By Mike Shanley
For the Pittsburgh Current
If an independent band still makes music eight years after they played their first song together, it’s hard not to see it as a pretty significant milestone.
The ensuing years can bring bandmates together and see their musical skills grow and develop. But feelings and goals for the original band can shift during that time as well. The world beyond the practice space can also factor into how much time people can commit to the group.
THE LOPEZ RECORD RELEASE SHOW
With Alouette, Swampwalk, Silver Car Crash
8 p.m. Fri., July 20
Howlers, 4509 Liberty Avenue, Bloomfield. $10
But, The Lopez, the duo of keyboardist Steph Wolf and guitarist Jesse Flati, solidified in 2010 when its members lived in Philadelphia and has continued since they moved back to their native Pittsburgh a few years later. Along the way, they’ve released a couple 7” singles, a few EPs and a full-length album available digitally or physically on cassette. Each was conceived and released by the band on its own. They also hit the road regularly, playing spaces ranging from house shows to clubs.
While other bands might be ready to throw in the towel or move on to other musical projects, Wolf and Flati seem like they’re hitting their stride. By the end of this year, another album will be available, following a single that they celebrate this month. Prior to the upcoming record release show, they’ll be on the road again for a week, with another set of tour dates coming in August. If anything has changed for The Lopez, it’s their perspective. “We are, just now, starting to get comfortable with the idea of asking for help. With this new release and this full length which will be coming out by the end of the year, we enlisted some local artists to help with the artwork,” Flati says, referring to Lizzee Solomon’s cover art for the upcoming album.”
In some ways, this approach should come as no surprise to The Lopez, who have been carving out a unique path that doesn’t fit into the DIY/indie rock template, let alone more conventional settings. The group once featured a live drummer and a bass player. But most of its lifespan, Wolf and Flati have gone it alone. Wolf handles most of the vocals, though Flati chimes in occasionally. In lieu of a live rhythm section, they play along with pre-recorded beats they assemble at home. That kind of set-up could create pitfalls when playing more primitive live spaces, but experience has prepared them for any situation. “If it’s a place that has a crappy p.a. or no p.a., we carry around a bass amp with us just for that reason, to use it as a monitor for the beats,” Flati says. “But most people know what they’re doing anymore with electronic acts.”
“Electronic” might be an appropriate description of the two songs on the new single although The Lopez exceeds a simple label like that. Seconds into the introduction, “Like a Prayer” (not the Madonna song, though the lyrics quickly tip their hat to her ’80s hit) blends a fuzz bass line, clean guitars and a drum machine that shifts between two beats. When it’s mentioned that Wolf’s high-register vocal recalls Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, Flati doesn’t mind the comparison. “We love stuff like that. We’re big music fans. We have a gigantic record collection,” he says. “We hate the pop system, or whatever you want to call it, but we love making poppy melodic music. We just try to throw some dirt on it.”
That type of dirt takes on a dreamy quality in “Throwin’ Shade,” the B-side. A wall of reverbed vocals come together with an onslaught of psychedelic guitars. To show that The Lopez enjoys tapping into classic sounds, the opening beat comes from vintage drum machine, complete with synthetic handclaps.
Flati says Campbell helped them document the best-sounding recordings in their discography. “We’ve been working on this for a while. [Campbell] has been building her studio and then she goes out of town a lot touring with bands, doing sound,” Flati explains. “So we’ve been able to think about stuff a lot more and marinate on these tracks. It’s been slow but it’s been worth it.”
In addition to marking the release of the single, The Lopez’s show premieres a video for “Like a Prayer,” created by local artist Anna Azizzy. “We did a lot of stuff in front of a green screen so there will be some special effects,” Flati says. It’s not the first time the band made a video for a song, but it’s the first time they let someone else created their record’s artwork. Flati describes the seven-inch as “cat puke/hairball colored vinyl. It’s a horrible description but—” he laughs, trailing off. “In the end we’re artists and it’s all part of the art.”