I don’t care if the skies are grey and the rain is falling down.
I don’t mind if an earthquake rumbles beneath my feet.
And if Hurricane Irene is keeping me under house arrest, I am still not bothered.
This is not because I am apathetic or crazy; this is because I am listening to Rene Lopez’ new album, E.L.S (Electric Latin Soul). Chock full of funky Boogaloo beats that make you get up and groove and lyrics that make you smile, this is the album to listen to when you want to shake away the blues, open the windows and let the sun shine in. Likewise, Rene Lopez himself is like a ray of sunlight.
I met up with Rene at the Blind Tiger in West Village with the intent of sitting down and speaking about his past, present, and future as a musician and son of a musical prodigy. His father, the famed Rene Lopez of Típica 73, led the Nuyorican movement throughout the seventies and his music still keeps people dancing. With questions ready and pen in hand, I soon learned that the interview wasn’t going to follow regular 2-3 salsa clave. This was going to be funky and free.
Upon entering the crowded beer establishment full of fancy beer aficionados, I immediately spotted our subject. He was beaming.
With good vibes all around, we grabbed a couple of beers and began to shoot the breeze while waiting for a table to open up. Once Rene learned that I was new to the city, he immediately began to explain that New York City is the best city in the world not only to live and play but also the best place for inspiration.
“NYC is such a melting pot. One of my favorite things to do is to just walk around this city where the people influence me everyday. The different music I hear from neighborhood to neighborhood…you go into my neighborhood where I have my studio in Williamsburg and all you hear blaring out of the windows is merengue. Just the diversity of New York influences me so much.”
Quickly I snatched a table that had opened up nearby where Rene and I sat along with two strangers who happened to come upon the table at the same time. Interview or no interview, everyone is welcome in Rene’s world. The four of us sat together. The more the merrier!
Another round of good beers for all!
As we sat together, Rene explained to the unknowing table partners that he is soon releasing an album and asked if they would like to be his guests at his album release party. Of course they accepted and without me having to ask a question, our new friends took my place as the interviewer. I was a beer drinking fly on the wall.
Growing up near New York in a small town and visiting the city for his father’s shows, Rene spent his childhood and adolescence on the cusp of diverse city living and rural relaxation.
“I grew up around salsa musicians so that was always a part of my world whether I was at a party or if I was at the club late night with my mom and dad. I absorbed the music. When we moved from the Bronx to Rockland County, I grew up in a neighborhood where all of the kids were listening to rock and roll which influenced me greatly as a drummer.”
Rene explained how the fusion of his father’s taste in salsa and jazz combined along with his interest in pop, rock and roll, and Prince piqued his interest in creating his own sounds.
“My father started playing a lot of jazz records for me at home and I started getting into playing bebop.”
Around the age of 19, Rene took a class with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, one of the greatest soul drummers of all time.
“One day Pretty Purdie had a contest in which two students who wrote the best song could go with him to the Record Plant. I and another student won, which got me excited about writing more pop inspired music.”
By the time we finished our beers, the table partners insisted that the next round was on them. Let the interview fun continue! These beers were even more refreshing and tasty than before and in a buzzed frame of mind I drew the parallels between Electro Latin Soul and Rene’s general attitude about life. Direct questions are not necessary when a person is creating something from their heart.
“As a child, my fathers music totally influenced what I am doing now. I am going back and all I do is listen to those records as well as boogaloo. Even though I am not a salsa musician, it plays a huge role in the music I am making now,” Rene said.
Since Rene’s time spent in the band ‘The Authority’ and his past solo recordings of One Man’s Year and People are Just People, E.L.S. marks a point in his life where things are just right.
“I think on all of my records I am constantly searching within myself. I was going through some of my past records and listened to “I know what I see” and thought to myself that it sounded very Americana. I was being honest with myself and really digging deep to play what I thought was true. but now, I feel really happy and very grounded with the music that comes out of me. My youth is coming out. My childhood is back.”
E.L.S. is clearly the result of time spent listening, experimenting, and living. The album starts off with “E.L.S.” which is an exuberant fusion of funky pop beats, Latin flourishes, and Spanish quips. Mid song, you can’t help but get up, find a partner and break into a salsa dance mixed with some freestyle groove. Things slow down a bit with the seductive cha-cha inspired “Honey Got Some Love,” which gives listeners the chance to indulge in their own five senses. All in all, E.L.S. is composed of music that is bright, sunny, and extremely optimistic. Such is the case with “Johnny Wants to be a Matador” and “Shing-a-ling Is what I Bring.”
After coming out of my beer induced, parallel drawing thoughts, I came back to the situation at hand and noticed Rene, the table partners, and myself laughing. At what? I don’t remember.
As night began to fall, we all felt like old friends that had to temporarily part. Luckily we will all see each other again at the E.L.S. release party. Before saying our final goodbyes, I asked Rene excitedly if he is planning on visiting Austin, Texas anytime soon to which he responded, “If the offer is there, I would love to go into Austin to play.”
Before meeting Rene, I was slightly annoyed with the term “shing-a-ling.” I couldn’t understand the necessity of this Boogaloo synonym in so many songs. But after meeting Rene, I understand. It’s all about that “shing-a-ling” attitude, and like he says in his song, he brings it.
Watch Rene Lopez perform “I Flow” from E.L.S. below.