Cassadee Pope has lived many lives in her few years. Schooled vocalist. Emo/punk firebrand. “The Voice” victor. Young woman. Country artist. Songwriter. Dreamer. Hard worker. Daughter. Creator. Twist them together, Rise and Shine emerges. Eight songs, stripped down and driven by acoustic guitar and a voice that’s as much sunshine as mettle and the will to throw her arms around life on her terms. “This is the most authentic my voice has ever sounded. It has been a lot of unlearning…and knowing the music that’s really me. After being told not to rock, to look more approachable, just be pretty and put on a dress, not talk too much, I realized that’s not real. So, I stripped back the layers and here I am.”
Considering the dark haired songwriter began studying with a vocal coach as a young girl, a woman who “was really good at teaching the technique, but also character, performance, the breaking in your voice, the full voice, the chest voice,” Pope has a strong sense of tone, delivery and connecting. That voice let her create a life that resembles a fairy tale.
Laughing now, she looks at her youth and marvels. Signed at 17, on tour with Fall Out Boy at 18, it was a rush, a blast and straight into the storm. A South Florida kid who loved Blink-182, her band was discovered at the Atlantis Music Conference, flown to New York, musicians shuffled, spigot turned on. It was what every kid in Converse high tops dreams of, and Pope was living it even as she juggled growing up in public surrounded by guys living the rock saga.
Undaunted, she made inroads, dealt with band drama, flagging momentum, shifts in tastes, and fans who remain huge believers. Striking out on her own, she got to see the other side of the dream up close. “I went from Fall Out Boy in sold out arenas and the UK on our own headlining tours to playing for five people in a club. I was so broke. I was paying out of pocket for Hey Monday, because we were so in debt.”
It’s the stuff you don’t see that defines people. Pope wasn’t just defined, she was driven – and refined her sense of what music can hold. Laughing, she admits, “I love it so much. It’s broken my heart so many times, but there’s no choice. We all go through difficult times and we’ve all felt pain, but having one person at a time tell me what a song means to them, or how it got them through, that’s special.”
These eight songs written over several years show a woman coming into her own, sifting the moments of life that plague, inspire and create a zeal for being alive. With an irrepressible sense of not just life goes on, but it’s great in even the sloggiest circumstances, she delivers “Rise and Shine,” a salvo to not just being in the moment, but completing the journey.
“It’s definitely a story about getting through to the other side,” she affirms. “I wrote it right after I got to Nashville. And it’s not something I’ve gone through once, maybe more like seven times! But fueling your fire to keep going is so important.”
Intriguingly, even though it’s more organic, the sound of Rise and Shine serves as more of an integration of the many pieces of Pope’s musical evolution. Bits of Jimmy Eat World, Michelle Branch, even Hey Monday inform the melodies, the way the songs build, even how she attacks the production.
Far more musical and invested in the production than people realize, she explains, “I want this to be a full-fledged sound for me as a 30-year old woman, because I’m not 18 anymore. There are so many pop/punk/emo people from back in the day when we were all touring and doing well who’ve moved to Nashville; we have something to offer the genre. Those old Paramore records and the way they used octaves on guitars, the Jimmy Eat World stuff…
“I’m definitely working with songwriters from Nashville and Los Angeles I know can make this leap with me. I’m able to streamline, to be intentional – and not let things stray. Keep things very simple, without a lot going on, it lets you hear all of it.”
One listen to “California Dreaming,” a song about the lengths we go to outrun a relationship we can’t quit, is a breathtaking consideration on how much the universe has our backs. Upping the kismet factor is Sam Palladio, her now paramour, adding vocals.
“It’s about a time in my life when things weren’t very good. Looking back, looking at what happened, and also looking at how it all turned out,” she marvels. “It’s about moving on, but I like to think about the good things. It’s my mom’s favorite song, and at it’s core a country song.
Looking back, getting through it, thriving more than surviving? Pope has a blackbelt. She even included “Hangover,” a song from Hey Monday’s repertoire as an homage of who she was and where she started.
“I wanted to include a Hey Monday song to say, ‘Hey! This is where I’m headed, and this is part of the direction.’”
The folds of real life provide a texture to Rise and Shine that is undeniable. Whether getting sexy – the erotically-charged “Counting on the Weather,” the intensely delicious “Hangover” – or getting ground down – “Let Me Go,” “Sand Paper,” “Built This House” – Pope uses details and emotional truths to deliver an internal punch that exists beyond knowing.
“’Sand Paper’ and ‘Let Me Go’ are very much about frustration,” she offers. “I wanted the songs to be emotional. Some people I know don’t have any trouble feeling things, but for anyone trying to find a way to let it out, I want to give them permission. We hold things in our bodies – that’s more The Body Keeps Score type of thing, but I believe, especially in these times, there are ways to access that stuff, to get people to let go.”
“I know ‘Built This House’ wouldn’t have happened without the struggles. It came after a time when I was stuck and felt misunderstood, which is part of becoming who we are. Looking at the accomplishments and all the other stuff, you start to realize it’s all how you got here.”
For Cassadee Pope, a woman who’s topped Billboard’s Country Album chart, was the first woman to win on “The Voice,” and toured the world as a rocker, she’s ultimately a songwriter who’s always worked to distill truth. She’s grown, ventured into various genres, been playful and sad, but always serious about the music. Realizing she can create something unique by merging all of it, she’s ready to see what crazy dream might happen next.
To be a kid seeing your face on merch is an unthinkable dream, but for Cassadee Pope, it showed her the power of music to deliver unimaginable things. Having won “The Voice,” toured the world, topped the country charts, she’s once again charting a course into the essence of her songs. Bare, vital, true, she strips everything down to the core and lets her emotions, her musicality and especially her singular voice shine in a way that’s even more compelling/connecting than ever before.
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