Cassadee Pope Talks Personal New Album, Life In Quarantine with Sam Palladio & More

Cassadee Pope; Photo by Chance Edwards
Cassadee Pope; Photo by Chance Edwards
Cassadee Pope; Photo by Chance Edwards

Cassadee Pope dropped her brand new album, Rise and Shine on Friday (Aug. 7) via her own independent label, Awake Music. The acoustic collection is the follow up to the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter’s 2019 full-length album, Stages

Pope, who is known for hits like “Wasting All These Tears” and “Think of You” with Chris Young, considers Rise and Shine to be her most personal album to date. Not only did she co-produce the project alongside guitarist and producer Todd Lombardo, but she also co-wrote all eight tracks. 

Pope spent two days polishing up her vocals for the album in-studio. She also utilized FaceTime with Lombardo to complete the project while in quarantine amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Rise and Shine, which finds Pope navigating through difficult obstacles and leaning into her pop-rock roots, features a song called “Hangover,” which she originally cut with her former band, Hey Monday. Before dropping the new album, Pope shared four of its repurposed tracks including, “Let Me Go, “Built This House,” and “Counting on the Weather,” and “Hoodie.”

Country Now recently caught up with Pope to learn more about her new album. Check out our exclusive Q&A with Cassadee Pope below.

Cassadee Pope; Photo by John Shearer

Congratulations on your new album, Rise and Shine! How does it feel to have new music out at this time? 

Thank you! It’s weird. I’m used to releasing music, and then going on tour and doing a whole publicity run. But, I’ve got to say, it’s interesting because everything that my team and I have been doing and everything that we’ve been putting together has been really efficient. We’ve been forced to, kind of, trim the fat, in a way, of what you need to do for releasing new music. So that’s been kind of cool and creatively provoking and all of that stuff. So it’s weird, but it’s been fun to navigate.

Did you choose to go the acoustic route because you can’t tour right now, or did you already plan on stripping everything back for this project? 

I mean, it was both. I had the idea to do it because of the novel coronavirus. I thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do with this year, to make it have a purpose for me creatively?’ I also felt like the world is in, kind of, an acoustic-state, where there’s not a lot that can distract us from our feelings and reflection. We’re not able to go to concerts, or go out with friends or travel a ton. So I feel like this project could be a cool mirror-image of that. It could put a positive spin on us being stuck with ourselves and our feelings. 

How did you come up with the Rise and Shine title for this album? 

It’s a title of a song that I thought was a great staple for the album. The song, ‘Rise and Shine,’ is about persevering through any difficult situation, whether that’s losing somebody or losing your way or getting out of a bad breakup or struggling with self-worth. Whatever it is, we either stay defeated and stay down on the ground, or we rise and shine and persevere through it. So I thought that was a good title for the record. It’s more of a reflection of where I’ve been, not even just romantically, but also in my career in the past and that relationship that I needed to get out of for a long time, but was too afraid. So it’s a story about those situations. The songs are a snapshot into a time when I felt stuck, and I wanted freedom from both my personal life and from the people that were involved in my career at the time.

Speaking of freedom, you had a lot of creative freedom with this project. Not only did you co-produce Rise and Shine, but you also co-wrote all of the songs. Can you talk about that experience? 

It wasn’t that different than what I usually do. I just got credit for it this time. But it was fun! There weren’t as many people involved with this project, and with my management team, as soon as I brought in the idea of doing an acoustic album to them, they were like, ‘Wow! That sounds amazing, but we feel like you need to do this on your own. We’ll be here to help you when it’s done, and we’ll help put the plan and rollout together, but this feels like a very personal and special project that you should only be making the decisions on.’ I was like, ‘Okay, that sounds fun!’ So I took that and ran with it. I got in touch with Todd Lombardo, who’s the producer and the guitar player on the record. Then I chose all the songs that I thought would be perfect to say what I was trying to say. The songs were already written when I decided to do the record. So it was nice to go through them and pick the ones that I felt lent themselves the best to acoustic.

