The Lopez' Steph Wolf. Photo by Shauna Miller.
Pittsburgh's punk-rock duo, The Lopez, was formed by a couple of kids in Philadelphia who wanted nothing more than to create some noise and share it within a fun community. Lopez guitarist Jesse worked as a graphic designer, and synth-keyboard player and vocalist, Steph, currently (still) works as an art teacher.
The Lopez made sure to do their heaviest touring during the summer months like a bunch of kids on Spring Break exploring the world and meeting and making new friends along the way. When they lived in Philadelphia, they had formed their heaviest bonds with the members of local groups like The Mighty Paradocs (who featured Camae of Moor Mother), Thee Glitterbombs, and Sick Panda. Steph was also friends with my friend Neal and through that--with our band Scary Monster, and then later, she became a tambourine playing, dancing, and keyboard playing member of our Go-Go's tribute Lust2Love for a short period of time. Steph and Jesse were up for anything and you could always count on them as people and as musicians.
When Steph and Jesse moved to Pittsburgh, we were sad to see them go but knew they would be back intermittently to visit (and that we would also visit them) and play through with their band, The Lopez. And they were back (a lot): playing shows with our other formations, at local venues.
In Pittsburgh, they also quickly grew a community around them hosting many bands in their home over the years and creating strong bonds in their local music scene and arts community. They also had family in Pittsburgh, so in a sense, they were and are, home. Steph's husband, and our friend, Jesse passed away in 2018, while they were working on completing their full-length album, "Heart Punch." Steph was able to continue their journey and complete the album just one year later. Their Pittsburgh community came together, Philadelphia friends came out, and they had a release party that also showcased an animated video featuring characters based on both Steph and Jesse by friend Anna Rosati, for their song "Sell It."
The Pittsburgh label Crafted Sounds also released a limited edition cassette of the album Heart Punch for that show, and as Steph goes into further detail about it below: she personally went all out on adding all the extras for the album and the release party, including pressing it on gold vinyl and doing special patches for the event (which sold out).
"Heart Punch" is a love letter, and is also the band's greatest triumph (musically). It was recorded by their friend Madeleine Campbell, and also includes art, illustrations, and lettering by local artists and friends Lizzee Solomon, Brandon Hrycyk, and Lee Burkhardt. Art inspiration from KISS, Taylor Swift, and wrestling, somehow magically merge into a beautifully designed LP. The songs on "Heart Punch," are also some of the best and catchiest tracks they've ever written and feature their playful synth melodies, punk rock vibes, and feedback-drenched guitar. Seeing The Lopez perform live was infectious, and a cross between a dance party and a mosh pit. Jesse and Steph were the two characters out of Spy Vs. Spy: ready to challenge each other and move to the next level, no matter what. They were in it together. Steph carries that power for them both now, and she shares her thoughts with us below:
Carly: I remember our mutual friend Neal telling me about you: he said you were a totally 'punk rock art teacher' that I needed to meet (and see perform) in person. Neal has a way with words, but 'punk rock art teacher' is pretty hard to beat! How do you feel about that? This was probably when The Lopez was just starting to play together. Early days! What was your favorite thing about starting out as a young/new band and playing with bands in Philly?
Steph Wolf (The Lopez): I think my favorite part was just being a part of that scene and meeting new people and hearing new bands. The Philly band, The Mighty Paradocs [ed note: featuring Camae Defstar of Moor Mother], really embraced us and welcomed us into their part of the Philly scene. They held a monthly night at Tritone called 'Rockers' where they would always host an incredible, mixed-genre, mostly local, bill. Jesse and I both felt so honored to be asked to play so many 'Rockers' events, even after we moved back to Pittsburgh.
Read the farewell to Rockers night via WXPN's The Key (from 2016):
Your amazing artistic husband and punk-rock partner in life, Jesse Flati, heartbreakingly passed away suddenly in 2018 just prior to the completion of The Lopez' album, "Heart Punch." The album is really a testament to your partnership and the love that you both poured into your relationship, your music, the local arts community that you were both (still are) a part of, and your band. When you completed it, your friend pointed out--it was two years to the day that you both had started recording it. It is such a special album from the artwork down to the ideas behind it. What parts do you hope resonate with people the most when listening to the album--did you both have a favorite track that you just knew (or hoped) that everyone was going to love when they heard it for the first time?
Everything that I put into the physical copy after Jesse passed is really just a love letter to him from me. I did every single special added thing that we ever talked about doing with a release: included a full-color, glossy poster / a sticker / a lyrics sheet (with lettering and illustrations by local artist Lee Burkhardt) / have a full color, embossed with gold foil cover with illustrations by local artist Lizzee Solomon and back cover by one of our best friends Brandon Hrycyk / included an envelope of 'polaroids' in the style of Taylor Swift's tour package for her '1989' album / had it pressed on gold vinyl. I think we were both really happy with how all of the songs were turning out after Madeleine Campbells' mixing started. We were especially pumped with how the track 'Gremlin' was coming along--it changed so much throughout the recording process and is a really beautiful and different kind of song for us.
