Ron Pope's newest album is a rollicking wave of ramshackle country, folk, rock and roll, and soul. It's the kind of album that might have you reaching for another shot of bourbon or pushing the speedometer just a little further than you should or have you hooting and hollering (can one hoot and not holler? Are these two different things? We're not sure...) to its classic Americana hooks. The Georgia born, NYC bred artist had a whole vision when he went to record it...something we decided to utterly destroy in our newest session captured at EAR Studios in Austin TN.
OK, we embellish a bit...we didn't actively set out to break Pope's neon-lit, inebriated, juke joint sing-alongs down. SXSW is a crazy place and half of Pope's band had other musical commitments during Pope's 10AM Session with us. And yes, we just said a 10AM session...at SXSW. Now that is a professional my friends. But Pope brought us three sparse yet emotionally saturated musical moments, dusting off acoustic renditions of "Hotel Room" and "Lies and Cigarettes", as well as a warm and woozy version of "One Shot of Whisky" on the studio's Wurlitzer electric piano. In between songs, Pope gave us the run-down on how these songs were born and what he hoped to accomplish with his new record; an album he calls, "a love letter to American music". It's informative and emotional...think that means we're giving you everything that you need with our newest session.
I'm Ron Pope and I'm at EAR Studios in Austin, Texas. This place is crazy! I had no idea what to expect, we pulled up in front of a house and followed a gravel path, and here I am in this rad studio. I love it here, I want to stay! Beautiful hotel room. Cold part of the country, in the warmer months. Complicated woman, her needs were all too simple, couldn't give her what she wants. But in the warm glow of a street lamp, I was watching as she slept. I brought a bottle of champagne, and she laid naked as the last time that we met. She said, "tell me if you missed me, spare me all your stories, we do not have much time. From somewhere in the distance another place is calling me, and soon I'll say goodbye." But in the warm glow of a street lamp, I was watching as she slept. I brought a bottle of champagne, and she laid naked as the last time that we met. And with her lips upon my fingers, then my hands dug in her waist, we awake to find that all we ever needed was a thing we pushed aside. Sing for me, I promise I'll tell you that you're pretty, I'll tell you that you're mine. Your head upon my shoulder, my fingers in your hair, tomorrow on my mind. But in the warm glow of a street lamp, I was watching as she slept. I brought a bottle of champagne, and she laid naked as the last time that we met. And with her lips upon my fingers, then my hands dug in her waist We awake to find that all we ever needed was a thing we pushed aside. Beautiful hotel room, cold part of the country, In the warmer months. The first song that I played today is called Hotel Room. I wrote it in L. A. at that Chateaux Mormont, where I was hiding for a while when I had some time off from the road, and we were sort of "rock and roll homeless," like staying in a fancy hotel, but don't have a home...so we were staying there in this little bungalow by the pool and I would wake up every day like, "Where am I? Is this my life? Like, what's going on?" So I felt very inspired there. And then when we were on the road, we had two days off in Louisville, and the first night was Paul Hammer, who plays guitar and banjo in the band, and keyboards, Paul turned 30 that night. So we went out, and I went out for his 21st birthday too, and we went out harder for his 30th birthday than we did for his 21st. So the next day we woke up and we were like, "Man, how are we going to make noise today? Oh my God. " We were worse for the wear, definitely. So we decided we would just play very quietly, and we were in these lofts in Louisville, so we all just sat in a circle and played very quietly, so the recording of Hotel Room is us playing live in a circle. It's the seven of us in a band, plus our friend Zach Berkman, who wrote a bunch of the songs with me, who was our tour manager at that time. So that song, we tried it a bunch of other ways, it just never felt quite as right. It just felt just right that day. Lies and Cigarettes is the second song I played and Lies and Cigarettes is actually the last song I wrote for the album. So over the course of a year I was writing, and writing, and writing, and we were going into our final set of sessions, and I sat on my couch in Brooklyn, watching the snow, and I wrote it. And it reminds me a lot of some of my older songs, where it's incredibly straight forward narratives. It's driven by an incredibly straight forward narrative, that's the idea in that one. It's very sparse. The recording on the album, it's very sparse. It's very simple, and it's just focused around the story, so that's why that one feels so good to play by myself. It was a warm day, in the middle of a cold winter. She was a good girl, gave her heart to a wandering sinner. Well I couldn't say if I loved her, or if we were not there yet. We were young and living on lies and cigarettes. Last thing I remember the snow began