Ron Pope: How to Piss Off a Really Nice Guy
Tash Bird interrupts musician Ron Pope in the middle of the UK leg of his tour for a little chat, and it all goes a bit awry…
Foot in mouth is easily done, but it takes a pro to fit in a whole wellyboot.
A fairly seasoned interviewer at this point, I like to think I’m kind of nifty at pre-chat research. Being unfamiliar with Ron Pope’s music (it’s probably not good form to admit that, but you’ll soon see why I have), I listened to his latest album Calling off the Dogs, read a few other interviews, had a general snoop about on blog sites and whatnot and prepared what I thought was some good banter and appropriate, but non-generic questions. Job done.
Think again Tash…
Listening back to the recording is actually embarrassing. Not for the usual reason that my high-pitched squawkings sound like a chipmunk in heat. They do, but this interview had an added layer of “oh god, someone plug my mouth with a doughnut”.
Turns out, I’d got rather the wrong end of the stick about our Ron, so pretty much everything I said went down like a lead balloon.
Things you should know if you ever meet the guy:
— He’s a rockstar, not a crooner. Which makes him not altogether that happy when you say things like “you’re a bit of a darling, bet you’ve got a lot of female fans.”
— Definitely don’t keep referring back to how many of his songs are about love and relationships.
— If you’re going to make comparisons…actually just don’t make comparisons. But if you do, probably don’t pick Rob Thomas for someone whose childhood idol was Hendrix.
That being said, he’s a totally lovely guy and humoured me for a good 40 minutes, despite my persistent word vomit.
I caught Ron taking a well-earned break in his bunk aboard the team bus, waiting to get on stage for the Sheffield leg of his tour. As you can imagine, for a guy that’s in the middle of a year of globe trotting, with shows almost every night, he was pretty darn exhausted.
He doesn’t care though: “The good part is getting on stage every night. Getting to be able to go on stage and play the music is the reason we do all this. It’s worth it.”
All By Myself
The amazing thing about Ron Pope, and possibly the reason why a lot of you might not have come across him, is that he’s pretty much created his every success all on his own. And he is incredibly successful… I must stress that. The man’s had over 50,000,000 YouTube plays, and upwards of 36,000,000 Spotify streams. That’s nothing to scoff at; I don’t need to tell you. And he’s done this without the backing of a major label or a team of seasoned A&R and music PR pros.
No billboards, no crowbarring him onto the bill of bigger acts, no weirdly contrived television appearances. His popularity has been organic. Ron worked hard to put out his music online and promoted it with the help of his friends and family and pretty soon, those that liked it, shared it. The project grew and grew and now he’s in the middle of a 20-date UK tour, he’s off to Europe after that, back to the States and then on to Australia later this year.
And his fans don’t just like his music, they bloody love it. When Mike and I headed down to the Shepherds Bush Empire to catch his London show, we were taken aback, not just by how many guys turned out to be in the audience (not the female-only fan base I had accused him of) but by the fact that they were yelling along to his music. Everyone in the room knew every word, it was incredible.
The appeal of his music probably has something to do with his approach to song writing:
“The emotions that are touched on in this album are yes, very specific stories, following a relationship from start to finish, but all of the emotions are things that absolutely everyone can understand. The fact that the stories are specific, doesn’t mean that the feelings at the core of them are as specific.”
“You don’t need to be sad to write a sad song, because you know what it is to be sad, just like you know all of the fundamental emotions that go into any track. Love, hope, faith, loss, the desire to meet a new person… they’re all fundamental pieces of being a human.”
Other Things You Might Like To Know
Ron Pope Hates Clubbing
Nightly stage shows means that Ron is late to bed and occasionally, when the jet lag takes over, late to be wandering about the streets of whatever town he happens to be in at that point. I suggest that these late night ventures might be an ideal time to check out the clubbing scenes of many a European city…
“Clubs combine all of the things that I dislike the most, put together in one room. Incredibly loud music, and the kind of clientele where you’re like “ugh, I feel dirty because I’m talking to you’,” he counters. So, not ideal at all then really.
“If you’re in a club and you tell a joke, and you’re like ‘but the punchline is that the doctor was his father!’ people look at you like, ‘I don’t understand what you said. I don’t know what you’re talking about.'”
There you go folks. Clubs, not good for musicians who have a side-career in stand-up.
As I’ve told you, I placed heavy emphasis on the sweet, sweet emotions in his music. I even went as far as to make the blindly sweeping generalisation that this probably had something to do with his Georgia upbringing. You know, the fabled “South”, where cowboys doff their caps to one and all and serenade their little ladies. Nope.
“I only lived in Georgia until I went to college. When I was a kid I was in bands and I would play in little bars where everyone would have their back to us. People would turn around a shush us during our shows.”
“I kinda wanted to be jimmy Hendrix when I grew up. I had been in a band that was a kind of foot-stomping Southern rock band that was based in New York and then when I became a solo artist it was only because my music had become popular online by itself.”
More hellboy than cowboy and not quite the two-stepping romantic paradigm start to his music career that I had been envisaging.
Fans to Fam
As I’ve mentioned, one of the most interesting things about Ron Pope’s career, is that it took off in an what you might call an unconventional way. He cultivated interest online, reached out to pockets of dedicated listeners all over the world, built on his YouTube plays and so on and so forth.
The thing is, though, that it seems to me this is probably the form most people’s music careers will soon be developing. We’re the online generation, after all. It’s a wonder, then, that he has a tough time being taken seriously.
“It’s still hard to display to people high up in the music industry, that a project is legitimate,” he says. “I can show people footage of me playing for 10,000 people at a music festival in Sweden, or a line with 1,500 people in a street in front of a venue in London and people are like ‘oh, that’s darling’ but they fail to understand the scope of it.”
“I’m like, ‘you see that many millions of plays on Spotify, you know what that means, right?’ If you’re the president of a major label, that means I’m more popular than pretty much every single artist on your label…”
“My fans have fought so hard to make this grass roots thing into something that is legitimate. So that’s one of the reasons why we’re putting this album out into stores. I feel like I owe it to my fans to show the music industry what they have done. I didn’t do this, the fans did – they created a world for this music to exist in. I want to show them how much it matters.”
Did Someone Call the Backstreet Boys?
Relentless in my quest to label him a warbling pansy – really, it’s a miracle he didn’t hang up – I asked him if he ever had the urge to say ‘to hell with it’, whack on a pair of leather chaps and go full-Gene-Simmons on the situation.
Happily though, this prompted two of my favourite quotes from the whole interview.
1) “You’re not going to see me sitting on a stool, playing an acoustic guitar and crying, that’s not what I do.”
2) “I heard Bruce Springsteen say this once, and I’ve often stolen it and used it myself: ‘the difference between me and all the other guys who sound like me, is that at the end of the day, I can plug in my Telecaster and burn a building down.'”
And he was right. The smoke machine was in attendance; there were at least two other dudes with proper guitars besides Ron and it wasn’t long before Mike and I got into the swing of things and tried yelling along to the lyrics with all the other punters. Who cares if we got them wrong, we were part of the gang, right?
Want to put some music to this message and find out for yourselves just how much rock and roll there really is in Ron Pope’s tracks?
Check out his YouTube Channel
Head over to his Soundcloud account to hear his new album Calling off the Dogs
Buy the album Here
For more information and tour dates, get yourself to his Website
Photo Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson