). What are the challenges, if any, of covering a recognized classic like “Both Sides Now”?
To me, the concept of interpreting a song is distinct from covering a song. When covering a song, you put great effort into making it sound like the original. While interpreting, you imbue yourself into the fabric of the song and make it your own. The first thing I asked myself when I was considering including “Both Sides Now” was, “Does the world really need yet another version of this song?” This is the first time I have included a cover song on one of my releases, but every lyric resonates with me deep down to my core. “Both Sides Now” is hands down, my favorite song of all time. To me, it captures the essence of life in three and half minutes, not an easy feat.
Your guitar was made in Colorado. Who made the guitar you play? Did you find the guitar after it was already made, or did you have a say in its design process?
Antonio: My guitar was built by Colorado luthier Michael Anthony who is based out of Loveland. I first met Michael when I performed in a concert showcasing his guitars at The Harrington Arts Academy in Loveland a few years ago. When he approached me with the idea of endorsing his guitars, I jumped on the opportunity. I was involved in the build from the beginning and got to witness the progression from solid wood blanks to finished guitar. Michael built me a L-00 style guitar. It has a smaller body like a traditional L-00, but has a heftier and wider neck. There is immense attention to detail in his work. He is a retired orthopedic surgeon, so keeping a steady hand cutting up some pieces of wood is no big deal after spending years cutting human flesh with a scalpel!
The Alamosa EP captures you singing about a life in transition – “Bluebird” details the need to move on despite a touch of homesickness, “Better Days” deals with looking ahead without leaving the past behind – beyond the release of your third EP, what does the future hold for you as a performer and songwriter?
Antonio: I have a renewed vigor for my work and am excited to see what the future holds. I’ve been working hard on my organizational skills, a major contributor to the success I am starting to see. In the long term, I want to transition into playing predominantly listening room environments such as Swallow Hill, but I’m thankful for all the work I am currently getting at breweries, restaurants, and bars. I enjoy the challenge of adapting to the different performing environments. There are so many places to play at here on The Front Range, I love it!
My view on a career in music is that I am a single branch on a giant tree, a part of a greater whole. I don’t want to saw myself off from the rest of the tree. I think it is important to be supportive of what others are doing and just be part of the community. My career is not a ladder that I am trying to climb as fast as I can. It is an organic process that takes time and rewards being helpful to others and being genuine.
This interview was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Marketing Manager Barry Osborne.