On the production side of things, I knew exactly the style I was going for. I wanted the album to sound like an emo-country acoustic record, almost as if Hey Monday did an acoustic record. Todd was all about it, and he nailed the guitar parts! We did post-production on FaceTime, where he played the parts he was hearing to make sure that I liked it, and we were going in the right direction before he recorded them. Then, in the studio, when I went into cut vocals, it was just two days of cutting lead and harmonies for all eight songs. I tested out a few microphones and chose the one that I felt complimented my voice and added more warmth to it. It was an immersive process, even though it was much shorter than the usual process of doing a full-band project. But it was still gratifying and a great experience. It’s addictive too, you know because I want to do it again, over the next project. But, the next project will be a full-band situation. So I felt acoustic for right now is a nice compliment to where we are in the world.

Would you consider Rise and Shine your most personal album to date? 

Yes. It’s weird. Rise and Shine is the most personal, but it’s also the least relevant to where I am in my life right now. So it’s interesting because Stages was so personal. With Stages, I wasn’t necessarily in that place when the album came out, but it was very recent, whereas this, with what the songs are talking about, a lot of them are about a time very far back in my life and my history. So yes, they are very personal [songs], but I can listen to them and not crumble anymore and not be so affected that I can’t get through the song, which is good.

You and boyfriend, singer-songwriter Sam Palladio, seem to have such a strong relationship. Was it strange reflecting on situations with an ex for this project?

No, it wasn’t. Sam is a songwriter, so he understands the importance of reflecting when singing songs. We both have been through a lot in our own ways, and I will probably never stop writing about my first love and my first heartbreak. You never forget that feeling, and, for anybody, it’s so easy to go back to that place. Sam understands that. He also sings on one of the songs [on the album] that’s about somebody who broke my heart and hurt me in a big way. He knows the whole story and everything. So to have him sing the harmonies on that was so special because the man I love, who treats me amazing, is singing on a song about somebody who didn’t treat me well enough. So it’s just kind of a crazy full-circle experience. 

‘California Dreaming’ features backing vocals by Sam Palladio. Can you tell us more about that song? 

That song was about a person in my life, who no matter how much I tried and how much traveling I did, or how many new memories I created, that person was still, very much in my heart, and on my brain. It was like a habit that I couldn’t quit. I’ve been traveling around the world since I was 18-years-old, and this person never let me go. So it’s a song about being frustrated about that, and about the ties that you have to somebody, who potentially might not feel the same about you that you feel about them. It’s one of Sam’s favorite songs, so that was one of the reasons why I decided to feature him on it. I also think it’s a cool song to have a male vocal on because it’s a lyric that I think men can feel as well. It’s not genre-specific. To have Sam’s vocal on there, to me, opens it up to, ‘Hey, this isn’t just about women going through something like this.’ I know men have felt the same, so that’s kind of why I had him on there.

My favorite song on the album is ‘Sand Paper.’ What was the inspiration behind that one? 

I remember before the session that I was trying to think of things that change the shape of something. You know, like welding. But I was like, ‘Oh, these are not good song-words.’ I thought about sandpaper, and it struck a chord with me because sandpaper can smooth out edges and smooth out the rough spots on things. I felt, for a while, that people were trying to do that to me because of my past in rock music or just me as a person. I’m a little bit inappropriate at times, and I’m eclectic as far as my likes, my tastes in music and fashion, go. So I felt for a long time that people were trying to shape me into a more likable, easy to swallow, kind of pill. So when I brought in the idea of sandpaper to Alex [Kline] and Shane [Stevens], they got it right away. When you have a title like that, which you can do so much with, it’s fun to write because you have all this imagery and words that you can use to describe what you’re talking about. So we went the whole way with that word, and it has some angst to it, which I love. And again, it lends itself well to the future projects that I’ll be working on, so that song was fun to write! 

