Interview With Nate Lopez 8-String Hybrid Guitar-Bass Player

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Nate Lopez about his playing technique and upcoming album Rejuvenate. Nate plays a hybrid 8-string bass-guitar instrument he worked with luthiers to build. The guitar uses a fanned fretboard with scale lengths from 25 to 29 inches. He tunes the lower three strings as bass strings EAD and the upper 5 strings as guitar strings ADGBE.

Nate plays groove-oriented jazz and improvises guitar and bass lines simultaneously. His recordings have interesting melodic lines and counterpoint while anchored with the main groove. In this interview, we talked about his technique development, influences like funk and Indian classical music, and even his thoughts on AI in music.

Check out Nate’s site: https://natelopez.com/

And follow him on Spotify to hear the new album Rejuvenate when it drops:

Background

Brogan: To start off, is there anything about your background that you haven’t talked about in other interviews that you would want to share?

Nate: You know, when people see the name Lopez, they also assume that I play flamenco or Spanish music. There’s definitely an assumption that I do that which is interesting. I don’t think that’s necessarily true of all other surnames of different ethnicities. And I don’t I don’t really do that. You know, I might do a little bit of Brazilian jazz music or something like that, but I don’t play any kind of flamenco or any mariachi music or anything like that. And there’s nothing wrong with that music. All music is great for sure, but it’s interesting how when you say your name’s Lopez, there is this kind of thing that goes with it, which is a trip.

As far as other stuff from my background, I played metal a lot when I was a kid. I was really into Megadeth and Metallica and Death and Morbid Angel and that kind of stuff at the time. Primus and Rage Against the Machine, that kind of stuff was really where I came from. So I really like heavy music quite a bit. But I really like anything that grooves and that’s always been what draws me to music.

On Grooving in Solo Guitar Music

Brogan: The groove is what I noticed listening to your music. Even on tunes that you might expect a more straight-ahead jazz or swing interpretation, they’re more groovy, you know? Like that version of All of Me from your next album Rejuvenate. It’s just a cool thing that you set up a groove and backbeat first.

Nate: Yeah, I mean, I do that for a variety of reasons. For one, that’s really how I hear the tune. And on this Rejuvenate album, I wanted to go back to all these jazz standards that I learned in college and was playing back in the day. But I don’t do regular jazz gigs. I do occasionally, but I don’t do regular swing and jazz. I want to interpret these tunes in a more modern way.

If the song is good, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Britney Spears song or a Nirvana song, or Gershwin or Duke Ellington or Miles Davis. So I grew up, you know, listening to all that metal. But I also grew up listening to A Tribe Called Quest, Run DMC, James Brown, and all kinds of funk on in the background. So I hear those drums in my head when I’m playing a lot of the time. So I kind of play along to that groove.

So on the Rejuvenate album, I thought it would be really fun to just kind of reimagine some of those standards in a little bit more modern way. And I’m not the first person to do this, but I think it’s a lot of fun to do that. And then I think it also helps kind of connect with the audience. If the audience is tapping their foot or bobbing their head, then they’re physically engaged in a way that’s different than just listening.

Depending on the venue, you’re not always getting active listeners who are really into it, you know, unless they’re musicians. Maybe you’re not getting these people who are really digging the different changes and all the different note choices. So you’ve got to kind of connect in another way. I try and connect through the groove.

Brogan: Yeah, definitely. Your music is good for active listening but also just having it on to groove and help you get stuff done. It has a lot of different applications.

Nate: Yeah, that’s all I want. I just want something that’s that’s fun to listen to, you know, and and it doesn’t have to be like reading an essay.

About the 8-String Guitar-Bass Hybrid

Brogan: So I think it’s interesting how you approached eight-string from the bass side. You consider it an 8-string hybrid guitar-bass?

Nate: Yeah, I like it. I think it’s a fun guitar and it has split pickups. It’s got three bass strings going to a bass amp and five guitar strings to like effects and a guitar amp. I’ve got that split output so it feels like two different instruments.

Brogan: And as far as tuning goes, you use the low three strings E A D from a bass and the five high strings A D G B E from a guitar?

Nate: Yeah, exactly. And I never change that. I know there are a lot of guitar players who play DADGAD or all these different tunings. But I just play in that tuning. I mean, you know, it takes so long for a tuning to become intuitive. And if you just scramble those notes around, that’s like crazy for me. So I need them to be in the same spot all the time.

