By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Cassie Lopez.
Singer-songwriter Cassie Lopez, formerly of Bitch Cave and Chick Salad, diverges from her rock roots in favor of an acoustic shoegaze in her debut solo album, Mother Tongue, released this past October. If her soft reverb vocals don’t hypnotize you, the dreamy riffs will, brushed here and there with little pops from a… wait, what is that sound?–oh, yeah, a pedal steel.
Her style calls to mind a sort of female Iron & Wine, with a lyrical conscience just as raw despite the sweetness of her melodies. Based out of Lexington, Kentucky, Lopez is also an accomplished photographer. BTR caught up with her to chat about the intersection of the two art forms and the evolution of her demos from conception to finished product.
BTR: What’s your background as a musician?
Cassie Lopez (CL): I’m from Virginia, originally, near DC. When I was in high school I made friends with my current roommate–we’ve been best friends for 10 years. He was recording music already when I met him, I was 14 and he was a year older, and he had me play the violin on some of his songs and then I wanted to write songs, too.
I started doing that and began recording at his house, and just kept up with it. We moved to West Virginia and I played with some bands there, then I moved to Michigan and stopped playing for a few years, and then a year and a half ago I moved to Kentucky and started playing and recording again.
BTR: What’s it like to branch out on your own?
CL: Well I’ve always done solo music too, and Chick Salad was very similar to my solo music in that I wrote stuff and then brought it to people that I trusted and knew were really good musicians and said, “what do you want to put on this?” [I] trusted them to do whatever they wanted to do. It’s not that different in that I don’t really jam with other people, I just write by myself.
The records I did before my most recent one I wrote by myself, just in my house, and then the most recent one I did with two friends of mine and they contributed a lot to it. Working by yourself you have the option to get less feedback from other people if you want, but I really love the musicians I know and I like to collaborate because they think of things that I would never think of.
BTR: Can you tell me more about that writing process with your latest release, Mother Tongue? Any specific vibe or themes there?
CL: I was going through some bummer stuff at the time, but that’s all that I ever write about. Usually once I’m on the other side of a bad experience I write about it a little bit and explain it to myself. I’ve learned to play a lot of finger picking folk music and open tunes, and once I started playing that way I wanted to write a record that was more open and see what happened.
I was feeling really sad, so I just let that happen.
I didn’t really think too much about it… It’s really just about showing up.
BTR: What do you mean by “showing up?”
CL: For like a month I just show up every day at where I’m writing, which was my room in this case. Most of the time I don’t sit down with a guitar, but every once in a while I’ll get in this mood where I’m like, “okay, I’m gonna show up for this month.” Every day I’ll sit down and write something and record it, and most of the time it’s not that good but sometimes it winds up being better than I thought. It ends up being a really condensed, “oh that’s what I was feeling like that month.”
I think if I were to show up every month for the year, all year long, I’d have a lot more things to choose from. But usually it’s just once a year that I decide it’s time for me to be there and do something.
Album art for Mother Tongue. Photo courtesy of Cassie Lopez.
BTR: Are there any songs that you feel are particularly reflective of moments of vulnerability?
CL: [laughs] Yeah, I mean, on the last record all of them. But I especially remember the song “A Sail, A Row,” and how during that song I was trying to figure out where I stood with this person. My relationship was up in the air with them. It was over, but it also felt like it wasn’t in a certain way.
It was a very confusing time for me and I remember we hadn’t talked in a while and then we talked, and as soon as we got off the phone I sat down and wrote that song. I know I was feeling a lot of heaviness when I wrote that one. But I wanted to bring myself that feeling. I mean, with all my songs I want to be able to remember what I was feeling, so that happens across the board, but I would say with that one I remember the exact conversation, the exact day, the exact time… with other ones it is more general.
BTR: When you’re writing do the lyrics or melody come first?
CL: For me melody always comes first. I’ll be playing the guitar and come up with something that I try to sing along to, but the words usually come later. I don’t write poetry without music.
BTR: What was the recording process like for Mother Tongue?
CL: I recorded eight demos and showed them to my really good friend Adam, who played guitar on the record. We talked about how all the records I had done that were solo were recorded by bands, but I had never recorded my stuff on my own. He lives in Nashville with a good friend Justin–who is now my good friend too–and said he thought Justin could understand my vision and the three of us could make something way different from the demos. Which [in the end], it came out not crazy different from the demos, they’re definitely still ambient. The recording process ended up being a collaboration between the three of us.
I had originally recorded 15 vocal tracks and put tons of reverb on them and I think Justin really helped to make me stop hiding behind the reverb and Adam added all these sounds. He’s a really good guitarist who’s currently touring with a power rock band but he plays in country bands and all other sorts, so he has a historical knowledge of music and also really empathized with what I was trying to do.
BTR: You’re a photographer as well; do you feel those two kinds of art forms inform each other?
I’ve been trying to figure out how those things can go together for a long time. When I was in school studying photography I made a lot of video projects and photography work that had musical accompaniments to it. I was trying to connect the two in a really obvious way.
But now I’m ok with knowing that I come at everything the same. I try to be really genuine and make something beautiful and optimistic, and I’ve had people tell me my whole life, “oh your pictures remind me of your music,” and that’s great, but I don’t know that they exist necessarily in the same location. I think when a person gets to know me, if they can see it all, they’ll see that. But though [photography and music] are connected through me, I think I’ve kind of given up for the time being on trying to make them exist in the same room.
BTR: So what are your future plans, any new bands?
CL: Actually I’m not really thinking that much about a band because I’m really busy, so it’s hard for me to imagine having time for that… and I mean this in the least “I’m a cool recluse” way, because that’s not how it is, but I don’t really like to leave my house. I don’t like to go to bars and play shows, I kind of like to be at home all the time, and the thing that serves that best is to record music at my house. Possibly I’ll record again with Justin and Adam. I know a lot of really talented people and I love when I make something and they bring their point of view to it… So I really want that to happen more, but I don’t know what form it will take.
For more from Cassie Lopez head to her Bandcamp or BTR’s own In The Den.