Matt Hopper “Jersey Finger”: Review + Interview

Matt Hopper, singer-songwriter from Boise, Idaho, recently passed through the midwest on tour supporting his 2010 self-release, Jersey Finger.  He took some time to talk with us about working with the young, talented producer/composer, Richard Swift;  as well as sharing who he’d like to work with next; and who he’d like to get to play the tuba on a cover version of Square One by Tom Petty.  He also has many other good things to say about his travels in music, his moments in the midwest, but first we have some words about his newest release, Jersey Finger.

Review by Dave DeCastris  |  Interview by Andy Whorehall

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Matt

Matt Hopper’s 3rd full length release, Jersey Finger, contains one of the finest rock choruses put to wax this side of 2010 in it’s third track, Send/Receive.  It’s a technological modern love song of sorts from afar.  The narrator, Hopper, hanging onto his muse via emails and pictures, announces,  I will write you letters, I will sing you songs about our love and all the ways that I miss you, you’ll be on my mind tonight. In print, right now, it doesn’t look so brilliant does it?  Well, the ascending chorus that carries that line is solid gold.

It’s the first, obvious, defining instance of soulful rock moments carefully produced by Richard Swift;  a great, young songwriter/multi-instrumentalist in his own right.  Hopper’s decision to have Swift produce the record may have saved wit-fully written folk songs from ending up like anyone else’s singer-songwriter material.  Swift handles Hopper’s arrangements with an equal balance of production precision, rock swagger and complete care for Hopper’s craft- his songs.   Their narratives are all close to the singer’s home— wherever Hopper calls home on the road he’s chosen with living the life of a musician.  The songs travel as much as Hopper defines such— within characters and details of his travels, loves wanted, won, & lost.

Swift, who has also produced 2010 gems by The Mynabirds (Saddle Creek) and label mate, Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian), is coming into his own quickly with a production style that owes as much to the air found in a backwoods cabin as it does to which instruments should or should not be be played.  Each part sounds & plays necessary, never overbearing the songs.  Swift does such with Hopper’s record giving it weight and color slightly different than the emotional loneliness he gave Jurado’s record and the 70s soul he put into The Mynabirds record.  A little of each shows up in Jersey Finger with a dash of rock swagger.

The strings on Last Goodnight, the vocal snarl on In it For the Music, and the horns on Animal Instincts recall in same said order, the British Folk stylings of Nick Drake, the 90s indie rock sarcasm by the Liquor Giants, and a touch of Jimmy Miller’s influence on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers.  Miller’s 1970s feel is especially felt on Hopper’s sombre & strangely rejoiceful, Gloomy Days. Its soulful, hungover progression, and cool as a cat build up to a slight, drink and sing-along chorus are on lift off mode hitting a peak with Andy Rayborn’s sax solo.  This is as good as indie-country-soul-rock gets on record in 2010.

The rest of ‘Finger’ owes a proclamation to Hopper as a young, witty, soulful songwriter to keep an eye on;  and it serves as an aural commandment to Swift’s talents as a songwriter’s collaborator.   The production & performance decisions involving Hopper and his heart-felt songs makes Jersey Finger a repeat listen— one of 2010’s most enjoyable, out of left-field, American rock n’ roll records.  {Not only that, any record that ends with 5 minutes worth of prank phone calls deserves a shout out for not taking itself so seriously.  Rock n’ roll at it’s root should be about having fun and releasing some demons with careful craft- Hopper displays both characteristics all over ‘Jersey Finger.’}

Hopper states on the second to last track, I’m gonna find a way to make my life so damn worth living for- It’s the death of a day job. Here’s hoping he can lose that day job and make more rock n roll records as enjoyable and pure a listen as Jersey Finger.

dD  |  dave decastris

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Matt

An Interview with Matt Hopper:
a ‘send/receive’ conversation with Andy Whorehall about prank phone calls, Jeff Lynne, Cameron McGill, Dan McMahon, Jimmy Buffett, Richard Swift, Tom Petty, Madison, Boise, Babies, Hippies, Rockford, and two songs he wishes he could have written.

