(This is the 13th chapter in this semi-autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on July 29, 2020. It has been edited for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)
Music Full Time!
When I moved to Denver in the Spring of 2000, I took a job with Sun Microsystems working in field service. I did troubleshooting and maintenance on the servers and storage systems in datacenters– the computer hardware you don’t see when you’re texting on your cellphone, or reading email on your computer. But Sun’s rise in the computer industry was peaking, and the company began losing money and laying people off almost every year beginning around 2004, the year I committed to songwriting in earnest. I heard that the layoff packages were quite generous– about a full year’s pay. It got me thinking: I wonder how much more could I accomplish if I didn’t have a day job; if I could devote all my time to writing songs?
Each year after that, I was envious of the people who were laid off. In 2007, during my annual review, I told my boss that I wanted to be laid off. I don’t think he took me seriously. Layoffs continued year after year, and I was never chosen. I had become recognized as one of the best people in our group. I had the fatal flaw of taking pride in my work.
I went through two other bosses, and in 2013, I told my new boss that I wanted to be laid off in the next round. I told him I had saved a year-and-a-half’s pay from all the overtime we had been forced to work, and that I had no kids dependent on me, and that I wanted to do music full-time. I told him that I knew that laying people off was the worst thing a manager had to do, so I would do him a favor and let him layoff someone who wanted to be laidoff. He thanked me and said he would let me know.
Four months later, in February, 2014, he called me, and asked, “Do you really want to do this? Because you’re one of my best workers.” I said yes, I really do. I was overjoyed; I was practically hyperventilating. He said I could pick my date. I chose a date 5 weeks later– March 14, 2014. On that date I became a full-time musician.
I knew that, unless I got a lucky break, the savings would run out eventually, and I would have to take another day job. But I was going to take advantage of this for as long as I could. It felt great; it felt natural, waking up in the morning and going to work, not for The Man, but for my music.
You dared to resist
You blew ’em off with a kiss
You could have stayed in the shade
But your heart would have paid
You left behind a world of grey
You had to see the colors play
It was just a stop along
–from “The Way” Copyright © by Rob Roper 2018
Colorado Gigs and a Vacation to the Northwest
Around this time, my acoustic trio, Scupanon, was making progress, playing more gigs in more venues. Dorian had completed its demo recording in February and was finally ready to gig. In early July, I took a 3-week vacation to the Pacific Northwest. Having never been in that part of the country, I took my time and drove through Wyoming and Idaho.
I wanted to check out the music scene in Portland and Seattle. Not having a day job, I was considering touring as a solo singer-songwriter, so I brought an acoustic guitar with the goal of playing a couple of open mics and testing the waters. In Portland, I played an open mic at the Artichoke Cafe, a folk music venue. I was then invited to play a set at a show later that week. I was also invited to play a short set at a singer-songwriter showcase at the White Eagle in Portland.
Then I drove to Seattle, where I had an interesting little epiphany. I went to live music bar, and there was a guy playing solo acoustic. A person sitting at the bar next to me asked, “Do you know who that is?” He said the guy’s name and that he was in such-and-such rock band, who I hadn’t heard of. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed; I didn’t think he was any better than me. But everyone in the bar sat in raptured silence, as if it was Kurt Cobain playing solo acoustic. That got me thinking about my musical image. I never really wanted to be a solo singer-songwriter. I always enjoyed playing with people in a band. I realized that I wanted to be like that guy– a guy who is known for his rock band, and plays solo occasionally. That ended my flirtation with being a touring solo singer-songwriter.
Total Flower Chaos
Dorian played its first gig at the Larimer Lounge in Denver on July 27, 2014, and would continue playing gigs into the fall and Spring of 2015. I continued co-writing songs with them, but at the same time, I was writing other rock songs that didn’t fit the Dorian style. I decided to make a solo rock record, and, in December, 2014, I contacted Evergroove Studio in the mountains outside Evergreen, Colorado, and scheduled sessions for June, 2015.
At this time I only had one finished rock song with lyrics, “The Voice of Doubt.” Everything else was just rough ideas– a chord progression or a riff. I had hundreds of these. I had read in interviews that The Cure, The Church and Sonic Youth– 3 of my favorite bands– all wrote songs by writing and recording the music first, and then the lyricist would write lyrics. I decided to try that technique. So my first goal was to get the music composed and recorded in demo form for several songs. I would write lyrics later. I worked furiously on that for the next 5 months. Meanwhile I was not only gigging with Scupanon and Dorian, but doing all the promotional and admininstrative work for both bands. I was busy. But I had no day job!
