In the Hopper

Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010

On his parents' back porch in Wasilla, Matt Hopper mused about his love for the 49th state, one that has influenced his song writing and keeps him coming back for more.

"I mean you can't beat this it's so beautiful," he said via telephone last week.

Hopper, 31, Alaska's indie singer/songwriter darling now based out of Boise, Idaho, recently completed his fifth album, "Jersey Finger," out on his record label, Hatcher Pass Records.

He's in the middle of a month-long tour around the state promoting his record and appeasing, and perhaps creating some more, homegrown fans of his music.

On the album he is billed as Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles. The band name comes from the Jack Kerouac quote from the beat generation classic "On the Road," likening mad people to roman candles that burn and blast across the sky.

"I've been through tons of band members," he said. "They just kind of explode."

But that doesn't bother Hopper, who continues to be the driving force behind his musical destiny.

"It's a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kind of thing. Neil Young has done it," he said about being the front man of his band. "They have a vision for what they want to do, the band is kind of incidental. That's kind of how I see myself, a modern day guy like that."

"Jersey Finger" is considerably more polished than his last, more lo-fi folksy release, "Reverse Odyssey," due mainly to producer Richard Swift, who engineered the 11-song CD as well as playing drums and bass guitar. Swift is a musician and producer that has toured with bands like Wilco and The Fray.

They recorded the songs in Swift's studio in Cottage Grove, Ore., but not without some difficulty.

"This whole record was kind of marred by physical injuries," Hopper said. His latest release is named after the injury that Swift suffered in an accident before recording started. A jersey finger is a tendon-injury that typically happens in sports like football or rugby when a digit gets jammed or overextended.

"It was a big deal. We couldn't basically hardly do anything. He couldn't physically perform," he said. "That was kind of a big setback for us."

Swift's jersey finger delayed the record's release from April to June.

Hopper experienced his own injury when he hurt his heels during a jog.

"I landed wrong on this really hard part and really messed up my heels," he said, adding that he was on crutches.

Despite the bruises, the two did a bang-up job on the record, so to speak. It's driving rock n' roll with some bluesy tunes, featuring a few horns and piano.

"The sound quality of the new one is pretty good," he said. "Swift did a really good job, he had a bunch of really good mics."

And, Hopper said, his vocals have improved as well.

"My voice is a little bit different. It's a little bit more road-weary, I would say. It's becoming a very distinct voice -- a good, raspy voice," he said. "I feel like I've improved as a singer for sure from just singing so much I learned how to control my voice."

Hopper will play in Homer at KBBI's Conert on the Lawn July 31. He has other shows this month throughout the state with Kenai's own musical group The Old Believers in Carlo Creek and Fairbanks.

Hopper has other plans for this year -- a U.S. tour with the band The Devil Whale in the late summer, a west coast tour with Bryan Free, a holiday in Alaska recording with Evan Phillips of Anchorage band The Whipsaws, Mexico for the winter and Europe in the spring.

"I've already set my mind up I just want to put out records at a steady pace," he said. "I'd love to get to a point where I'm financially stable with my music."

And even though he's based in Idaho now, he still loves coming back to the Last Frontier.

"I've seen a lot of the United States at this point and Alaska is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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