Photo: Robby Klein

On the eve of the September 22 release of his upcoming album, Red Arrow, up-and-coming country singer Christian Lopez talks with C&I about guitars, songwriting, and his favorite Nashville hot spots.

Christian Lopez has been in the music news recently, making Rolling Stone’s list of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” and getting rave advance reviews for his upcoming album, Red Arrow. A collection of songs that showcase the 21-year-old West Virginian’s talents as a songwriter, this sophomore effort has something for everyone.

The record opens with the single “Swim the River,” an acoustic guitar-heavy masterpiece complemented by an array of whimsical instruments. Rolling Stone called it “a bounding, headfirst dive into young adulthood guided by a swollen heart and backed by fiddle ace Stuart Duncan.”

The track leads in to an album that has enough Americana to go around for everyone. From the pop rock “Say Goodbye” and the catchy “Mexico” to the country classic “Silver Line” and closing ballad “Still on Its Feet,” Lopez’s wide-ranging sound and diverse talent are bound to make fans beyond the bounds of country.

Recently, C&I talked to Lopez about his upcoming album, his Nashville haunts, and what’s next in his blossoming career.

Cowboys & Indians: You and your upcoming album, Red Arrow, are getting so much recognition. You just made Rolling Stone’s list of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” and PopMatters praised your songwriting. What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment on the record?
Christian Lopez: For me, the biggest accomplishment was the feeling of no regrets. Though I’m always striving to do better, I got past second-guessing myself on every aspect of its making. With that being said, my excitement to share it is through the roof. I’m glad I get to experience this feeling as an artist, and that, to me, is a very significant accomplishment.

C&I: Where did you get the inspiration for Red Arrow? How does this record stand out from your 2015 debut, Onward?
Christian: Well, every day I’m learning something new. Not only am I discovering the world, I'm discovering myself. The songs I’ve gathered over the last couple of years, since my last record, represent a new me, as I’m sure the songs five years from now will do as well. But I’m embracing who I am at this very moment and turning it into something bigger. And though it may not be the better guy/musician/artist I’ll be in years ahead, I’m taking all of what I am now and throwing it into the world with a strong arm. That’s what the Red Arrow means to me. And, in comparison to my last record, I think Red Arrow is a better definition of who I am.

C&I: How long have you been playing the guitar and are you self-taught? Tell me about your preferred electric guitar — a Shelton Electric Instruments axe. How does it add to your music?
Christian: My mother was a music teacher, so I started lessons at the age of 5, as did my brother and sister. I took piano for five years, guitar for seven. I also took mandolin lessons, a harmonica class, and played upright bass in the school jazz band. I always knew guitar would be my primary instrument though. What I learned in my lessons was priceless and built a great foundation for me, but I was then able to take it to the artistic place within myself I’d always wanted to.

Shelton Guitars are the greatest playing and sounding electric guitars I’ve ever played. And they stand out like nothing else! Not only am I a massive fan of Shelton as a guitarist, Shelton has totally impacted my shows and record. I don’t think I would’ve gone down the electric rock ’n’ roll path as much as I’ve done if it hadn’t been for Shelton. They’ve had a huge impact on me, and I only see myself playing these electric guitars from here on out.

C&I: What is your songwriting process like?
Christian: Usually I start with the music. I’ll stumble across something I dig musically and let that sort of naturally guide me to what I feel like saying.

C&I: Do you have a favorite song or track you’re most proud of on the album?
Christian: This record is still really fresh to me, and it’ll probably change often down the line, but I really like the tracks that are departures for me. The unpredictable songs. Right now I’d probably have to say “Say Goodbye.”

C&I: You worked with producer Marshall Altman, who has worked with artist Frankie Ballard, Matt Nathanson, and Marc Broussard. What was that experience like and what elements did it bring to your music?
Christian: Working with Marshall was a very new experience for me, and that’s why I chose to work with him. We took our time. We dissected each song, and we experimented on each individual sound. To me, that’s what making a record is about — the exploration.

C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring? Any specific locations you’re most excited about?
Christian: Lots of touring — more than ever ‘d say. I love going to new places, but if I had to pick some favorite spots, I’d probably say Fort Worth, Chicago, San Diego, and anywhere in West Virginia.

C&I: What’s next in terms of music?
Christian: Taking Red Arrow on the road. ... But, of course, writing.

Christian’s Guide to Nashville

Korea House (on the west side)
Sky Blue Café
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint

Old Made Good
Star Struck Vintage Nashville
Savant Vintage

The Basement East
3rd and Lindsley
The Ryman

For more information on Lopez and his upcoming tour dates, visit his website.