An In-Depth Interview with Rocker RON POPE On Just Released Seventh Studio Album, ‘Work’ and More!
Posted On 18 Aug 2017
TODAY Ron Pope released his studio album, Work, on his own Brooklyn Basement Records and he’ll begin an international tour on September 28th with a pair of dates at New York’s Irving Plaza.
The album follows last year’s critically acclaimed Ron Pope & The Nighthawks, of which Entertainment Weekly said, “Heavier, deeper, bigger, louder. The warm glow of the West, and a heavy meditation on classic sounds of the South seeps out.”
Earlier this year, Pope performed “Baby, I Love You” at Carnegie Hall as part of The Music of Aretha Franklin tribute show. His recorded a cover of the song and an accompanying in-studio video celebration of Franklin’s 75th birthday. Glide proclaims, “Taking on Aretha is a daunting task, but with Pope’s vivacious voice and the top notch players behind him, this rendition is blessed with is on unique wow factor while retaining its original luster.”
Work marks Pope’s seventh studio album. To date, he has surpassed one million monthly listeners on Spotify, sold out shows in more than 20 countries, sold over 2 million digital tracks, had over 200 million streams on Spotify, 630 million plays on Pandora and 150 million views on YouTube. Pope’s music has been featured on NBC’s “The Voice,” CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” “90210,” and multiple seasons of FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” which sent two of his albums into the top 100 on iTunes simultaneously. Pope also guest starred as himself in Season 3 of the show “Nashville.”
The album was recorded completely in analog at Welcome to 1979 in Nashville, where Pope and his fellow musicians locked themselves in the studio for one week until completion. Work was co-produced and recorded with Grammy award-winning engineer Ted Young, his third consecutive collaboration with Pope. The lead single “Bad For Your Health” was co-written by Pope and Jonathan Tyler.
Of the new recording, Pope says, “This album follows me from when I was thirteen and a teacher told my mother that I’d probably end up in prison; I started messing around writing songs that year. It’s been mostly uphill ever since.”
Appearing on the new album are Jay Collins on sax (Gregg Allman Band), Mike Riddleberger on drums (Bleachers), Andrew Pertes on bass (Savoir Adore), Kai Welch on keys/accordion (Abigail Washburn, Glen Campbell), Jeff Malinowski on guitar (Frances Cone), Alex Brumel on guitar/pedal steel and Charles Ray on flugelhorn/trumpet plus guest vocals on select tracks from Mary Richardson (The Banditos), Katie Schecter, Molly Parden and Vanessa McGowan.
Last summer saw the release of the feature-length documentary One Way Ticket by Kelly Teacher (No Cameras Allowed, Austin To Boston). The film follows Pope and his band on the road and during recording sessions for Ron Pope & The Nighthawks in Lake Blue Ridge, GA. In the film, Spotify’s D.A. Wallach notes, “Here’s a guy who’s figured out how to do this basically by himself and is really proving the power of streaming music,” Watch the trailer HERE.
RON POPE LIVE DATES:
September 28 & 29 /// New York, NY /// Irving Plaza
September 30 /// Syracuse, NY /// Wescott Theater
October 1 /// Toronto, ON /// Opera House
October 4 /// Portland, ME /// Port City Music Hall
October 5 /// Uncasville, CT /// Wolf Den @ Mohegan Sun
October 6 /// Boston, MA /// Paradise Rock Club
October 7 /// Asbury Park, NJ /// Stone Pony
October 8 /// Philadelphia, PA /// Trocadero
October 10 /// Washington, DC /// 9:30 Club
October 12 /// Knoxville, TN /// Bijou Theatre
October 13 /// Nashville, TN /// Cannery Ballroom
October 14 /// Atlanta, GA /// Buckhead Theatre
October 16 /// Cincinnati, OH /// Bogart’s
October 17 /// Detroit, MI /// The Majestic
October 19 /// Milwaukee, WI /// Turner Hall Ballroom
October 20 /// Minneapolis, MN /// First Ave
October 21 /// Chicago, IL /// Park West
October 22 /// Indianapolis, IN /// Deluxe
October 28 /// Stockholm, SE /// Fryshuset (Klubben)
October 29 /// Oslo, NO /// Parkteatret
October 30 /// Copenhagen, DK /// DR Koncerthuset
October 31 /// Hamburg, DE /// Terrace Hill
November 1 /// Amsterdam, NL /// Bitterzoet
November 2 /// Cologne, DE /// Artheater
November 3 /// Munich, DE /// Ampere
November 5 /// London, UK /// The Garage
November 6 /// Manchester, UK /// Academy 3
Learn more about Ron Pope in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! What are some words you would use to describe 2016 for you and your music? How has 2017 been treating you?
