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Interview: Ron Pope

5 min read

Over the last decade American singer-songwriter Ron Pope has been making a name for himself within the pop/rock world. After a hit with 2005’s A Drop In The Ocean, Ron has gone from strength to strength, releasing close to a dozen records over the last 10 years.

Ron’s latest studio album Calling Off The Dogs has placed him back at the forefront of the pop/rock scene and with the success of the new record, the musician is trekking the globe, delivering his live show to fans around the world. Having landed in Australia this week ahead of a string of dates down under, we caught up with Pope to talk about the new album to to discuss his thoughts on the music industry and cracking the mainstream as an independent artist. Here is what he had to tell us…

Brendon Veevers: How are you today Ron and where are we talking with you from today?

Ron Pope: I’m doing quite well, thanks. I’m currently in my pajamas, sitting in bed in Sydney. I just got here about 4 hours ago!

BV: You recently released your new album Calling off the Dogs. Can you tell readers a little bit about the record and what those who are yet to hear the collection might expect?

RonPope-CallingOffTheDogsRP: Calling Off The Dogs is a concept album that follows two people from the first moment they see each other, through falling in love, falling out of love, and finally, ends with their last interaction. It’s a very eclectic collection of songs. With this record, I set out to challenge myself as a producer, arranger, composer, and guitarist in ways I never dreamed of before.

BV: What are the main differences between Calling off the Dogs and your previous albums?

RP: For starters, I’d never made a concept album before this one. Making an album with eleven songs that are all about different subject matter versus making a concept album is akin to the difference between writing a short story and a novel. I really enjoy that Calling off the Dogs tells one forty-seven minute long story, as opposed to eleven individual stories. In terms of production, I’ve incorporated a lot of seemingly disparate elements to create a unique sonic thumbprint for this record. You’ll hear thumping, hip hop-esque low end, crazy electronic soundscapes, big rock guitars, orchestras, choirs, huge drums, and then all of it breaks down to incredibly organic, stripped moments like at the end of Silver Spoon where you encounter a bunch of people in a room playing acoustic instruments and singing together like they are in a bar. The scope of this record is much broader than anything I’ve done before.

BV: What would you say inspired you the most during the writing and recording of Calling off the Dogs?

RP: My desire to create something distinctive and unique really pushed me through the entire writing and recording process. When it would get hard and I’d begin to doubt myself, the desire to be challenged kept me going.

BV: You seem to get your hands quite dirty when it comes to the creation of a new record, being involved in the song writing, production, instrumentation and obviously vocals of the work you put together. Is it important for you to be this involved and what differences do you believe it makes to your recordings to be this hands on?

RP: I’ve always been involved in every aspect of the creation of my music, but it’s been more out of necessity than anything else. Over time, I’ve learned to do all sorts of things because someone had to do them and nobody else was around. As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention.

BV: As a songwriter, where would you say you draw the most inspiration from? Are there reoccurring themes in that you find easier to write about and convey through your music?

RP: I just try to pay attention. I’m interested in speaking about things that feel true to people from many different walks of life and backgrounds. To do that, you need to be speaking about fundamental human truths. I find those things from watching the world. I’m taking notes….

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BV: Growing up, who would you say have been your biggest influences in music?

RP: My taste has always been incredibly varied and so have my influences. As a kid, I loved old soul music. When I was 9, if you told me I’d grow up to be a musician, I probably would’ve imagined myself like David Ruffin (who was one of the main voices in the Temptations). I also dug classic country, contemporary pop music, blues, classic rock, metal; the first music I ever found on my own was hip hop. I bought a tape from the Wu Tang Clan on a sidewalk when I was a young kid, actually. Put all of those things in a pot, stir them around, and you end up with whatever I am today.

BV: If you were able to collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and what type of collaboration would you most like to see happen?

RP: Can I be in Led Zeppelin? I’ll stand in the back and play a tambourine if they want me to. Working with them or Jimi Hendrix would be unreal, though I don’t know what my job would be in either ensemble. I also would love to have been a contemporary of Tupac’s. His phrasing influenced mine more than any other artist, believe it or not.

