My chat with musician Jesse Roper begins with the 32-year old beatboxing out a bass and drum rhythm.
“I remember being a little kid and coming up with this little guitar riff and my mom, turns around and says, ‘That sounds nice Jesse, what do you call that?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m writing a song, it’s called Winning A Race.’ I don’t think I ever finished that song, it took me a long time to start really songwriting though. It took me ‘til I was 18.”
The once stage-shy Roper is now writing and performing at an almost breakneck pace. As we sit outside Discovery Coffee on a sunny afternoon he’s still riding high from a stellar year that included the release of his album Red Bird, including the hit The Hurricane’s Eye; a top 12 finish in the Peak Performance Project; an epic one-day Tour de Shores that took him from Campbell River to Colwood doing six shows; performances at Sunfest, Rock the Shores and Rifflandia; the release of an acoustic CD as a fundraiser for Our Place Society; and the release of his single Cupid.
Known locally as “The Metchosin One” Roper harnesses his love of the West Coast and pours it into his combination roots, blues, rocking-good-time-get-up-on-your-feet-and-move music paired with passionate performances that have him selling out shows in record time. His performances April 29 and 30 at the Alix Goolden Hall were both sold out in days.
“The most recent song, Cupid. I didn’t intend it to have a nice big chorus and a radio format like it does. I just wrote it,” he says. “Now I’ve got a couple songs like that I want to get on the radio because I realize that is still the number one push. It’s just finding how to make it artistic in the three minutes and 30 seconds that you need to be, as opposed to writing your five-minute epics all the time.”
Roper has new-found respect for both writing and performing after his experience with the Peak Performance Project, which included a bootcamp for finalists.
“Bootcamp was an amazing load of information. You have an hour-and-a-half seminar four times a day with all these pros and then you’re networking with all these bands and going over performance critiques and you have Kahlil Ashanti, he’s the performance coach, he coaches you on different moves on stage. Some people think that’s taking away from the authenticity, but actually it really helps because it makes you do things a little bit outside your comfort zone.”
He took the opportunity to pick the brains of everyone from vocal coaches to accountants to learn as much as he could about both music and the music business.
“It’s like going out and playing a hockey game and trying your best and missing all the passes that came to you or shooting and only hitting posts. You want to be effective. You don’t just want to look like you were doing stuff you actually want to be doing it and making it happen,” he says.
Last year Roper also added a manager to assist his climb on the ladder of success.
“There’s lots of stuff my management has brought into the picture that I probably wouldn’t have done and I’ve found a little bit of success,” he says modestly.
“It’s usually just small things that add up to a big thing eventually. Then people see you having a little bit of success but they also understand that you’re not making a career yet, and so they’re like, ‘Man all you gotta do is write a hit.’ “ You hear that over and over – and I hate it. I hate it more than anything. The word ‘hookline’ … unless it’s used for fishing: fuck off. I never want to hear it. I hate it. I hate writing with people, who’re like, ‘Hey what’s the hook?’ Like no. No. We’re making good music and that’s what we’re making. That’s it.”
I asked Roper for a highlight from last year.
“I’m going to have to sit at a river and think about it,” he says. “I think that Rifflandia was my second favourite – well, finding out I got in the Peak was pretty cool too – there’s been all kinds of stuff.
“I think my favourite show was the Saturday set at Sunfest. I didn’t expect much, but we were on the beer stage which was actually quite big. It’s the same tent as the Saanich Fair and we showed up and the stage manager was all nervous, he’s like, ‘OK Jesse, OK, (headliner) Keith (Urban) has asked us if he can have 45-minutes of quiet time before his set which means your set is only going to be 15 minutes.’ And his job is on the line – like if I make a stink, it’s not good for anybody. So I was kind of like, ‘whatever, man … sure, sure. I’m here, I’m gonna play.’ The guys were the same.
“It was like a 15-minute power bomb. I’ve never played such a frenzied, wild set for, I think that’s the most people I’ve ever played for in my life. I couldn’t tell you how many people were there.
“In front of the big stage, which I was very excited to be on, there’s this massive VIP area. So you don’t have anybody in front of your stage, they’re all behind the VIP stage until Keith Urban gets on. But in the beer tent, all those people waiting for Keith Urban to come on the stage are all there and they’ve been waiting all day, so they’re all jostling for positions in front of the stage and you’ve just got thousands of people in front of you and we just – oh! we crushed it for 15-minutes. Got off the stage had the loudest, longest encore I’ve ever had. It was so loud it hurt my ears. We came off the stage shaking. I’m so glad it was only 15-minutes. Thank you Keith for wanting your quiet time. It was amazing.”