Back on the scene with a soaring new rock album of conceptual and stylistic peaks – the founder and front-man of Colorado’s Lion Drome, Mike Lopez, kindly took part in an interview.
We dig into the stories behind the music and the band’s first appearance, as well as plans for the future and some unheard gems from behind the scene. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Mike, thanks so much for the interview – and huge congrats for the brilliant new album! For those new to the Lion Drome realm, what inspired the act’s formation and debut back in 2014?
It was time for a reinvention of musical focus. I had spent the previous nearly ten years with a band I formed called GasHead, and that came to an end.
It started out as a heavy instrumental four-piece, which gained a small level of notoriety with two CD releases and then became a more prominent band when we added a singer and put on our own version of what we thought modern thrash metal should sound like. Our 2007 release, The Isolationist, received a fair amount of praise. We would later work with original Megadeth lead guitarist, Chris Poland on a single.
When that succumbed to several logistical challenges, I left myself open to other artistic expressions. I’ve always had many musical outlets and associated releases so it was natural to adapt and clear the slate, so to speak.
The first songs that came together were very Jeff Buckley inspired. A lot of moody material. But I moved past that after a good run of writing and started incorporating my love of eighties hard rock (mostly guitar driven elements) and new wave (mostly synthesizer sounds…i.e. The Cars and Duran Duran). This emerging hybrid of 90’s alternative rock and eighties sounds captured my imagination and I started to run with it and widen the scope of my songwriting.
I really hit a special outpouring of material around this 2012-2015 period. I’ll likely have some strong “old” material to go back to for a couple more albums, I’d guess.
The name refers to the Wall Of Death feature often uniting hard rock and motorcycles in real-time – something I have fond memories of seeing as a kid (ours is a Harley Davidson-obsessed Dad). What was it about this that first impressed or connected with you?
I was online, and browsing interesting articles on the humor site Cracked.com and came across an article about these features at traveling carnivals in the 1930’s called the Wall of Death / Lion Drome. I was fascinated, looking at these old black and white photos of motorcycle riders with giant cats – usually a lion – sitting in the side car next to them as they zoomed around this wall-like track.
“It’s always hard coming up with a good name for a band or musical endeavor & I was drawn to using “Lion Drome” for both its unlikeliness to be used & also what it could communicate about what I wanted to put out musically.”
To me it suggested an unexpected and attractive combination of entertainment, or in my world, combination of styles and influences.
So it stuck, but it usually does require some explanation. More than once, I’ll get people assuming it’s Lion “Dome” and it’s got to be some sort of rock formation. Ha ha!
Genre-wise you touch on a lot of influences and styles. How would you describe the sound of the new album, and which track from the playlist do you think best represents that overall?
Lion Drome is a hybrid or fusion of guitar focused eighties rock, synth-heavy new wave details and nineties alternative (more in subject matter and tone).
Perhaps the most important factor running through most songs is the inclusion of some element of epic-ness or drama. Although I love my eighties guitar heroes and bands, I’m not really programmed for too much of the party themes and vapid rehashes. I’ve always been pretty proud of my lyrical content and in fact got quite a bit of praise in the thrash band for it.
As for what represents this album the best, if you judged on what other listeners have gravitated to, it has been such a wide variety, which is honestly very gratifying. You’d think that something like Here and Gone, which is one of the most obvious “singles” would tip the scales but no, it’s so incredibly varied.
SOL-2208 and Parallel Construction are two proud moments because I’m taken aback sometimes that such deep material came out of me. And then for some reason, I always really look forward to hearing Greatest Generation when I play the album.
Summing it down to one is super tough. I actually think the one song so far that covers the most Lion Drome ingredients is from our 2014 release, a song called Winter (shred mix). Having said that, this new self-titled release, with its more edgy tone, is superior and I think, a treasure of a lot of expressions. To each, their own.
What comes first in the creative process, concept or musicality?
Almost always, it’s writing a riff or a chord sequence. If it catches my ear, I play it in my head pretty regularly. It becomes a bit of a loop in my head and then my brain starts adding things like vocal melodies, lyric chunks, other instrumentation.
If I’ve got a good start on most of those, I will draft an early demo. From there, it’s an exercise in building and refining to the point it looks like a good bet to get recorded.
Why did you choose to explore the topics of SOL 2208, and how do you generally decide what to write about?
SOL 2208, I’m sure just came from a love of science fiction. It reimagines what lead to the loss of communication with the Mars rover, Spirit, ten years ago or so.
My imagination and too many sci-fi flicks helped me craft a story where the planet Mars is sentient enough to understand that it may be colonized one day by these visitors. As a defensive response, it uses the communication link between the rover and home to locate Earth and it sets about a collision path to us. It would rather die than be colonized.
