Ron Pope is an empty page, jotting down his own musings on well-crafted indie-folk pop. His latest novel is the wide-ranging "Calling Off The Dogs" album, an 11-track project that prides itself on a concept rather than a jumbled puzzle of distracting pieces. His infectious brand has earned him the distinction of being somewhat of a Renaissance man, even if he doesn't call himself that. "I don't know if that's one of those things you can just say about yourself," he tells Examiner exclusively.
"I know how to do a bunch of things, but it's no great secret as to why I've learned to do them," he says. "Quite simply, I did it because I had to. Do you know the expression, 'Necessity is the mother of all invention?' Early in my career, I had no choice but to write songs, play guitar and keyboards, produce the records, steer the business, and so on because there was no one else to help me with those things."
He adds, "Luckily, over the years, I've added people to the team who help me a great deal. At this point, my wife/manager/wifeager runs the business, and I couldn't be more grateful, because I was fairly helpless in that regard and I produced 'Calling Off The Dogs' with a team of my incredibly talented friends. I feel lucky to not have to do everything myself anymore."
Pope goes on to describe the album's creation process as a deep "challenge." He explains, "I wrote 'Blood From A Stone,' which is the final song on the album and 'Silver Spoon' which falls somewhere in the middle. Then, Kyle McCammon and I co-wrote 'Lick My Wounds,' which is about the first instant two people see each other."
"I thought, 'I've got the beginning, the end, and a piece in the middle of a story of two people meeting, falling in love, and then falling out of love. What if I filled it in?'"
Even if the stories began as his own, Pope concedes that "all my songs are about you. Whoever the listener is, they are your stories. I've always felt like, once the songs are released, they are just as much yours as they are mine. I want you to feel like these are the stories of your own life," he says.
Despite having a central concept, the indie-pop singer details the process even further: "I wrote over fifty songs for this album, and we were very selective in regards to which ones made the cut for the record. We were very focused on making sure that the story of these two characters was told in an interesting, dynamic way while also making use of the best material we had."
Musically, "Calling Off The Dogs" isn't your typical affair, and Pope made sure to throw out the rule book on this one. "This is a record that I composed with a sonic palette and arrangements in mind. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to throw out the rule book on this album," he admits. "That's why you find songs with complex structures and movements like classical pieces, crazy, oddball harmony, some with odd time signatures, and other interesting left turns."
"All of that is also why you find such a unique amalgam of sonic ideas within the record that still make sense. You'll hear big orchestral arrangements, plus crazy soundscapes, anthemic rock moments followed by rootsy, organic sections, and choirs and thumping, hip hop-esque low end. 'Calling Off The Dog' is what music sounds like in my head, without boundaries."
With a meager 11 songs, it isn't hard to pinpoint a track that hits him the most. "At the moment, I'd say that 'Silver Spoon' is my favorite song on the record," he says. "From a production and composition standpoint, it's exactly what I was shooting for on this album. There are four distinctive movements within the piece, and it begins as very synthesized, electronic idea, but slowly grows and evolves, ending up at the most organic moment on the entire album. All of that happens over the course of one song, in five minutes and four seconds. I'm very proud of that. It's also incredibly fun to play live."
The album's lead single is the groovy "Lick My Wounds," the beginning of his story. "That song is about the very first instant two people see each other, when anything is a possibility," Pope relates. "You can cross the room and fall in love, or you can cross the room and find out the other person is rude and obnoxious. There are limitless amounts of avenues open at that moment. I felt like that sentiment was an exciting place to begin any story with."
The accompanying music video utilizes rather powerful imagery, a distinct creation that doesn't skimp on fantastical notions. "A friend recommended this great production company called CB Collective in Los Angeles," he recounts of the video. "We said to them, 'What if this story was about two female superheroes?' Then they took that idea and created an incredibly unique, distinctive world that had nothing to do with our original idea, and I thought was fantastic."
He adds, "I honestly had no idea it would turn out so incredible; my initial idea was kind of campy, a la 60's 'Batman' so the darkness they brought in was a really exciting curveball to me. I can't take credit for that one; the only camera I know how to use lives inside of my iPhone. They'd send us drawings and ideas and we'd just say, 'Wow. Go for it!'"
As a medium for music, Pope doesn't have any qualms about whether film can aptly capture a song's intention. "Videos are fun. I don't think they need to be point by point accounts of what you as the artist believe is happening inside of a song. I've always had a great time making videos and putting them out, so I never worry about whether they'll do anything other than be interesting on their own. I imagine them as little stand alone pieces of art that happen to include the song."
Previously, Pope signed a major label deal with Universal, releasing two singles, "A Drop In The Ocean" and "I Believe." Despite ultimately being dropped, he didn't allow that negative experience to have an adverse effect on his creativity. "Some artists find excited, motivated people to partner with who are willing to help with the growth of their music," he recalls. "Unfortunately, I didn't find that, so I asked to be released. It was probably the single best business decision I ever made. Was it terrifying at the time? Absolutely."
"Within two months of getting out of my deal, I'd written, recorded, and released a brand new album, so I'd say it definitely had a positive effect on my creativity," he says. "I didn't have time to let it affect me; there was too much work to do!"
On if he's ever written a song about the experience, he's quick at the draw: "I didn't sit around contemplating it; I just moved on with my career and my life. It isn't like breaking up with your girlfriend; it's business."
Over the past 12 months, music has become so fragmented, and that was bolstered but such off-beat hits as "Royals" by Lorde and "Same Love" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The industry seems to be poised on a rebirth, of sorts, and Pope couldn't be more excited. "I can't pretend to predict the future, but it is pretty incredible to hear a song like 'Same Love' become a hit on the radio," he praises. "A song with a social conscience that is a smash? That blows my mind, and I love it."
"I don't know where the future of the music industry rests, but I'm proud to be a contemporary of those guys. Also, Lorde's whole record is great, so it's nice to see her succeeding in such a big way."
Along the same lines, indie has become the new mainstream in many ways. "Over the course of the past few years, a bunch of incredible artists have emerged. I can't recall the last time I saw so many new bands that really kick ass. Bastille, Haim, the 1975; those are all awesome bands that have really exploded in the last few years," he notes.
"That's the sort of thing that brings me a lot of joy as a listener," he says. "It's exciting to hear good new bands and then see them find a great deal of success. When you see a fairly new band like Bastille get nominated for a bunch of Brit awards, or with Haim who are from LA coming in and selling out Brixton way in advance, it's wonderful. I absolutely think we're at a place where what you might call 'indie' and the 'mainstream' are converging in a really awesome way."
"Those three bands are all cool and respected, but have also managed to become quite successful. I can't recall the quote exactly, but I once heard someone say something along the lines of, 'Artistic validity and commercial viability don't have to be mutually exclusive.' I believe that. You can create something good and cool that is also very successful. It's nice to see that happening."
In support of the record, Pope is currently on tour in Europe, with hopes of continuing for most of 2014. "We started this year with two shows in New York, and then did a bunch of dates in the UK and Ireland. Now, we're jumping around in Europe," he says. "We were in Sweden yesterday, Germany today. We'll leave for the States in about week, and the tour starts there a few days later."
"We'll be on the road almost constantly for the remainder of this year. Should be quite an adventure; I'm excited to travel around and share 'Calling Off The Dogs' with people on stage. It's always really enjoyable to perform the new songs for fans all over the world. Sure beats the hell out of working for a living," he concludes.
Grab a copy of "Calling Off The Dogs" on iTunes and join in on the Renaissance!