How would you say you’ve grown between Rise and Shine and Stages

I think I had a little bit more trust as far as taking the reins on things for this project. The last project was my first independent project. So it was a big deal for me to step out of the label and the publishing I had before and to do a project that I believed in so much. It was scary. I felt good about the songs I chose and what I was doing. But also, there were a lot of question marks for me. Will this work? Are people going to play it on the radio? Are my peers going to think it’s cool? So there was a lot of questioning my gut situations. But, this feels – there’s not a lot of stress involved in it. I feel confident about the songs I chose and the sound it has and everything from the sequencing of the album to the images. I feel good about it and at peace with the decisions that I’ve made. It could have to do with where we are in the world right now and how I don’t have a lot of control over anything else that’s going on, but I can control this. So maybe that’s part of it, but I feel a lot less stressed about this process this time around. 

Can fans expect to find full-band versions of these songs on the next project?   

I’ll probably have all new music on the next project. I think it would be fun to release the demos of these acoustic songs because all of these singles come from full-band demos. So it would be cool to give people a look into how they sounded originally. I’ve been writing on Zoom a lot and have accumulated some songs that I’m excited about for the next full-band record. They are more in that pop-rock vein. So that’s going to be the direction for the next record. I’ll still have country elements to the songs, but I’m, kind of, returning more to my pop-rock roots for the next full project.

You have experience being signed with a label and working independently. Do you have a preference between the two? 

I’m definitely in a place where I’ve been on enough labels and in enough situations to know what works for me and what doesn’t. For some artists, it works to have a label to guide them and to tell them what they should be doing, and it’s successful, and people work well under those conditions. But I’ve learned that I’m not as compliant. I am a team player, and I love to collaborate, but if I feel deep in my gut that something is right, and I love the song, or I love the project, I can’t handle not being able to release that, and somebody else has the power to hold that from my fans and the world. So if I were to sign with a label again, it would have to be a specific situation where I have greater freedom to do what I want and maybe even have a project finished already to make sure that they are on board with it. But also I want to have a team that is going to grow with me. I know what I want to do with my next project, and how I want it to sound. But after that, I might want to go in a different direction. I want to always be with people that are down to travel with me, whichever way I go because, as people, we’re always growing. I don’t ever want to feel like I can’t evolve my music because I’m evolving myself.

Are there any interesting stories from quarantine that you’d like to share with us? 

Sam [Palladio] and I are having fun creating new moments and new themes. We love to go out to eat, and we love to go out to bars, and we love our side of town in East Nashville. But we can’t do any of that, so we’ve had date-nights where he’s made his homemade bolognese, which is amazing! One of my favorite things we’ve done so far is to recreate afternoon tea, which is one of my favorite things to do in England. You have a bunch of little tea sandwiches and scones and a bunch of delicious hors d’oeuvres. We did that this past Sunday, which was nice. But in general, it’s been nice to be with him. We both travel a ton, usually, and we’re both busy and not able to be around each other as much. So the highlight for me during this quarantine has been for us to be able to be together. We bought a house last year that we couldn’t be in together until this year. So living together and learning how to live together and going through that process has been amazing. It’s a big growth year for us in our relationship, so it’s been nice. 

What’s next for you?

I’ll be doing more virtual release parties. Those have been fun! I’ve only done two of them so far, but I’ll continue to do those. It’s the closest thing I can get to a show where I’m not losing a ton of money, and where I’m able to play live, so it’s been cool to do that. After those, I’ve been doing virtual meet-and-greets, which I love because I’m getting to talk to fans from Scotland to New York to England to Australia. So it’s cool to be able to spend a couple of hours talking to fans from all over the world. Usually, I see people in whatever town I’m playing in, so that’s been kind of eye-opening to be able to do these kinds of things no matter what’s happening in the world. I’ve been enjoying that, and I’m going to do more of that for sure.

Fans can keep up with Cassadee Pope on Instagram.

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