FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Oscar Lopez
March 7, 2017
“The digital world has screwed us up …”, is his snap-assessment of the music industry today.
His perspective, spirit and thirst for his next audience isn’t dampened. He talked about perspective, transparency – the need to entertain yourself as well as the audience, about being older and sober. He told me he hates to stand alone on stage at a microphone without his guitar in front of him, “I feel naked without it”.
I’m sure you’ve heard the name, as I have, over many years – not just one of 'many hands in projects in Calgary’s Latin community', but as an extraordinary performer …
I attended one of his concerts several years ago – and I came away with an impression of ‘brilliant talent’, quirky performer and a sense of a brooding-deep-troubled person … yet he excited his audience incredibly. That memory was filed away, and recently revisited. I attended a fundraising concert – Oscar Lopez was one of the ‘guest performers’, and clearly he was the bright star who stole the show’. He came on simply, plugged in and played his set – except for his guitar, you could hear a pin drop – everyone mesmerized. He got a sustained standing ovation. Not the kind where people politely stand and stretch their legs, but rather appreciation of a profound listening experience. And yes, I bought his new CD that night. While I’m no connoisseur of music, I was gripped by his intensity and focused performance. Was this the same man? I was curious to find out, to find out what had changed. I sought him out and he graciously agreed to be interviewed …
I don’t have much experience with musicians, so I wondered if he would be accessible, temperamental, normal, friendly? All of these as it turns out.
Are these things one should expect from musicians – entertainers, celebrities, artisans? I didn’t know what to expect – had some preconceived notions – having seen some of ‘those moments’ on stage, indicative of arrogance, bad behavior. And, I wondered about those other perceptions we have of the music world. I admit I have some of those notions fueled perhaps by images of sex, drugs and rock & roll, about bad behavior and influences of drugs and alcohol in the world of performers. I had some of those forebodings going in … wondering what I might find if I wandered around in the life of one Oscar Lopez.
His story is remarkable … born in Santiago, Chile – his mother was a homemaker and guitarist. His dad, a teletype operator for Braniff Airways, and a guitarist. He has two older sisters [they both reside in Calgary]. His school days were unremarkable academically – his focuses were music and soccer. And girls? He smiles …
Oscar attended university in Santiago where he studied music. He tried violin. He joined a band – recorded his first 45 in 1973, Solitude, that went to #1 [it was in English – though none of the performers, including Oscar, spoke any English]. His sustenance for many years came not from music – but from cab driving, odd jobs, factory work. He moved to Calgary via stints in Toronto and Winnipeg, pursuing his music in bands and hopeful for solo work. His first big break came in Calgary – playing in restaurants on 17th Avenue as a duo, ‘Oscar and Manuel’, then concerts and records. Some mentions by Les Semeniuk on CBC, cassettes, some air time – a record label, 11 albums, concerts, travelling - the lifestyle of a recording star. Much of his music is available via his website and other sources online.
His other records/accomplishments, among other things: two marriages, two divorces, three sons, two Junos [Best Instrumental Album – Armando’s Fire in 2002, Instrumental Album of the Year ‘My Destiny’ in 2005] among many other nominations and awards. He admits to periods of being emotionally fragile, being lonely and to his transformation two years ago. Shy on details of that … he is working on a book on his transformation … he sums up with, “I can actually drive home without fear”. I found him to be clear eyed, focused and remarkably funny – reflective perhaps of the change I saw in him on stage recently vis-à-vis a few years ago.
Oscar explained the contrast between ‘leading a concert’, when “I am responsible for everything that goes on, for everyone’s performance – it is very intense” vs. when he is doing a solo role, “I focus only on my performance – I am much more relaxed, much more capable of giving my best to the audience without distraction”.
Why are you successful? “Every day that I’m alive – it is pain and happiness, and triumph – has made me who I am.”
What has held you back? “It would have been better – if there was less ego, more self-control.”
His latest work, Apasionado, is available on his website – buy the CD or download; great music and a great way to support OUR local Chilean masterpiece!
And, Oscar made it clear his three sons are his best work, of which he is most proud – and the music, well it speaks for itself.
How do you see your business – music – going forward over the next quarter?
… a process of change – the economy offers fewer opportunities for live performances, and there is lots of competition! Travel costs (I’m not being bankrolled by a record label) are difficult for independent musicians …
And over the next five years?
… I have great faith things will be better. The quality of music being marketed will improve, business will come around …
… if I had work, I’d have balance. I’m not associated with a record label. I’m self-managed, self-promoted. I’m an artist. I believe in hope. In good times I ‘saved for a rainy day’. Well, it’s raining!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my parents – so many of the people I’ve played music with, my sons, my ex-wives. My music reflects my emotions …
… things 10-year-olds like to do. Watching the Flames. Playing guitar for pleasure. Helping my family. And doing concerts!
What do you read?
… I don’t read much. I watch news, spend time on Facebook – I like images.
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