AW:  You recently played Rockford, IL @ one of the only night club’s for live music in this area.  According to economic stats that Forbes Magazine and our own U.S Bureau of Labor report, we’re one of the worst areas to live & play in in the United States- did you feel that passing through?  Your thoughts on Rockford from afar compared to other midwest cities you and the ‘Whale’ have passed through, please:

MH:  I did sense a slight ghost town vibe up and down the streets that I chalked up to it being a Wednesday. I took a walk down to the river and enjoyed that feature of Rockford. I’m a big fan of rivers that run through small cities – like the Boise river where I live, or that river in Reno, NV. I thought the turnout for our show was great, I’d love to come back to Rockford.

Any midwestern towns you won’t be going back to?

No. I enjoy playing a wide variety of places – from big cities to small local dive bars – every gig is different and I appreciate the different walks of life that end up at my shows. We played some really small towns on this tour – it’s fun to watch people stare at you because they’re not used to seeing six smelly dudes pour out of van with loads and loads of gear.

Tell us all where you’re really from, currently?

 

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This

I’ve been living in Boise, Idaho for almost two years now. I love living there because I can bike and walk everywhere I need to go.  Idaho is a beautiful state – lots to do outdoors and there’s plenty of great touring bands that stop by on their way from Salt Lake City to Portland or Seattle.

You lived in Madison, WI for a bit, how was your time there?

It was quite an adventure. I arrived on Halloween ‘05 – it was super cold outside and I made it down to the King Club where I didn’t recognize any of my friends cause everyone was dressed up for the holiday and drunk. I lived on a couch on Monroe Street for most of the winter until I realized in order to get sleep I had to move to the creepy basement – but it was better than being awakened at 3 a.m. from drunk roommates and friends coming home after last call, cranking music and jumping on the couch till I woke up and partied with them. It was a long, cold winter. I made the most of it with some musicians there in town and really loved Madison, especially in the spring and summer.

Ever stop by the great B-Sides?

Yes. But I always went to Stricly Discs cause it was right down the street.

Did the amount of hippies and Badger fans in Madison get to you at any point?

No. I usually steer clear of all sports bars and most sporting events. I think growing up Alaskan I never identified with any pro sports teams. I also got into music and ditched sports as an option for making money and impressing chicks.

 

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Hippies

What are your thoughts on Hippies and do you consider Jimmy Buffet fans the worst in the Hippie socio-ecomonic tree?  I ask because I’ve recently discovered a pure, uncensored disgust for Jimmy Buffett’s songs and his fans equally.  It’s gross, yes or no?  The guy is successful, I have nothing against the guy;  but he is loved by some pretty disgusting people it seems who don’t care 2 cents for the music.  When Buffett fans go to a Buffett show they do such to escape their kids and get drunk on rum drinks, yes?

I appreciate hippies and their views on life. I’m not much of a Buffet fan – never owned a record. My parents never drank margaritas…never listened to the Beatles though for that matter. My dad was more of a Zeppelin, Creedence, Billy Ocean kind of guy. And my mom pretty much only rocks Christian Praise and Worship albums. She’s got a new one I like, the guy sounds like Bon Iver mixed with Mason Jennings.

Despite all this Buffett talk, covering Margariteville could still be fun correct?

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Dan

Only if Cameron McGill sang backup vocals and Dan McMahon played the tuba.

Do you think there’s any chance in getting Cameron McGill to sing, duet, with you while Dan McMahon plays a mandolin or whatever else he wants to?  I would die for a cover song like this.

Yes, there is a chance. We could probably do a pretty amazing version of Petty’s Square One.

Speaking of working with talented people, your recent self-release, Jersey Finger was produced with the talented multi-instrumentalist / songwriter / producer, Richard Swift, who also happens to be behind the board on two more 2010 releases I can’t stop listening to;   Damien Jurado’s recent and the The Mynabirds debut.  What’s it like working with him?  Tell us a bit about the making of Jersey Finger and working with Richard.