to fall. She went out to get some air, said she didn't want to talk. Lost my mind out on that highway, never really came back home. She said she loved the boy I used to be, then the conversation stalled. It was a warm day, in the middle of a cold winter. She was a good girl, gave her heart to a wandering sinner. Well I couldn't say if I love her, or if we were not there yet. We were young and living on lies and cigarettes. I wish I could paint her picture, but I do not know how. I heard she moved back to Omaha, and works for her father now. So I dial most of her number, and then I change my mind. Our friends say she's doing better now, so I let her live her life. It was a warm day, in the middle of a cold winter. She was a good girl, gave her heart to a wandering sinner. Well I couldn't say if I loved her, or if we were not there yet. We were young and living on lies and cigarettes. It was a warm day, in the middle of a cold winter. She was a good girl, gave her heart to a wandering sinner. Well I couldn't say if I loved her, or if we were not there yet. We were young and living on lies and cigarettes. It was a warm day, in the middle of a cold winter. She was a good girl, she gave her heart to a wandering sinner. And I couldn't say if I loved her, or if we were not there yet. We were young and living on lies and cigarettes. I imagine this record as kind of a love letter to American music, it's all the things that I love that, to me, feel like chapters in the same book even though they're a little bit different, I guess. If you think about, I grew up in Georgia, and if you think about people like Dr. John, well he's from New Orleans, but that's not so far away. And the Allman Brothers, and BB King, and the Carter Family, and then everything that came out of Nashville, and Otis Redding, and The Memphis Horns, Duane Allman playing on Wilson Pickett records, all these things coming together, and Tom Petty, it's like all parts of the same story, in my mind. So that's what the record is, it's my love letter to American music. All the things that I love, and all the things that are a part of me. In entering the creation of this new album, one of my goals was to come out and say, "Any song on this record..." if I were to die today, and you were to say, "This is what Ron Pope is, this is what I think of him. " Show them any one of those songs, I wanted it to feel like I would be proud if you picked the sixth song, or the 10 song, or whatever...and I think I was able to accomplish that. So for me that felt special. And the final song is called "One Shot of Whiskey". And we've done that one a lot of different ways, on the record it's just me playing the piano, but on tour we have a big arrangement that we play. And it's interesting, because the way that you play the song really informs what the narrative feels like. "Give me one shot of whiskey and two lines of cocaine", when you're charging along with a rock band with electric guitars it kind of feels like, "You know what? I'm having a great time. Give me a shot of whiskey and some cocaine!", and I think the idea behind the song is more like an apology of sorts, for someone who is not who they wish they were, and who is afraid of that. I hadn't played a Wurlitzer in a long time, so it was really fun to sit down and do it. You sit at a Wurlitzer and you're automatically like, "Can I be Ray Charles today?" You can't. You can't be Ray Charles today, unfortunately they don't let you. At a bar in a town that I sure won't remember the next time September will show her cruel face. I will race to the bottom of every glass and I hope that these drinks have a shot at replacing the things that I lost on the way, that I took to this place. So give me one shot of whiskey, and two lines of cocaine. And tell everyone who I love that I'm sorry, but I'm built this way. And if you see my brother, please tell him I'm fine. Promise I'm trying to get home for Christmas, Though I'm not sure quite why. Mercy me, oh my God, I'm afraid that I'm losing my mind. It was hard, it was dark, I was starved for attention. I was seeking redemption, or a face that I know. If there's one thing I've learned as I passed through the seasons, it's not that you reap what you sow. It's that you get what you give, if you're lucky, but mostly you don't. So give me one shot of whiskey, and two lines of cocaine. And tell everyone who I love that I'm sorry, but I'm built this way. And if you see my brother, please tell him I'm fine. Promise I'm trying to get home for Christmas, though I'm not sure quite why. Mercy me, oh my God, I'm afraid that I'm losing my mind. I feel like a snowball in hell, because I ain't going to last very long. Or a liberty bell that got cracked on its very first song. It would be easy to add all the things I've done right, hard to count all the ones I got wrong. Where did the time go? Where has it gone? So give me one shot of whiskey, two lines of cocaine. And tell everyone who I love that I'm sorry, but I'm built this way. And if you see my brother, please tell him I'm fine. Promise I'm trying to get home for Christmas, though I'm not sure quite why. Mercy me, oh my God, I'm afraid that I'm losing my mind. Mercy me, oh my God, I'm afraid that I'm losing my mind.
