Jason Ropp: To the Start

Jason Ropp is a singer/songwriter from Goshen, Indiana, not to mention, a guitar teacher and mentor. Jason puts into perspective the actual work that goes into his craft. A quote that came to mind that I feel applies to Jason is “I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, ‘because of you, I didn’t give up.’” Jason influences music students, musicians, and fans though vulnerability and community. Here’s a part of Jason’s story:

“When I was five my parents bought me an acoustic guitar and I never played it. Then, the day before my thirteenth birthday, I snuck into their room and found an electric guitar in their closet. I knew it was for me because it was going to be my birthday. That kind of got me back into guitar. There were a few other guys in high school that wanted to play. So we started a legit garage band and practiced inside a garage and such.” I don’t know many 5 year olds that play guitar. I definitely don’t know many 12 year olds who are ‘picking it back up.’ I asked Jason how his music has changed since he was, say, 19. “[At 19], pretty much all I was playing was punk rock. My music has definitely gotten more complex and more interesting. I wish I could have been one of those really thoughtful writers at 18, 19, or 20 years old. It took going through poetry classes and studying the stuff a lot and listening to a lot of interesting music to start writing interesting stuff.”

Jason taught me what the pursuit of doing what you love looks like. I was so impressed that he took classes! For many, if they fell short with something they loved, they would just quit. It appears that Jason just ran through it. He didn’t quit. Jason had to develop his skills as a songwriter. “Yea, especially because I’m a real thinker. So, trying to tap into the poetic or artistic side has been a challenge for me. It has been a rewarding challenge because it has allowed me to access new parts of myself that aren’t just cognitive places.” His hard work has paid off.

Songwriting goes many different ways for Jason,“sometimes I’m just sitting down to write and it… flows wonderful and its easily. There are other times where I’ll work on the same song for three or four weeks and it’s just a mess. I stick with it and finally it comes out. In fact, I heard that when Leonard Cohen wrote his famous song Halleluiah he wrote 88 verses for it and only kept the four that he really liked. I actually tried that one time. I would sit down with the song and I would write a verse, write a verse, write a verse. I would take my favorite one, write three more verses then take my favorite one. I would just do that over and over until I got to the four verses that I want. I really like that process a lot!”

As a performing artist, Jason knows that cover songs can be a crowd pleaser. So why write songs? “I don’t know. It’s kind of arrogant to think that I have something to add because there are a lot of songs out there. When I listen to new songs by people that I know… I don’t know, it’s kind of like sitting and having a conversation with them. Even though I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends I still want to have those conversations with them and have more conversations… and hear more of what they have to say. If I think of it that way, it’s kind of just adding to the conversation, I guess.”

“I think that half [of] the time that I play, maybe every third show, I have [a moment where I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing; an awe moment] and it’s enough to get me through to the next one. [It gets me] kind of through the valley of musical despair. Jason discusses his song To the Start in more detail, “The song that I recorded is about wishing that I could go back to the beginning of things knowing everything that I do now. If I’m honest, there’s things about being thirty and trying to make music at the level that I want to [that] is really intimidating. It’s like, am I wasting my time? So, there is a lot of that, but there are these moments of real clarity that come out when I’m playing through a song in a set. [When] somebody connects with a song in a set and I can tell.”

Most everyone can agree that music can make you feel different things. It can bring up those deep parts of your soul and on the opposite spectrum it can make you laugh out loud. For Jason, music makes him feel. I’m not much of a feeling person. So that, in itself, is pretty great. I’m not a huge feeler and I’m not a huge crier. Definitely every four shows there’s a moment where I crack up a little bit, my voice cracks a little bit, because it hits me so hard. Sometimes I feel a need to admit things and admit the way that I see the world. My personality type doesn’t really allow myself to be known very well. This music is a really intense way of revealing who I am. So, when I am singing this music and connecting with somebody, it makes me feel known.”

Music also reveals Jason’s ideals on communication: “Music is communicating in a way that everyone will understand. You can communicate emotion, place feeling without having to have a shared language.”

What kept you playing over the years?

“Some of it was just finding random songs or musical ideas that I found interesting. A lot of it was people asking me to do things and playing in certain situations. So [when] playing at chapels in schools I went to, and things like that, really forced me to do it. Even when I wasn’t excited about it; it got me playing more.

What is success to you?

“The really artistic thing would be to say that making good art is success. There are other sides of me that  would like this to, from an economic perspective,be a majority of my income. I would think that that would be a level of success. There’s a lot of different ways to measure this.” Jason had recently had an experience at a show that, for him, was a big success. “The other night at Goshen Brewing Company the crowd asked for an encore. I played a song that was kind of playing out my life, with my wife Courtney, to the end. In the song I imagine what it would be like to say goodbye to her. The table that was in the front [of the stage] were all in tears. One of the guys afterwards, he is a kind of tough sort of guy, was just sobbing. He said that his wife had died in 2007 and that that song meant more to him than any song he had heard sense she died. That, to me, is a huge success. The reason that I wrote the song to process this thing landed in a way that I hoped it would. So, yea, I’d love to play for lots of people, I’d love to play lots of shows, I would love for my heart to connect, I would love to add something worth adding to the world  because there is a lot of noise. “

What is failure to you?

“I think that I fear failure all the time. I think that the failure that I fear isn’t really what failure really is. Especially with being 30 and really starting to lean hard into music, at this point, I fear that it’s foolish. I fear that failure []would be if] I spend the next 20 years making music and get to the end of it and realize that I suck. I think failure would be to not do it. I’ve already had enough evidence that what I’m doing is connecting with people. It has resonated with people in ways that I really want it to. I have already accomplished the thing that I wanted to do with music and I just want to do more of that same thing. So, I think that failure would be to give up doing that because I was afraid.”

Like what you see? Check Jason Ropp out June 28th at Goshen Brewing Company! 


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