The song "Static Noise," from which the album takes its name, is a radically spare illumination of a painfully lonely life. But the music invokes a mid-century movie scene with a white piano, a women dancing in bias-cut satin and, in the air, the fragrance of gardenias. Lyrically, it brings Lopez' lately refined songwriting skills into sharp focus. "That song actually is about a man's love for his broken television." Lopez explained. "A very lonely man, obviously. He's singing to his television, that just plays the static noise. That was just me on piano, a live take. I wanted to hear my fingers pressing the keys. I wanted it to be just like you are in the room with me."
The song was a crowd favorite on Lopez' tour with K.T. Tunstall, a series of dates through which he learned the solo set may be his bright future. "I did a 30-minute slot every night and kind of honed my solo chops along the way, because that's kind of a nerve-wracking thing. I played "Static Noise" on tour every night, and (it) killed. I think it's just because of its vulnerability."
Then there's what sounds like an outtake from a monster movie soundtrack: "World Unknown." Heavy with mystery and a sense of doom, it sounds like spooky, dark caves, recalled in haunted voices. "I love that song, personally," he said. "I was reading on the superstitions of owls. I've had that music forever, and I think that song is more about the music and feel than it is about the lyrics. It's psychedelic, but it's mostly about mythological owl shit."
That Lopez' music seems cinematic doesn't surprise him. He spoke laughingly, "I know! I hear that all the time, but it's never come to fruition, yet, so I'm hoping that this record ... " This record was actually pretty close to delivering on its potential for success in Hollywood. The psychedelia-influenced "Glass House," part rushing Latin-flavored hustle, part interpersonal apocalypse, was considered for the sound track for "The Great Gatsby." Alas, it didn't make the cut. "They just gave it all to Jay Z and Beyoncé," Lopez said. "And Jack White." Tough field.
The perky, irresistibly hand-clapping dance track "I Don't" would fit well into the movie "Grease," its saxophone part a stroke of retro genius. The song's chorus, "I don't want to fight with you no more" plants an earworm, and a lovely bridge about rain features the lines "But ... in the middle of my sunshine/I would like a bit of Rain/Just to wash away the constant light/that you became."
"I Don't" and "When I Was a Mountain" benefitted particularly from the
involvement of producer-engineers Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie, whose dazzling list of credits include, along with those already mentioned, Weezer, Hole, Dinosaur Jr. and Uncle Tupelo. Although the album was recorded by Jim Waters at his Waterworks Recording studio in Tucson, Lopez invited Slade to take a fresh look at some of his arrangements. "I always had wanted to work with him, and this was the first occasion where it made sense," Lopez said.
"I was always a fan of Mostly Bears," said Slade, by telephone from his car en route to Vermont, "but once he started performing as a solo artist, he was confident, his songs were great and he gave a great show. I've seen opening acts not make much of an impression, but he made a huge impact.
"I got involved helping him sort through his material, going through the songs' instrumentation and the vocal line. The song I had the most fun with was 'I Don't.' Brian didn't really care about it. (Lopez called it "an Elliott Smith kind of solo-acoustic" song.) I came up with an idea for the drumbeat, then he added the horn section, which I thought was brilliant. It turned into a real hooky pop song."
Tucsonans can hear all the new songs on "Static Noise" in back-to-back parties at Hotel Congress on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27. The first night features a stage full of musicians; the second debuts the solo performance Lopez plans to take on the road.
Hopes are high among all involved. Lopez said "I need something to happen. Getting on Conan this time would be good. Last time I was so close to getting on Conan and Jay Leno. I've been close to big things five or six times."
As his manager, Lembo takes a longer view. "Will he keep evolving? Yes. Every time we've done something he realizes he could have done something better. (That's) the kind of artist you want to attach yourself to."
But based on his three decades of hard work, fan-base building, personnel development and sheer creative output, it's likely that mentor Gelb has the truest vision. "It's impossible ever to know when the rest of the world will thirst for a particular sound, but I know a 'lifer' when I see one, and I recognize in the sound of Brian's music something other than anything else that's come before."