An Exclusive Interview with One-Man Band Jean-Paul De Roover
Jean-Paul De Roover is no ordinary musician. The choice to be a one-man band is not only unique, but also gutsy. One needs to have a serious amount of talent, motivation, and know-how to make a living as a solo artist, and De Roover clearly has those traits and then some. The Thunder Bay native recently spoke with 24OurMusic about his journey through life and music and described his plans for the future.
Jean-Paul De Roover: I come from a pretty diverse musical background, having played in rock and post-hardcore bands in high school at the same as singing in barbershop choruses. I was part of an award-winning high school band playing trumpet and percussion but also playing bluegrass with an 80-year-old man from time to time. I didn’t really care what kind of music I was playing, just as long as I was playing music. As time passed I played in a pop/reggae/rock group among many others, and ended up beginning my solo career in 2007. Since then that’s been my main focus, but I still have time to sit in with other bands, whether it’s a punk-rock, technical pop-rock, folk, or even country, I love being able to work on something new.
24: How would you describe your musical style?
JPDR: My own musical style is a mix of rock, folk, pop, electronica and a cappella. By including live-looping in my performances I’m able to borrow different elements from each genre to create my own “post-pop” type of sound. I bring the energy of rock music, the songwriting and storytelling of folk, the catchy hooks from pop, the performance tech from electronica and the layers upon layers of vocals from the a cappella world.
24: How did you get into live-looping? How did you decide to make music on your own instead of with a band?
JPDR: Both questions can be answered in the same way. When my band Night Safari dissolved in 2006, I wanted to start something new that I would lead, without having the typical problems of a band (vocalist quits, drummer is drunk, bass player can’t go on tour, etc). I could just be a singer songwriter, but I love the fullness of a band so I sought out different ways of making that happen. I started with one looper, and shortly after that I was out and playing gigs bringing more energy (and sometimes volume) than a full band. As the years passed, I bought more and more gear and equipment that would allow me to achieve new sounds, textures and effects that would add to the “one-man-band” that it has become today.
Being out on my own also meant that if I wanted to change genres, styles, or anything else I would be able to do that on a dime. I want a lifelong career, with a discography that is varied but tells the story of my life. I want a listener to be able to hear the maturation of my sound, as well as the twists and turns as I get excited about a particular direction at a specific time in my life.
JPDR: A lot of what I write about comes from my own personal experiences and perspectives, but I’ve also been stepping outside of that comfort bubble lately to write fictional narratives in the 3rd person. That being said, the root of all my inspiration is emotion. I only write a song if it makes me feel something and often times that’s because I’ve lived it (or those around me), so we can all share that kind of common life experience. I have a hard rule now that if I no longer feel something when I perform a song, it gets dropped. That’s my way of making sure that I’m as honest as possible on and off stage.
24: How would you describe your creative process?
JPDR: My creative process has changed a lot over the years. It was obviously different when working with other bandmates than with the solo project, but since starting to perform under just my name there have been some significant shifts. When I first started, I was so excited about live-looping technology that I wrote music specifically for the pieces of equipment that lay before me. This created some really cool and meaningful music, however I realized that without the technology, there wasn’t really a song there – at least not something that could be boiled down to an acoustic guitar and vocals. That doesn’t apply to everything I did, but about 4 years ago I did make a conscious effort to work from the “song” first, then apply the technology to help build the song rather than the other way around. Otherwise, typically I work on the instrumental first and write the lyrics second, but it’s all project-dependent of course.
24: How have your experiences growing up abroad affected your music?
JPDR: I was born in Canada but grew up in Africa, Asia and South America. Growing up overseas gave me a unique perspective that is hard to explain. When someone asks me “what was it like growing up overseas?” my typical response is, “well, to me it was normal.” Living somewhere for 6 months and moving happened often. Building friendships at new schools just to have them fade when I left was just how things were. Being a minority based on my skin colour and language was just how it was. I believe that that upbringing allowed me to be very open, creatively and as a person. Diversity is something I relish in my music, and heading out on the road for long periods of time doesn’t scare me, it’s exciting. I think I’m actually driven to leave my home every so often because of my family’s constant traveling. Of course, having heard music from all over the world has given me a larger musical vocabulary to draw from when I’m writing, although it doesn’t always present itself obviously.
Otherwise, I’ve had great opportunities to tour overseas (Mexico, Beligum, Germany) in the past year, and those experiences have inspired some of my newest writing.
JPDR: I was born in Thunder Bay before moving overseas, but it’s always been my home, conceptually. Even when I was elsewhere, my parents’ home 30 minutes out of town was always my reference point. Since 2001 it’s been my home base after moving there permanently from Chile, but in 2014 it became my home in a different way after my wife Shannon and I bought our first home. In January it will become home for yet another reason when we welcome our first son into the world.
Musically, Thunder Bay has been very important. Its music scene is one of Canada’s best kept secrets and I’m grateful to have had a role in it. Whether it was putting on shows, developing concert series and even building my own festival for 8 years, or simply being a part of the scene as a member of different bands, the people here have helped make my own music what it is by inspiring and challenging me to do better. The beautiful scenery and landscape of the region doesn’t really play any part in my music, I’m more interested in the humanity of it all.
24: You have experience not only performing live, but also composing for film and television and working in production. In which aspect of the industry, if any, do you feel most at home and why?
JPDR: I live for the stage, but I absolutely love being creative in a studio with hard deadlines for a project. Performance gives you immediate satisfaction and feedback from an audience, leaving you with a natural high that leaves shortly after you start loading your gear back into the car. Composing gives you the freedom to explore different styles of music and to really spread your wings and grow as an artist through working on clients’ project. It’s hard to find time to develop your own musical vocabulary so composition is often a great excuse to try something you normally never would. Production work lets me get hands-on and really mentor another musician(s) as I guide them through a recording project from the first demo all the way to the album release show. It’s great to bring my experiences and perspective to another person’s project while simultaneously stepping outside of my own head for a while. All three of them tie together quite nicely with the way I’ve structured my life and my business, so it’s hard to choose one. I’ve been performing much longer than composing or producing, so that one’s probably the most comfortable. Composing and producing are also done out of my home studio “Blueprints,” so I’m literally most “at home” for those two!
24: What was it like to make the Blue EP?
JPDR: The Blue EP was the first time I recorded, mixed and released my own material. Working out of my home studio “Blueprints”, I wrote, rewrote, performed (except drums on “Blue”), recorded and mixed all the elements of the two songs that would comprise the EP. It was a bit more relaxing to work out of the comfort of my own home, but also more stressful because it’s often harder to work from home since there are so many other distractions. Otherwise, it was a very insightful process as I’ve been honing my skills in this area for the past 10 years, so it was about time that I put them into practice for a new release. The other fun challenge was actually delivering it before a specific deadline. The Blue EP (as well as several variations of it – vinyl, digital, bonus content, etc) were made available to fans and friends who contributed to a crowdfunding campaign the year before that resulted in me doing my first ever European tour. The purpose of the EP was also to show people some of the stuff I’ve been working on lately, exploring a more sensitive side of my songwriting and possibly hinting at the direction of the next full-length album.
24: What does the future hold for your music?
JPDR: Other than some touring in Europe this Fall, the rest of the winter will be focusing on writing and tweaking the next full-length concept album while continuing to work on a variety of upcoming films and commercials, as well as releasing some projects that I’m producing in the coming months, not to mention raising a newborn in the new year!