By May, 2015, I had a handful of song demos recorded, without lyrics. I was ready to go into the studio. I ran a Kickstarter Crowdfunding Project and raised $4,000– about half of the projected cost. I covered the rest from my savings.
The Recording of Roses
The engineer and co-producer, Brad Smalling, brought in Cameron Hays to play bass and help with the song arrangements, and Ben Waligoske for lead guitar. I recruited Dorian’s drummer, Jon Cox, to play drums. We met a couple of times and rehearsed. I told the “band” that I was open to suggestions on the arrangements, and the songs were changed even while recording in the studio. I decided to record the basic tracks live in the studio– drums, bass and two guitars. That was done in late June, 2015.
After the basics were recorded, I came back in July and recorded more guitar layers, and Ben recorded guitar solos for all the songs except “Carmine’s Dream.” Brad brought jazz keyboardist Adam Bodine in to add keyboard parts. He mainly played Evergroove’s Hammond B2 organ with the rotating Leslie speaker.
I mentioned before that I wanted to use the technique of some of my favorite bands and write lyrics after the music was completed. But I struggled with that, and decided to compose melodies on guitar instead, and make it a pure instrumental rock album. One of the songs, The “Voice of Doubt,” already had lyrics, written years before. It didn’t make sense to only have one song with lyrics on the album, so I I decided to hold it for a later album. In 2019 I released it as a Total Flower Chaos single.
I spent the second half of the summer and the early fall composing and recording melodies and other guitar layers for the songs. Mixing and mastering was completed in February, 2016.
Album Title and Artwork
Many years before this, I was walking past a neighbor’s house, and their yard was all flowers. And the flowers weren’t neatly arranged like a landscaping company would do. It was wild, chaotic and natural-looking. I stopped and looked at it and smiled, and said to myself, “this is total flower chaos.” I then immediately said to myself, “hey! That’s a good name for a band!” I decided to make this new album with the Total Flower Chaos bandname, with the idea that I would form the band with that name after releasing it. But the band idea took a detour, as we will see in a future chapter in this series.
In March, 2016, I hired Nick Jackson, who did the artwork for my second CD, Me, to design the artwork for the album. I sent him photos of my neighbor’s yard, as well as photos from my front yard flower garden. Nick chose a photo of the neighbor’s yard that featured roses. He used software to distort it and I loved the design (see photo). I decided to name the album Roses as a result of his design. I also used his design for a Total Flower Chaos tshirt. The tshirts were completed in May, 2016, and finally everything was in place for the release.
On June 7, 2016, Roses by Total Flower Chaos was released.
How was Roses received?
The $8,000 I raised for the album was just enough to pay for the cost of recording, mixing, mastering, artwork, replication of 300 CDs, and digital distribution. There was no money for promotion.
As for the reception from my fans, the truth is, it was largely ignored. I sold less than 10 CDs and downloads. But actually, I expected a cool reception because most of you had become fans because of my acoustic performances and albums, and were probably bewildered by this instrumental psychedelic, hard rock album. I realize that most people aren’t like me– loving both hard rock and folk music. But I have met a few people who really like it. “Black Mountain” seems to be the favorite song.
What I learned from Roses
I’m quite proud of Roses. As a music composer and guitarist, it was a major step forward for me, another step beyond what I had done with Dorian. I used 5 different guiitar tunings on these songs. I blended hard rock and metal with Cure-like clean guitar melodies, Church-like psychedlic music and Sonic Youth-style noise. I learned how to compose melodies on guitar– check out what I did with “Carmine’s Dream.” If you had told me a year earlier that I would make an instrumental rock album, with composed guitar melodies, I would have told you you’re crazy, I could never do that. But I did. And it’s good! And Roses was a step towards the original goal I had when I took up songwriting in 2004– to write rock songs and lead a rock band.
Smell the Roses!
If you haven’t yet, please give a listen to the 5 songs of Roses. You can listen for free at the Total Flower Chaos Bandcamp site. (Note that this is a different site than the Rob Roper Bandcamp site.) If you like the music, you can buy the Roses CD with it’s beautiful artwork on the Bandcamp site. You can also buy the CD at any of my live shows, whenever things get going again! I will autograph any CD if you request it. You can also download the album or individual songs on the Bandcamp site. Bandcamp allows you to pay more than the listed price, if you want to help me recover some of my investment, and raise money to record my next album.
Total Flower Chaos songs are also available on all the streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc.. I have created a Spotify playlist of the 5 instrumentals plus the single, “Voice of Doubt.” But keep in mind that a $1 download pays 1000 times more than a stream, so please consider downloading your favorite songs on the Bandcamp site.
Coming next: my 3-song spoken word EP, Word, released in the same year as Roses.