Citizen Cope

Silent Uproar: What made you decide to name the album after yourself?

Cope: It was a little confusing about who Citizen Cope was, and I almost went with Clarence Greenwood as my moniker. Also it was definitive as a statement.

SU: Do you think the album felt more personal and that had a tinge on it too?

Cope: I don’t know, I think both records are personal records, but it just feels totally and spiritually an evolution. And more of a more mature vibe to it.

SU: Despite all its textures and elaborate storylines that you have going on lyrically, the album seems to be a bit stripped down. Is that an accurate statement?

Cope: Yeah, the first record, I went after any melody I heard and I found out that I have all these different melodies in it and they are crossing each other out because there’s so much shit in there. I wanted what I had and that was anything I could put on there to make the song better. I wanted there to be space for everything, every snare head, I wanted everything to be heard.

SU: You think as you write more music in the future that you’re more likely to stick with that approach?

Cope: I don’t know, I don’t know what the next record will be like. Hopefully it will be an evolution of this one.

SU: As a musician, what made you decide to write songs about other people and characters rather than focusing inward and writing about yourself?

Cope: I think by writing about those characters you’re writing about yourself and as a listener it’s something interesting to hear a vivid story about somebody. It’s always been made up of things from country music to hip-hop to even the stuff that Jim Croce or Randy Newman was doing. It’s like world tradition and to keep that within the context of it. You always have to take something from yourself.

SU: I think that’s part of the problem with a lot of music on the radio right now is so much of it sounds like people whining about how bad things suck. There’s not a lot of that elaborate storytelling.

Cope: There’s not a lot of artists out there right now. There’s are about two artists out there. Most of them do what their A&R tells them to do. I’m an artist, I don’t do that shit. I make the records I want to make and if they don’t sell it and drop me off their label then I go make a record for someone else. This has been my battle the whole time, I gotta stick to what pumps me naturally and that might not necessarily make it to the radio. They want to get to that core audience, to reach a bunch of boys from this age to this age or a group of women from this age to this age. They think they play records that sound like each other and don’t take many risks. The advertisers are pimping these motherfuckers. The radio is a bunch of whores. I’m would loved to be played on the radio, I think my shit should be played on the radio. It’s better than that shit and I just have to accept that.

SU: Do you ever find that with the label you have to compromise? Are you able to keep things the way you want them?

Cope: I don’t compromise a fucking thing. It might come to a radio edit or something like that, but my album stays the way it is or else there’s real trouble. Once people start messing with the creative process that’s when they lose me.

SU: You’re on RCA now right?

Cope: I made the record for Arista and then Arista folded. Then RCA picked it up. We’ll see what they can do with it. I feel like I was adopted by them more than created by them. I don’t know what they are going to do, they have a lot of creative interests so who knows.

SU: You were on Dreamworks with your last album?

Cope: Yeah.

SU: When they folded were you just dropped?

Cope: I asked to be released when that ship went down because I knew that ship was going down. I had some really close people there, like the president there. I said, “Look, I gotta get out of here.” They didn’t want to let me go and I said, “I can’t record for you guys anymore.” We worked something out and I had to give them something like $100,000 just to record for Arista. I had to cut them a check first and I was going to be a major priority on Arista and then LA Reed got fired. It’s been a mess. I was picked up by RCA and a lot of artists were dropped.

SU: It’s like you said about not being on the label you signed with. What happened with a lot of those Dreamworks’ artists that stayed around shuffled into the Geffen/Universal thing.

Cope: With Dreamworks, it wasn’t a real company. It was a fuckin’ joke. It was a con by a bunch of investors to spend money. I was over there doing stuff, and I respect them but there is no one else, not even the big shots because they basically made all that money off the artists. They were just executives, they make artists starve. The head of promotions was living it up, while the artists were starving.

SU: With all this consolidation and these record labels all folding up, do you think being on a major record label is as safe bet?

Cope: Hell no! The record business was started by real artists like Miles Davis who is still selling records. Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, that’s catalog and those are people with passion and the labels would push them and help them. Now its corporations and they buy shit up. Coca-Cola started with one store. Rolling Stone started with one magazine and then all these corporations started buying it up just for the use of the catalog. Executives make more money they want hotter women, they have Speedos and all this shit.

SU: So why not go independent?

Cope: I tried to go independent before and it’s harder to get an independent to listen to your shit, they wouldn’t even listen to the record when I was in DC. They were like, “We only make records for our friends.” Bullshit like that. I don’t have time for that shit, I make records. These independent will give you $5000 and take everything you own. I’d rather sign with a major.

