When Seattle folk-rock band the Head and the Heart reached out to Alaska-born musician Matt Hopper asking to record his song "False Alarm," Hopper didn't hesitate.
"Of course I'm cool with it, please give that song another audience," Hopper said, recalling his response. "I was so excited and I couldn't tell anybody because I didn't know if it was going to happen or not. What if 'False Alarm' became a false alarm? I had to keep my mouth shut for a long time."
The Head and the Heart's third LP, Signs of Light, dropped last week. Hopper's tune is track No. 4. It's a stand-out on an album that has the Head and the Heart progressing from its rustic, stripped-down roots to a band with bigger sounds, consistently powerful harmonies and driving tempos.
Rolling Stone singled out "False Alarm," calling it "drolly sweet" and a song that "could be a mountain-scented lost track from Fleetwood Mac's Mirage-a throwback that feels cozy and stylish at the same time." It's lilting high notes, catchy melodies and moody lyrics are quintessential Hopper.
Raised in Wasilla, and a mainstay on the Anchorage music scene for years, he's published some 83 songs, written hundreds more and played in so many bands with so many fellow musicians that the roster is both dizzying and revealing of his relentless commitment to his craft.
The best known of Hopper's bands is the Roman Candles, with a shifting lineup that has included other Alaska musicians like Jared and Christian Woods and Erik Braund. With its most recent lineup in place, Roman Candles played a show at Williwaw in Anchorage this summer. Since leaving Alaska, Hopper has moved around the Lower 48-residing mostly in Boise, Idaho-plugging away at music all the while.
The inclusion of Hopper's song "False Alarm" on the Head and the Heart album could prove huge. The band has only climbed in popularity in recent years and is poised for meteoric success with this widely acclaimed LP. Hopper chatted with The Press about his career, his acting debut and this special song that sparkles on an album destined for big things.
You were booking shows for a club in Boise when you first crossed paths with the Head and the Heart. What's the story there?
Chris Zasche is the bass player of Head and the Heart. He can do anything. He's a Ballard, Seattle guy. He was a bartender there. A connector. He knew people. He's like the Mick Fleetwood of Head and the Heart.
So at some point, I meet him, and he calls me up and says this band Widower wants to come to Boise, you guys want to play with us? I had just put together a band there, Trio-this is like 2007. So we open a gig for this band Widower. I was obsessed with their music. Two people came to the show. I was all gung-ho and nobody came. Two people. Two! Imagine playing Williwaw and two people come. That's about how big it was.
The band slept on our floor, and I have a photo of these four lonely band members at the Burger King by our house. Chris Zasche started to call me for all sorts of things; so he calls me and says he has a new band, called the Head and the Heart, they're doing their first tour, can I get them into Boise? I said yeah.
Their second gig in Boise was opening for me at my CD release party, 2010, for the CD I did with Richard Swift. So I'm all excited, thinking I'm going to jump up to actually putting bodies in clubs. Head and the Heart is opening for me, it's going to be awesome. And guess what? Forty people show up. Forty.
We loved the Head and the Heart. I still remember getting a call from Boise Weekly one day, they wanted to know how I felt about the band signing with SubPop Records. Right on, man. I was excited. Good for you guys. You guys hit it and I'm still stoked I know you. I wasn't expecting anything out of it.
How did the band come to hear your song "False Alarm?"
Reverse Odyssey was an album I recorded in Boise. I had left Wisconsin at the time and moved out to Boise because I had an offer to record for free. The guy who allowed that record to happen, Shawn Hatton, a musician in Boise-he's got a band called New Transit, they're incredible-he didn't care that I didn't have any money. He said, "Come here and make an album." "False alarm" wouldn't exist without him.
"False Alarm;" I had it in CD form when the Head and the Heart started coming around, and I gave them a copy. This is when they had a van-listening to CDs in the van-and the story goes, they used to listen to my album all the time; that it was a band favorite.
When did you get the call that they wanted to record it?
This winter I'm in Phoenix, not knowing what's going on with my life. I was hiking every day and was trying to gain knowledge, reading books, getting totally being in the desert and being alone. I was living with my brother who also reached out and knew I needed a place to stay.
It was absolutely life-changing for me. I got to focus, I got to write a bunch, and then I get this text from Chris Zasche the bass player, my friend through the whole thing and he was just like, 'Hey man, we're thinking about covering "False Alarm," are you cool with it?'
And then you couldn't tell anyone?
Here's another thing I've been keeping quiet about: (the band) flew me down to LA last week to be in one of their music videos! It's for "Rhythm and Blues," their third song on the album.
What inspired "False Alarm?" What story are you trying to tell?
A lot of my songs are made up and a lot of them are very real. And that one "False Alarm;" I wrote it in Boise in 2006 in the wake of a failed relationship. And I wrote it in 10 minutes. I had the riff, I had the structure for the melody, I wrote the lyrics and everything was done in less than 10 minutes.
What's your take on the Head and the Heart's new album as a whole?
They've reached perfection on this album. There's not a bad song on it. It flows well. It's uplifting. It's a major-label album and it's going to be a huge album for them.
What's next for you?
It's been a long, hard road. I spent 10 years chasing the troubadour lifestyle and it's hard. I'm excited for middle age. It's cool to have a little musical success. I take any sort of profit I own, I try to live super frugally and I spend every single cent on what's next. It's like a really weird 10 years that have gone by. It's been awesome and it's all rooted in music.
I've managed to hang on even though I haven't been in the spotlight. I'm getting it now. I'm getting a ray of light. I'm trying to stay humble. I'm super pumped about it. They could have picked any songwriter and they picked me. I'm pretty lucky.
For more info visit www.matthopper.com