The Roman Candles

Hatcher Pass native Matt Hopper, right, and his band, The Roman Candles, will be performing at Salmonfest in the Kenai Peninsula next weekend.

WASILLA — In 20 years of playing music, Hatcher Pass’s Matt Hopper has had more than 100 bandmates, produced and contributed to 20 albums and lived in four states. He’s been broke, tired and frustrated, but also dedicated, inspired and happy.

“I’ve tried to craft my life around traveling and being happy with what I have, which isn’t a lot — I have not been very financially successful as a musician. … but I’ve been happy,” Hopper said in a phone interview last week.

This week, Hopper will be back in Alaska to perform in his home state for the first time in four years, starting with the Kenai Peninsula’s “Salmonfest” on Friday, Aug. 5 at 4:40 p.m. That Saturday he’ll hit up the Kharacters bar in Homer for a 10 p.m. show, followed by a Fairbanks gig at The Marlin on Aug. 9. Two days later he’ll be at Klondike Mike’s in Wasilla for a show starting at 7 p.m., capping off his Alaska tour with a 9 p.m. performance at Williwaw in Anchorage on Aug. 12.

“I’ll probably play Alaska my entire life,” Hopper said.

Hopefully he’ll be playing elsewhere, too.

Hopper said he’s lived “below poverty line” for the last decade, but that time hasn’t been wasted. In addition to pumping out 11 albums on his own, he’s networked with dozens of high-powered artists, from Portugal. The Man — who took Hopper on his first out-of-state tour, as Anatomy of a Ghost — to Richard Swift, who’s played with The Shins and The Black Keys and produced Hopper’s 2010 album, “Jersey Finger.” Hopper also recently heard his song “False Alarm,” from the 2007 album “Reverse Odyssey,” covered by The Head and The Heart, whom he’s known since the band sold its CDs in jackets made from old jeans (and they’ve come a long way since then).

“It’s so cool to be in the audience and hear your own song coming out of a band that has like 10,000 times more fans than you,” Hopper said.

That connection in particular may soon be paying dividends, too. Thanks to that nod, Hopper scored a publishing contract with Warner/Chappell Music, a division of Warner Music Group.

“That’s big news for me,” Hopper said.

Humble beginnings

Wherever this new opportunity takes him, Hopper’s not likely to forget his humble beginnings.

Back in high school, at 14 or 15, Hopper was more of a groupie to Wasilla musicians and classmates John Davidson and Andrew Harrison, who loved Bob Dylan as much as he did. Watching them play, Hopper quickly graduated from groupie to bandmate, making mixtapes for girls they had crushes on.

Meanwhile, life went on. Former Frontiersman reporter Casey Ressler pegged Hopper as a columnist for the paper in high school, which led to a short stint as a news reporter before he got into radio at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He returned to journalism later to work at the Anchorage Press as the music page editor, then at the Anchorage Daily News as a columnist focused on local music. He then went back to radio as the music director for KNBA before he realized he wasn’t living his dream.

“That was the turning point, when I realized I wanted to be on the other side of the mic,” Hopper said. “I wanted to be an artist, not just the person who picks music for the radio.”

Making a name

In the mid-2000s, Hopper left Alaska in the hopes of making it big in the music scene. He ended up in Boise, Idaho, a town that Hopper said has “just enough to where you don’t get bored entertainment-wise.”

Hopper managed to make a name for himself there, eventually snagging a slot at the Treefort Music Festival and headlining the Hyde Park Street Fair.

His biggest challenge, though, was getting musicians to commit to the band enough to tour the country for extended periods of time.

“Nobody wants to give up their comforts for tour and that’s what it takes to be on the road. Nobody wants to quit their day jobs, and I don’t blame them,” he said. “It’s a full-time job and I’m very stoked to be doing it but it’s been a long journey.”

Hopper returned to Alaska in 2012, moving back in with his parents to save some money to make more music. For six months he worked for the Matanuska Electric Association, making thousands of dollars that he refused to spend until he could support his chosen lifestyle and move Outside again.

Now he’s 37, and no longer “a little whippersnapper playing high-energy punk rock,” he said, but rapidly becoming “a weathered, middle-aged guy” who plays everything from psychedelic rock to country to his own kind of blues. He’s known, for better or worse, for his “lifelong merry-go-round of bandmates,” he said, but with any luck will be able to hang onto his current touring gang of Riana Riggs, Joseph Bourgeois and Bryan Garfinkel.

Hopper is also expecting to be joined onstage by Alaska musicians Matt Rainey, Emma Hill and Matt Brenna for this year’s Salmonfest before heading back to his two new homes — Portland, Oregon for the summer and Phoenix for the winter.

Hopper will be selling 2015 album, “Grand Ole Hopry,” at his Alaska gigs and at www.matthopper.com. He plans to begin recording his next album this fall.

Contact reporter Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or caitlin.skvorc@frontiersman.com.

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