Singer/songwriter Cassadee Pope came out of the starting gate in her career, with success after success. Starting in 2012, Pope’s powerhouse voice helped her become the first female winner on season three of NBC’s The Voice. The key songs that she sang on The Voice (“Over You” and “Stupid Boy”) were released as singles and reached the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Then a year later, Pope released her debut album Frame By Frame, that landed at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and Top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. On top of this, her single “Wasting All These Tears” (from Frame by Frame) was a Top 5 country hit. Also, Pope picked up nominations at the People’s Choice Awards and American Country Awards.
In 2016, Pope joined forces with country star Chris Young for the chart-topper, “Think of You,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. However, just as things couldn’t seem to be getting any better, Pope hit a series of pitfalls in both her personal and professional life. Pope said goodbye to a long-term relationship, and most of the business team assigned to her after winning The Voice.
For her long-awaited second album, Stages (which she has just released as an independent artist), Pope began writing songs about the ups and downs of her life. Notably, she co-wrote 7 of the 11 songs on her album, collaborating with such top Nashville songwriters as Corey Crowder (who also produced Stages), Sarah Buxton and Emily Shackelton. Also on the album are songs written by hit Nashville songwriters, Ben Hayslip and Matt McGinn.
Pope’s new single is “If My Heart Had a Heart,” which has received excellent reviews. Rolling Stone magazine called this single one of the 10 Best Country Songs To Hear Now.
With the release of her album, Pope will be performing many shows on tour this year. In March, she will be opening 13 show for Maren Morris’ hot GIRL The World Tour. Then in April and May, she will be headlining the CMT Next Women of Country Tour.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Cassadee Pope. She talks about the liberating power of striking out on her own professionally, and writing about those topics that no writer wants to tackle, and letting her guard down to write vulnerable songs.
BC: How does the songwriting process work for you?
Cassadee Pope: It’s actually different every time I write a song. Sometimes I know going into sessions that Corey Crowder, my producer, builds amazing tracks. I know I’m going to go in and write on top of a track. Or if I go in and write with Emily Shackelton, I know we’re going in with her playing piano, and we’re starting from scratch.
I usually like to go in at least with a concept, title or song idea and build from that. It really depends on what room I’m in. When I’m by myself, it’s a whole different story. That’s always different. I think if I did it the same way every time it would get stale for me, so I try to keep it interesting.
Here’s the lyric video of Cassadee Pope’s single, “If My Heart Had a Heart.”
BC: How do you decide when to write by yourself instead of with a co-writer?
Pope: I usually write some of the most personal things by myself. There’s usually a song I keep in my back pocket for some day when I might do some kind of acoustic album, because a lot of the songs that I write lend themselves better to an acoustic version. I’m not thinking about a tempo…I don’t have a drum loop going. I prefer to get them when I’m by myself when I need a little bit of therapy.
BC: Are you more of a lyric or melody person?
Pope: Definitely a melody person. That’s another reason I love to co-write so much, because I love being challenged lyrically. I have ideas, and I definitely contribute, but there’s something about being in a room with someone being better at lyrics than I am. It opens up corridors in my brain that I didn’t know existed. That’s very good for me. I think my strongest skill in a songwriting session is the melody.
BC: What’s the story behind “Stupid Boy,” which you sang on The Voice?
Pope: I sang “Stupid Boy” on The Voice for season 3. I think it was one of the last songs I did. I have always loved that song [which was a hit for Keith Urban]. I did some research because I wanted to turn it into my own song. I looked up a bunch of versions and came up with Sarah Buxton’s version. At the time I hadn’t lived in Nashville yet, so I didn’t know a ton about the songwriting community. I heard her version of it and I was blown away. I took her approach more than Keith’s. It’s become completely full circle because she’s written on two of the songs on my record.
BC: You were nominated for a Grammy along with Chris Young for the song “Think of You.”
Pope: I was singing at a writers’ round for a radio station back in 2015, and I was on it with Chris Young, and he heard my voice and apparently at the time, he was looking for a counterpart to sing the song. He got his people to get in touch with my people. I heard the song, and I immediately said, ‘Yes, I would like to do this.’ I didn’t know it would be a single by any means, but I just wanted to sing with Chris because he’s so good. It’s interesting that my now producer Corey Crowder was going into the studio to cut “Think of You.” That song changed my life—it was amazing.
BC: Can you tell me about your new album, Stages?
Pope: I keep saying therapeutic, but that’s what songwriting is for me. There are three songs on the record that I didn’t write that were therapeutic to cut. The first time I heard “If My Heart Had a Heart” was after I was already through the heartbreak and already through the pain, but I was transported back to that time, and I knew I just had to have that song. That’s kind of how I approach any song that I cut, and that’s why I don’t cut a ton of outside songs [This is] because I have to really connect with them and wish I wrote them, and had to have literally felt those lyrics before.
Here’s the video of Cassadee Pope’s single, “Take You Home.”
Life sort of happened during the making of the record. That’s why it’s kind of all over the place lyrically. There are songs about falling in love and being happy, and there are songs about being unhappy and in pain and sad. So, I just sort of let the story unfold naturally.
BC: As I listened to all the songs on the record, it sounds like you had a season of fun love and tough love.
Pope: Yeah, definitely. I was going through a long-term breakup. I started the project back in 2017, and it was really hard…I was trying to find my own identity. I just had to figure out myself and find my way. A big discovery was self-love. I didn’t know that I didn’t have that, so I found it. Then, (it was also) during this time falling in love with someone new, and that’s going really well. There’s definitely songs I wrote where I was in a good place, but I wanted to touch on a few unfinished emotions like the song, “FYI.” That was very fun to get off my chest (laughs). It’s just a roller coaster of emotions. [It’s been a] tough season of love for sure, but I hope that people, when they hear it, know that things can turn around. Just because one door closes, another will open. You’ll find somebody new and be happy again.
BC: One of the songs you wrote for the album, “FYI”, has a lot of attitude to it. How did that one develop?
Pope: At the time, I was listening to a local band in Nashville called Nightly. They’re really cool indie, pop & rock, and they have a song called “XO.” It has a great groove to it. It didn’t have any lyrics similar to “FYI,” but I wanted a song like that on the record. By that time, I had eight songs already, and I wanted to get two more, and I had been thinking about that vibe. I had a song idea about letting somebody know that relationships don’t stink. [There were people who] sort of rubbed things in my face that wasn’t fun, while some other things were happening behind their back that they would love to know about. It’s baring a side of my experience and my feelings about it that isn’t very pretty and that isn’t the most proud emotion. I feel like there have to be artists out there that do that. If not, everybody’s just tip-toeing around the feelings and walking on egg shells. I want people to know that it’s okay to have those sort of feelings.
BC: Is it difficult to let your guard down and be vulnerable when you write with co-writers?
Pope: It used to be, but I think just being in this town and hearing the songs that are being written and out to the world, that are so vulnerable for viewing. I know when I get into a room with professional songwriters that do it every day, it’s not the first time they’ve heard it. Hopefully, we can write it in a new and different way. I kind of take comfort in that if I’m a little nervous.
BC: How has the past year gone for you, and what are you looking forward to in the future?
Pope: The last year was such an interesting year. It was testing the waters, sort of a trial period for me. The first time I started making music independently, I wasn’t sure how fans would react. I wasn’t sure if I would be getting any opportunities without that conglomerate behind me. I was very pleasantly surprised. I was really blown away by the support and all the opportunities that presented themselves. I called last year the year of laying down the groundwork.
This year for me, I hope that when the music comes out, I will start seeing a validation of the hard work and the risk-taking. It’s been a really exciting time, but it’s also been really nerve-wracking. I’m just hoping that this year is full of accomplishments and people loving the music. That’s all I can ask for.
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, ParentLife, Homecoming, and Singing News and is currently writing a biography on The Osborne Brothers with Bobby Osborne. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+