For many of us at Holy Smokes, our first encounter with Jesse Roper was back in 2012 at Rock of the Woods music festival in Cowichan, BC. Amid a crowd of Cariboo Lager enthusiasts on a blisteringly hot day, we were blown away by Jesse's explosive guitar and his criminally bluesy backup band. Now the 33 year old Metchosin born singer-songwriter is participating in the Peak Performance Project's 7th and final year. We caught up with him during that process.
Tell me a little bit about your upbringing in Metchosin.
I had the best upbringing ever. I was lucky. When I was growing up there were many young families, because it was cheaper to live out there. There were a lot of friends within a bike ride's distance away. We used to just hang out and do stuff like making forts in the woods. My parents were very cool. When I told my dad I wanted to play guitar he sat me on his lap and let me play guitar, and that was that.
Were there any local bands you saw when you were younger than inspired you to begin writing music?
Um, Buddy Love and the Happy Fun Hour. I don't know who this man is or where his band went to, but they performed once at the Waterwheel Pub in Langford and it was the best show I've ever seen locally. I watched him play after I watched Metallica, and I was more blown away with him than Metallica. And I love Metallica. I was really caught off-guard. I wasn't expecting anything out of this guy, and he was just a whirlwind of hilarious energy and great tunes about great stuff. After I watched the show I thought to myself, that's what I want to do. I've seen lots of great bands and been privileged to be part of a lot of cool events, but that was it for me.
How has the Victoria music scene evolved since then?
One of the coolest things about all of this is being able to promote the local scene a little bit. I have a little bit of influence in that direction now. The Rascals are one of my favourite acts so I always introduce everybody on stage at the end. The local scene is rad. I've been lots of places in Canada and the States and I don't think Victoria is lacking in any way shape or form. I think there's a lot of budding creative artists out here doing some really good things. People are coming from all over because they're hearing that Victoria is a really great place, and the scene is happening. I love it.
You've played a number of music festivals these past two years, including Rock of the Woods, Rock the Shores, Tall Tree, Sunfest, Otalith and Rifflandia. Has your music festival experience been a positive one? What have been some notable memories from performing at these festivals?
Oh yeah my experience has been a good one. It doesn't really get any better. Vic Fest and Rock of the Woods were the first couple fests I played which were really exciting, because I finally realized I was part of the festival experience. The first time we played Rock the Shores last summer was definitely the biggest highlight for me. Just being on stage in front of the hometown crowd. We had just started to get a bit of a buzz. And we were just that much closer to Langford than Victoria, so lots of people came out who I usually don't see out and they screamed their faces off. It was like skydiving for thirty minutes. It was awesome. The whole camping experience of playing a set and hanging out with other bands really appeals to me. Last year at Rock of the Woods everybody went for a big swim in the river and we had a free-style rap battle afterwards with a bunch of people camping around us. Oh the first year at Tall Tree! Oh my god. I don't know if this stuff can go on the internet...
Go for it, man.
We ate some mushrooms and I was just dancing my face off with a huge uncontrollable smile, and then dubstep came on and I felt like my heart was going to stop, so I decided I couldn't dance anymore. I went down to my van to try and hide away. These folks came along and were like “Hey Jesse how you doin'!” so naturally I was like oh god I'm too high to talk to these people. So all I could think to do was to start apologizing. And they were like “man if everyone apologized for being high at a music festival, everyone would walk around going 'sorry' sorry' sorry' sorry' sorry'.
That belongs online. Sounds like it was an exercise in spirituality.
Definitely. I did it with a shaman by my side. I have nothing to hide.
At a couple of your previous shows we've noticed you play alongside Malcolm Owen-Flood from Band of Rascals. What is your relationship with him/them?
I believe I met him at Upstairs Cabaret, we split a show with Band of Rascals. That was a few years back now. They were really nice guys, great to hang with and jam with. Malcolm's a pretty talented guitar player. On a lot of my songs I've doubled-up guitar parts and recordings and I thought for some of the bigger shows this year why not get Malcolm to play the parts that I don't normally play, to make it that much bigger and better. It was kind of fun phoning him up and being like, “Hey man, just got Rock the Shores, do you want to play it?”. It's been fun having him along. We've got Marcus, the Rascals drummer now. He's doing a double drum solo with Winger tomorrow. The whole band is a great group of guys, and I'm definitely not trying to steal Malcolm, but it's nice having him out for my shows.
Tell me a little bit about your experience thus far for the Peak Performance project.
Aw, it's incredible. I care if I win but I don't care y'know? I've been getting all this exposure, it's been a wonderful summer. It's pushed me to challenge myself in certain ways, and accelerate what we're doing. It's something to shoot for that isn't just a music career, and that's exciting. The bootcamp was held in a bible camp, funny enough, way up in Princeton. We were surrounded by beautiful wilderness in the middle of this valley and there's this huge lake and all these ziplines. That bootcamp was probably one of the best weeks of my life. Leading up to the Peak, I was putting so much pressure on myself to do better all the time that it was taking away from the fun a little bit. It was helpful being among other musicians who are all participating because we love music but are lacking in some way. They really get you to open up and talk to the people who ARE good at it. All the faculty were so easy to talk to and work with and they were so into giving suggestions. It took the horns off the music industry for me a little bit. It made it all seem a little bit more achievable. I don't want it to end. It'll be one less thing going on. I like to be busy. It'll be a bonus if we win, or place in any way. I'd personally put the money straight into another album. However, I don't think my success in this industry will be dictated by winning or losing the Peak.
And what about your 'Food for a Day' Acoustic Sessions?
Okay so, for Peak, I have to do a fundraiser. You gotta promote it and you gotta make some money. You're graded on it afterwards. The Homeless population in Victoria is something that's always been an issue. It's always being discussed. I couldn't imagine being in that position. There's a charity called Our Place and they provide food, shelter, showers and counseling. Basically I went into the studio and made a nine-song CD. So I'm selling it for the cost of breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Our Place, which comes to 6.17$. So if you buy the CD it's the same price as feeding someone for a day. So you can feel good about buying the CD and hopefully enjoy the music too. I'm going to continue doing solo CD's and releasing them through the Food for a Day initiative. There's no ceiling to what the charity can make, so hopefully it makes a big difference. When he first came into Victoria, my manager was eating food at these kinds of places. He was totally broke and totally jobless. So that's where I got him started. Now he has a house and he's managing me and he's doing well.
Is there a message you try to convey through your music?
I'd like to make a difference. Recently people have been coming up and saying they've began to play guitar because they like my stuff. That's a very positive effect to have on somebody. Music is something that will always put things into perspective, it can take away your problems and bring forth positivity. I think it's great when people are inspired for whatever reason and I love if I can be the one that inspires them.
What can we expect from Jesse Roper in the future?
I have to say I'm excited to end this train of tours and CD's. I enjoy this stuff so much. All I know is I want to play until I'm dead, like BB King, how old was he? 89 or something like that. He died 6 months after he played his last show. I'd like that to be my story. I have no plans of retiring, since it already feels like I'm retired. I don't feel like any changes need to be made in my life. I'll just keep replacing the tires on my van and get to play more and more and hopefully it continues to be entertaining and successful.