For years, Lance Lopez has been a mainstay in the blues rock scene. With an already prolific solo career, Lopez is branching out as a member of Supersonic Blues Machine. The group featuring Fabrizio Grossi and Kenny Aronoff just released its debut album to rave reviews and Blues Rock Review caught up with Lopez to discuss the new album.
How did Supersonic Blues Machine come out about?
When I put out Salvation from Sundown I was touring quite a bit, so while I was on that tour a lot of people, especially over in Serbia and that part of Europe were saying I needed to hook up with Fabrizio Grossi. And I’d never heard of Fabrizio until that point and a lot of people were asking me if I knew him and I said, no. And they said, well, you guys really need to hook up and work together.
So, when I got back over to the States it was time to make a new record and I looked up Fabrizio and found him online, and reached out to him, and we started talking. And he said if you’re ever in L.A., let’s hook up and let’s have a meeting, so I exchanged some ideas with him, showed him some songs that I had been working on. And so I had some gigs in L.A. and while I was there I went out and got in the studio together, so we were just supposed to meet up for an hour or two and it turned into a two or three day recording session (laughs). We got over there and hit it off and we knew a lot of the same people in Europe and had a lot of mutual friends and it just kind of snowballed from there and we started recorded and it was instantaneous, magical chemistry and we were both blown away by it. We were excited about it. So, it was supposed to have started off as Fabrizio producing my next solo album.
So, I went back to back to Texas and a couple of weeks later Billy Gibbons called Fabrizio and said I want to work on some stuff and Billy had some stuff he wanted Fabrizio to work on and Billy asked Frabrizio what are you up to? And he said, I just had this guy from Texas in my studio, Lance Lopez, and Billy said, I know Lance. I’ve known him since he was a kid and he’s played for ZZ Top and we’ve done shows together and basically grew up around us. So, Billy basically told Fabrizio you guys need to form a band with a band name because he knew Fabrizio was a great bass player and great musician in his own right as well as a producer and engineer. So, Billy was the one who kind of thrust Fab and I into forming a band and Fabrizio said that’s a great idea. And he thought who can I have as a drummer and the first guy who came to Fabrizio’s mind was Kenny Aronoff because they had done so much work together with Steve Lukather and then on that Leslie West record that Fabrizio did, the Usual Suspects album, which by the way was one thing that thrust me into calling Fabrizio. I’d heard that record and said I’ve got to work with Fabrizio. Kenny and Fabrizio were the rhythm section on that record, so I reached out immediately to Kenny and played him some of the recordings that Fabrizio and I had been working on from that meeting and Kenny was in immediately.
And so Billy kind of planted the seed with Fabrizio that we form a band. Initially he wanted to be in the band, so he told Frabrizio I want to be in it, too, or record something, so the first thing we did was “Running Whiskey,” which was a track that Billy had written parts for La Futura, the last ZZ Top record and they didn’t use it on the album, so we finished it with Supersonic and that was the first thing we did and it just kind of spiraled from there.
Billy has been a big influence on your career. What was it like working with him on the album?
Billy is one of the most creative people I have ever meet in my life and I understand Jimi Hendrix had such a love for Billy. He met and knew Billy when he was young and Billy is also has that sort of creative mindset and that level of creativity. He really has that kind of visionary, creative kind of mindset and it kind of comes from that same place. Billy also has an idea of how he wants something and how it should come out. It’s a very theatrical, imaginative, creative kind of sense of how something should be delivered. “Running Whiskey” was really kind of cool because Billy was playing his heavy guitar part and I actually played one of his Fender Esquires and did more of a Ronnie Wood kind of Keith Richards Stonesy kind of an approach to the rhythm guitar parts. Not only one because they’d cut through the heavyness of all the guitars, but because we’re all such fans of the Rolling Stones, so that’s what was really kind of crazy about “Running Whiskey” because it was more of a Rolling Stones kind of approach that we were thinking about.
So, it’s always great to be around Billy, to work with Billy, to exchange ideas with him and they’re just so creative and imaginative. And it was so great to use that track and finish it up. It was an idea that had started with Billy… and that’s kind of where a lot of those changes came from and then we just kind of finished it out, took it, and completed the song, so it was pretty amazing.
Where does the name Supersonic Blues Machine come from?
