"The biggest difference is just self-assurance. I didn't really have that before. It was really hard for me to trust my gut" In conversation with Cassadee Pope
From her band, Hey Joe, to The Voice USA, then her debut album, Frame By Frame, things happened quickly for Cassadee Pope in 2012-13. Then she went quiet, apart from the odd single and the hit (Grammy nominated) duet with Chris Young, 'Think Of You'. Her return to the UK as part of 2019's edition of CMT's Next Women of Country, headlining their first tour outside the US, is part of her re-emergence as an independent artist. After an aborted attempt at talking face to face - thanks to the venue having a late start to soundchecking - means we catch up on the phone a few days later.
Hi Cassadee, thanks for chatting with me. So you're in the UK still?
Yeah I'm actually in London right now. It's been amazing. Every day we are either travelling or playing shows so it's been crazy.
Do you have the chance to see much of the country when you're here or is it just shows and travelling?
I've been able to see a little bit. My boyfriend [Ed - also known as Sam Palladio] and I are actually taking the train instead of driving in the van with everybody because there's not much room. We're seeing a lot of the sights that way. It's a lot more scenic. We stopped at Leamington Spa because his cousin was there. We were able to have a day off there and then we're going to Edinburgh tonight.
Ah, I forget Sam's British. So you must have been here a few times?
Well I've been a few times, mostly Cornwall where Sam's from. But I've been over to London mainly for music and then I'll stop over in Cornwall if he's there.
I guess Cornwall is pretty different to most of the places in the US?
Yeah I mean it reminds me of where I'm from in Florida but it's just older and the art and architecture a lot more expressive. There's a castle that you pretty much see out of your window. So yes it's like a fairytale for me.
Let's talk about your music then. What do you think it the biggest difference between you now, and from five/six years ago when you released Frame By Frame?
I think the biggest difference is just self-assurance. I didn't really have that before. It was really hard for me to trust my gut. I had a lot of people in my team and my life that didn't trust that I knew what was best for me and my career, so that after a while that sort of an effect on me and I didn't trust myself. So now I'm doing music on my terms and the way I want. It's pretty amazing when that happens, when you just trust yourself and you go with your gut. But I wouldn't have been able to make an album like this before.
I think I had to make a lot of self-discovery, it was definitely a tumultuous journey but you know I think at the time, it was 2017, it was really time to take time for myself and not music for a minute there. I continued to record a little bit after I went through life changes but I really did take time for myself and that was something that I had to do, and that's put me in a really good place.
And you're on an independent label now, away from the Nashville mainstream, has that made a difference, in terms of the control you have?
Absolutely, it is different because for me, when I used to go out writing when I was on a label it was it was about what can appeal to the most people, instead of it being personal to me. And so I even just approaching the song writing process for me changed a little bit. I've always known what kind of music I wanted to do but I've never really been able to use structure like how I wanted to. I was always trying to appeal to country radio or the moms in Idaho, I was always trying to relate to everybody. This time around I'm just being as specific as I can be to me in my life.
And then just overall, I have my hands in every single aspect of what I do. There's nothing that I don't see or that I don't approve of, or that I don't have a hand in creating. When you're on a label you let them take care of a lot of the logistics, which can be nice, there's a lot of responsibility for one person. But it's also really been a big learning experience because I'm able to see what goes into planning and releasing music. There's a lot more freedom, also a lot less cooks in the kitchen giving me their opinions and watering down something that is really authentic. It's been it's been fun.
Was there one song that you could pinpoint on Stages that kick-started this new process?
I wrote a few songs before I left the label and before all of that happened. And one of them was 'One More Red Light' and I actually remember feeling like you know what, I'm not going to send this to somebody because you're too special for someone to say "nah, it's not great", so I just put in my back pocket and I'm glad I did and I'm really glad I did because it was something that I didn't really want to be floating around out there; it was a piano-vocal demo and I might be circulated through the team or through the town and I wanted to keep it to myself. And that was when I realized that yes this is the sound, this is where I'm headed.
So that was a bit of a breakthrough moment for you then. Where you already thinking that you wanted to do things a bit differently?
I mean I remember a particular moment where a single of mine got pulled from promoting really quickly, and I really believed in that song. I got great feedback on that and it just didn't make any sense to me why people would give up on it so fast. That was sort of the turning point for me and I knew I was already not seeing eye to eye creatively with my team. And I also just started thinking about it realistically, I inherited basically the whole team from The Voice [Ed - Cassadee won Season 3 in 2012], you win the record dealing, you win the management contract, you win all these things. I kind of felt that they saw me in a certain way, like a reality singing competition winner instead of an artist that has found her sound and knows what she wants to say and has a voice. I had just started feeling like I need some fresh ears and some fresh eyes on the project, and on me. So it was hard because you're used to being surrounded by people, but it was a good decision, and it was amicable.