Jesse was a wrestling fan and the wrestling move "Heart Punch" played a huge role, thematically, throughout the album (music and design). What can you tell us about the design that went into completing the album and the people that you worked with to complete it?
Jesse actually got to see the cover in a different color scheme. Lizzee Solomon met with us and we told her we wanted it to be like the cover of Kiss' album, "Rock and Roll Over," but with our cats' faces instead of Kiss'. The only change we made after Jesse passed was the color scheme, which Jesse and I had already decided we wanted to change. Everything else I had done after Jesse passed. See above.
KISS' Rock and Roll Over Cover and The Lopez' Heart Punch artwork.
What role is art and music playing in your life currently? What inspires you?
I always say that music is my religion. It's one of the only things that gets me out of bed in the morning. I usually have music playing on my phone before my feet even hit the floor. I haven't been making any music since Jesse passed, really. But, there is almost always music playing in my house, car, and classroom. I'm also constantly surrounded by art and artists because of my job.
Are you following any new (local) Pittsburgh music or artists right now?
I just always love and follow what Swampwalk is up to. Anna (Swampwalk) went on our last tour with us, and is always doing exciting and interesting new things. Everyone needs to check out Swampwalk!
My favorite Lopez video to watch and rewatch is still "Like A Prayer," from your Cat Puke single.... I crack up every time I see you talk and it's a squeaky toy. The best--how fun is that video? Another wrestling theme: did you storyboard the idea before filming it and also was that Philly Italian Market pizza that gave the huge power-up? I also love the final video "Sell It" and the 'roller skate party' theme! A dreamy send-off and a message that (I thought) was to celebrate life, celebrate Jesse, and to push yourself forward after you fall (I felt).
Our friend Anna Rosati directed both of those videos and storyboarded them before filming. I forget where the pizza was from--maybe Pesaro's? It was definitely a place in Pittsburgh because that's where it was filmed, so not a Philly Italian Market pizza, sadly. I was afraid to see the video for 'Sell It' because I knew I would cry. Anna did such a beautiful job representing Jesse even though he wasn't here to physically be in the video.
Jesse had a huge music collection--are you still working your way through these albums and which albums have been your most recent finds from his collection?
I am constantly discovering new music by pulling records from Jesse's collection. The main album that I know Jesse loved that I have only gotten super into recently is Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville," which is now one of my all-time favorites. Also, the other day a friend was over and mentioned Suicide's self-titled record, and I was like, "I bet that record is here in the house somewhere." And, sure enough, there it was and I am now obsessed with it and pissed that I didn't hear it sooner.
You have sent us some of your last remaining (and precious) The Lopez stock, as well as the final album "Heart Punch." I'm sure there were so many fun and wild moments shared between you and Jesse, as well as with supported bands, friends, community, and family as part of the band's history. Can you leave us with a few of your favorite The Lopez moments that happened over the years?
Oh, God, there are so many. Off the top of my head, the first one that comes to mind is when we played in Rapid City, South Dakota. We played at this weird VFW type place with a band that included Lou Mayorga from Suicidal Tendencies. After the show, we all went back to the show promoter's house to party and sleepover. Her house was part of this defunct tourist attraction cave. We basically spent the night partying in the cave. I was super claustrophobic but it was also super fun and memorable. I think there are photos of us in the cave on our Instagram.
Another memory that comes to mind is when they asked us to play outside at The Abbey (a higher-end coffee shop/bar/restaurant in Pittsburgh). We were like okay have you ever heard us? Are you sure? They offered to pay us something like $800 to play for an hour and a half, which is unheard of in the Pittsburgh music scene we were part of, so of course we agreed.
We normally played like 25-minute sets, so we planned on playing most of our catalog for that show. A local reggae band played before us and there was a good crowd. Well, about two songs into our hour and a half set, the only people left were our like three friends who came out. We, of course, continued to play as if we were playing to a packed stadium, only to have our set cut short at one point and be handed a check for $800. Punk rock.
"Heart Punch" was pressed on beautiful gold vinyl. How many did you press and where did you get them pressed?
I had 300 copies of Heart Punch pressed at Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, OH. Those are all on the gold vinyl, but our good friend, Ty from the Cleveland-based band The Village Bicycle, also pressed me a few gorgeous, swirled, yellow/orange/hot pink versions of the record.
Final question: are you still searching for the best mozzarella sticks around and is there a sauce to mozzarella/bread crumb ratio that people should be looking for? Or is it all about the cheese?
Oh, I am ALWAYS still searching. The search will never end. My number one criteria is the stretch. You gotta have that stretch.
Listen to Steph's playlist on Spotify here: