Blue-collar jobs, small town heartbreak, a Georgia girl; the moments Ron Pope writes of are highly specific and simultaneously universal. The Nashville-based artist has developed a global following thanks to Spotify, on which he boasts over 250 million streams. Last year, he released the 10-track LP Work, a project he recently added to with the seven-track EP Worktapes, a poignant, focused collection examining the soul-crushing, yet life-affirming years of adolescence.
The maybe country, maybe rock artist's genre can be hard to pin down, as he finds inspiration in everything from CCR to Dr. John to Appalachian folk, or as he puts it: "so many things in the gumbo." Rather than imitative, Pope's smorgasbord influences combine into an original sonic stew, the recipe for which is a living document. Read on to learn how Pope learned to embrace quiet music, the logic behind Work and Worktapes and what to expect from his current North American tour.
AXS: Why did you decide to release the songs on Worktapes separately from Work?
RP: In my head, the songs on Work and Worktapes are part of one project. It's like four sides of vinyl...My fans have responded best to bite-sized pieces; leading up to Work we released five or six singles, we gave people a little bit of time with them to listen to the songs and develop a relationship with them and integrate them into their lives. That's why I decided that Work would only have 10 songs; Worktapes would only have 7. I just didn't wanna give people too much in one go. If you put too much food in your mouth at once you choke. I'm just trying to make sure that each of the songs gets the proper amount of attention.
AXS: Thematically, you said Worktapes is about the space between childhood and adulthood. Why did you want to revisit that time?
RP: I think it's because those are times when you find a lot of turmoil; you learn a lot of things, you get your heart broken, your life changes and falls apart and rebuilds and you make new friends, you get betrayed. Being 19 is like being on "Days of Our Lives"...it's just so chock-full of wild things that happen. In complex things that happen to you, as a writer, I tend to explore it until I think I have shaken all the fruit out of the tree. So I also just don't feel like I'm done telling the story yet and when I am, then I won't write about it anymore.
AXS: You described the songs on Worktapes as "polaroids from your life." What did you mean by that?
RP: There's these little vignettes, there's little time snapshots, little stories. It's not like some kind of a sleek, epic thing where I'm trying to talk about a hundred things in the song, there's just these little moments. The beginning of 'Figure it Out': When this hard day ends gonna call my friends/Meet up in the same old place. It's like I'm gonna get off work and I'm gonna go to a bar and I'm gonna have a drink and dance with a girl and like, try to survive. There's little pictures from my life rather than deep meditations on multi-faceted ideas. It's more pointed than that, I would say, the stories are simpler than that. And that's something that's been a goal of mine the last handful of years. To try to tell these very honest, plain-spoken stories, whether they're point by point narratives of things that have happened to me directly or if they're kind of abstractions of that, I feel like I want them to feel emotionally honest.
AXS: Why did you decide to open the EP with "Twin Falls, Idaho"?
RP: When I recorded "Twin Falls, Idaho," I was really excited by the idea of doing something really really sparse...In general, I am—I don't want to say shy because I'm not shy at all. I'm concerned or afraid or intimidated by the idea of releasing quiet music. I grew up in a rock band, I imagined myself becoming an energetic frontman who played electric guitar solo. I looked at Bruce Springsteen, I looked at Jimi Hendrix, people like that I really found inspiring. So I wanted an electric guitar, [to be] running around in front of my band, that's how I imagined myself and I kind of became the solo artist by accident...I didn't expect it to become my job, to become "Ron Pope solo artist." I was in a band and that's what I thought I was gonna do with my life.
For me, releasing quiet music is always a little bit unnerving cause I'd been in a band for probably ten years before I ever played a solo show. And so I would say that's something that is intimidating to me, making quiet music. But a lot of my fans have really responded to it and have made me feel more confident in making this quiet music. My wife Blair, who's also my manager and she runs our label, she really really loved that song. She convinced me that I should not be afraid to release it and that people would like it, that people would be willing to be quiet and listen to that quiet song...I was so nervous about the idea of starting with a very quiet song like that. [So] that felt like kind of a fun adventure, I don't know that I've ever started a record with a quiet song, so we decided to give it a shot and I like it that way. It's also enjoyable to me as a listener to start with a quiet song and end with a quiet song. These quiet moments cap the record, which I think is kind of niche.
AXS: How do you design your setlist for this tour?
RP: Creating a set that is not five hours long is the most challenging thing that I have to do every day on the road. I've been putting out records now for 14 years I'd say and I've released an absurd amount of content and so regardless of what I put in a show, when we finish I'll see some person say "Oh man why didn't you play such and such a song" and I'm like, "Well, because I wrote that when I was 13; I have no idea why you know it."
It's a challenging thing to create a set that integrates older music and fan favorites along with the new songs that I want to introduce to the audience. So far this tour I've been playing songs from as early as the very first album from 2004 all the way to brand new stuff and trying to strike a balance, because I know as a fan, when I go see a show, maybe I excited about the new record but I also want to hear the stuff that made me become a fan. So I do my best to strike a balance.
Grab tickets to upcoming Ron Pope shows here.