All posts by Rob Roper

About Rob Roper

Rob Roper is a songwriter, guitar player, and singer.

My Music Career (Part 9) Word

(This is the 14th chapter in this semi-autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on September 24, 2020. It has been slightly 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.)

Digital “Album Cover” for Word

I wrote the 3 songs of Word at different times, and recorded home demos of them.  In 2015, in parallel with my Total Flower Chaos recording project, I took these 3 songs to Brian Hunter, engineer at Sawtelle Studio at Swallow Hill, to remix at professional-level quality.  Brian had engineered Me and The Other Side of Nowhere, so I trusted his expertise.  We also re-recorded the vocals, and, in some cases, we edited and/or added some things to the songs.  I then released the 3 songs as a digital-only EP called Word.  Here’s a description of the 3 songs.

Wave the Flag and Give ’em God (2006)

I got the idea for this song in 2006, while walking with my handheld digital recorder to a Chinese restaurant near my house.  I was thinking about how politicians use patriotism and religion to manipulate people.  I wrote in character of a cynical campaign manager advising his rather dull candidate;  it was obvious at the time that my models were Karl Rove and George Bush.  I also referenced Bill Clinton, during the verse where the campaign manager advises him, “you need to start going to church.”  When Clinton was impeached, I noticed that, all of the sudden, there were photos and videos of him and HIllary attending church, which we had never seen before.  To me it was an obvious attempt to suck up to the religious right that was calling for his impeachment.

For the music, I programmed a hip-hop beat on my drum machine, and recorded electric bass and two electric guitar layers.  I then recorded the spoken word vocals.  I mixed it myself.  I included it as a hidden track on my first acoustic CD as a songwriter, Some Songs I Wrote

While re-mixing it with Brian Hunter in 2016, I sampled the ending of speeches by the last three presidents, saying “God Bless America.”  In the song, the campaign manager advises the candidate:

I want you to end every speech by saying
“God Bless America”
Those 3 words are so powerful
Those 3 words alone will get you millions of votes
Those 3 words combine the two things
patriotism and religion
that allow you to manipulate the common people.
So that’s why I say:
Wave the flag, and give ’em God.
Wave the flag, and give ’em God.

You can listen to, and download, the remix of Wave the Flag and Give ’em God on my Bandcamp site.

Indigenous  (2008-2009)

I’m not going to discuss the lyrics of this song here, because it has a surprise ending, and I don’t want to give it away.  But also the politics of this song need an explanation that would be too lengthy for an email.  Someday I will write a separate blog about it instead.  Suffice to say that the topic is the impact of European colonial settlements on indigenous people.  But not the indigenous people that you think, hence the surprise.

They ridiculed our religion
They ridiculed our way of life
They said we were backward people
They said they brought “civilization” to a backward land
They lied about our history
Some of them even said we were never here when they arrived
But we
were here.

The music of Indigenous is perhaps my most creative and adventurous.  I used a synthesizer to simulate non-western instruments.  It’s definitely the best synth playing I’ve ever done.  I created beat on GarageBand that wasn’t a typical kick drum/snare sound.  Then I added western instruments that I know how to play– acoustic guitar, electric guitar and electric bass.  For the song outro, I play a guitar solo on a heavily distorted electric guitar.  My model for this solo was Carlos Santana, because he plays with so much emotion, and you can hear it.  I think it’s one of my best– if not my best– guitar solo.

Like the other two songs, I took the tracks I recorded at home to Brian Hunter at Swallow Hill.  I re-recorded the vocal, and Brian remixed the tracks.  Check it out on my Bandcamp site.

Accept, Embrace, Surrender (2012-2013)

There is a 4-day class series given every year at the Song School by Paul Reisler, called Directed Writing.  In that class, Paul pairs everyone up with a random person, and you exchange stories about “something that changed you as a person.”  (It was at this class in 2004 that I met Lori Cook, and she wrote “Little White Boy.”)  My friend, Nancy Farmer, took this class in 2011, and was paired up with a singer-songwriter by the name of Joe Stevens.  Joe’s story was that he had been born a girl, but it never felt right.  He always felt like a boy.  As a young adult, he decided to make the change.  This was the story Nancy had to write a song about– and she did– but she felt like she had not done the story justice, and wanted to write a new song for Joe.  I met Nancy at the Song School the following year, in 2012, and she told me about it.  I was intrigued by the challenge, and offered to co-write, and she accepted. 

