Take The Highway

Rich Hopkins talks old Sand Rubies, new Luminarios, and life in Texas

There was a time after he'd moved from Tucson to Houston that Rich Hopkins thought of recruiting a new band, under the name My Way Or The Highway.

Like jokes, there was some truth behind it. Though the name never found its way to a new band, Hopkins and his wife and musical partner Lisa Novak kept the joke alive over the last few years and ultimately found it to be a fitting album title.

My Way Or The Highway, the latest from Hopkins and The Luminarios, is another record full of Hopkins' signature guitar work, the type of soaring and captivating leads that he's been laying down for more than 30 years, from his years with The Sidewinders and Sand Rubies to a string of solo and Luminarios recordings.

"This time I said to myself, I'm going to play and make a record that I want to make and be totally self-indulgent about it," Hopkins says. "I wanted to write some longer songs and really jam out a lot. We've been joking around with that title for a few years, but it seemed appropriate to me. I just keep on doing what I can."

After so many years, writing and recording music has become part of how Hopkins approaches the world. It's been a relationship with plenty of give and take, but one that still offers up plenty of rewards.

"A long time ago, when I first started playing, music saved my life, gave me a purpose and excited me," he says. "I like the idea of writing music. It feels good inside my soul. And then recording with people and that whole thing excited me beyond description.

"Along the way, my own shit got caught up in it," he continues. "Music was a way for me to voice where I was in my life. But so much of it looking back was going through a dark period. Music is a real blessing. It feels good that now I don't rely on music to take care of me. I think there was a time that I really relied on music as a way to cope with the way I was treating myself. I don't do that anymore. When I feel like the time is right, I pick up the guitar. That's how I communicate with my higher power. It just kind of happens."

Marriage brought Hopkins to Texas and though it took some time, he's met the right people to play with, gigging regularly around Houston and Austin.

"My heart has never left Tucson," he says. "I still have my house in Tucson. We come back whenever we can, about every two months or so. I really miss the easiness of Tucson. It's very special in its rootsy atmosphere. Coming here was a lot harder trying to get gigs and all that, but I've got the best of all worlds for right now."

Like his last couple albums, Hopkins recorded My Way Or The Highway primarily in Austin, with co-producer and engineer Lars Goransson and guests like bassist George Reiff (Joe Walsh) and guitarist Jon Sanchez (Alejandro Escovedo). But, as he's also done before, Hopkins also added a recording session in Tucson. Relocating hasn't changed Hopkins' approach to music, but it has opened up some different doors than he'd had available in Tucson.

"What's changed is the exposure to more musicians who do a lot more touring and more experimenting in our arrangements. The sound we're getting is killer," he says. "Our music has really stepped up. Austin is a professional town. You don't waste people's time. Lars brings a lot of sonic quality to our music and there's always a lot of keyboards around. I'm a guitar guy, but it feels good to experiment more."

Just as he's always done with the Luminarios, Hopkins writes all of the music, but Novak contributes more of the lyrics on My Way Or The Highway.

"She's a much stronger lyricist in general than I am and she's great with harmonies and melody," Hopkins says. "Our stuff is kind of spiritual really. To me it's all woven in there with life's lessons. We're not trying to preach. We're just basically writing about what matters to us now, in the moment. We're a lot more unified and maybe that just comes out in the music in general."

Hopkins says there are about four or five musical styles that he tends to drift toward in general and once he writes a certain kind of song, something else naturally comes up. But at the end of an album, his well of ideas tends to feel empty.

"Nobody understands what it takes to make this stuff, just the energy to sit down and put pen to paper or pick up a guitar," he says. "It's really a mystery, but it leaves me pretty much played out after every record and I think I'm not going to do it again. I really feel that way because I put everything I can into it. But if we just live one day at a time, stuff comes around eventually. When all that's over and things have died down, the music will come back to me and it will be fresh to me."

For Hopkins, when it comes to thinking about how My Way Or The Highway fits in the context of his lengthy career, he's just happy to still have his muse close at hand.

"We had some success, the Sidewinders and the Sand Rubies, and there was a time I thought it was going to go on forever like that," Hopkins says. "It didn't. Life changed and I learned to figure out a little bit of the business and I stuck with it. The older I am the more grateful I am that I have the friends I've got and people who want to play with me. I just feel so grateful I can keep on doing this because nothing lasts forever."

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