Telling the everyday stories: Ron Pope

As Ron Pope gears up for his Whelan's gig on 19th January, he talks to Patrick Kelleher about telling stories through his music, the benefits of being independent, and learning to succeed through failure. [br]What’s immediately clear about American singer Ron Pope is that this is a man who has a very precise vision of what it is he’s trying to achieve. Fiercely individualistic, Pope’s latest effort Ron Pope and the Nighthawks is unlike anything he’s ever made before. As he is keen to stress, he wants to tell stories, and to make great American Rock n’ Roll – and that’s exactly what he’s done.“I haven’t heard a great American rock record in a long time, and so that’s what I wanted to make because that’s what I wanted to hear,” he explains. He is inspired by a wide array of music, but quotes Wilson Pickett’s recording of ‘Hey Jude’ as a turning point for him. “I would say for this album, there is a single moment in recorded music, and I realised, ‘that’s the thing I’m trying to do here’, and that is Wilson Pickett’s recording of ‘Hey Jude’. Wilson Pickett is an incredible soul singer and somebody that I really love… The last ninety seconds of that song encapsulate everything that I think is good about American music, all the stuff I love about American music all at once is in the last ninety seconds of that recording.”Surprisingly for his indie folk rock inspired repertoire, Pope also professes his love for hip-hop. “You don’t hear it in my music but I love hip-hop, because for me the narratives are incredibly vivid in hip-hop, so you know, you can tell with great hip-hop, it’s full of great stories. I think hip-hop and country music are very close together in that way because they’re narrative driven.”Pope famously releases his music independently, and this is something he is clearly passionate about. It has afforded him the right to make what he wants and how he wants it.“For me, being an independent artist has been incredibly valuable because I’ve been able to create art without anybody telling me not to,” he says. “As a musician, you live in a strange place at the intersection of art and commerce, so trying to balance my own creativity – what I want pursue and how I want to pursue it – with commercial concerns, is something that as an independent artist, I am concerned with. Obviously I need to make money to keep doing this, but it’s not the central focus of what I do. The central focus of what I do is the art, and, so being allowed to create art that I believe in, and that I think my fans will react to, being allowed to change course when I feel that that is necessary, that’s the incredible blessing of being independent.”There are also disadvantages to being independent, and he is quick to point these out. “In terms of the negatives of being an independent artist, the single greatest one is that you don’t have meaningful access to major media when you’re an independent artist, so when you think about the biggest things in the world, people who are household names, all of those people are affiliated with a major label, or have been in a meaningful way in the past. Most of the people you hear on the radio are on a major label, when you see people winning Grammys, most of those people are on a major label. And it’s not a conspiracy or something like that, it’s quite simply that big companies that have a bunch of people who have been working in the music industry for a very long time, they have access, and they have relationships, and they have a lot of money, things that are harder for independent artists to get. So really the main positive of being on a major label is that you can get access to major media in a meaningful way.”When it comes to what inspires him to write, he finds it difficult to pin-point exactly what it is. The major thing for him is that he writes about ordinary events – he tells stories, and they can be about the great things in life, or the normal everyday occurrences. And allowing himself to fail as a songwriter is as important to his craft as succeeding is.“For me, sometimes great songs come when I feel some incredibly deep feelings, serious things,” he says. But sometimes they come when I’m just sitting there. I think just being open to letting the songs come out, and being willing to fail is an important part to being any kind of artist. If you want to create things you have to be willing to try something that you haven’t tried before, or try something that you don’t do very well, and fail at it. There’s eleven songs on Ron Pope and the Nighthawks… I wrote somewhere in the vicinity of 150 songs while working on this album, and some of the songs that made the album, I also wrote many, many drafts of, like ‘Hell Or High Water’. It took nine drafts of that song before we got to the place where it was exactly what I wanted it to be. So I wrote it, then I rewrote it, then I workshopped it, then I rewrote it, and I kept banging my head against it.”“All eleven songs on the album, they feel like a place where I succeeded. But to get to that place, I had to fail many, many times. So I think just being willing to do that, and not being so precious with your work, allowing yourself to try and fail, and to continue and get up and try again, that’s one of the things that allows you to grow as an artist. And that sort of applies to all aspects of your life. Sometimes if you want to grow, you have to make yourself uncomfortable, and sometimes you have to fail. And so, I think that without those failures, you don’t learn.”Despite his acknowledgement of failure to get to where he is, Pope is clearly proud of the success that is Ron Pope and the Nighthawks. The eleven songs show an artist who has finely tuned his sound, and come out the other side all the better for it.Ron Pope plays at Whelan's on 19th January. Tickets are available now.