We began work on it at the Song School in 2012, and continued into the fall.  I had recently seen the documentary movie “Free Style,” which is about free style rapping.  People gather in small groups and take turns rapping.  It all has to be improvised on the spot– nothing can be previously written– and it of course has to rhyme.  And around the same time I saw the Eminem movie, “8 Mile,” which is about “battles,” another form of improvisational rapping. 

After seeing those movies, I decided to try free styling while walking around my neighborhood with my handheld digital recorder.  I had no plans to be a rapper, but I thought it might help me generate some lines for songs, particularly for the song I was doing with Nancy for Joe.  It was very fruitful– I got a lot of potential lines from it.  But in hearing myself back on the recordings, it occurred to me that this style– hip hop– seemed to fit the subject matter.  Hip hop rap has attitude;  it’s defiant.  And what is more defiant that transforming your gender, and becoming who you really are?

I told this to Nancy.  She was less acquainted with hip hop than I was, but she was willing to give it a go.  I drove up to Jamestown, Colorado, where she lives, and we walked around Jamestown free-styling and recording it.  Nancy took to it like a fish to water.  She came up with great lines.  We soon had enough material, and now just had to put it together in a coherent form.

For the music, I decided to make it a blend of hip hop, folk and rock.  I programmed the drum machine, and recorded it all the instruments at home.  I rapped the verses, and Nancy sang the chorus.  Nancy also doubled some of the rapped verse lines for emphasis, in true hip-hop style.  I then mixed it, and we played it for Joe at the 2013 Song School.

I don’t know who I am
but I’ve got my suspicions
What you see isn’t me
and the signs point in both directions

In 2015 I took the tracks to Brian Hunter at Swallow Hill, and he added some effects and remixed it.  Please have a listen to Accept, Embrace, Surrender by Rob Roper and Nancy Farmer on my Bandcamp site, and download it if you like it.

The Release of Word

Word was released in January, 2016.  Given the decline in CD sales, I decided to release the 3 songs of Word in digital form only, for download and streaming.  You can listen to them on most of the streaming services, such as Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Prime, Spotify, etc.  But please consider buying the downloads, since even a $1 download pays 500-1000 times more than a steam.  And Bandcamp allows you to pay more than a dollar if you want to help the artist.  All download money helps me pay for future recording projects.

Word Artwork

Since I didn’t release Word as a CD, I didn’t hire a graphics artist to design the CD artwork.  But I needed a pseudo-album cover for the digital release, so I created a simple text cover, as you can see above.  Boring.  I’m hoping to find a fan who is a graphics artist who would like to volunteer their time and skills to design an “album cover” for Word. Better yet, artwork for each of the 3 songs. It could be a different artist for each song. I would love that. But alas, I have not found such a person yet. Email me if you’re interested: rob@robroper.com

Next: I go back to school to study music theory.

My Music Career (Part 8) Total Flower Chaos

(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!

In March, 2014, I was laidoff from my day job as a field service technician for an IT company.  I volunteered for the layoff, because I had saved almost two years pay over the past several years, and wanted to do music full-time for awhile.  I knew I would have to take another day job when the money ran out, but I was going to take advantage of this for as long as I could.  I was now a fulltime musician.  It felt great;  it felt natural, waking up in the morning and going to work, not for The Man, but for my music. 

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. 

The White Eagle in Portland, 2014

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.

Evergroove Studio

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. 

Setup for drums, bass and rhythm guitar recording
Adam Bodine

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.

Photo I took of my neighbor’s yard. “Total Flower Chaos”

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. 

“Roses” by Total Flower Chaos album cover

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

My Music Career (Part 7) Scupanon and Dorian

(This is the 12th 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 19, 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.)

Scupanon

Soon after releasing The Other Side of Nowhere in December, 2012, I met Sam Caston at my neighborhood bar.  I immediately detected the southern accent, and found out he was from my home state of Mississippi.  We talked music, and he said he was a percussionist and played congas in a salsa band.  I had hired studio musician Daren Hahn to play hand drums on The Other Side of Nowhere and liked how it fit with my songs, so I invited Sam to join my band.  He did, turning the duo of violinist Paul Ermisch and I into a trio.