To me that tuning of a bass guitar plus a regular guitar just makes a lot of sense. It’s very similar to a regular 6 string guitar. It’s tuned EADGBE then with two extra bass strings in the middle.

I never think of it as having drop D tuning since I have that D on the 6th string. I never think of it like that. And then two extra bass strings or anything like that. I think of it just like a regular guitar EADGBE But then those extra bass strings for for extra fills and basslines.

Brogan: Wow, that’s interesting. At first, I was thinking of it as a drop D thing, but it’s not because the low D is a bass string.

Nate: Yeah. And to me, that’s my highest bass string, so I’ll use it like that. But I’ve never played in drop D in my life. I never have actually played a gig with it or spent really any kind of time with that.

Brogan: Right.

Nate: I look down at the low E string and then I get my bearings. With a low B string of a five-string bass or seven-string guitar, it just wrecks my foundation a little bit. So I always look at that low E string and then by the time you get to the D string, it’s just an extension of the bass strings.

Western and Indian Classical Influences

Brogan: That makes a lot of sense. So how about when you were developing your technique with your right hand? You started as a bass player. Did you study any classical guitar techniques?

Nate: Yeah. I did a little bit, but even when I was taking classical guitar lessons, I was still playing it on my bass guitar. You know, I was a bass player, I had that foundation. You have that groove, you have that funk. And I didn’t really want to give that up. So I really focused on that and trying to just expand what the bass guitar could do.

I studied with this guitar player, Matthew Grasso, who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and also studied at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael studying North Indian classical music. He really opened up my mind to a lot of classical guitar techniques like free strokes, rest strokes, and so many different things. And just proper ways to practice. And then he also turned me on to a lot of Hindustani music as well.

I recommend everyone study Indian classical music, regardless of whether you want to play it or not. The concepts of rhythm and melody are so advanced. It really puts everything in perspective. So yeah, I studied for a little bit at the Ali Akbar College of Music after studying with Matthew. It’s close to my house so I had to go check that out. It was a fantastic experience.

On Melody, Bass, and Groove Independence

Brogan: Awesome. I was going to say, your independence of the bass side is really cool. You’re playing multiple things at once. Not just block chords or parallel lines.

Nate: Yeah. Thanks. It’s a lot of fun and I practiced that a lot. I do all the basslines with my thumb and then occasionally I’ll bring my index finger for fast sections. And I never use my right-hand pinky. Then I’m using these three fingers (index, middle, ring) for the melody. Then you’ll hear some percussive stuff where I’m hitting down with the palm of my hand.

All of that percussive stuff is totally subconscious. I don’t practice that or think about that at all. I just kind of put that in to help mute the extra strings.

You know, one of the hardest things about playing the eight-string is managing all those strings ringing out when you’re not trying to play all of them. So that right-hand technique just helps wrap it all together and keep it a little more contained.

In my head, I’m hearing that snare on the backbeat all the time. You hear it in many types of music, not just hip hop, but a lot of pop music, a lot of R&B, all that kind of stuff. So I hear that in my head and I just kind of subconsciously do that with my palm.

On Improvisation

Brogan: So about your upcoming Rejuvenate album, how much is composed vs. improvised?

Nate: Because I’m playing this eight-string hybrid guitar, I can’t really steal chord melodies or voicings from a lot of people. So I’m making my own kind of chord melody arrangements, of all those different melodies and then every solo is totally different and completely improvised.

And I just hope that they’re good. Sometimes they’re not as good as I want them to be, but maybe the whole feel of the tune is good and I’ll just kind of go with that.

I’m surprised when people talk about composing solos. I think a solo is an improvisation, and the solo is how you’re feeling at that moment in that song. And I don’t care if you’re just playing a Mustang Sally or some sort of blues tune that you played a million times before. I want to know how you’re feeling in that moment and how the band is.

Whether the band is inspiring you to play a certain way or whatever other feelings there are, you know, maybe what food you had that day or how your dogs are feeling or whatever is going on, everything impacts us.

So all my solos are improvised and I’m surprised when metal guys, blues guys, rock guys, write their solos. I mean there have been some incredible solos. Neil Schon from Journey has written some just beautiful, singable, incredible solos. Kirk Hammett from Metallica has written some just really recognizable singable solos.

