Rene Lopez is one of the nicest guys to ever buy me a cup of coffee. I identified him immediately by refering to the drawing of the cover of his new album People Are Just People. Clad in his signature fedora, Rene greeted me with a huge smile and a hug. Within minutes I knew that this super talented musician wasn’t just your run of the mill singer/songwriter; he is the father of two, the founder of his own label, and an all around sweet and warm human being. His optimism and good nature was catching, and as we drained our cups, Rene spoke openly about his career, family, and passion for his art.
So your new album People Are Just People comes out on May 4th. Tell me a little bit about that.
Well it’s funny, I actually did the album a year ago and I’m finally getting it out there. And I already recorded and released an EP called “Johnny Wants To Be a Matador” in December, while I was waiting to put this album out. For “People are Just People” I started recording it out in California. I visited a studio in Malibu and the owner of the studio heard some of the songs that I demoed and he really liked them. So he said “why don’t you have some free time in the studio with the engineer.” It was really cool and it inspired me to get it going again. I mean, it was just me in the studio with the engineer, and I started writing a song a day and recording it on my own, playing all the instruments. Then I brought it back to New York, to Williamsburg, and I started working on it here and did the record.
by Rene Lopez
I kept it really simple and really raw, I think, and I didn’t over produce it since I produced the record myself. The music has an R & B flavor to it and I didn’t want it to sound too polished, I wanted it to sound a little rough around the edges. So it’s mostly me; I play most of the drums on the record and I would lay down all the songs by myself and then any instruments I thought I wasn’t playing up to par I would get someone else to fill in, Ken Rich, who engineered the record for me, he played base on a lot of the songs. It’s funny because I did it a year ago and you know what a difference a year makes so I have already written a full new record again, and I’m going to go back into the studio and record in June. My new record is going to have a lot more of a Latin influence to it, like a Latin soul album, but yeah I’m excited that this record is coming out, there are a lot of strong songs on the album. I feel a strong connection to it.
Why the big break between when you originally created the album and its release?
Well, I don’t have a record label. So I started my own record label called Liberation Label. To put out your own record… you don’t want to just put it out there and have it sit around. I hooked up with a really cool manager and Girlie Action Media and we said okay let’s give this some time and do it right. Some kind of fighting chance. Because really they don’t give you much of a chance. In the meantime I was waiting for this to happen, so I went in and recorded my EP and just put that out. I recorded it, mixed it, and mastered it in four days. Five songs, four days, done.
Have you been performing a lot?
Oh yeah we perform all the time. There are songs that people know better off of my EP then they do from my record.
Have you been performing around NYC?
Yeah all over. We just played Nublu which I love; I am doing my record release party there as well.
Will you be touring at all?
Hopefully, we are setting that up now.
Have you done that before?
Yeah, I have been playing and in a band since the early nineties, so I’ve toured a lot, you know, in vans.
Oh yes, you were in The Authority for quite a while. Why did you first decide to go solo?
We were really young, I was nineteen when I started the band, it lasted until I was twenty-five. I was young, and since we never had a major record deal but we had a really strong following I think it was hard for us to keep it going, just physically. It was hard for us to keep on touring in a van or whatnot, it all got to us. Basically it exploded, we all got sick of each other and we were just done. I kind of took me a while to find myself after that, when I was with The Authority I thought “this is it” but, you know, this wasn’t it. What happened? So then I did a couple of EP’s on my own, after that I ended up playing drums in a couple of different bands and then I sang in a band called Extra Virgin with Roger Stephens from Blind Melon. We went down to New Orleans and recorded, then after that we recorded with Royston Langdon, the lead singer of Spacehog, and that was called the Tender Trio, we never recorded an album but that lasted a year…
So you were really all over the place, feeling out the scene.
Oh yeah with all different people, recording drums, working with Joseph Arthur as well, recorded on a bunch of his records, and then I decided, you know what? I’m just going to focus on my solo career, that’s it, that’s what I want to focus on.
Is it a huge difference, being on your own?
It’s more gratifying to me, to tell you truth. Actually, I will say this much: I do love having a group- that whole gang feeling. So even though it’s under my name and it’s a solo project and I write the songs I have a pretty set band right now, who are extremely supportive and understanding of what I do. They come to my rehearsal space, I have my own rehearsal space in Williamsburg, and we jam a lot too, and if anything comes out of those jams then it’s all of those people’s song. I try to make it like we are a band too. And sometimes it’s great to have that dynamic and sometimes it’s just great to be in a room by myself creating songs.
