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Two years ago, KT Tunstall thought she was done with music. Not done as in she'd never again play guitar or sing, but done playing professionally, at least for the foreseeable future. "As an artist I feel like I died," she says. "I didn't want to do it anymore." It had been ten years since she'd released her multi-platinum debut, 'Eye To The Telescope' (2004), and twenty-some years since she started playing gigs as a teenager back home in St. Andrews, Scotland. She'd lived a decade in obscurity and a decade in the brightest of limelights, releasing three more critically acclaimed albums -- 'Drastic Fantastic' (2007,) 'Tiger Suit' (2010,) and 'Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon' (2013) -- and playing everywhere from the rooftops of splashy Las Vegas hotels to Giant's Stadium. She'd been nominated for a Grammy, won a BRIT and the Ivor Novello, and seen her songs used everywhere from opening credits of "The Devil Wears Prada" to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign theme. She'd had a good run, Tunstall thought, but it was time to take a serious time out. "I was utterly burnt out," she says.
So the singer put her stuff in storage, sold all of her property in the UK, and started again, at what felt like the ends of an entirely different earth, in a little house in Venice Beach, California. She lived a quiet life for the better part of a year, until, like a little imp waiting in the wings for Tunstall to get really comfortable in her state of blissed out California calm, one day the urge to rock began to return. And once it took hold, it just wouldn't let go. "My physical body was telling me that what I should be doing is sweating onstage," she says. "It turns out, if I can't do that then I'm just a racehorse in a stable." Almost against her own will, Tunstall found herself picking up her guitar and writing riffs. And they came, one after another after another after another.
The music that Tunstall has written since moving to California is, she says, the most impassioned and inspired of her life; these songs were fueled by the openness of desert spaces and wild ocean cliffs, the intimacy of being snowbound in Taos, New Mexico during winter writing retreats, and the freedom and mystery of driving too fast on canyon roads late at night listening to Neil Young and Tame Impala at top volume. A new full-length album coming this September, is, in spirit, the follow-up, to her debut. A edge-of-your-seat, psychedelic rock record rooted in classic songwriting, but infused with the sense of wonder and beneficent chaos Tunstall has reconnected with since untethering herself from her past. But first up, a little teaser of what's to come: 'Golden State,' a four-song EP out this June including a remix of "Evil Eye" by critically acclaimed UK band Django Django.
The opening track, "Evil Eye," was the first song that came to her since going on hiatus. "It was just a little seed," the singer remembers. She'd been rehearsing for a string of low-key gigs where she'd be performing some of her back catalogue, the first shows since the relatively formal, seated gigs she'd given last time she was on tour. "It was a vibrant up-tempo high-octane gig, after so long of not playing that kind of show," she recalls. Something got shaken loose. "I just got excited, and it was then that I wrote the riff for 'Evil Eye.'" With its beguiling psychedelic whooshing intro, propulsive guitar line and primal backbeat, the song comes on all roll-your-windows-down-and-turn-me-up, before sneaking up behind you with a downright chilling chorus: "There's an evil eye, watching you." "Some of these songs are like cats, they're really furry and sweet and then they fuckin' scratch you, and they won't let you put a leash on them, ever," Tunstall says gleefully.
Above all, what these songs have in common is they all feel like they had to be written. And now that they're done, Tunstall is standing at the starting line, just itching for the gun to go off. "Getting to know myself these last few years and getting to know what my own mind is capable of and what my soul is capable of and what my spirit is capable of -- reading and learning and reaching out to new people and gleaning new information about what's possible as a human, it has all made me want to ask the same questions of myself as a musician: how much can I expand?! Where can I go from here?!" Tunstall enthuses, nearly out of breath. "This feels like the beginning of the second chapter of my career."
It's not enough to say of Tucson's Brian Lopez that he is a young man of drive, discipline and vision, laudable as those qualities are, and how essential they are to success in almost every endeavor. Couple his estimable attributes with an artists sensibility and you really have something special, something to count on for the long haul. Brian Lopez is an artist, and with his album Ultra he has begun the real work of going inside himself to find out what he has to say to the world. And lo, it is good. Brian grew up in a typical American home. Parents married young, had several children and Brian was raised with more of an athletic upbringing than a musical one. Competition shaped Brian and gave him a "drive to win…to compete and excel". As a child he was an aficionado of The Beatles. Learning to play their songs on a "crappy Fender Squier" Brian quickly started a band and became "one of the cool kids" because he could play any song requested. He played in several bands not worth naming, put himself through college on a classical performance guitar scholarship and graduated with a BA in Music. And while he could play with the jazz cats and jam with the classical guitar guys, his heart always loved rock n roll. Ultra is the product of Brian Lopez's rock n roll heart. Yes, there are the Spanish language songs, and as all the best foreign language songs do, these transcend language barriers and move the spirit with the force of their feeling. But there is more, much more to behold on Ultra, and this reveals Lopez to be very much a product of his times, speaking to his times. There is also that underlying element of desert; listening to Ultra there is almost a palpable heat and wind. Leda Atomica, I Pray for Rain, and the stirring Red Blooded Rose (the latter being so well crafted lyrically, so evocative musically and so impassioned in it's delivery as to make it an early contender for a career defining, trademark kind of song) are the kind of sit-up-and-take-notice songs that mark the emergence of a remarkably insightful songwriter rummaging around in his heart to speak directly and unambiguously of his youthful passions and conflicts alike. Couple these admirable songs to a voice that can transform, in the blink of an eye, from muscular and aggressive to vulnerable and aching, and Brian Lopez's unusual and manifold gifts come into focus. The temptation looms, so deliciously, to go for it and call him "the Latin Jeff Buckley" but (a) Mr. Lopez doesn't feel such a comparison is appropriate and (b) there may well be an alternative comparison more apt than the late, lamented Mr. Buckley. On Ultra (his first full-length solo effort), Brian's infatuation with the sonics and atmospherics of Radiohead's OK Computer is evident, as is his scrutiny of how Thom Yorke goes about making the personal public without losing either his dignity or his soul. Like Yorke, Lopez is a thoroughly modern young man who has deep roots in a certain traditionalism that enables him to get his points across much in the manner of a folk singer while presenting his findings in an undeniably modern setting. In Brian's case, though, the music is a heady synthesis of brute force rock n roll (he does after all, lead a highly regarded three-piece band, Mostly Bears, that has won plaudits for their rousing live shows) and Beatles-like classicism (literally, in that his current band configuration for Ultra includes violin, cello, accordion, upright bass and lap steel) centered in rock, country, pop, and traditional folk all at once. (This is assuming that anyone reading this agrees on Rubber Soul being one of the founding documents of country's mid-'80's New Traditionalist movement – Rosanne Cash says so, why not you?). Even at this early stage in his career, he's toured Europe with French chanteuse Marianne Dissard as her guitarist and backup vocalist. He's played with Calexico, and recently he's been touring with Howe Gelb and his band Giant Sand, who've helped to build the careers of artists such as M. Ward, Neko Case, Granddaddy and Scout Niblett. Ultra is the product of a long and winding music highway Brian Lopez has been traveling for years through some interesting byways of song and style, with more than a little personal growth occurring along the route. In his own words....