Christian Lopez is doing things his way in Nashville.

Last summer, the website Rolling Stone Country included Martinsburg native Christian Lopez on its list of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.” And yet Lopez’s sophomore album Red Arrow, released in September, doesn’t really feel like a country record.

Some might classify it as “Americana”—that popular catchall genre for roots-based music. Some of Red Arrow’s songs fit that category. But songs like “Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight” and “Someday” would be at home on pop radio, if pop music still used electric guitars.

It’s no wonder Lopez’s music is so hard to pin down. He started out in musical theater, appearing in local productions of Oliver, The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, and West Side Story. “That’s when I realized I could sing a song,” he says.

He wasn’t much interested in being a singer, however, so he took lessons on mandolin, banjo, and harmonica. He dove into guitar after seeing a picker at an Old West reenactment show in South Dakota.

He played only hard rock and metal for a while then formed a classic rock cover band when he was about 12. They couldn’t find a singer, so Lopez became the frontman. “We were killing the local bar scene,” he says. “I was making good money—probably better than I am now.”

In high school, he got into classic country artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson, then Americana bands like the Avett Brothers. His music shifted from rock ’n’ roll to roots-based music, and Lopez landed a Nashville record deal just months after receiving his diploma.

He made his debut album, Onward, with award-winning producer Dave Cobb. Lopez says he’s proud of that record but, since he let Cobb make most of the decisions, it doesn’t feel as personal as he’d like. “I didn’t know how to take a leadership role. The biggest thing I took away was, I need to know what I want.”

Now, Lopez is in the driver’s seat. And his eclectic musical roots are beginning to show through. “My goal is to never confine myself,” he says. “The music keeps changing. I think the next record is going to be totally different. I think I’m moving back to my hard rock, pop-rock roots.”

For Lopez, staying fresh means escaping Nashville as often as he can. He gets back to Martinsburg whenever possible, even if that means driving through the night at the end of a tour.

“At home, it’s different. You can look at things from the outside,” he says. “It reconnects me to why I even started.”

Zack Harold
Written by Zack Harold
Zack Harold is a southern West Virginia native. He covered education, health, and government at the Charleston Daily Mail before becoming the newspaper’s features editor. He joined New South Media in 2015, became managing editor of WV Living in January 2016, and took over as managing editor of Wonderful West Virginia in July 2016.