Matt Hopper back in Alaska for performances with the Roman Candles

A young Matt Hopper took his band name, The Roman Candles, from Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." It's a reference to the author's fondness for people so mad they burn and flame out "like fabulous yellow roman candles."

Hopper's musical career is more like a stick of dynamite with a long fuse, one that may be about to pop.

Acclaimed indie band The Head and the Heart recorded one of Hopper's compositions, "False Alarm," for its upcoming album, "Signs of Light."

"The longer I do music, the more connections I've made," said Hopper, who grew up in Wasilla. "It's like a slow burn."

The album, set for release on Sept. 9, is already generating substantial buzz. Its first single release, "All We Ever Knew," has reached the top spot in Billboard's Adult Alternative Songs.

"They already hit No. 1 on AAA with their debut single," Hopper said. "They're poised to have a huge record, and I'm the fourth track on it. It's (a) total bonus. Stuff like this doesn't happen very often and it's really nice when it does. They're a huge band and it's really going to expose my song to a lot of people — way more than I've ever been able to do on my own."

Hopper made a connection with the Seattle band in their early years while he was booking acts at a club in Boise, Idaho.


During a tour stop in Boise, he gave them a copy of what at the time was his most recent album, "Double Odyssey."

"They listened to it in their van and liked it," Hopper said.

Soon the band incorporated it into their live set and contacted Hopper over the winter to tell him they were interested in recording it for their album.

It should also open up opportunities for Hopper as a songwriter. The Head and The Heart is on Warner Bros.' label and Hopper said Warner/Chappel is handling his publishing for the song, with a possible publishing deal being discussed.

"It'd be nice to be a legit (professional) songwriter," Hopper said. "I've got a couple hundred songs. If I could sell a few of them or get them on some different bigger albums … this is definitely going to help me, the Head and the Heart thing."

To that end, Hopper has made the move from Boise to Portland, where he hopes the larger market and musical infrastructure will lead to greater opportunities. It's also home to his bandmate/producer Brian Garfinkel.

"It's a career move," Hopper said. "I love Boise, but it was time. Portland is my vibe. People have asked me for 15 years, 'Why don't you just move to Portland?' I finally did."

Hopper said he's excited to work with a number of the local studios and producers in Portland, including Tucker Martine, who has produced The Decemberists, and Jackpot Recording, which has recorded Sleater-Kinney among other Northwest notables.

"You have to get on their radar," he said. "If you record at some of the better studios in Portland, they might slip your album to some record label people they know."

While Hopper's music will get a higher profile with The Head and the Heart release, it continues to evolve.

Hopper has written and performed songs in virtually every rock genre, and his most recent album, "Grand Ole Hopry," was recorded in Nashville, drafting his songs with distinct country flair.

Hopper's musical history with Alaska goes back two decades. His family moved to Anchorage when he was a toddler and eventually relocated to Wasilla.

He loved the storytelling songs of Raffi as a kid and scored an electric guitar for his 16th birthday. His early influences were a mix of classic rock and grunge, and the heavy pop-rock of Weezer became an instant favorite.

"When I heard 'Say It Ain't So' on the radio for the first time sitting in the Carrs parking lot in Wasilla, it blew my mind," Hopper admitted.

The Roman Candles have gone through dozens of incarnations in the past 15 years and have included over 100 different members, including some of Alaska's noteworthy musicians.

Hopper's performance Friday will include a number of new songs earmarked for a new album.

"I'm excited to play with these guys," he said. "We've been rehearsing the last two or two and a half months and are starting to sound really good."


Hopper's enthusiasm for playing in front of home audiences hasn't waned since the earliest editions of The Roman Candles, which date back to 1999.

"I love coming back to AK, man," Hopper said.

Matt Hopper and The Roman Candles

9 p.m. Friday at Williwaw, 9 p.m.

Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 day of show (21+ only)

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.