Photo by Debi Kennedy

We played several gigs on the Colorado Front Range in 2013 under my name, but I wanted to adopt a bandname to give Sam and Paul credit for their contributions.  I also thought a band might be more appealing to the people who book venues than an individual name.  We each proposed ideas, but settled on Sam’s idea of Scupanon, a wild grape that he used to pick as a young boy in Mississippi.  We continued to play as a trio, now Scupanon, in 2014.  Then Sam decided to move to Fort Collins where his salsa bandmates were based, so he had to leave the band.  In the last couple of years, however, Sam has rejoined us a few times, especially when we play gigs in northern Colorado.  I have uploaded several live recordings of Scupanon during these years to The Misfit Club site, and will continue to sort through all the ones I have and upload more. 

Scupanon at the Park House, Denver, 2014. Photo by Debi Kennedy.

After Sam left, Paul and I decided to keep the name Scupanon, and we went throught a couple of percussionists and upright bass players, but mainly played as a duo the next couple of years.  Meanwhile….

Dorian

… I was itching to play rock music.  My folk personality was being satisfied but my rock personality was not.  What to do?  I could have tried to form a rock band, but I was doing all the work for Scupanon– bookings, promotion, etc.– and knew that I didn’t have time to lead another band.  I thought if I joined another band as just a role player– a guitar player– then I could get my rock thang on without too much extra work. 

In the Spring of 2013, I replied to a Craigslist ad for a guitarist for a band in the style of The Smiths and The Cure, two bands whose guitar styles I like.  The ad was placed by singer and lyricist Adrian Ritchey and bassist and songwriter Dave Bakulski.  They had written one song together, Dave had written some songs for a previous band, and Adrian had some lyrics that I put music to.  I also handed off music ideas to Adrian and he wrote lyrics for them.  In other cases, songs came from the band jamming.  I finished a song I had started back in 2005, “You Dug Your Grave,” and contributed that.  We then found a drummer, Jon Cox.  Adrian named the band “Dorian,” after Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey.

Dorian at the Larimer Lounge, Denver, 2014.
Dorian at the Larimer Lounge, Denver, 2014.

We would need demo recordings and a website to get gigs, so I recommended engineer Brian Hunter, who had recorded Me and The Other Side of Nowhere for me.  We worked out of his Mousetrap Studio in Denver.  I set up a Reverbnation site for us.  That site is still up, and you can hear the 6 demos that we did there.  We continued writing more songs together after the demo was made, but never recorded them.  I have a few live recordings of them, which I will put on the Misfit Club website, as well as the 6 demos. 

Recording for Dorian at the Mouse Trap, Denver, 2014.
Being silly at the Mouse Trap during the mix of Dorian’s demo CD.

I said that I just wanted to be a role player in this band, but the work wasn’t getting done, so I did it, because I wanted to play!  We played several gigs in the Denver area between July, 2014 and June, 2015, mostly as a result of my efforts.  Meanwhile I was handling all the administrative work for Scupanon as well.  That couldn’t go on.  I couldn’t continue doing all the work for two bands, plus…

… I had decided to take on two more projects:  I wanted make a record of the new rock songs I was writing, that were heavier than Dorian’s style.  And I had decided to go back to school at Metro St. University in Denver to study music theory.  (These two things will be the subject of the next email.)  I had to cut something.  So I met with the guys of Dorian in August, 2015 and told them I had to quit the band. 

What I Learned from Dorian

Dorian was a good learning experience for me in many ways.  It got me booking, and playing gigs at rock venues in Denver, as opposed to the acoustic venues I had been playing solo and with Scupanon.  My songwriting improved.  I learned how to write music for another person’s lyrics, or in some cases, lyrics with a melody.  I had to improve my guitar skills to play in this band, and I’m quite proud of my work on these songs.

Next: Going music full-time, and Total Flower Chaos.

My Music Career (Part 6) The Other Side of Nowhere

(This is the 12th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on July 14, 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.)

When Misfit was released in May, 2011, I wanted to play gigs and promote the album.  But there were problems getting the band back together, so I decided to just play acoustic gigs as a duo with violinist Paul Ermisch.  Paul came from a a classical violin background, as opposed to a country or bluegrass fiddle background, and I liked what he added to my songs.  So I wanted to make a new recording that reflected how we sounded as a duo, both for getting gigs, and for the fans who liked our music.

