A hustler—that might be the best way to describe Ron Pope. “I was doing all the worst jobs and I was playing music in the subway and I was paying my rent in rolled change and I didn’t have health insurance,” he told us over the phone, “but I never thought about quitting because I knew I needed to [play music].” Fifteen years and seven studio albums later, he’s playing his music on tour around the world, and he was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule for a phone interview with us.
Pope started gaining widespread recognition for his music in 2007, namely with his release of “A Drop in The Ocean.” He was then picked up by a major record label early on in his career, but he quickly realized that that conventional path was not right for him: “[The record label] didn’t do anything,” he said. “I don’t mean to be hyperbolic; this is not an exaggeration. They literally didn’t spend any money, and they didn’t do any work to promote me.” So he left and started his own company, and Brooklyn Basement Records was born. Ron created the independent label with his wife, Blair, and since its inception in their basement in Brooklyn, they have moved to Nashville and added a rock artist called Truett, a pop artist named Tim Olstad, and an acoustic group called The Heart Of. “The biggest difference in being independent is that I don’t have to deal with anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” said Pope. “Everybody that works with me actually has an understanding of what’s happening in my career.”
“So you didn’t think it was worth it in terms of the give-and-take with the record label?”
“I literally got zero dollars’ worth of value, and I made them a great deal of money over the time that I was signed.”
“It’s not like I’m writing off the conventional music industry,” he said, “You don’t get to become a household name without attaching yourself to a major label. But for me, it wasn’t just worthless, it was detrimental.”
It’s not just the independent record label that makes Ron Pope and his band unconventional: “You’ll see a bunch of people in my band playing five or six or seven instruments,” he explained. “You know, the saxophone player sits down and plays pedal steel and the keyboard player gets up and plays the fiddle.” Another part of what makes his style so unique and eclectic is how he takes bits and pieces of his musical influences like Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, or Aretha Franklin, and he synthesizes them into something that is new and truly his own. What’s particularly special about his latest album, Work, is that it was recorded by tape as opposed to digitally. This gives the album a raw feel and had put Pope somewhat out of his comfort zone when recording, since he could only record 24 vocal or instrument tracks for each song.
Pope credits his success in part to the motivation that was instilled in him early on. Right before going to college he had told his dad he wanted to be a doctor, to which his dad replied, “Well do you need to be a doctor? If you don’t know what I mean, then you don’t need to be a doctor. Go figure out what you need to be, and be that.” That story is the advice he gives to aspiring musicians, and to young people in general.
Ron will play at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston this Friday, October 6, as part of his Dancing Days World Tour, and there are still a few tickets available. “We’re going to put on an exciting and dynamic show,” he told us. “It’ll get big, it’ll get loud, and then it will get quiet and it’ll get soft. I hope that if you come out, you go home and you’ve lost your voice and you are sweaty and you are totally excited and satisfied with having spent the night with us.”