 

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Richard

Richard is a very talented musician and gifted composer. He played lots of the instruments on Jersey Finger” and also engineered, mixed and mastered it, even though he broke his finger the second day we started recording. He laid down drums with a bum finger! I named the record after his injury because it’s a defining characteristic of this record. If it hadn’t have happened I think the songs would have turned out differently than they did. We listened to Damien’s record when hanging out and other stuff Swift had been working on – like the lead singer of Stereolab’s solo project (amaaaaazing). I think Damien sounds really good as filtered through Swift.

Who made the production call to put prank phone calls as the last track on the record? (I appreciate this move greatly.  A friend of mine told me recently I need therapy for running a prank phone line to collect prank calls and that having character voices is strange.)

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Call

I thought it would be funny to do that so I sent over the files for Swift to add near the end of the project. The response has been split- some people don’t think its funny at all, some thinks its hilarious.  I like giving fans that buy the CD a little surprise. I always love it when I’m done listening to a record and then a little off the radar” bit comes on. Someone told me they thought it wasn’t very professional and they didn’t think a bigger band like Kings of Leon would do something like that, but then I reminded them that I run my own record label and make my own decisions. There’s no corporate hacks telling this guy what to do.

I’ve been telling all my friends that the return of prank phone calls on record is the next retro-music fad now that Interpol and The Strokes are considered veterans.  Don’t you feel the art of the prank call is something to salvage on record?  Also;  do you find that people with children don’t like prank phone calling much in general?

I think some prank phone calls or funny” calls deserve to be heard by a wider audience. I used to be roommates with a guy who was friends with the lead singer of 36crazyfists and they would call back and forth all the time leaving fake” messages with made up voices and names that were hilarious. I would come home and just crack up listening to the messages. Some people that have children might like prank phone calls but I feel that many adults do frown on silliness, sadly.

Do you feel people are making babies foolishly in rough economic times?

 

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Again,

I don’t think its ever foolish to make a baby unless you aren’t going to be around to support and help that child grow up with some sort of guidance. I am looking forward to making some babies in the next couple of years. I have already picked out their names. I am going to teach them how to play guitars and appreciate live music and diversity. And in regards to our rough economic times” – I call bullshit. Try Lewis and Clarkin’ it across the US on the back of horse and catching, collecting and harvesting your own food. That would be tough. Try living in sub-zero temps and living off whale blubber with no Blockbuster or McDonalds for thousands of miles. That’s rough economic times.

Enough of making babies, making records;  who would you like to make a record with next, ever?

 

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Jeff

Jeff Lynne from Electric Light Orchestra. More realistically, I’m planning to record an album of country and alt-country” tunes called Grand Ole Hopry. I’d like to get someone who has a handle on old timey country and whatnot to assist in helping me get a sound that would fit the vibe of that record. I need to find some killer players as well to help me out on pedal steel, violin and piano. Might need to hunker down in Nashville for a spell.

Hands down, name one record you take with you to the grave:

You can’t listen to records in the grave. I’d rather someone else take my records and listen to them long after I’m gone.

One song you wish you’d written?

Have You Forgotten” by Red House Painters or Do You Love Me?” by Nick Cave.

Road trip necessity, being that you spent many hours on the road comin to the midwest, please name current listening necessities for our readers.

An iPhone. Zakkir Hussain radio on Pandora. A mix CD from Richard Swift. The new Sun Kil Moon disc is my latest purchase and is great for night time driving.

Here’s your spot, pitch whatever you got right here, your record label, where our readers can grab your stuff and keep up— and thanks, Matt.  Safe travels.

Find out more info at www.matthopper.com. My label is called: www.hatcherpassrecords.com.  I also keep a very non-updated blog here: www.cariboubill.com.

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aW  | andywhorehall.com

Matt Hopper "Jersey Finger": Review + InterviewAndy Whorehall
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