Paul and I at Michelangelo’s Coffee House in Denver, 2011.

The other motivation for the new album was that I wanted to record some of the songs that I had been playing live, but had been left off of Misfit.  These songs were “Sea of Hope,” “Let’s go to the Mountains,” “The Man in the Movies” and “The Other Side of Nowhere.”  I also decided to record two songs on Misfit that I was playing very differently as an acoustic duo, “Misfit” and “Falling into Heaven.”  I also decided to include a rework of “Let it Go,” a song from my first album, Some Songs I Wrote.  Finally, I included a cover song I had been playing, “Trouble on the Way,” written by Tim Riordan, a friend I had made at my first Song School in Lyons in 2004.

Recording The Other Side of Nowhere

Work on the new record began in 2012, about a year after the release of Misfit.  I chose Sawtelle Studio at Swallow Hill, where I had recorded Me in 2009.  I had been happy by the work of the engineer, Brian Hunter.  This time, I engaged Brian as a co-producer along with me.  Unlike Misfit, I didn’t turn over complete control over the arrangements to someone else.  This time, I worked as a team with Brian, kicking around ideas, we me getting the final vote. 

My initial plan was for it to just be Paul on violin and me on acoustic guitar and voice, to reflect how we sounded live.  This was also motivated by cost– after spending $34,000 on Misfit and getting almost no return, I couldn’t afford another financial disaster.  But Brian gently coaxed me into bringing in other instruments.  The end result was a bigger sound than just Paul and me, but minimal enough that we could still honestly say it sounded like our live gigs. 

Artwork and Release

I decided to name the album after one of the songs, The Other Side of Nowhere.  I hired Scott McCormick for the photography and artwork, and asked him to come up with something that reflected the title.  Scott photographed Paul and me, and came up with the idea of a prison with a ladder on the wall, showing that someone had escaped to “the other side.”  I wanted to give Paul more than the usual credit in the list of musicians, so I put his name on the cover.

The Other Side of Nowhere was released in December, 2012.  Unlike Misfit, I did not spend money on promotion.  Still, it cost me $8,000, of which I never made more than a couple hundred dollars in revenue.  Like Misfit, it was paid for by working a massive amount of overtime on my day job.  While everyone else would be spending their Friday and Saturday nights having a good time, I would be stuck in a loud, ugly datacenter somewhere, replacing parts on a server.  Not fun at all.  The only thing that kept me from total depression during those times was knowing that the time-and-a-half pay was paying for my music.

You walk through this world
but you can’t find your song
Doing what you should, not what you want
And the last time I saw you,
You were drunk on despair
I’ll be waiting on the Other Side of Nowhere

What I Learned

I took a couple of guitar lessons prior to recording this album, and so my guitar playing improved.  I continued working on my singing, and I think it’s better on this record than on Misfit.  After recording my guitar parts first, I settled into the role of producer, learning how to direct the other studio musicians.  Watching how John McVey handled the studio musicians on Misfit no doubt helped me in this regard.  Finally, I learned how to co-produce with Brian;  when to go with his judgement, and when to trust my own. 

Reviews of The Other Side of Nowhere

Like Misfit, the new album got good reviews, both from professional reviewers as well as fans.  Here’s a couple:

from Tim Wenger of the Colorado Music Buzz magazine:

“Rob Roper brings occasional violin and drum instrumentation out alongside his eloquent guitar work on his new record The Other Side of Nowhere. The title track is the most definitive of Roper’s sound: a bit slow, yet melodic; ambient, yet strangely catchy. It is acoustic rock with Roper’s own unique touch on it, and it echoes with Colorado flavor… His music sounds like what you would hear in a small high-country café, there are touches of country as well as some faster paced rock riffs that stand out at just the right times.”

from Misfit Club member Millie Phillips:

“Rob Roper tells the stories of those of us who will never be be rich or famous; stories of failure, struggle, dreams, and modest victories, often with wry humor and an unsentimental, hard-earned hopefulness. The acoustic arrangements are quite different from the electric band-based ones on his previous CD Misfit. Both styles are just as good, and this CD has the added treat of featuring some amazing violin playing by Paul Ermisch.”

You can read all the reviews on The Other Side of Nowhere page on my website.