And and so many other people. But then I’m surprised when you go see them live. They’re gonna play the same thing. Like, no man. I mean, I love that solo, but I want to hear how you’re feeling in the moment. So I like as much improvisation in music as possible. So the head is arranged, but then I just kind of go at it and then and then get back to the head.

Brogan: But you’re improvising accompaniment too, right? Because you’re doing the bass along with your solo.

Nate: Yeah, completely. When you’re playing solo stuff, rather than interacting with the band, you’re kind of interacting with yourself. The more complicated the guitar line, the less you can do other things on the bass side. Then having a little space in the guitar line lends itself to giving it a little bass fill.

Again, I’m not consciously trying to throw in different things there. I’m just trying to emote and be real in the moment and then whatever happens, happens. It’s for better or worse. It’s not always perfect, but I don’t really strive for perfection. Even in the studio I strive for something that’s fun to listen to and groove and that I enjoy.

On Recording Techniques

Brogan: So when you go to record, do you have any pre-recording rituals? Do you drink tea beforehand or chill out with some special album?

Nate: That’s a question I ask a lot of people because I always want to hear what other people are doing. Like, how do you get in that zone? Because I’m fortunate to have a home studio. I record everything on this little Zoom recorder and then I mix down things and master things in Pro Tools.

So I have the opportunity to go over it again. But I have been in other studios where you’re spending all this money, you know. You’re in Nashville and you got the studio for four hours, OK, you gotta just do it. And it’s really important, I think whether you have the opportunity to go in for multiple takes or not, it’s still really important to get into that headspace.

So I don’t have anything specific. I do try and just be mellow and relaxed, really. Physically, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m warmed up more than anything and mentally I do try and listen to music that is inspiring.

Oftentimes it’s not the same genre. It could be Itzhak Perlman playing 24 Caprices from Paganini. You hear people really give themselves to what they’re playing. For someone who gigs fairly often, four or five times a week, I really strive to keep that honesty and that realness when I’m playing. And sometimes when you’re playing a tune over and over, it can get hard to stay inspired to give it your all.

So I do try and listen to any kind of recording that really turns me on. It’s not just the notes. That’s emotion. And that’s kind of the thing that I’ll do. I’ll listen to Eric Gales. He’s fantastic. His live stuff at the NAMM shows is really inspiring for me, for sure, and so I’ll listen to something like that.

Brogan: And you never know how many times they played whatever they’re performing, too.

Nate: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. On Rejuvenate, some of the tracks are first takes and some of them are second takes. I try not to go too many beyond that especially in one day because you do start to lose some of that freshness. But I think some of them are like take six or something like that. For the most part, it’s the first or second take.

Brogan: That’s awesome that you have that all set up in your spot too. You can just record.

Nate: Yeah. It’s just a tiny little kind of closet of a room. It’s nice to have kind of your own designated space because you can lose the inspiration just in plugging in the chords and getting all that stuff set up, you know? If you’re recording at home.

Gig Horror Stories

Brogan: Going back to the gig topic, do you have any gig horror stories? Like you get somewhere and they say they don’t want you to play with amplification or something.

Nate: Oh yeah, there are so many things for sure. I continuously run into that where people are like, OK, we want to do this gig, but we want to do this acoustically. Well, I’m outside and it’s windy and we’ve got 150 people here. And there’s no kind of amphitheater or anything like that. I’m happy to play acoustically. But you won’t be able to hear me.

And I kind of go back and forth on that. I’m not a very loud player. I don’t need to play super loud. I just want to play loud enough to where I’m not fighting to bring out the most volume. But just playing completely acoustically is really, really hard.

I run into these issues because I play a variety of different venues. I wish I could always be playing, you know, big festivals with the sound guy and everybody sitting there. But as a working musician, sometimes you’re doing background gigs for a corporate thing or something like that, and they do need you to be a little quieter, and that’s fine.

I mean, I’ve been told I was too loud before I even started playing. They say, “Oh, sorry, that’s that’s a little too loud.” Like, are you kidding me? I think I actually had that more than one time at different gigs.

Brogan: Geeze.

Nate: Yeah. I’ve also had gigs where fellow musicians weren’t acting right, getting drunk, arguing with the staff. I had this one gig where a drummer was doing something fancy with a stick, so he flipped up his stick to try and catch it and he ended up falling back and falling off the drum throne in the middle of the song. That’s not the worst thing to happen. That was more funny than terrible. I’ve been to gigs where it’s double booked, but sometimes that can be nice to make the most of the situation and work out how to play together as long as everyone’s getting paid.

