"I look at bands that have four members, if those four members ever quit it's over. If John dies, the Beatles are done," said 35-year-old Boise rocker Matt Hopper. This has clearly not been the case for his band, the Roman Candles, who Hopper estimates has had over 100 members since the early 2000s. Hopper has served as the only constant in the band through 10 albums, countless van breakdowns, international tours and a whole lot of turnover.
"It's half art and it's half business. It's like running your own little empire," said Hopper.
Trying to meld that art and business has been an obstacle for the band. Not to mention just about everything that could go wrong, doing so in the 14 years the crew has been on the road. Hopper tells the story of an ill-fitted young drummer who ate a lot of food and played a lot of triplets, and a catalogue of vehicle breakdowns without a drop of jaded cynicism in his voice. In the most romantic sense, it's an, if a bird can love a fish, where would they live, situation. With one foot solidly rooted in a traditional business sense (Hopper has a degree in business from the University of Alaska), and one foot in poetic and freedom of travel and the open road, Hopper's music expresses that separation, the idea of never being settled and having lost a lot in pursuit of a dream.
"I'm a 35-year-old man who still lives out of his van," said Hopper. "Half the band have kids, and mortgages and secure jobs. I was happy to chase after my dream not knowing if I am ever going to be financially secure or if I am going to completely go through life relying on people who are kind to artists to let me sleep on their couches."
Fourteen years after committing to a career in music, Hopper's sound has come a long way even if his bank account reads about the same. Starting in Alaska, Hopper described the beginnings of the band as "glammy, Pixies, Weezer-type rock." After a decade with growing and shrinking backing, sometimes leaving just Hopper and an acoustic guitar, Hopper hit his stride on 2011's Jersey Finger with the help of Richard Swift (who has worked with The Shins, Damien Jurado, Foxygen, Jessie Baylin, and Wake Owl, Swift is now a member of indie rock band The Shins and the touring bassist for the Black Keys). Cohesive and rocking, Jersey finger was followed up by 2013's Husky which seems to have a more hyperactive aesthetic, jumping from gorgeous acoustic odes to meandering guitar solos that spiral off into funky jams. Every third song or so Hopper hits a chord, inspired by what he calls "Replacements-era rock, Tom Petty-style stuff."
Decidedly defining what style of music Hopper makes is a lost cause. Every time you think you have it grounded, Hopper squirms out from under your finger, jumping from Kings of Leon walls of guitar, to Justin Vernon-style falsetto layered over plucked guitars to twangy Americana. Hopper's next album, which he recorded earlier this year in Nashville, is a country album, another departure from the expected. Trying to put together the puzzle pieces of making a lifestyle work with a diverse music career is all worth it for Hopper when he stops by those cities he has visited so many times and sees familiar faces.
"People come up to me and tell me I'm their favorite artist. There are things that are spiritually more valuable than the struggle. When you know you changed someone's life, those are the things that really keep you going," said Hopper. "The only way I can come up with new material is by experiencing life, and I'm going to experience it on my own terms. If I had to get up every day and do something I didn't love, I wouldn't be happy, even though I've been complaining this entire phone conversation," he laughed. "There's a chance that I could be what Neil Young is to me, or what Tom Petty is to me to someone else. If I were to give up there would be some sad people going, 'Hopper, what the f***?'"
Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles
8 pm. Wed., Oct. 8
McMenamins, 700 NW Bond St.