How to Get The Other Side of Nowhere

You can buy The Other Side of Nowhere CDs at my Bandcamp site, or at any of my live shows.  You can also download the album or individual songs at my Bandcamp site.  Bandcamp allows you to play more than the listed price, if you want to give the artist a little extra help.  CD and download purchases help me raise money to record new music.

The Other Side of Nowhere songs are also available on all the streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc., and I encourage you to do so.  I have created a Spotify playlist of all my songs, just search for it.  But keep in mind that the revenue from those services is insignificant, and won’t help me raise money for new music.  A $1 download pays 1000 times more than a stream.  So please consider downloading your favorite songs on my Bandcamp site.

Next: Two bands, Scupanon and Dorian

My Music Career (Part 5) Misfit

(This is the 11th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on July 5, 2020. It has been edited and expanded 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.)

My First Full-Length Album: Misfit

Continuing with my music career, we now come to my third album as a songwriter, Misfit.  2020 marks the the ten-year anniversary of the recording of Misfit.  Next year will mark the ten-year anniversary of its release.  In the previous emails in this series, I described Some Songs I Wrote and Me as demos, because the song arrangements were minimal– just acoustic guitar and voice, and occasionally other instruments.  They were motivated by the need to get gigs. 

But now I wanted to record my songs with a full arrangement– drums, bass, keyboards, electric guitars, etc.  And I wanted to hire a producer– someone who could make these songs the best they could be.  I thought I had written some pretty good songs.  How good could they be in the hands of a good producer with good studio musicians?  What would be the reception by the music world? 

To understand what I mean, compare the simple version of “Me”  on the Me album, to the full band version of “Me”  on the Misfit album.  Notice any difference? 

The Rob Roper Band

After releasing Me in October, 2009, I formed a band to play the songs I had written and recorded on the first two CDs.  It consisted of Dan Heinrich on drums, Laurie Lamar on bass and backing vocals, and Paul Ermisch on violin.  I played some songs with electric guitar and others with acoustic.  We played a few gigs in the Denver area from January to June, 2010.  At that point I put the band on hiatus because the recording of Misfit was underway, and I didn’t have time for both;  I working a full-time day job with a lot of forced overtime on nights and weekends (although the time-and-a-half pay helped pay for Misfit).  It was playing my songs with a band that confirmed my desire to record them with a fuller treatment.  I always saw myself as a band leader more than a solo acoustic artist.

at the Rock and Soul Cafe in Boulder, CO March, 2010

Advances in Songwriting 2008-2009

Before getting to the recording of Misfit, I want to briefly mention the direction I had taken my songwriting during this time.  After recording Some Songs I Wrote in 2007, I consciously worked to take my songwriting to a higher level.  My early songs were very clear in their meaning and traditional in form.  With these new songs, I began writing lyrics with less clarity and more mystery, and disregarding traditional song forms when I thought it was best for the song.  The result was songs like “Like a Child” (which appeared on Me), “Falling into Heaven,” “Apollo’s Little Bastard” (which would appear on Misfit).  Others, such as “Sea of Hope,” “The Other Side of Nowhere” and “The Man in the Movies” would appear on my fourth album.  I wrote a few others during this time that have never been recorded.

The Producer: John McVey

In the early-mid 00’s, I was part of the Denver alt-country scene based around the band, The Railbenders. I went to their gigs, and also to the Acoustic Tuesdays that Jim Dalton, singer-songwriter-guitarist for The Railbenders, used to do at his brother’s bars. Denver singer-songwriter Angie Stevens was also part of that scene. I loved her. She wrote songs about her life, and sang with such power and emotion that it made me cry. I loved her second EP, “Stand Up Girl.” I loved it not only for the powerful songs, but also for the production. The arrangements were great.

I checked the CD credits and saw that the producer was John McVey. I looked him up on the internet and saw that he worked out of Coupe Studios in Boulder.  I contacted John and he agreed to produce and engineer my album. For a good part of 2010, I would be driving from my home in south Denver to Boulder after work, during rush hour traffic (ugh!), to make this record. 

Misfit:  The Songs

I gave a lot of thought to the song selection for the new album.  Initially I planned to just re-record the songs on the first two demo CDs with the full band treatment.  But, as I said, I had been writing a lot of new songs– songs I thought were better– and wanted to record them, too.  I ended up going primarily with the first idea, with 6 of the old songs, but included two of the newer songs, “Falling into Heaven” and “Apollo’s Little Bastard.”