Last year was great. We put out an album in January and then went on a world tour. After that, we came back to Nashville and hunkered down to write and record the next one. So far, in 2017, we’ve been busy releasing singles, getting ready for tour, and preparing to release my new album “Work.” I also worked on the debut album for The Heart Of and some new tracks for Truett (both artists on our label, Brooklyn Basement Records). I’ve also been hanging out with my dog, Kady. She finds her way into every interview, so I figured I’d lead off with the dog.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What kind of music do you listen to when you are working? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
I’m sitting at a conference table in the label’s Nashville office. I’m currently listening to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac. Dr. John’s recording of “Iko, Iko” was on before this. Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands” was before that, I think. That’s probably my favorite new song. I usually don’t listen to music while I’m working; I get too distracted. I’m not good at passive listening; I’m an active listener. If you put on Led Zeppelin loud enough, I can forget just about anything, good or bad.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? How did your very artistic parents influence you and your music passion?
My parents weren’t especially musical; they liked music a pretty normal amount. I remember singing along to the radio with my dad and my brother when I was a little kid. My mom has always been a great writer, so I probably stole that from her. My stepdad Jerry plays guitar, so that I stole from him along with a bunch of his guitars (don’t tell him where his guitars are or he’ll come take them back). I loved music, and was always writing songs and playing music growing up, but I was really into sports so I didn’t know I’d try to make a life out of music until after I stopped playing ball in college. At that point, I needed something to pour my energy into, and music filled the void that sports left. I didn’t even know that you could decide to be a professional musician until I was maybe twenty years old; I thought of it as something crazy and out of my reach, like being an astronaut or a unicorn.
If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Or could you really not see yourself doing anything else?
I don’t know. I don’t really have any other skills, so if music didn’t work out, God only knows where I’d be. I would probably still be living in a tiny apartment with my wife, trying to make the dream come true. I don’t really know how to surrender. I’ve always been the type to burn the ships; it was either conquer or die.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and have that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think being based in Nashville has shaped who you are as a musician and the kind of music that you create?
I’m not from Nashville. I grew up in Georgia and then spent a long time in New York; I’ve only been in Nashville about two and a half years. I love it here. The musicians I’ve been playing with since I moved here have profoundly influenced the music I’m making. Everything in your life is going to sneak into the music if you let it. I write with the musical director of my band, Jeff Malinowski and my trumpet player Charles Ray pretty regularly. There’s so many songwriters in this town; all the co-writing opportunities have been fun to explore since I got to town.
In August you will be releasing your newest album, “Work” via Basement Records. What was it like putting this collection together? What was the cohesive inspiration behind these songs?
It was inspiring to write these songs and record them. Making records is like making love; if it don’t feel good, you’re doing it wrong. Every time, I want to get into the studio and share something honest. That’s always the goal. This record is full of real stories from my life. When I say that I had a teacher who told my mother that I’d end up in prison, I mean it very literally. There was no one thing that inspired the whole album; the overarching theme was that I wanted to tell stories from my life and be honest. You’ll hear about times I got my heart broken, something as silly as going on spring break and having a miserable time, and even a night when I was thinking about my grandfather when I couldn’t fall asleep; all these little vignettes from my real life found their way into the songs.
How did you go about selecting the musicians and producers to be a part of “Work”? What was the environment like while you were putting it all together?
I produced this record with my friend Ted Young. We’ve made my last few albums together. He’s a solid dude; the kind of friend I’d trust to pick up my mother at the airport. For “Work”, we decided to record to tape (rather than working in the digital world, as we’ve done on all my albums in the past). With tape, there’s a finite number of tracks, so you have no choice but to make decisions. You can’t do 75 vocal takes; if you sing it well, you have to keep it or record over it and try again. Working to tape forces you to leave some of the human stuff in there; there’s no “let’s nudge that note a little bit to the left;” what you play is what you get. I wanted the record to feel very honest, and leaving in some of those blemishes helped with that. We used a combination of friends from New York and people we know in Nashville and recorded at Welcome to 1979. This was my first time recording in Nashville so I was a little bit nervous to make that jump, but the only big difference was how late they’d deliver Chinese food.
How creatively are you involved with your music videos? What was it like making your latest video for “Bad For Your Health”?