You mention The Voice there, was it worth it?
I do, yeah.. You know I've had a career before The Voice where I was really in the grind and I was I was touring the world. It was amazing but it was also really tough. I feel like I laid down the groundwork and did everything I could before that opportunity on The Voice presented itself. It's not like it was a no brainer but I was trying to do the solo thing and it was just not happening, and it felt like sort of the last resort, which ended up being you know the best thing for me.
But know there are definitely challenges after that, people see you almost as a karaoke singer, and you have to prove to them that you're a real artist who writes and has a message. You're jumping through a lot more hurdles and you're almost trying to change people's perspective, but thankfully when I was on The Voice I was able to be creative, and I got to change a lot of the arrangements of the songs and I chose every single song that I sang, so it was a true representation of my music and what was to come.
To get back to Stages, which I really like by the way. which song are you proudest of?
Thanks a lot. Oooh, that's a good question... I really love 'Bring Me Down Town'. At first, I wasn't really sure about it. My producer and one of my co-writers came up with a progression and I felt it sounded like a lot of country songs on country radio, it sounded like a Luke Bryan song, and I was like it doesn't really sound like me. They really encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and my producer was like, you know, just put your spin on it and make it sound like you, it's an experiment. I'm so glad they encouraged me as to play it live is very powerful and very fun, with that music behind a pop melody it's really cool and different and that's a really proud moment because I went somewhere different, that I was a little afraid of. I felt like I persevered, in a way.
Obviously a lot of songs are about relationships, did you think of it as a concept record, in that it's kind of mapping a relationship all the way through? Or are they very much standalone songs?
Yeah definitely. You know it is autobiographical. Having all these songs on there and they're totally out of order it's not chronological by any means. Before I even thought about cutting a record I really just wanted to go and record a few songs to show around town, but those were the sad songs, and those were the feelings I was going through at the time.
And then I just felt like I wanted to keep the concept going, and it was very therapeutic for me, and the next thing I knew I was in a new relationship I was falling in love again, that's where all the love songs came from.
So that's why the record is up and down, and all over the place because life happened during the making of it. Before it was all about hitting a deadline and accumulating the best songs possible and getting this group of songs together that you know are hits but this time it was just telling my story, and that just lent itself to being a concept record without even really trying to do that.
You've got a lot of clever lyrics on the record as well. Like 'Take You Home' which you expect it to be "take you home to my apartment" but no, it's "take you back to my hometown". It's like more classic country lyrics, that twist. How do you come up with those lyrics?
It's just taking things that people say every day and making them mean something different. A really big influence for me was 'Girl Crush', there are a lot of songs like that in the past, but it was really 'Girl Crush' that challenged me and made me think I really needed to step up my game [laughs] and really come up with something that makes you think, and 'Take You Home' was definitely one of those songs, and 'Still Got It' is one of those as well, where its not just about still looking good or still having style, it's about having a good heart as well.
When you're writing those songs do you get high five moments where you really hit something good and you know it?
Yeah definitely. I'm more confident this time around, I feel more comfortable going into a writing session with a whole idea. I realized that before I was a little more tentative, a little more nervous to present bad ideas to people. But it definitely feels like we have those high five moments where we go "yeah, we did it" because it's like a puzzle you're making the lyrics works and fit in different ways, and clever. It's hard sometimes but when you get there it's the best feeling.
One final question for are there any of your songs that you haven't been asked about that you wish somebody would ask about? One with a great story to it or that you feel is undervalued?
Yeah, there's an interlude on the record called Gavi' that is really really personal and special for me that I don't get asked about, just because people just hear it as an interlude. But it's actually by one of our best friends that passed away a few years ago, he sent me that piano demo in a text and asked if I wanted to write with him to it. And I remember it was just in the thick of after The Voice and being in Nashville and doing my record, and being yeah yeah we'll get to it., and I never got it but fast forward to now and doing Stages and he's been gone for a minute and I really wanted him to be involved. I wanted him to be on the record as I know if he was here he would have played on it because he's an incredible pianist. I always wanted him to be involved in some way but it was always politically hard, being on a record label and all that, so I just took the opportunity to include it this time. I put the actual iPhone record that he sent me on the record, I just left it as is, even to the point my producer was like "have you got a better version of it?". I know it doesn't sound so great but I wanted it to be like that. Some of the proceed fo the record are going to the We Are Gavi organisation.
So yeah, that's a pretty proud thing that I included on the record that I wish more people know about.
If you want to know more about Cassadee you can visit her website or follow her on one of the social channels.