BV: If we were to scroll through your iPod, what guilty pleasures would be most likely find?

RP: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures in terms of listening to music. If you like it, it’s good. Enjoy! Loving Rick Ross is just as valid as loving Coltrane in my book.

BV: You are now in Australia for a string of dates across the country. It isn’t the first time you have been to Australia so what is on the bucket list to see and do this time around?

RP: I need to visit with more marsupials. In the US, our marsupial game is fairly limited. The Australians set the marsupial bar extremely high. I really want to visit the Great Barrier Reef, but I won’t have time on this trip. I’m kind of nuts about animals, so I love coming here and checking out all the different creatures that make their home here.

Ron Pope 1BV: Being an artist who tours quite a bit, you must have your fair share of tour stories and fan encounters – any that you can share with us?

RP: Earlier this year, my cousin Carl (who is my guitar tech and partner in crime) and I were doing a bit that I really enjoyed. Every night, when I’d call him out on stage, I’d say that our grandmother told me that if I was going to keep him away from home, I should find him a wife. All the girls would cheer and go crazy. In Sweden, we bought him a shirt that said “I <3 Swedish Girls.” He wore it underneath a shirt with snaps in Stockholm; when I said “Grandma told me to find him a wife” he ripped open the shirt, underneath it he had on his “Swedish Girls” t-shirt and the place just erupted. It was hilarious; that was probably my favourite moment on tour in the last few years because it was so funny.

Of course, being on stage is the whole reason we go on tour; all of the traveling is stressful and challenging. In terms of what happens offstage, my greatest joy is being able to show my wife (who is my manager) and my cousin the world. We don’t really come from the kind of family where you expect to find yourselves doing the things we’re doing. It feels incredibly special to me and I’m blessed to be able to share it with both of them.

BV: What Australian acts do you think are doing great things or that you think are really going to shine in 2014?

RP: My buddy Cam Nacson, who is opening my Australian tour, is set to blow up huge this year. He’s got a new band and they’re really killing it. He’s one to watch for sure.

BV: Are there any cities or venues that you are most looking forward to playing?

RP: I loved hanging out in Melbourne last time, so I’m looking forward to getting back down there. All the shows on the ’12 Aussie tour were great, so I’m sure all of these will be awesome, too. I’ve never played in Perth before so that promises to be a blast; the first show in a city is always special.

BV: You’re currently recording & touring as an independent artist. In your opinion, what are the benefits of being an independent artist and if the opportunity arose, would you sign to a major label?

RP: I’ve spent the majority of my career as an independent artist. In my mind, being a musician is just like running any other business. If you’re going to bring on partners, they have to be able to add value to your brand. If you sign with a label, publishing company, manager, booking agent, or whomever, they’d better understand your philosophy, your plans, all of that, and they should feel the same way. Your goals and their goals have to line up. Some people get lucky and find the right kind of partners very early in their careers, and that pays dividends.

When you look at major label artists, the biggest thing they have is access to is major media. Obviously, that is incredibly valuable. As an independent artist, the most valuable thing you have is the ability to be light on your feet. When you’re truly independent and working on your own without any kind of label or publisher, you’re playing with your own chips so if you want to gamble, you can. When you’re on a major label, it’s a lot like being 16 years old; often times, you know exactly what you want to do but you have to ask for money and permission. There are pros and cons to any setup in this business. I would work with people who understood my business and wanted to help me grow it, but at this point in my career, I’ve built a global fanbase off the sweat of my own brow, so I wouldn’t sign with someone just to have a stamp on my ass that says “Property of Such and Such Records.” That’s my biggest piece of advice to new artists; only work with people who are going to add value and actually help you.

BV: Aside from touring and promoting Calling off the Dogs, are there any other projects in the 2014 pipeline that you can let us in on?

RP: I don’t know that I’ll have time for much else; this tour runs through the end of the year! I’ve only been home for five weeks so far in ’14 and it’s JUNE!

BV: Thanks for your time Ron and good luck with the album and tour.

RP: Thank you. I hope to see you at a show this summer!

Ron Pope’s new album Calling Off The Dogs is out now.