It took a while for Jesse Roper to get fully comfortable on stage, to lose the inhibitions that kept his considerable skill on the guitar from reaching a wider audience.
“I was scared to go on stage or play in front of people,” Roper said with a laugh. “My buddies in high school all knew I played guitar, but I kind of hid it away. I had no desire to play in a band. It was very closeted for me.”
Roper, who turned 32 last week, eventually took the plunge and began playing professionally with bandmates five years ago. Though he started late, the Metchosin native has made up for lost time with the Roper Show, a bluesy power trio that also includes drummer Steve Ling and bassist Matt Reid.
The act has become a popular draw locally, propelled by Roper’s red-hot guitar playing and easygoing sense of humour. At one time, Roper might have been shy about performing in public, but he never doubted his abilities when faced with a familiar environment — namely, house parties with friends. But once he discovered the adrenalin rush of a club gig, there was no turning back.
“I love the campfire gigs best,” he said. “But there is nothing better than having a packed club going bananas. There’s an energy you get up there. It’s the most fun thing in the world.”
He still has work commitments — Roper spends his winters doing seismic surveying in Alberta and Saskatchewan — but he’s hoping to do away with that altogether in the near future. “I take pride in what I do, no matter what it is. But I’m taking a whole lot more pride in my music this time around, for sure.”
He may end up jobless sooner than anticipated. The Roper Show had its best year yet in 2013, which can be attributed to the release of Roper’s full-length debut, Son of John, home to the hit, Yukon Girl. The Roper Show was named the Zone’s Band of the Month soon after the album’s release, which led to one of the radio station’s most talked-about showcases in recent memory.
As the trio heads into Joby Baker’s studio on Monday to record its third effort in two years, Roper hopes to improve on his current standing. “We made some strides. I’m excited to see if we can make the same kind of jump.”
The Roper Show is performing at the Upstairs Cabaret on Friday, one final salvo before their focus turns to the studio. The show is likely to sell out, positively reinforcing Roper’s decision to pursue music as something more than a hobby. “I’m not shooting for Bieber here, but I would love to get to a certain height in my career,” Roper said. “If I don’t, I’m not going to be destroyed by it. But I really want to tour, and make this my No. 1 job for a good chunk of my life.”
When did you begin playing music?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was six years old.
Unless my math is wrong, that means you have been playing guitar for more than a quarter-century. Pretty impressive.
I’ll have a hobby when I’m an old man, if nothing else. I’ll try to rock and roll, but I’ll be a contented old guy.
You’ll also have some stories to tell about being a seismic surveyor, I would imagine.
Where I go is where the engineers ultimately put their geophones. Which is to say I make sure they can get where they need to be and plant their dynamite.
I’m looking for oil, basically.
Not every musician can say that.
I keep my feet pretty itchy. I like to get out and see different places.
That includes a short spell in Toronto, correct?
I had a long-term relationship end five years ago, when I was 27, so I moved to Toronto for a year, to give a music career a shot. I still go to Toronto twice a year, for a month at a time. I’ve been a happier camper ever since I did that. Life is great.
It sounds like that was an important career step.
Victoria and Metchosin are so nice, I find that I do nothing [career-wise] when I’m here. I’m so content. There are so many distractions, I’ve got to be out of town as much as I can, otherwise I get settled into the same old thing.
College or university was never considered an option?
I was never able to put down the guitar and decide I was going to go to school. I had no idea what I wanted to do in school. I only knew I liked playing music.
How did you cross the bridge from being a bedroom musician to one who performs in public? It seems like it was a difficult transition.
Our high school band teacher got word that I played guitar and was pretty good so she forced me to join the band. I remember sweating through the first few practices thinking: “I hate this. I don’t want to play for or with people. I want to sit at campfires and play by myself.” A friend eventually forced me into getting on stage at the Waterwheel Pub for an open mic night and that was it.
There was a big gap between when that took place and when you came to be known by audiences in Victoria. What was the reason for staying put in Metchosin for so long?
I didn’t attempt to go into [Victoria] much until I was in my 20s. I could feel the anxiety; downtown has so many people. I can appreciate the city for what it is, but when I drive to Metchosin from Victoria, when I get to the “Welcome to Metchosin” sign I feel my blood pressure come down. I can breathe a little bit easier.
The Roper Show performs with Band of Rascals at Upstairs Cabaret on Friday. Doors are at 7 p.m. (early show). Tickets cost $12 (plus service charges) at Lyle’s Place, Discovery Coffee (James Bay) and ticketzone.com.