Defining independent artist of the moment Ron Pope has sold more than two million digital tracks worldwide, has racked up over 200 million streams on Spotify and 150 million views on YouTube. On the release of his latest album, Worktapes, he talks music, almost giving up and what’s in store for 2018.
It was in 2012 that I first heard A Drop in the Ocean (2007), one of Ron Pope’s most listened-to tracks on YouTube (with 53 million views at the time of writing). That song marked the beginning of a lifelong love of all things acoustic, so when the opportunity to speak with the man himself arose, I jumped. We’ve just a 20-minute slot in which to speak, but Pope is relaxed, optimistic and ready to go. Naturally, the conversation begins with the release of his highly anticipated EP, Worktapes. “The response has been great,” he tells me. The EP comes just months after the release of Work, the first in the two-album series. “I kind of thought of it as one project, but I wanted to divide it just to give people more manageable, more bite-sized pieces.” Pope explains that with the advent of technology and smartphones (“little computers”, he calls them), musicians have to compete with everything out there now. “Because there is so much that people are doing, and so much in their faces, I think it’s easier on my audience if I give them 10 songs at a time or seven songs at a time and not 20, or whatever.”
A nod to the past
Worktapes is a nostalgic trip to the musician’s earlier albums—slow, quiet and vulnerable tracks that have earned him his distinct sound and reputation. I ask Pope if this was a conscious decision. “It’s intimidating writing quiet music. If a crowd makes noise and you’re in a band, you can just play louder, you know? If you’re playing quiet music live, if people aren’t quiet, then it’s ruined, it’s a waste of time. So you have to really believe that people are going to listen to it if you’re going to create it… [quieter music] has come back into my life in a very real way in the last handful of years.” Pope is truly in touch with his intuition and it’s his connection with his emotions that makes his deeply authentic music so attainable to his fan base. “You make music for yourself, and then you release it for your audience, so I’m creating music that feels good to me; I’m shaping the music and I could never manipulate that [process]. What sounds good to me right now is what I will create, that’s why the records sound different from album to album, that’s why sometimes there’s loud songs and sometimes there are quiet songs and it really has to do with what feels right to me.”
On giving up
The indie star attributes the freedom he has to create the music he wants to his label Brooklyn Basement Records, a company that he runs with his wife, Blair. “Music is really keeping me off the streets—which is good for me and good for the streets,” he jokes. But it hasn’t always been an easy journey; Pope’s past encapsulates the old ‘struggling musician’ adage almost entirely. Has there been any point where he considered giving up? “There were definitely times early on where I thought about giving up,” he recalls. “I was playing in the subway, I was paying my rent in rolled change and I was living off, like, hot dogs. One day, when I was down in the subway playing and I hadn’t eaten all day and I didn’t have any money and I was freezing… It was the middle of winter, nobody came, I played a bunch of songs and it was just so cold down there and at some point, I just started crying. I couldn’t control it and I just started crying.” This would become a defining moment for Pope, one that would change his attitude to hard graft in the coming years. “The adversity I deal with in running a business and being an entrepreneur and trying to compete on a global level with the giant multi-national corporations…Even when that gets overwhelming, at least I’m not starving. I try to have perspective.”
So what does 2018 have in store for the captivating artist? “It’s been 10 years since my first solo album Daylight came out, so I’m probably going to do some ‘stuff’ around that,” he chuckles. “I say ‘stuff’ because I’m not going to tell you what that is yet.” That’s unfair, I think, but I can’t wait. 20 minutes goes by so quickly, doesn’t it, I say; it does, he replies in his cheerful, chippy tone.
“Music is really keeping me off the streets—which is good for me and good for the streets”—Ron Pope
Ron Pope in the Hot Seat
CN: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
RP: [Laughing] I really don’t have any other skills, so I have no idea—thank God I am a musician.
CN: Which animal would you be and why?
RP: My dog has the best life in the world. If I could be any animal, I would be my dog.
CN: If you were a musical instrument, what would you be?
RP: I would be an old telecaster [guitar], kind of beat up and rough around the edges but still plays pretty good.
CN: Top piece of advice for budding musicians?
RP: Don’t give up! If you’re meant to be a musician, you don’t need me to tell you not to give up—but don’t give up. When everybody else quits, keep going.
CN: Tell us a secret…
RP: I’m still wearing my pyjamas and it’s 1.20pm!