SU: I think there’s probably a wide variety on both sides of the table. As long as you’ve found something you like.

Cope: There are good independents out there and essentially that’s the next wave of how music is going to happen. The majors can never succeed; they don’t care about selling 100,000 records. A lot of people would be thrilled with selling 50,000 to 100,000 but to a label that’s a loss with what they put into it. Their money is put in the wrong places. Other bands are making it on cheaper money.

SU: A lot of time the artists come out better on independents too. They are getting bigger cuts.

Cope: They are getting a true fan base. Some of these people have never made a record and never done a show before. A thousand 13 year old girls want their song on the radio. Where is the work put in? The next record they do, if they’re not on the radio again, their radio fans have fickled. They get the appeal of celebrity more than the whole artist record thing. So essentially, if somebody asks me if I want to get signed to a major label I say Hell no.

SU: You don’t believe in style over substance and not saying that your music lacks substance at all, more in terms of the style, would you say you have a definitive style?

Cope: I wasn’t saying musically, I was saying you have these rock and roll cats that ain’t saying shit. How the fuck can you be in America the last 20 years and not have anything to say? That’s some bullshit. You see these guys with suits on, the covers, the Fader, models and some shit. It almost looks like it’s just plastered there. They aren’t saying shit. I don’t musically feel it.

SU: Do you feel it’s an artists responsibility to speak up about these things beyond just how they feel about to educate people and throw the message out there too?

Cope: Only the fact that you feel, I’m not saying you have to push it. I was just saying cats that are dressing a certain way. That’s cool they look like models, they’re done. That’s what I meant by style over substance. The shit ain’t touching my soul. Maybe it’s touching other people’s souls, I don’t identify with it. I identify more with some of these hip hop guys that say what’s on their mind.

Artists should challenge it, Beethoven, Mozart, I’m into high art. I’m into real shit. I’m not into this sell an amount of records and call it a day. Even though I’d like to sell millions of records and own a mansion on an island. That’s all nice, but I think rather have a record that I love and believe it. I think a lot of these cats that sold their souls now they look stupid in real life.

SU: That’s kind of the justification for it. People like you and music like yours are the people that a) stick around for a while and b) and will be remembered. These other people are the hot band of the minute, but give them a couple years and they are gone, nobody remembers.

Cope: I know, I’m really disappointed in rock music. It went from John Lennon and his whole message and the premise of rock and roll. How it was taken on by the Beatles. They made incredible fuckin’ records, they really cared about their records. They said something. They didn’t say it out in the press, they said it on their record. To come from that and to learn from that and now you have these guys that are making records that sound like The Clash or sound like this record. No emotion.

Even if you don’t say anything, the British rockers do it better than us. Radiohead and Coldplay show a lot of emotion and you can tell there is this unrest and this beauty that they bring in. It allows the listener to escape into it. It’s not like they have to speak against the gov’t.
There was this time that recently when I saw Radiohead at Radio City (Music Hall, NYC), and when Thom Yorke got to the point where he said the gov’t don’t speak for us, the crowd blew up. Just that one line. That moment was built up for a long time especially in this time. They’re not on a political rampage like Public Enemy or Spearhead, so it’s not a political group. I think the American groups have failed since Nirvana. Somebody with some truth in it.

SU: I think it’s real easy to tell which music has soul in it and which doesn’t.

Cope: Soul can be Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke, Chris Martin and it doesn’t mean he has soul, he’s black. That kind of shit is imitating someone else. The worse thing someone can say to me is that he sounds like a blue-eyed soul singer. I don’t want to be the white version of someone else. For people to say that stuff, it’s a shortcut.

SU: It strips away your originality to try to define you as someone else.

Cope: I just don’t get it, see what’s so…it doesn’t make sense to me. Janis Joplin supposedly back in the day sounded black, Elvis sounded black. John Lennon listened to black people. It’s nothing new. The people hear my stuff, I’m a white dude and I’m talkin’ shit, they feel like who is he to say this. Fuck you.

SU: If you had to place your musical career on a musical life timeline with one end being just getting started and the other end being ready to throw in the towel, where would you say you’re at?

Cope: Awww man, I don’t know man. Making music is hopefully going to last beyond my lifetime. I’d like to say I’m just getting started with the time of the day. If you make good records that hopefully last and will be picked up. Even if you’re a small artist, it always has a chance to resurface, ten or twenty years down the line. So I guess I’d pick somewhere in the middle. I don’t think I have been heard and most of my career I’ve been misunderstood so honestly I don’t feel I’ve been received yet.

Oct 5 2004