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Local musician has no interest in being pigeonholed

Stumbling upon a musician by the name of Jimmy Joe Johnson, you might picture a good ol’ boy playing some country tunes or perhaps an older fella playing bluegrass or folk. Well, throw those preconceptions away and enter into the alter-ego of 23-year-old Austin Ropp.

Born and raised in Elmira, Ropp spends a fair chunk of his free time creating ambient and progressive music under the name JJJ. Ropp began playing his first instrument, guitar, when he was in Grade 6, around the same time he discovered Canadian progressive metal icons, Rush. It came to the 12-year-old with a shock that music could be epic, with large, prolific pieces.

“I never knew that music could be like that. You hear three-minute love songs is all you hear, and then Rush comes out with this 18-minute epic song about a crazy adventure with a bunch of time signatures.”

Instead of focusing his efforts on one instrument or genre, Ropp decided to dabble in a variety of styles. He plays guitar, mandolin, bass and keyboard, among other instruments.

“I’m trying to do something that’s more original. I’m not going to be the best guitar player or the best singer… so I try to mix different genres together to come up with some that are really unique.”

Ropp said he enjoys taking the progressive elements such as odd time signatures that are guitar-driven then mix them with electronic beats.

This unique clash of genres and technicality is what is setting JJJ apart. His persistent experimentation in lyric writing, unconventional instrument combinations, and post-processing keep JJJ top of mind for those open to hearing something unfamiliar.

When discovering new music, Ropp says there needs to be a natural element to the artist. Lyrics must be based in truth and come from a place of meaning. This value is one he holds dear and intends to uphold himself.

“I’ll listen to pretty much any genre as long as it’s genuine. … My biggest inspirations come from a band like Rush. One of their most popular songs is about the integrity of music and artistic music, and you just didn’t have that with other bands from that era. My goal is just to write the most honest things that I can.”

One of JJJ’s recent tracks, entitled Laid to Rest, is about the passing of his grandfather two months ago. An upcoming track of Ropp’s was written during his mother’s recent brain surgery.

The pseudonym JJJ came from Ropp’s great aunt. “She couldn’t remember my first name because it was so close to my sister’s (Ashtyn), so she started calling me Jimmy Joe – I threw on ‘Johnson’ for good measure.”

On top of JJJ, Ropp has an act alongside his friend Scott McNab. The duo, Breaking Elements, blends similar elements of progression and experimentation.

Although music may be a large part of Ropp’s life, he remains in a 9-5 job. After finishing his businesses, administration and accounting program at Conestoga College, he now works in his field at a soap company. And he continues to follow his artistic path.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t writing music in my spare time. I get to vent and express myself in a way I couldn’t if I didn’t write my own songs.”

Both JJJ and Breaking Elements music is available on streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud and YouTube, among others.

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