Advice for Musicians Getting Out There

Brogan: Do you have any advice for musicians looking to get out more in their local scene and get more gigs on their calendars?

Nate: Yeah, I mean I’ve also had gigs where the musicians come in and they smell terrible. They play great, but maybe they didn’t wash their shirt that day. Maybe they didn’t take a shower that day and they smell terrible and that kind of throws me off. This is rough. So, little things like being clean are really helpful.

Sometimes we’ll have an attitude in music. Say I’m playing hard rock or I’m playing blues and I’m supposed to be creating a vibe and I’m supposed to have an attitude, and that’s great. You can have whatever you want when you’re on stage and you’re performing. But when you’re talking to the staff, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to the busboy or the owner of the venue, you have to be polite, just like you would want someone else to be with you. And that goes a real long way.

Just acting right and looking right. And I’m not saying you need to wear a suit and tie either. That may be totally inappropriate for the music. But be early and be nice and be clean. Those are kind of the biggest things. And also practice your craft. I enjoy practicing quite a bit. I practice with the metronome and I enjoy that. Maybe I’ll put on a Netflix show and practice along if it’s something mundane like I’m just doing scales.

Some people don’t practice as much as they should. I don’t practice as much as I should. But yeah, practice your craft, get it good. Get it to where it’s not just good enough, but it’s great.

Left-Hand 8-String Challenges

Brogan: I wanted to ask, are there challenges with your left hand? Stretching across the length and width of the eight-string fingerboard when you’re trying to get out your ideas.

Nate: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s that’s one of the hardest things when you’re playing a bassline. So if I’m using a barre, I’m barring with my index finger or my middle finger pretty much exclusively. Sometimes I’ll be playing a bass string with my ring finger, but it’s almost always index or middle. So I’m kind of barring those fingers, and I’m soloing with that pinky. I’m doing, like, full bends on the pinky.

Brogan: Oh wow.

Nate: I’ve got 11-gauge strings on my guitar and it’s pretty comfortable for me. I don’t have a problem. But that’s always the challenge because you’ve got several different positions. Let’s say you’re holding down a G note. You’ve got your G on the third fret on the low E string, you’ve got your octave G up there on the 5th fret of the D string. You got your G up on the 10th fret of the A string. So if you’re going to hold down a steady bassline around G, you’ve got several different positions that you can be in, but you’re kind of locked into those positions.

There can be a tendency to play licks or play something that you’re used to. And I really try to avoid that as much as possible and be independently expressive. I find it’s more a mental issue than a physical one. Your mind is trying to accept that you’re doing two different things at once. It seems like it’s a physical issue and there’s definitely a lot of physicality to it, but I find when I kind of break through to that creative space it is more mental. But yeah, I mean stretching is always hard. My instruments are 25- to 29-inch scale length, so there’s a big four-inch fan. But I find it very comfortable.

And I don’t have huge hands. You know, you may think, OK, I need to hold down this bassline the whole time, but there’s always something to be said for space. So if you’re trying to do some lick, it’s OK to let that bassline go for a little bit. But I mean I do practice quite a bit. I find if I practice too much on the six-string the eight-string does feel a little big. So I try to practice on the eight-string, especially an acoustic eight-string. It’s a little wider and harder to play than the electric. I almost always practice with that so that when I go to my gig, it’s easier.

Brogan: That’s similar to something I do. I try to practice songs a little faster than I’ll play them. Yeah. And so they’re easier.

Nate: Yeah, exactly. And slower too. It can be really difficult because you’ll find out if you’re actually grooving. Maybe I’m not actually grooving and when you slow it down, you can really feel that. And yeah, definitely with speed. I go back and forth between practicing it at the tempo I want to record at and then practicing how fast I can play the song. Whether clean or messy. How fast can I play this song? And I think it’s nice to know your limits. So that you can push those.

Thoughts on AI in Music

Brogan: Here’s a random question: Do you have any thoughts on AI in music? It’s just starting out right now and doesn’t write that great, but I’ve heard some examples where you can tell it to do a romantic song on the classical guitar and it sounds pretty good. You know, good enough for an elevator or a store to play.