It may seem shallow to compare Ron Pope to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon or Jackson Browne, with their decades worth of platinum albums, but it feels honest to describe his potential that way.
As a quiet teenager, Ron was listening to The Band, Stevie Wonder and endless hours of Bob Dylan, artists who would influence his writing depth, vocal style and marriage of pop melodies with bluesy guitar riffs and folksy grit. Ron outgrew his quiet personality about the time he left his childhood home in suburban Atlanta to pursue his first love, baseball, at Rutgers University. He played for two seasons, but the road to collegiate athletics is paved with sprains and fractures. After a career-ending injury, he transferred to NYU and chased a new dream in New York inspiring people through his music with soulful songs about love, loss and redemption, as well as heartfelt tunes about growing up and finding your way back home.
Ron was rapidly become the vibrant front man of The District, a band he started with classmates Zach Berkman, Paul Hammer, Chris Kienel, Will Frish and Mike Clifford, who he met in a songwriting circle. This wasn't just any college band not the kind you'd find in a garage, vibrating the shingles off your neighbors roof. The District became a New York household name in its own right, selling out popular venues, as well as playing a vital role in defining Ron's style as lyricist.
Ron's solo career evolved out of his individual sense of exploration. He was compelled to try new sounds, use various instruments and write more songs to produce something original yet lasting, something resonant for his listeners. He hit one out of the park in 2008 when he was asked to perform on MTVs TRL in a review of unsigned, up-and-coming artists. His 2006 song, A Drop in the Ocean was already an online darling. When the song was featured on hit shows such as The Vampire Diaries, 90210 and So You Think You Can Dance earlier this year, Ron's fans took to Facebook and Twitter to spread the word, and it showed when the song became a top 100 download on iTunes. A Drop in the Ocean received so much positive feedback that Javier Colon, season 1 winner of NBC's The Voice, recorded it as the first single off his premier album, Come Through for You.
With more fan-made videos on YouTube than most Top 20 radio hits, you're just as likely to pull up a video of a fans version of one of Ron's songs than his original one users video of A Drop in the Ocean has more than 20 million views. And Ron loves it; hes just as likely tweet the link to a fans video as he is one of his new singles.
Ron is much more than the labels and stereotypes hes acquired during his budding career: Recording artist. Musician. Rock star. Guitar player. Songwriter. Vocalist. Performer. Ron is a musical Renaissance Man, writing, composing, recording, producing, managing, and igniting his own career. Hes stood at a crossroads where so many musicians find themselves at the intersection of record label and independence. In an ever-evolving industry filled with rejection and compromise, Ron has plotted a new course for his music to reach loyal listeners, taking the industry-road-less-traveled in exchange for the ultimate payback, a league of devoted fans the world over.
Five independent studio albums on iTunes later, Ron is still showing us all of us another layer to his talent. With his last album, Calling Off The Dogs (released worldwide January 6, 2014), he is exploring new territory and pushing boundaries even further. The first single, "Lick My Wounds", is the first taste of this new exploration. As one critic so kindly stated: "'Lick My Wounds' is catchier than a mousetrap and a billion times more pleasant to get all wrapped up in."
When you're pleasantly surprised to find yourself humming one of his tunes on the subway, you cant stop yourself from sharing his music with a friend, a coworker or even a stranger. That's the story to be told about Ron Pope music that moves its listeners, stories that touch their lives, songs that see them through.