Some of the videos, I’m more involved in, some less. That video, we talked about having someone dance in a really ecstatic way. Over the years, I’ve maintained a relationship with this wild dude named Te’Devan. He’s 6’7 and travels around the world meditating, rapping and dancing (amongst other things). He loves to dance in public wherever he is, whether it’s in a park or at a grocery store. I called him up and he was headed to LA, so we found a friend of a friend who set that whole thing up. There’s a few professional dancers dancing with him but otherwise, it was real people off the street stepping in and getting down. He has that kind of impact on people!
What do you think is the biggest difference between this album and last year’s “Ron Pope & The Nighthawks” or other albums that you have released? Was the process of making it very different?
With every album I make, it all starts with songs that are built around stories. The production and the arrangements are just window dressing. Uptempo, down-tempo, loud, quiet, whatever…I’m just trying to tell stories that people can connect to.
I’d love to know more about what it was like performing “Baby, I Love You” at Carnegie Hall this year for the Aretha Franklin tribute show? How did you get to be included in such a night?
That was surreal. We are friendly with the folks from City Winery and they put on a tribute every year (we played last year’s for David Bowie at Radio City). When I found out they were working on an Aretha tribute for this year, I got the band into the studio and made them a little video of us playing “Baby, I Love You” which is my favorite Aretha number. It was insane to be on that stage. During the encore, Sam Moore put his big hang on my back and we were singing harmonies into the same mic! Sam from Sam & Dave shared a mic with me. Soul Man? Hold On I’m Coming? That dude! Unreal. That was the highlight of my professional life, without question.
Your music has been featured in so many different places including TV shows. Can you recall the first time you heard one of your songs on TV or elsewhere?
I remember the first time I heard myself on the radio. It was a college station in North Carolina when my friends and I were still in a band, playing for nobody, eating bologna out of our hands and running out of gas three times a week. That was a moment I’ll never forget.
In general, how do you think you continue to grow and mature year after year in this business?
I just keep paying attention. We’re always trying to figure out what’s next because as an indie label, we’re much more likely to move the ball forward inch by inch (rather than by leaps and bounds). That takes attention to detail.
At the end of September, you will embark on a busy tour. Where are you most excited to play at? Are there any venues that you haven’t played at yet? Ultimately, what do you think makes for a perfect show for you?
Every night that people pay money to see you pay music is a damn fine night. Every crowd in every city is different from visit to visit. It’s not like Stockholm crowds are one way and New York crowds are another. If you play the same city on three consecutive nights, every night will be different. That’s one of the things I love about the road; you never know what’s going to happen until you’re out there with the fans. I’m stoked to play at Park West in Chicago; I’ve heard great things about that place.
Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I’ve been listening to The Band for a long, long time but I keep finding new things to steal from them. I still listen to Otis Redding and Aretha and think about how I might approach singing differently; I’ve been doing that for most of my life. Can I work with Stevie Wonder? Let’s call him up and see if he’s busy. I’d also love to produce a Justin Timberlake album with a live band and all real instruments. You ever heard Wilson Pickett’s recording of “Hey Jude”? I’d want the whole thing to sound like that.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
You are not alone. That’s what I got from music when I was coming up. Listening to records made me feel much less alone. I hope I can do that for my fans.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
My old man is a doctor. When I was about to leave for college, he asked me what I wanted to study. I said, “I was thinking about becoming a doctor.” And he said to me “Do you need to be a doctor?” I asked him what he meant and he replied, “If you don’t know what I mean, you don’t need to be a doctor.” He was right; there’s no half stepping in fields that are super competitive. It’s very, very hard to make a living as a musician. I spent years living in a shitty apartment in an even shittier neighborhood. I hardly ever bought anything that I didn’t absolutely need for maybe five years after college. It was a long, hard, miserable climb and I’m lucky that I’ve found some measure of success. I have lots of talented friends who did all of that and then didn’t have the success I’ve had. You’d better be certain that you really need to be a musician and can’t see yourself living as anything else if you’re going to go after it. And if you are going to go for it, go for it with your whole heart and all of your energy, because if you don’t give it everything you’ve got, some kid who’s willing to give up more than you is going to eat your lunch. Go make something you believe in and then don’t give up until you’re standing on the top of the mountain. I’ll race you there.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
I really liked the ODB and I watch that video of when he interrupted the Grammys at least twice a month. Would you have guessed that? Probably not, right? Let’s end with a fun fact!