I also included two cover songs.  I mentioned “Little White Boy” in the previous chapter of this blog series.  It was written by Lori Grebe Cook when she was my partner in a songwriting class, after I told her about growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Being raised by non-racist white parents in Mississippi in those days definitely made me a misfit.  I also met Bill Kahler at the Rocky Mountain Song School and loved his songs.  I immediately related to “Chair on the Moon” and decided to cover it.

I had written the song “Misfit” as a joke, and made the demo a hidden track on Me, but it had become one of my most popular songs when I played it live.  My former bandmate in Faded Innocence, Kurt Loken, wrote a review and called me “the troubadour of the misfit.”  I decided to embrace that label.  I would make “Misfit” the title song– and the theme– of the new record. 

The Recording of Misfit

Work for the album began with “pre-production” sessions in May and June, 2010.  In these sessions, the songwriting was tweaked, keys and tempos chosen, and vocal and acoustic guitar scratch tracks were recorded for the other musicians to play to.  (I have made these scratch tracks available to my fan club website, The Misfit Club.)    

Then in July, 2010, the main recording began, with John bringing in studio musicians to record drums, bass and keyboards, as well as bit parts for some songs– mandolin, banjo and pedal steel guitar.  Bill Kahler, author of “Chair on the Moon,” recorded saxophone parts remotely for “Bipolar.”  John and I recorded all the guitar parts.  Then I recorded the lead vocals.  Finally, backing vocals were added.  Recording was completed by the end of October.  The record was then mixed and mastered, and by the end of the year I had a mastered album.

For details on this process, you can read the journal I wrote at the time at https://www.robroper.com/html/misfit_journal.php

What I Learned

Seeing how John worked as a producer was a great learning experience for me.  I saw how he began with a basic vision of each song, but also wanted them to develop in the studio throughout the process.  It was also interesting to see how he worked with the studio musicians, and how he communicated with them.  It made me realize my deficiency in music theory, something I would take steps to correct a few years later.

As a musician, the experience was sobering.  I always thought I had good time, but John showed me– on the computer screen– that I was consistently ahead of the beat.  And I it would take me multiple takes to get my guitar parts right.  By contrast, the professional musicians would bang out their parts without mistakes on the first take.  Watching them made me want to be like them;  I determined to improve my musicianship.

I had never really been a singer before;  I saw myself as a guitar player and a songwriter.  But I realized that I needed to improve my singing in order to present my songs to the public more effectively.  I had been taking singing lessons from Dr. Scott Martin in Denver during this time, and John helped me further during the vocal recording sessions.  If you compare my singing on Some Songs I Wrote and Misfit, you can hear the improvement.

Misfit Artwork

I said at the beginning of this email that I decided to go all out on this record, and that applied to the artwork as well.  By this time downloads had replaced physical records for a lot of people (streaming was just beginning).  But I always loved holding a record in my hand, looking at the artwork, and reading the album notes.  I wanted to give people a reason to buy the CD. 

I hired the team of  Greg Carr and Sally Ratts for the Misfit artwork.  The design was fantastic, as my fans who own the Deluxe version of the CD know.  It was a hard-cover CD, like a little book.  A booklet was included with a separate page for each song.  I wrote a little something about each song, and Greg created art for each song and page of the booklet.  For the front of the booklet, I also composed a poem for the album by taking a line from each of the 10 songs. 

In March, 2011, the audio master was then sent to a replication company, and the artwork to the printers.  In early April, I had 1000 Misfit CDs.  Copies were sent to a promoter to solicit reviews.  And on May 17, 2011, Misfit was announced to the world.

Misfit Reviews

When Misfit was released in May, 2011, it had been a year since I had started the project.  I had put my band on hiatus.  I had worked massive amounts of overtime on my “day” job, and wiped out my savings account.  I didn’t expect it to take this long, or cost this much.  Now that Misfit was released, would all the work, the time, and money be worth it?  Naturally I was nervous.

Wildy’s World said,
“Roper’s gentle blend of Americana and rock n roll is as memorable as the package it comes in …plinks at heart strings and funny bones… finding both the sorrow and the humor in some of the shadowed crevices of day-to-day life… a solid songwriter with a talent for telling stories from unusual perspectives… an entertaining effort.”

