Citizen Cope Talks Touring, ‘One Lovely Day’ and Plans for His Next Album – Exclusive Interview
For a guy who, by his own admission, has never had a hit record, Citizen Cope has managed to carve out a pretty healthy niche for himself over the course of his 20-year recording career, with five studio albums to his credit and a sixth -- 'One Lovely Day' -- on the horizon.
Cope, a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood, will release 'One Lovely Day' on July 17, and the new material has already extended his long run of song placement in TV shows and movies. The title track to the new album, embedded below, was included in the soundtrack to the big-budget action thriller 'Battleship' earlier this year.
Preparing to embark on a lengthy tour that will keep him busy for the rest of the year, Cope sat down with Diffuser.fm to discuss how he (ahem) copes with life on the road, his artistic goals for the new record and a few of his future plans.
Let's talk about this run of tour dates you've got lined up to support the new album. You're hitting the road pretty hard.
Yeah, I've been on the road pretty heavily for awhile now -- since 2003 or 2004. Actually, it's a little less than normal this year.
How do you keep yourself sane on the road?
I do have a hard time finding a balance. Sometimes it's easy to get into a rut, but you find ways. We play basketball during the day, or I'll do vocal exercises. It always helps if you see a little bit of the city, although it's hard because I do radio spots in the morning, and then you'll go and get lunch, and then there's other stuff I have to do, and then sound check and the show. It usually takes a minute to wind down after that, so the days can turn out to feel like just one after the other. But you just do your best to go out and give the audience your heart every night -- hopefully get to that place to make it real spiritual.
Do you ever get time to, you know, read a book?
We'll watch a game sometimes on TV. The bus can be a good time to watch a Ken Burns documentary. [Laughs] Most of my reading is done through magazines and newspapers -- I need to expand my fiction and non-fiction game a little bit.
Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals you like to perform?
Just usually get my voice warmed up, and take a moment to breathe a little bit and get in that place -- to try and be present, because the whole day can be kind of crazy, and you figure you're there for the show, so you have to take that moment for yourself.
It seems like this whole process is a little more complicated for an artist like you, because you're your own label, and you're managing your own career in addition to maintaining your creative life.
It's something I've had to adjust to. But at the same time, I'd still be doing all that other stuff anyway -- it's just that now it has more meaning, because it's for me. I think a lot of people don't have the capacity to do it, but I got tired of signing deals with record companies that would end up ceasing to exist. You sign yourself up for these companies, and then everyone leaves. I just want to keep things in-house from now on.
How do you stay creative while you're juggling all those other roles, though? Is that a struggle for you?
I think it's a fallacy when people say artists should only think about their art. If you're a lawyer or a dentist or a doctor, you don't just practice law or pull teeth. I think that's just an idea that people have -- in reality, I mean, Bob Marley and Mick Jagger had to handle business, too. It's a necessary evil.
And it's always been like that. There was a period of time when a company would cut you a check and you could go make a record, but you'd still have to have the savvy to get them to put it out [laughs]. Or even get the deal. It's easy to think, "Oh, if I only had $200,000 to make a record, my life would be so much easier," and those breaks do help.
But at the end of the day, there's no getting around it -- you've got to do a lot of heavy lifting, and it will come down to you. It won't be a label, or a radio station, or a Rolling Stone interview. It'll be you and your connection to the music. Your audience will find a common ground there, and connect with it themselves.
But still, as you say, if you're running your own show, you do have to make sure to take the time to be an artist. You've got to clear out the time to go write. On the road, though -- that's a very creative time. It isn't always the greatest time to write, but playing every night means you're only getting better with your craft. It's a chance to develop that -- to play and get better. That, combined with making writing a part of your day, has to be part of your routine. You have to spend a lot of time developing that, and you have to operate at a very high level. It balances out.
This is a pretty mellow record, even in the context of your earlier releases. Was that deliberate, or did it just evolve that way?
I think I usually keep things pretty mellow -- my songs are mainly mid-tempo or slow. Never a lot of heavy guitars. Not that I don't like 'em, it's just that I'm not a great distorted guitar player. Actually, I'm quite an awful guitar player. [Laughs] I'm more into drums and lyrics.
The songs just kind of come together. They start to grow. I mean, I don't ever think an album is actually done until it's mastered -- even if you think it sounds great in the studio, you still always want to take it that extra five percent further. I don't feel like it's finished until I can listen to it and there's nothing there that displeases me.
Do you feel like there's a centerpiece song on this album?
I feel like 'One Lovely Day' and 'Something to Believe In' are good ones, and 'DFW' is an important song. Overall, I think the album is just an evolution in terms of my sound -- I feel like I'm getting better at singing and playing, and communicating my point of view. I'm always trying to get into a position where I can be an ambassador of peace and love, you know? That's about it. There are a lot of problems in the world, and I'm just trying to help people.
With 'DFW' in particular, I think the emotion is important. Just being able to put emotion in music today -- right now, we're in such a period where that kind of music so devalued that a lot of times, just being honest with an emotion as a songwriter is enough to really touch people. A lot of people just rely on formulas for things that hit the ear the right way. Ear candy. I like that stuff too, but I've kind of always worn my heart on my sleeve, and I think that's why I can still play shows without ever having had a hit record.
It's great that even after all these albums, you still feel like you're improving as a singer and a player.
I still have a long way to go. [Laughs] But yeah, on my first album, I wasn't really comfortable singing. Even if I felt comfortable with the songs, I don't feel like I was comfortable recording yet -- that takes time, and so does learning how to be a producer and make a record feel like a whole piece of art. I've been making records now for 10 years, so it's something that's very close to me. A lot of other people use producers, but I produce my own stuff. It's a very close, intimate thing.
If you said to me, "Hey Clarence, write a top 10 hit," I don't know if I could do that. I mean, that's always what I'm trying to do anyway -- it's just that what moves me as an artist doesn't necessarily work in the mainstream marketplace. Fortunately, it resonates with enough people that I can keep doing what I'm doing.
Staying on the road definitely doesn't hurt when it comes to maintaining that connection, either.
No, it doesn't. And I've been very lucky in that I wasn't just plugged into any particular scene -- I didn't jump in with the jam band scene or whatever. It was one city at a time, word of mouth, slowly building momentum. And it's hard -- I think even if they had the breaks or the opportunities, a lot of people wouldn't be able to handle the touring life. You have to stay in incredible shape; you have to really want it. Everything else has to come second -- your family, any relationships you have. That's difficult.
People think it's romantic, but after six months of doing it, they're ready to go back to college. There are far easier ways to make a living.
'One Lovely Day' is brand new to your fans, but it's already in the rear view for you. Have you started thinking about what comes next?
Yeah, I'm doing more writing -- experimenting with things. I've been wanting to make an acoustic album for a while now, and I've started laying down some tracks. For some reason, it's been a little more difficult than just putting up a microphone -- I don't know why, but it often just doesn't sound that interesting to me when I play it back. I always end up missing the other elements I want to hear in the song.
It's all part of the process of learning to be a better singer, and learning how best to capture what I want to say. I'm trying different things, and trying to recreate that live connection with the audience. To get to that spiritual place where they jump on that ride with you.
Watch the Citizen Cope 'One Lovely Day' Video