Has it been difficult to balance managing your own record label while also creating your album?
It’s definitely a lot on my plate right now, but I’m up for it, I definitely have the focus and the energy to do it. Having kids, I have more focus and am able to make more time, it’s funny because you’d think it was the opposite but I am more focused than I ever was. I wake up really early in the morning and I don’t party as much now so that heps. I just say “from this time to this time I am going in my studio and I’m writing.” Then I work on the business side and then I am with my kids; my kids really help keep me focused. Having my own label and doing this the way I want to do it, it’s liberating. You get to think outside the box and come up with different ways to promote the record, we get to pick the single we want, have a little more control over everything. We know whats going on, as opposed to being with a major label.
Do you have other bands signed to the label?
Not yet, right now it’s just me, we’ll see how we do with just me and go from there. I hope to have other bands, local and beyond, definitely in my genre of music. Especially in the vein of the new album I’ll be doing in June, it’s a very different type of music. Its sort of Latin Soul but I call it Boogaloo, because it’s influenced by music that was played here in the sixties. My father was a salsa musician so I grew up around it. They were influenced by Motown, so the idea of taking Motown and adding Latin rhythm, they called it Boogaloo. It was real fun party music and you just wanted to get up and dance, and drink some rum. So that’s going to be what my next album is going to sound like, like Bronx 1969.
I was going to ask you about the Bronx; I read that you grew up there?
The mistake that everyone keeps on saying is that I grew up there, but really I was born in the Bronx and I lived there until I was six and then I moved to Rockland County. But Rockland County was just as crazy as the Bronx! The area I grew up in was called Samsondale, and there were crazy kids in my neighborhood man, a lot of the parents were alcoholics… there was kind of a depressed feeling to it, we lived behind this factory, it reminded me of like a Pittsburgh steel town.
You see, you move your kids out of the city to be in the safety of the suburbs and you get a Pittsburgh steel town.
I started drinking in elementary school, I drank my first six pack… no it was an eight pack of Lowenbrau. We’d go down by the beach, have someone buy us beer, and that was it.
So your next album will more reflect your father’s influence as well as whatever music you took with you from the Bronx? Because you don’t really feel that Latin connection in this album.
Right, yeah this one is more of a soul, R & B, funk records. This is the type of music I used to write for The Authority. I was a huge Prince fan when I was a kid; I was the kid who had huge Prince posters in his walls. So that’s a big influence in my music. If you come see my shows people get down, it’s funky. People dance and have a good time. It is an important part of the experience. You know I went through a sad, woe is me phase, that whole I’m an artist, I’m a victim thing all that shit, but that’s not really me. I love the environment that I grew up in where people went to see a band and they were part of the show, they danced and had a good time. There wasn’t just a guy looking at his shoelaces and playing songs. Granted, they might be great songs, but it’s like, I love that feeling of everyone being in it together. Nublu lets you do that too, there is no stage so everyone is part of the band. It’s great; it’s a night out. But everyone has to do their own thing, you have to do what you love to do and what comes naturally to you. Performing comes naturally to me.
So you have really stayed home as you were born and raised in and around NYC. Do you feel a strong connection to the city?
New York is a big part of me, it is a big part of my music and my sound, it has a big New York flavor to it. I really love this city so much, I leave in the summer, I go away to California for two months, but I always miss being in New York. By the end of the trip I am ready to come back. My little boy is such a city kid. Monday is our adventure day, we go to a museum or gardens or whatever is happening that day.
Does he love to listen to you play music?
Well actually he tells me he doesn’t like my music, because he claims that he is the only musician in the house. He is four. He thinks that he is better song writer. He is on my record, in the song “Cos and Ren.” We did that on my iPhone when he was three. He is very musical, and I can already see that he is going to be a better musician than I am, I can see it. He has something special, he’s on the keyboards making melodies, but he is very competitive with me. So I let it be, I can’t bring him to my rehearsals, because he freaks out and wants to be the lead singer of my band. He is already a lead singer.
What’s next for you?
I wish I could tell you! I’m just concentrating on writing the best songs that I can write and making sure my next record is better than the one I just did. Just keep on progressing and putting in the time I need to be, I hate saying this but, the best I can be. All the other shit doesn’t mean anything to me, it is about staying present and staying focused and that everyday I do something that moves towards something better with my music. What will come of it? I don’t know. It may be really bad reviews every day or everyone might love it. I don’t know. But I have a positive attitude towards it and I’m putting positive energy out there and hopefully good things will come.