Singer-songwriter Ron Pope has seen a lot in his life and career.
From growing up in Georgia to having a baseball career derailed by injury, to becoming an internet music sensation and developing a legion of loyal fans around the world, he’s had his highs and lows.
A lot of you might know Pope from his internet hit “A Drop in the Ocean.” But what you might not know is that his life changed dramatically with the birth of his child and an unfortunate incident that occurred when men attacked a car he had just been riding in.
The events not only changed his perspective, it led to the complete reworking of his upcoming album, Bone Structure, due to drop in a couple of months.
PW recently caught up with Pope as he prepared for his Philly show at The Foundry at the Fillmore on Jan. 16.
Let’s start with the story behind Bone Structure, your album set to drop in March that already is generating a lot of buzz. We’ve read where it isn’t necessarily the album you set out to make, but was heavily influenced by the birth of your daughter. It’s almost a message to her. Talk a little about how this album came together and its meaning.
This album is absolutely directed squarely at my daughter; it’s for an audience of one. Anyone else who hears it is just eavesdropping.
I began writing and recording what would eventually become “Bone Structure” in the months before she was born. At that point, I was writing a lot of fun, energetic tunes after having been on the road playing every night for quite a while.
In early 2019, when she was a few months old, my family was with me out on tour. Immediately after I was dropped off where we were staying, two men attacked the car I’d been riding in. Thankfully, no one was injured but the whole experience was really jarring. It’s one thing to be afraid for yourself and another thing entirely to fear for your children.
The whole thing got me thinking about my mortality in a way that I never had before. There’s nothing like creating a new life to put into perspective just how short our time on this earth is.
I started thinking about what I’d want her to know if I wasn’t around to talk to her when she was all grown up. With that in mind, we restarted work on the album from scratch. Every song on this record is either me speaking to her about my experiences as her father thus far (“Practice What I Preach” and “My Wildest Dreams” are perhaps the two most obvious examples of this kind of song) or me sharing some story from my own life with a moral or a lesson that I think might be of value to her at some point. I tried to sanitize it as little as possible, because in my mind, I’m speaking to her as an adult.
I’ve never written with this degree of honesty before; I always felt a need to edit myself for my audience to some degree but I felt like I owed her all the honesty I could muster. I know all of this sounds a little bit maudlin, but there’s a wide range of emotions woven through this album. It’s about life; every dark moment of my life has been balanced by another of intense joy. That’s all in there.
Your “A Drop in the Ocean” was an internet sensation. How have the internet and social media changed the way artists promote their music and reach their fans?
My career began in a way that wouldn’t have been possible at any other time in the history of this business. A small group of incredibly enthusiastic listeners from all over the world helped me spread my music like wildfire via the internet.
Social media allows artists to go directly to their fans. You don’t have to pass through a gatekeeper who says if you’re worthy of trying to reach an audience; you can just make your music and then go out to find people who understand what you’re saying.
That’s an incredible power to have in your hands as an artist. I’ve never had to pander to please anyone who’s in charge at some label; I just make what feels good to me and I share it with my fans. As a creative person, not having someone to tell me that what I’m doing isn’t commercial enough or whatever enough is freeing.
My manager, Blair Clark, (who also happens to be my wife) and I were able to start our own label (Brooklyn Basement Records) largely because of this new opportunity to access the fans directly. We depend very little on conventional media to access fans; we go direct.
You’ve said, “For a long time, I broke my own heart living like I didn’t need anyone. Somewhere inside, I knew that what I really wanted was to build a less volatile life for myself than the one I’d been born into. As cliché as it seems, all I wanted was to be happy; I just didn’t know how.” So have you found happiness?
I’m incredibly happy. I don’t know if getting married and having children is for everyone, but it certainly suits me. Being a father and a husband has given me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have before; my life feels like it has real meaning now. I don’t work for me anymore; I work for them.
My friend Caroline Spence (who’s opening this whole tour) made sweatshirts that say “Sad Songs, Happy Person.” I wear mine all the time.
What can your Philly fans expect to see at the Foundry at the Fillmore on Jan. 16?
First and foremost, I’m an entertainer. I know that you had to take a night off of work or ask your parents if you could come or maybe you had to get someone to watch your kids; everybody had to go out of their way to be with us in one way or another. That’s something I keep in mind.
I want you to have a great time and forget about the rest of your life while you’re at my show. There’s high energy stuff (I get sweaty), there’s delicate stuff (maybe we’ll all cry) and everything else in between. I’ve put together the most powerful band I’ve ever had and they’re up there dealing every night. I promise that I’m going to give you everything I’ve got.
Also, Caroline Spence is amazing so you should come early to see her. All her music (especially her newest album “Mint Condition”) is on repeat at my house.
You’ve sold out shows around the world, had your music featured on national television shows and had hundreds of millions of streams on the internet. What’s next for you? What’s left for you to achieve?
There’s always more to do. I never feel like I’ve “made it;” we’re “making it” each and every day. I keep trying to up the ante. Each time we start making a new record, I’m trying to create the best album I’ve ever made. I believe that “Bone Structure” is my strongest work yet (and I’m my own harshest critic).
The same goes for the show – every time I set foot on that stage, I want to deliver, both for the folks who’ve never seen me before and for the people who are on their hundredth show. As an artist, if you stop striving, you’re done.
Ron Pope at The Fillmore | Tickets: $25-$75 | thefillmorephilly.com