Led by multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and visual artist Dave Cope, Dave Cope and The Sass last week released their second full-length recording, “Pied Piper.” Much of the album was written and recorded at home during quarantine by Cope, and the subject matter tackles the current political climate, social unrest, romantic entanglements and mysticism. A return to the folk and singer-songwriter style of his earliest output, “Pied Piper” is the ethereal bridge from the band’s eponymous debut to their third AM Gold, pop-rock album due out later this year.
“Writing in the folk and singer-songwriter realm has always felt like a very personal and sacred process,” Cope said. “More so than writing rock, power pop, new wave etc. In some ways, it’s easier for me to write like this as it comes from a place of reflection and honest soul searching. At the same time, and perhaps for the same reason, it’s sometimes more challenging to be inspired to write this way than to bang out a power pop tune. I guess it depends on the day, the mood I’m in and the situational factors such as recent events or persistent memories.”
The album kicks off with the title track, finding Cope alone with his acoustic guitar ruminating on conspiracy theorists who have adopted reckless theories as political truths. Yes, it’s a song about QAnon.
Based in Philadelphia and formed in 2019 by Cope, Ethan Rider and Fred Berman, Dave Cope and the Sass delve into the past and bring out songs that are fresh and timeless with nods to their influences including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and The Move. The band incorporates elements of golden age rock, pop, psychedelia, and folk music into their distinct sound.
“The Philadelphia music scene is made up of down to earth and loyal creators,” Cope said. “There is a great sense of camaraderie here. The other night Sarah (his fiancée) and I went to our first Live Band Karaoke since the pandemic started. There was so much good energy on that stage with the band, Pat Finnerty, Pat Berkery and Luke Rinz (visiting with his girlfriend, my great friend and bandmate from Cope’s former group Fantasy Square Garden, Ali Wadsworth). Just seeing all the young folks getting on stage and singing their hearts out to the loving cheers of the crowd made me so happy and proud to be a part of this city and its rich community of artists.”
PW recently caught up with Cope to talk about the band and the new music.
Talk a little about how Dave Cope and The Sass came together back in 2019. Why did you decide to form a band?
OK. But you’ll have to imagine the first sentence of my explanation being recited by Daffy Duck…The theeds of Thass were thown thomewhat thurreptitiousthly thome time thooner than one would thuthpect, in that thweet, thultry Thummer of 2012.
I had recorded an album in Indiana with some fine folks from Pennsylvania and Ohio under the name of Davey Cope and the English Breakfast. The music was heavily influenced by Chicago, Boston and Kansas. Just kidding. The album in question was called “A Proper Record” as it was the first finished, truly proper recording I had made up to that point.
Fast forward to 2019. The bass player for “A Proper Record,” Ethan Rider, had shown the album to a gallery owner and loyal patron of the arts who would rather remain shameless. They were quite taken by the music and offered to fund the creation of another recording project. I was over the moon about it, not to mention eternally grateful to Ethan for finding a backer who wouldn’t try to impose their own vision of what the project should be; they just handed over the reins and let us do what we pleased. The result of this wonderful confluence of events was the first eponymously titled “Dave Cope and the Sass” album.
The core group at the time of the album’s making was Fred Berman on drums, Ethan Rider on bass and myself providing the vocals, guitars, keys and various other little odds and ends. Fred is a Philadelphia rhythmic legend who has played with tons of musicians here and there and everywhere. He was Amos Lee’s drummer for years and years. Additional Philadelphia legend, string theoretician and chamber orchestra member and friend from my youth, Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz, recorded some lovely violins, and Darryl Preston-Hill added some powerful soulful vocals to the first track. Other than that, it was Ethan, Freddie and me, aided in no small part by the engineers Alex Santilli and Eric Bogacz from Philly studio Spice House Sound.
After the album came out, we got a band together and started playing live shows. The live band at that time consisted of Fred on drums, myself on guitars and vocals, Luke Rinz on bass, John Cunningham on keys and sometimes bass, Tony Reyes on sometimes bass, Andrew Keenan on guitar, Darryl on vocals and my fiancée Sarah Biemuller on vocals and eye candy. Ethan lives in San Francisco, so he was unfortunately unable to play with the band at our gigs which were confined to the Philadelphia area at the time.
“Pied Piper” came out Aug. 21. A lot of the album was written and recorded at home during the quarantine. Can you talk a little about the challenges that produced and your thoughts about how the project turned out? Also, how can people get the album?
