Songwriter and performer Matt Hopper sometimes describes himself as a "troubadour," a reference to the wandering musicians of courtly life in the Middle Ages. That might sound romantic, but a conversation with Hopper quickly reveals the truth of the lifestyle: there are tickets to buy, bandmates to pay, gigs to book, and that's when your truck breaks down outside Tuscon, Ariz., at 3 a.m. and leaves you stranded and broke. Singing songs to adoring audiences isn't half of it.
"You get really good at adapting to sceneries really fast. You have to as polite as possible -- I can't tell you how many houses I've slept at of people I met that night," Hopper said.
Hopper has been adapting to the ups and down of life as a professional musician for a long time. It's a career path that wasn't always obvious. Hopper was majoring in business at the University of Alaska Anchorage when he and some other musicians started The Roman Candles. The band was a side project to start, but gained traction throughout the early aughts in Anchorage. Since then, The Roman Candles has been retired, revived and gone through many line-up changes (it's officially "Matt Hopper & The Roman Candles" today), but persists with Hopper, who moved to Los Angeles and then to Bosie, Idaho, where he's currently based.
Hopper tours widely -- sometimes performing solo, sometimes with the band -- and makes it up to Alaska twice a year. The current Alaskan lineup of The Roman Candles (Hopper has another one in Boise) is guitar player and vocalist Derek Mangrobang (Turquoise Boy) and bassist Matt Brenna (Big Fat Buddha).
Hopper had an extended stint in Alaska in 2012. After one vehicle breakdown too many, Hopper returned to his home in the Mat-Su Valley and spent 10 months reading meters to save up some money. It turned out to be an artistically productive time after Hopper ran in Paul Jacks (Smile Ease) and the two starting working on music. The result of that is Hopper's seventh album "High Hopes."
"Once you've got lyrics it's just putting together the puzzle together," Hopper said. "Trying to get it to be something special is like the ninja element of it all."
1. What do you think makes a song successful?
Depends on your definition of success, but it's most likely a song the listener can relate to or a song that takes them somewhere else in their mind for that three to five minutes. A good strong melodic hook is important too, you want someone to have it stuck in their head.
2. What's your favorite place in Anchorage or Wasilla?
3. What draws a band together? What pulls them apart?
Communication. Expectations, money and ego.
4. Tell us about the first album you ever bought.
I started buying post album/pre-CD, so my first cassette was a gift, it had a couple of dudes on it, they were "hangin' tough" on some street corner. Catchy tunes.
5. New Year's resolutions: Good idea or invitation for failure?
I think they are a good idea but I don't wait for the new year, I start planning for it months in advance. If you intend to fail, then it must not be a very strong resolution.
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By Victoria Barber