The Westword said,
“…what Roper is, as Misfit proves, is a guy with some sharp songwriting skills and a knack for penning witty lyrics.”

Rootstime called it
“…drenched with emotion, with truly beautiful songs…A modest masterpiece.” 

Vintage Guitar magazine said,
“Roper’s musical persona is part folkie, part nerd, part conceptual artist, and part cultural critic…Even the packaging here is special. Instead of the usual jewel case or eco-paperboard, Misfit has a book-like cover with thick paper pages and commissioned illustrations. The music more than delivers on the promise of the packaging.”

You can read all the reviews on the Misfit page of my website

The Response by Fans and the Music Community

While the professional reviews are nice, what was more important to me was the reception of Misfit to my fans (very few at the time!) and other musicians.  Fans and friends would come up to me at events and comment about how much they liked it, and how often they play it.  One friend wrote, “It will continue to occupy an honored place in my road trip collection – that is, CDs I play loudly in my car and harmonize with.” 

My friend Nancy Farmer wrote a review on CDBaby that said:

“Rob Roper’s album “Misfit” is feel good music, but not the shallow kind.  Like a really good book, it is a guided tour through the range of human emotion and experience, but filled with quirky twists like the title cut.  Each song is like a unique and thoughtful gift to be unwrapped or a fine wine to be savored… Do I have a favorite?  Every time I think I do, I find myself with a different song stuck in my head that fits my mood, and I can tell you there are 10 songs stuck in my head!”

Misfit was a major milestone in my music career.  It was a statement.  Music fans and other musicians began taking me more seriously now.  Jim Dalton of The Railbenders, told me that, after hearing Misfit, he said to himself, “Whoa, I better step up my game.”

How to Listen to Misfit:  CDs, Downloads, Streaming (and Vinyl?)

You can buy the Misfit CD at my Bandcamp site or at my live shows.  I have two editions:  the Deluxe version, with the hard cover and the booklet, and a less expensive Standard version, without the booklet and a soft cover.  There are very few Deluxe editions left, and it will be very difficult and costly to produce more, so if you want one, get it now.  I will autograph any CD if you request it. 

You can also download the Misfit album or individual songs at my  Bandcamp site.  Bandcamp allows you to pay more than the listed price, if you want to give the artist a little extra help.  CD and download purchases help me raise money to record new music.

The Misfit songs are also available on all the streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc., and I encourage you to do so.  (I have a Spotify playlist of most of my recorded songs if you want to search for it.)  But keep in mind that the revenue from those services is insignificant, and won’t help me raise money for new music.  A $1 download pays 1000 times more than a stream.  So please consider downloading the Misfit songs on my Bandcamp site.

I’ve thought about creating a vinyl version of Misfit for its ten-year anniversary, but I’m not sure there would be enough demand to cover the costs.  If enough of you demand a vinyl version, I will make one!

Misfit Tshirts!

Misfit tshirts are available on my Bandcamp site and at live shows.  These are very soft, high-quality, beautiful tshirts.  Here you see Lori Grebe Cook, author of “Little White Boy,” modeling the tshirt.  The front of the shirt is the album cover, and on the back is says, “Misfit and Proud of it.”  Wear it with pride! 

Misfit Finances and Funding New Recordings

Although Misfit was a big artistic success, it was a financial disaster.  I spent about $24,000 on its production, and another $10,000 on promotion.  I’ve received less than $1,000 in revenue.  I was naive and innocent at the time.  I thought I’d be able to sell enough CDs and downloads to at least cover my costs.  But, like most people at the time, I couldn’t see the streaming revolution coming.  I’ll never be able to do this again, because I no longer have a day job, and am living off my music income and retirement savings.  And frankly, even if I could afford it, I’m not sure that it’s right for recording artists should subsidize the listening public.

To record music in the future, given the current state of the music business, I will need to call upon my fans for funding.  My fan club is called The Misfit Club.  For a minimum of $5/month, members get access to demos, live recordings and other stuff not available to the general public.  All income from the The Misfit Club goes into a special fund for new recordings.  Partly because next year is the 10th year anniversary of the release of Misfit, I decided to record a new album! 

I’m very proud of Misfit, but, as important as it was, as my new songs says: it was just another stop along The Way. 

Next:  The Other Side of Nowhere.