“The cool thing about the lyrics is that it’s from the perspective of the rover, which is shocked by the unnatural things it is witnessing on Mars & helpless to do anything but manage a short distorted warning.”
I think an exciting and/or underused perspective drives my lyrical directions. SOL 2208 is a bit of a subject matter outlier but even the male-female relationship songs have something pointedly tender or heartbreaking in a colorful way, that gives me some writer’s satisfaction.
Which song means the most to you personally, and why?
Parallel Construction is the most personal. It covers a painful time of being a father to my teenage daughter, who was a bright, beautiful person but with a lot of directional issues she had at the time. A “parallel construction” is loosely defined as an alternate reality built up to be reality for other’s consumption. In other words, she created layers of lies upon lies that were exhausting to cut through and get to the truth.
The song is about reaching that point of exhaustion as a father who just wants to protect, love and redirect as best he knows how. It was a piece of music I held on to for several years as I wanted it to be treated with the upmost effort. I remember telling Mark Foerster, my bass player, to pick up his fretless bass and come up with a mournful bass line. That performance is one of my favorite on the whole recording. My daughter today, is a new mother with a beautiful little girl, wonderful future husband and amazing life-gifts spanning career and relationships. That “happy ending” aside, it’s still really important to seize and write about those periods, even if they pass. That’s why I choose Parallel Construction.
Why did you choose these two covers specifically to round up the project?
Eyes Without a Face was just a fun pick where I got to sing a little lower in spots. We recorded it back in 2016, I believe as the b-side to an early version of Hear and Gone as a single. I think Billy Idol is a little under-appreciated so I was happy to shine a little light there.
As for Sunglasses at Night, perhaps a bit more random. During COVID, I sat at home and recorded something like 35-40 cover songs and Sunglasses at Night was one of them. I always thought that the keyboard riff in that song was heavier than most realized…like a degree off of Fear of the Dark from Iron Maiden or something. So I heavied it up a bit and we used my home demo and mixed it in the studio for the record.
The record would have been just fine without the covers but including them does underline the source of a lot our Lion Drome ingredients. It wouldn’t be unexpected to see more eighties covers pop up from here on out.
Are live shows a big part of your plans?
They aren’t at the moment but I would be receptive to be pushed back in that direction with the right supportive elements. In other words, I’ve been focusing a lot of $ on recording, promotion and even some label connections that there isn’t anything left to go to rehearsal spaces and hiring of musicians, who could commit to a schedule and deliver the music at a super high level.
Certainly, the musicians who record with me now would fit in the performance category but it’s not a conversation we have broached. Beyond them, I’d want an incredible guitarist who could learn all my rhythm stuff and free me up to focus on vocals and more auxiliary guitar duties.
Finally, a killer synth player with all the sounds would be in order. Perhaps if one of the label things happens, there would be more momentum to come back the live stage. It’s all about lining up what is possible and what makes sense, after all, Lion Drome is pretty much myself with contributors and the bottom line starts here.
Who would you collaborate with if you could choose anyone at all, past or present, and why?
I’ll give you one dream answer and one more specific song answer that I’d really consider trying to make happen.
Dream answer: to work with Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde. I had a band called Eve’s Drop in the late 90’s/early 2000’s that was based a bit on Concrete Blonde. I loved her and the guitar player, James Mankey. Both are a couple of my favorite musicians. I think I could play James’ part for a day and come up with something cool with her.
Secondly, I’ve been sitting on a song called Lost Along the Way which just screams Miles Kennedy (Alter Bridge, Slash) on vocals. Not sure how much would cost me but I’d do it in a heartbeat.
What’s something about you or this project that audiences might be surprised to hear?
A couple personal tidbits:
1. My wife and I met on a photo shoot for an Eve’s Drop CD.
2. I won a contest in 2011 to play on stage with my first guitar hero, George Lynch and
3. At least locally, my son, who is a high functioning Downs kid, is way more popular than me as a musician. He stars in a video called Ghost by a band called Valdez. They showed the video on the arena screens to start his high school graduation last weekend. I may never catch up to him! Check out the video. It’s pretty uplifting.
Is there anything else we should know?
Yeah, 2023 is the year of recording singles so far. I imagine they would eventually form the makings of the next album. In January, I released a song call Black Light Cobra, which is a bit of a mini-epic at 7 minutes long. It is one of the coolest things I’ve done, spanning a lot of melodic content, rocking with enthusiasm and paying tribute to some 27 musical artists or specific songs in the lyrics. It also has a pretty shreddy version of U2’s I Will Follow as the b-side. And yes, that was another COVID era cover getting used.
Following that up are two singles we are about to enter the studio with in Hero Down and Star 5280. Basically, I’m recording those to possibly move forward some label relationships, first and foremost, but who knows what seeds they will ultimately plant. There still is no ring on this finger, so to speak. 😉
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