Nate: Yeah, I’ve heard some different things, and sometimes I’ll be listening to some music in a restaurant or something, and I’ll hear a tune. And it’s not the original recording of this tune. And I’ll Shazam it or something. And it turns out it’s nobody. It’s not even a small band or anything like that, and I wonder if it’s AI. But yeah, I have pretty strong feelings on AI in general, especially when it comes to art, doing AI background actors, and AI in visual arts.

Brogan: Or in album covers.

Nate: Yeah, all that stuff. I don’t really like any of it. It’s inescapable in a lot of ways. You have to kind of take the good with the bad, but no, I don’t think it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have art made without people and making prompts for me does not count as making with people.

I think it’s just too far away from being human. I don’t even like using loops. I don’t do pre-programmed beats and I don’t make loops on the fly because I want it to be real in the moment. I’d rather have it be imperfect and real than perfect and non-human.

I think you’ve got people who are very much on one side or the other. And yeah, there are some things that can AI help with but I don’t see the point in it. There are so many different people making music but you really need to make this stuff artificially?

Especially at this point, there’s somebody who’s doing what you want, and maybe they’re doing it better than you knew you wanted. You can put your prompts in and get something that’s pretty, we have so many different recordings of classical masters and so many current artists. So why are we even doing it? Are we doing it to avoid paying royalties? We’re doing it to avoid paying musicians. That’s not right.

And I think it also it also cheapens art. Nowadays, you look at a movie poster or something and have to ask, was it actually made by someone? Is this an actual clip of the movie or not? You have to kind of question if it’s real and I think that’s rough. I wish that didn’t happen.

It’s as if nobody’s seen the Terminator movies from the 80s. Like, come on, this only leads to a bad place as far as I’m concerned. And I was even arguing with this bass player yesterday. He said, “AI is the future. It’s the only way we’re going to survive.” And I don’t agree. I don’t. I don’t think it’s beneficial pretty much on any level in any art medium at all. I don’t see the point.

I think there was a novel written recently that won an award and it’s the first time an AI book has won an award. But they said, “Oh no, it’s good. It’s well written.” It’s supposed to be in the style of Kurt Vonnegut or something like that. Sure it’s well written and it has an interesting story. And I don’t care. Art, I think should be a human thing. And that is the art, it’s the humanness of it. So the more that you’re removed from that, the worse the art is, regardless of how initially pleasing it might seem.

Brogan: Yeah, it’s tough. I think in our country especially, because so much music is just a commodity to fill space in commercials or restaurants or whatever.

Nate: Right. It’s a soundtrack rather than something to do. In the 60’s you would go buy a record and go listen to that record as an activity. Today, maybe your favorite band comes out with a new album and it’s like, cool. This is a new record. But people don’t go to someone’s house to listen to it collectively, as an activity, and I think that’s such a shame. It gets kind of shoved into something in the background. Oh, we gotta have music in the background of this restaurant.

Brogan: Yeah, totally. I mean, hopefully we’ll still be able to play gigs. You know, it’s not like there are actual robots that are going to play music right now.

Nate: Right, right. Yeah, not yet, but maybe sooner than later. Though DJs still exist and the iPod Shuffle came out a long time ago. So you can load your playlist up with all your favorite tunes and you just hit play. That does exist where DJs won’t get gigs, but there are still plenty of DJs you know making money being there just adding that human element to it. So yeah, and I think that’s important. I think that’s that’s the whole point of it all.

What Kind of Animal Is Your Music?

Brogan: Just one last question. If your music, your sound, your your general vibe, was an animal, what kind of animal would it be?

Nate: Oh wow, I so much want to just say Liger, but that’s probably not the best answer right away.

Brogan: Makes sense

Nate: I kind of think of an octopus in the way that they are so incredibly intelligent and doing multiple things in different ways. I kind of like the octopus idea. Also, my roommate back in the day used to have a tortoise. We would play music and put the tortoise down on the ground and the tortoise would kind of groove to it and move back and forth to it. And I like that simplicity. It doesn’t have to be like my music is some sort of hyper-intelligent, multi-limbed animal that can do all kinds of things. It can just be this tortoise that’s just being and grooving.

So yeah, one of those answers, a tortoise, liger, or octopus.

Brogan: That’s awesome. Yeah. Any of those could work.

Nate: Sure. Depending on your mood that day.