A Dream Deferred: Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles Finally Make a Country Album
Like so many young people, Matt Hopper had that one magic summer. Except for him, it wasn’t the time that he first drank a beer, saw a boob, and got one-up on a high school bully through an elaborate scheme involving a stolen monkey from the zoo. It was the summer he had to carpool to work.
“It was an hour drive each way,” says Hopper. “So we’re talking two hours a day listening to country hits. I was like, ‘this sucks. I want to listen to Alice in Chains, or Nirvana.’ And they weren’t having it. So I had to listen to country.”
After awhile, he was begrudgingly forced to admit country was pretty catchy.
“George Strait; you just can’t deny that guy,” says Hopper. “It’s universal music.”
Hopper’s band, The Roman Candles, who will be playing at Brickroom on October 2 weren’t on Team Strait back then though. They ruled the early ‘00s Alaska scene through a strict regiment of power-pop and alt-rock. But when the band’s post-college plans to tour fell through, Hopper ventured south alone, wintering in Los Angeles, and spending much of his time there bunkered down with an acoustic guitar, writing songs.
“Because they were solo acoustic, they had a country thing to them,” says Hopper.
But the time wasn’t right. Those songs went into the bank, and Hopper stuck with a rockier sound, splitting his time between different backing bands in Wasilla, Alaska and Boise, Idaho.
But the idea of recording those songs as a country album was always kicking around somewhere.
So last year, he did it, packing up the team and heading to Nashville.
“I set out to make a record that would have fiddle, pedal steel, be kind of rootsy, and acoustic guitar based,” says Hopper.
The result is Grand Ol’ Hopry, a collection of a dozen Wilco-esque gems, that dress up the acoustic tunes Hopper penned with full-band arrangements heavy on pedal steel. Some are clean and simple twangy rockers, like the anthem-ready “Wild Horse,” and others like the more experimental 10:25 song “Slide,” interpret country a little more broadly, like it might include rural stargazing as much as simple living.
“It’s not exactly a country album, but it’s in that ballpark,” says Hopper.
After years toiling in the dive bars, Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles have garnered much larger gigs in the last year or two, including some headlining festival slots. Which might make it seem like an odd choice to deliberately court a genre frequently listed as one of the two things people “listen to everything but.” But Hopper doesn’t care.
“It’s been around the American psyche as long we’ve been a country,” he says. “Those kind of stories. Stories of redemption, rising from the ashes. I’ve always liked that stuff.”
“The rap record is next,” he jokes.
Matt Hopper and the Roman Candles
9 pm Fri., October 2
Brickroom, 35 N. Main St., Ashland