It’s kind of what we envisioned ourselves as a trio, a power trio powered by blues and working as one machine. A machine with a lot of moving parts in it, like an engine or any kind of thing and that’s what we envisioned ourselves as, something like an engine or a race car, something like that with a lot of moving parts that all come together to make this one big bad ass machine. Then with all our friends and guests who come out and play with us, there are all these great moving parts that combine together to make this one big powerful machine.
Was the writing process for this album different than how you would approach your solo albums?
Absolutely. We really worked with a lot of really great songwriters and that really took a lot of pressure off me as opposed to when I do my solo albums. It really took a lot of weight off me and a lot of pressure to not only write with other great songwriters, but then just have songs to record that were really good and worked for me. And we worked with a lot of great guys like Serge Simic and Joey Sykes and guys that had written for a lot of artists in New York and Nashville and that kind of thing. My approach to it was a lot of pressure was alleviated and that I could just come with part of a song and either Fabrizio or one of the other writers could take it and kind of finish it out. And there was objectivity from a collective group to be able to approach something and say that’s a great idea, or no, that’s not a great idea. To have objectivity and have a collaborative project whereas for me, a lot of the times the weight of everything just lies on me and I’m not able to finish it in the way that I’m just second guessing it without having an objective view of it.
Speaking of pressure. This album features a who’s who in the world of blues rock in terms of guest artists. Bringing in talent like that did you feel any pressure to up your game?
Absolutely not. I was so honored and grateful to have everybody there that is what more of an uplifting situation for me. It was more like everybody kind of banded together to support me and help. And that’s the vibe of Supersonic Blues Machine. These were the guys that came to the table and said we want to be there for not only the band, but for me individually and I was really grateful for that. I kind of really saw who were truly my friends and help in any way they could to achieve what this band wanted to achieve and for us to play together and to have a good time and jam. It’s not a big gunslinger thing where everybody’s trying to out play each other. It was more us coming together to play together and actually to be in a situation where it was how cool is this to actually be in one big moving band. And the thing was is these guys… Robben Ford has been one of my biggest heroes to tell me he’s a fan of mine just blew my mind. For us to come together and I always kind of revered these guys and Robben being so supportive and encouraging and everyone having that same kind of view. And then of course the guys I’ve known for years like Warren Haynes and Billy and then Chris Duarte and Eric Gales. Eric Gales and I have done tons of recording and tons of projects together in the past, so we’re always trying to do stuff like that, Eric and I. Chris and I have probably known each other almost as long as Eric and I had, but it was the first time we had ever recorded anything together and we’d talked about it for years. And then Billy and I had talked about recording something together for many, many years. For those guys it was actually finally able to see things come to fruition that we had talked about for a long, long time. That was more the case of finally, not I need to up my game, or, oh no, this guy is showing up. It was more, like, we’re finally making this happen.
A lot of it too was with a guest performing either if it’s on stage or on a recording I always want to be able to feature that guest and their playing. Even if I bring somebody up to jam with me on stage I always let that guest solo first and I want to spotlight that guest because for me as much as I like to be out front doing my own guitar slinging, I like to step back and play with bands and be part of a band. And when it expands beyond a trio I’m able to sit back in the pocket and play with a great bass player and a drummer, so that’s the other side of it, too. I wanted to feature more of those guys and let them jump out in the forefront then it would be about me. So, there was never an attitude to that ever.
Is a tour in the works for the band?
Absolutely. We’re looking at starting in Europe maybe in the latter spring of this year, early summer. And then possibly the fall, so we’ve got a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of offers in the works and we will be taking some of the guests with us. We’ll probably have at least three guests from the band on tour with us probably at all times. It will be very rare that it’s just me, Kenny, and Fabrizio on the road as a trio. Walter Trout will be either be with us or Robben will be with us or Eric Gales or Duarte or any kind of different variation we’ll have at least two or three of those guys to come out and feature on their song and then a big jam session at the end of the night.
You’ve been at it a long time. Looking back at the course of your career, what would you consider your career highlight at this point?
This would definitely be the highlight of it as this point for sure. I feel this is the greatest work I’ve done. I’ve worked with a lot of great producers, but Fabrizio is just the greatest producer I’ve ever worked with. He knows how to pull just the right things out and then it’s also, again, being a band member where the weight of the world is not on me. I don’t have to do everything on my own. I still love to do that and I still play with my band, but I’m just saying it’s really good to be in a high caliber band like this one with a guy like Kenny Aronoff and Fabrizio and all these guests.
Interview by Pete Francis