Ron Pope first found fame as frontman of NYC indie band The District before becoming a viral sensation with his impassioned single “A Drop In An Ocean”, with streams of just one fan video hitting 20 million views.
The Nashville based songwriter has since gone on to tour the world, playing before packed out venues across three continents. His stirring songs have been amassed over 350 million streams on Spotify, and have featured on such major television shows as 90210, The Vampire Diaries, and So You Think You Can Dance.
He now announces an extra special headline show at the hallowed grounds of Union Chapel in Islington, which takes place on Friday 29th of September with tickets on sale with Gigantic. CLICK HERE to book yours!
We were lucky enough to chat to Ron Pope ahead of his special London show, speaking about his path to becoming a solo artist, the evolution of his music and what we can expect from his exciting future appearance.
How did a kid from Georgia go on to lead such a major New York band? Did you start early in music?
Well, I always was a singer as a little kid. I was always, you know, at the front of any choir. I was always singing the loudest. I was, you know, one of those obnoxious little kids. But then, as you get a little older, being in the choir didn't make you so popular in school. It wasn't so cool with a lot of the kids my age.
I went to college to play baseball… when I got hurt, and couldn't play baseball anymore, that was a big, foundational moment in my decision. My journey to becoming a professional musician.
When I got to NYU, I joined a songwriting circle. But I joined a lot of stuff, you know? I didn't have any friends, and I transferred into a new college. And so, I joined every imaginable thing. If I saw a poster for it, the odds of me showing up were very high. And if they were giving away pizza, or something, it was 100%. I didn't care what it was; “Oh, this is a this is a club for horseback riding enthusiasts? Yeah, whatever! Yeah. I'm gonna stop by.”
I would write hundreds of songs some years, most years. Some of the kids in the club that were a few years older than me, they had done some real stuff. Some of them they'd been on tour, they had real tangible records that they'd made. Some of them, they said to me “You’re a songwriter, this this is what you are.”
And that’s how The District got started?
I grew up in a band, it started with my best friend from childhood Chris (Kienel). And Chris and I were in a band together with some other kids from home. And then when I went up to college, I, put together a new version of the band. Then Chris moved to New York… and so that was The District.
What made you break away from The District and become a solo artist?
I wrote a few quiet songs that didn't go with the band. So, I just recorded them in my bedroom with my roommate. And at that time, this is the beginnings of social media. This is like, 2000 to 2005. So, I just took these recordings, I put them on the internet and the audience for my solo project. I mean, it wasn't even trying to have a solo project – it was just, you know, put my name on my MySpace and stuff like that.
The solo project really just kind of gradually built this core of very passionate early adopters, people who were very enthusiastic. Over the course of a handful of years that happened. And then in 2007, in a short period of time, I released “A Drop in the Ocean”, “Fireflies”, “You're The Reason I Come Home”, “Headlights on the Highway”, a handful of these early songs of mine, that these new, very enthusiastic fans went out and spread with the fervour of the newly converted. They went out and they spread the music like wildfire.
A handful of them you know, “A Drop in the Ocean”, being first and then “One Grain of Sand” and some of these other ones have gotten popular over the years. I continued to release music and grow this audience, kind of brick by brick, year by year, record by record. I would have to stop and think about how many full-length albums I've put out, and count, because I actually don't know. But it's like, you know, like a metric shitload.
Is it scary out on your own being a solo artist without the backing of a band?
The thing that you lose when you lose, like I was in a band, where everybody was a gang of equals. And then now, there are people in my band, obviously, but it’s my thing. If we go out of business, like, those people are gonna go play music somewhere else, and I don't even know what happens to me at the end of that story.
I loved to be in a band, you know? There's a degree of safety that comes along with being on a team or in a fraternity or a gang or whatever. You always have people with you. So, you're not making all the decisions yourself, the responsibility is not one hundred percent yours. And that really does change as you know, when your name’s on the sign, when it's not your band, when it's your name. That is, it's fundamentally different. Everything is your responsibility, and that that can be intense.
Do you ever get overwhelmed having to do it all, or do you love the freedom?
I've been really lucky, you know? I still get to play with people who I really love and respect. I mean, Paul Hammer! I'm going on tour with a trio this year, it's the first time I've ever done this before. Paul Hammer, who's playing as one third of the trio, is one of my closest friends. He was in The District, this year is our 20th anniversary of friendship. I do still get to play with people, you know, some of my closest friends, I do still get to play music with which is a beautiful thing. I’m 39, and most people that are my age, you don't get to spend extended amounts of time with your friends, because everybody's busy, everybody's doing life. We still get to go on the road.
There's this element of, even though music is my job, it's like, you play music; you don't work music. You get on stage and it's still it's fun, even though it's my job and even though I have been doing it a long time, it's fun to play music. It's why you start to play music because it's fun. And so, I feel very, very blessed. For everything that I have lost along the way… I've gained two other things. So, I feel very lucky.
You release your own material too. How do you get your music heard without major label backing?