Recording “Pied Piper” at home was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I was able to control the writing and recording process almost entirely. Conversely, I had to rely on my limited skills as an engineer and producer in an environment lacking the bells and whistles of a real deal recording studio. My only salvation was a nice microphone I had purchased some years back from an old friend. It has served me well, capturing accurately both acoustic guitars and vocals.
I think it will be clear to anyone listening with an engineer’s ear that these recordings are not exactly top-notch hifi sounds. They do the job though, I think, serving the songs as best they can given the limited circumstances. I’m proud of the album. In terms of writing, I think it’s some of my best stuff. As for the production, the lower quality of a recording never stopped the music of Robert Johnson, Skip James and Woody Guthrie from doing its thang.
The album is available on iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, Bandcamp and most if not all other platforms (including Spotify). I’m not planning on releasing hard copies, but that may indeed change depending on how and where things go.
The title track is about the QAnon phenomenon. How did you come to write a song about QAnon, and what’s the message behind the song?
“The Pied Piper” track was originally a much less veiled and nuanced lyric. The first couple versions left no room for interpretation that the song was about anything but QAnon. After a few drafts I felt it was just too obvious and therefore less powerful in its message. I wanted to express my sadness at the current QAnon situation in a way that related it to something larger than itself, something tragically eternal, or eternally tragic in the soul of humanity. I suppose that would be the neverending circumstance of people being duped to their detriment and potential ruin by fictitious forces and false voices that speak to their preconceived prejudices, biases and political leanings. I figured that referencing the story of the Pied Piper leading the children of Hamlin away to their doom coupled with sprinkles of various other Dylan-esque metaphors might do the trick.
What’s the local music scene like these days? Are things starting to get back to a pre-pandemic vibe? And what’s it like being a part of that scene?
It’s hard to say if things will get back to a pre-pandemic vibe for some time yet. Things seem to be getting better for those who are vaccinated but so many people are still not getting their shots that things are up in the air.
That said, I did have a wonderful time hanging out and singing with friends at Live Band Karaoke, hosted by Pat Finnerty. It felt like old times. I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen for what seemed like years. Lots of hugs, kisses, songs, and an unforgettable rendition of Alice in Chains’ “Man in The Box” by a long-haired mustachioed mystery man in a Reggie White jersey, white tennis sneakers and the tightest jean shorts I’ve ever seen.
Philly is my home, the city where I was born. I adore this town. The music scene is great, and I’m blessed to be friends with some extraordinarily talented artists and performers.
That said, Philly is not an “industry town.” There isn’t a big major label presence in the Quaker City, which sometimes makes it hard for artists to be heard just playing in Philly. I really hope this keeps changing and I think it will. There is so much talent here waiting to be harnessed and shared with the world. Not like a lot of it hasn’t been shared already. We’ve got Gamble and Huff, The Hooters, Hall and Oates, Patti Labelle, Boys II Men, The War On Drugs, Dr. Dog, Low Cut Connie, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to name a few… but I guarantee there are hundreds of other groups around here that have been amazing me for years and if I had anything to do with it, they’d be amazing the world at large as well.
What’s ahead for Dave Cope and The Sass? What are the best ways for your fans to stay current with what you’re doing?
Big and bold musical offerings are currently in the works! We are planning on releasing another full-length recording in mid to late fall. This one was also recorded mostly at home during quarantine but was shined up real nice with bass and drum overdubs and proper mixing and mastering by a scarily talented engineer. It started out as a loving tribute to the AM radio playlists of the 1960s and ‘70s but has since evolved into something that is both nostalgic and modern in its sound. The mixes are turning out to be massive, and the songs are super catchy and rockin’.
I’m actually very excited to get this one out because it is an incredible contrast to “Pied Piper.” Night and day, really. Kind of hedging my bets. If you’re a fan of folk music, troubadour music or protest songs, then you’ll love “Pied Piper.” If you’re a fan of classic pop rock, power pop, brit pop, glam and Philly soul, then you’ll enjoy our autumn offering. If you’re a fan with varying tastes, then both of these albums might just make your day.
I also have a fantasy of starting a Philly-based record label that will make enough money to turn the many abandoned factory buildings in the city into manufacturing centers for eco-friendly, renewable, non-fossil fuel sources of energy. Anybody with a good work ethic and a passion for helping to make the world cooler, get at me! Fans can follow us on Instagram at @sasskicksass, on Facebook at Facebook.com/sasskicksass or visit our website sasskicksass.com. They can also keep up with new releases and musical endeavors on one of two pages on Bandcamp – sasskicksass.bandcamp.com for the Sass stuff and davecope.bandcamp.com for both Sass stuff and other projects I’ve been involved in such as LeBon LeBon and The English Breakfast.