Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet/YAM magazine

Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet/YAM magazine

Music lovers owe some gratitude to a woman who broke musician Jesse Roper’s heart. Despite Roper’s talents, the Metchosin-native had been a relatively behind-closed-doors musician until age 27. That was when he split up with a long-time girlfriend and realized he had to get his life in order.

Music had already been a therapeutic outlet for him, but his breakup epiphany forced him to put his seasonal painting gig on hold and get serious about music.

After playing solo for a time, he turned his focus to The Roper Show, his band with bassist Matt Reid and drummer Steve Ling, and the rock and blues-based trio went into high gear, releasing two albums in two years.

Their second album Son of John and its single “Hail Mary” hit top playlists on local radio stations, and their music video “Yukon Girl” became a YouTube sensation. This year alone, The Roper Show has made headlines at V.I.C. Fest, Tall Tree Music Festival, Rock the Shores, Rock of the Woods, Sunfest, B.C. Day Celebration and Rifflandia.

Having recently signed for management with Blue Heron Music, the band will release a new album, Red Bird, in the new year. Roper describes it as “much more personally written than the previous two.”

What started the fire >
The first time Jesse Roper held a guitar, he was five years old. Watching his father pluck a few strings on a back porch, the young Roper stood mesmerized. “Hey Dad,” he demanded, “I want to play, too.”

“My dad smiled and said, ‘Well come on up here, son,’ and he played the chords while I strummed,” says Roper, now 32. “Along with my mom, he’s been my biggest supporter.”

Soon after Roper’s first strum, his father found him a guitar that was almost small enough for child-sized hands. Roper loved messing around with learning chords and patterns he liked.

His father would come home from work each day and ask about his progress. “He’d say, ‘Jesse, did you practice?’ and I’d say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and he’d ask, ‘For how long?’ and I’d tell him, ‘Forty-five minutes.’ Then he’d ask, ‘And did you practice your scales?’ and I’d confess, ‘No, sir.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, get back in there then,’” says Roper. “I think he always hoped he’d have a son who was doing what I’m doing now.”

Roper is quick to clarify he doesn’t attribute his success to practicing his scales. Truth be told, it was the moment he first heard AC/DC that he realized how much guitar could rock.

Still, Roper says, without the perseverance he learned from his father, he wouldn’t be where he is today — and he wouldn’t have the stamina needed to succeed in the music industry.

Why it’s a profession and an obsession >
“I really want to play all the time, until I’m dead,” Roper says. “Every night of the week is just barely enough. In between shows, I feel impatient until I’m on stage again.” In Roper’s ideal world, he’d be on the road full time, living in a tour bus and performing across North America.

He’s definitely getting there.

YAM caught up to Roper on his return trip from the Alert Bay Music Festival. He pulled over his truck just long enough to chat and pick some side-of-the-road blackberries.

Being a musician is as much a lifestyle choice as a career, Roper admits, but, for him, it’s a dream come true. Between gigs, he thrives on travel — the freedom of the road stretching out before him and the beautiful hiking spots he finds along the way.

Between playing and travel, there isn’t a lot of time to spread around for friends — or for his ever-increasing fan base — but Roper says he makes the best of it, and he’s happiest with his best friend and his girlfriend by his side.

How this shy musician found stage presence >
It might seem paradoxical given his stage presence, but Roper confesses to being an introvert. In fact, most of his songs come to him when he’s by himself.

But on stage, the introversion evaporates. “There’s a real mental shift that happens when you realize people are here to see you,” he says. “You feel like you really have to put on a show.”

Those shows have come a long way from when he was playing alone to a small audience in the Irish Times, yet he aims to keep that authentic, personal feel when he’s playing.

How he found his groove >
Some of his performance cues have come from a pub show he saw six years ago. He recalls watching musician Buddy Love on stage and, just as he once stood mesmerized by his dad’s playing, he was similarly mesmerized by Love’s antics.

“This man flailed all over the stage for an hour and a half — and he wasn’t even drunk. It was captivating,” Roper says with a laugh. “I thought, ‘That’s the kind of performance I want to give.’”

Until that moment, Roper’s stage persona had been that of a shy man who would smile, nod his head, and feel mostly uncomfortable in the spotlight. Since then, he’s carried a simple motto: “If I look sort of stupid, does it matter?

“You have to perform for the pure enjoyment of it, and not get caught up trying to look ‘as cool’ as everyone else,” he adds.

“It’s easy to get stuck in an idea of who we are, but the music is always evolving — and so are we.”

By Danielle Pope