We do have an independent label that's called Brooklyn Basement Records. And it's been great to be able to make whatever art I believe in. I can make I can create whatever I want whatever feels good to me and change directions as I see fit. And that's been a real, in terms of my creativity, that's been a real blessing. It's really allowed me to chase the muse and make music that I love. I haven't had to listen to anybody. There's no there's no A&R executive who's betting their career on me. It's just us – my wife is Blair, she's my manager, she runs the label. We have a really good working relationship, in addition to our personal relationship. So, I do have someone who will tell me if I've lost the path. If I'm making something that's, you know, garbage, she's not afraid to be like “this sounds like shit.”
Everyone creative needs someone they can trust who can tell them to their face when they’re losing their direction.
Everybody needs that! Because if you don't have people in your life that are willing to tell you when you're fucking up, then you're just going to keep walking through life bumping into shit. And you're gonna have no idea that you're doing it because nobody's telling you!
It happens to so many people, if you surround yourself with people who don't tell you that what you're doing is not good, then you can't win at anything if people are lying to you. The people that you trust the most to advise you if they're afraid to tell you the truth. And so, because I come from the place that my, my career begins really is in a songwriting circle with people, well intentioned people that I trusted, who were there to give constructive criticism. So, I have always been very comfortable, both giving and receiving constructive criticism.
How do you keep your music fresh, and keep coming back to the studio with the same enthusiasm after such an impressive career?
One thing for me is that songwriting is hard. I can always write songs. But writing good songs that feel like they mean something to people? There's fairy dust in that. You can have all the craft and all the understanding… I've written thousands of them over the years, and most of them are bad.
But you sit at home, and you write a lot of songs and lots of them are bad and some of them have one good part or something, you're constantly learning. And you're working to find how to do it, how did you better. Writing songs is not a place where I arrived, you know, I still have to keep going out there and figuring out how to get these songs, how to create them.
In my mind, when you're making an album, when I have nine songs written, if I need a tenth one, I feel no more done, no closer to finished than when I needed all ten. Because I still have to create something out of nothing. You have to reach into the ether and find something that does not exist yet. And therein lies the magic, because you can write songs your whole life, and never land on anything that anybody else gives a shit about.
And what’s your relationship like with your fans? You seem to attract a particularly loyal fanbase.
It's this really special thing that if you create this kind of art, and you put it out into the world, you can reach so many people and be a part of their lives even you know, even if you are never going to meet them, you'll never know their names, you'll never stand in front of them, you know that the music is going out there and reaching these people and that is one of the drivers, for me, of continuing to create art.
Year after year, I still hear people telling me that the music means something to them. Each record, as my life changes and time goes on, and the focus of my music changes as a result. I hear from different people about the music being involved in different facets of their lives. I started writing songs about being a father and then people started to tell me that they're listening to this music because they became parents. And that's been an interesting journey, having made music for so much of my life, to go from whatever I understood as a 12 or 13-year-old trying to make sense of the world, to being where I am now. It's been fascinating to track what I make, and then who it touches and how it reaches people, as my own perspective evolves with time.
What can we expect from your upcoming tour?
On this tour, there's going to be three of us. We're all multi-instrumentalists. My friend, Lydia Luce is coming on tour to open all the shows and then she's going to play with us. Lydia plays violin, and viola, and guitar, and keyboards, in kind of a variety of things. And Paul Hammer who's coming on the road with us, Paul plays a tonne of stuff. In this band he'll play guitar, and piano and banjo and probably some drums. I'm gonna play guitar and piano and probably some drums and harmonica, and you know, this and that.
Which songs are you most excited to play?
We always play “A Drop In The Ocean” on every tour. I'm not going to leave that one at home. This isn't one of those kinds of shows where we’re “I'm not going to play that song you like! I refuse!” In general, when I go on the road, it's like a wide variety of tunes, from all of the parts of my career. The quiet stuff, the big full band stuff, and everything in between.
I have a new album coming out this year. I have some new songs that I have never played before. And so, it's always fun to take the new songs out and share them with people and to figure out how to bring them to life on stage with the ensemble that you have.
What are your previous experiences of playing the U.K. been like? Do you like touring over here?
I’ve probably played in maybe ten to fifteen different cities in the UK over the years: cities and towns. And my favourite part about going on the road is that every night is its own singular experience. So, you could play in Manchester one night, and the people are out of their minds. And it's wild, and it's the craziest show you've ever played and everybody's jumping up and down, they're sweaty. And the next time you go there on the road, they could be the most subdued, relaxed audience.
And so, I have had all sorts of experiences in the UK over the years from wild, sweaty, late night, rock and roll adventures, to these very quiet, intimate shows, and everything in between. So, you never know what you're gonna get. We'll see what this tour feels like. I am sure that it will be different than anything I've ever done before though.
Any special messages to your fans looking forward to seeing you?
I was devastated after postponing in 2020, had to cancel the tour. I was sitting at home just upset and sad and really struggling with that. I had been looking forward to coming over there, at that point I hadn’t been over there in about a year, so I was excited to come back. Now, it’ll be more than four years since my last visit so I’m so excited to be coming. I can’t wait to show everyone this new trio, we’ve just had out first rehearsals and it was so much fun. It’s sounding really good and so I just can’t wait to get there and share this music with everyone and one step closer to normal life.
29/09 Ron Pope – Union Chapel, London