Female Friday: Cassadee Pope

Cassadee Pope has made it a long way since Hey Monday and The Voice...

Female Friday: Cassadee Pope
Cassadee Pope; Photo credit: John Shearer

Cassadee Pope is getting back to her musical roots — but that doesn’t mean she’s being boxed into one genre. Pope has experienced a multitude of artistic evolutions since her origins as front woman of pop-punk band Hey Monday in her hometown of Wellington, Florida to being crowned winner of season three of The Voice, catapulting her into a country music career in Nashville. Along the way, she’s scored a Top 10 country album on the all-genre Billboard 200 and a No. 1 hit with Chris Young on “Think of You.” Like all artists devoted to the craft, the dynamic singer continues to evolve, as evidenced by her latest song “What the Stars See” featuring Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Lindsay Ell that combines her pop, punk and country roots. In this edition of Female Friday, Pope discusses her artistic metamorphosis, her fascination with the universe and how her forthcoming album is a healing journey.    

Cassadee Pope; Photo Credit: John Shearer

Was there a moment that led you to music and when did you know you wanted it to be your career?

My sister took voice lessons when I was three-years-old. I was always a very shy kid, I hated when people looked at me, I hated talking to strangers. My sister stopped taking lessons for a little bit and her voice coach at the time was traveling to West Palm Beach from Jacksonville, Florida to teach her, so she was like, ‘would Cassadee want to try it?’ I was four at this point, so I decided that I would try it. I wasn’t convinced right away. I was really stubborn and really mad that I wasn’t good right away, so it was something that I thought, ‘this isn’t fun. I’m not going to do this.’ One day, I had vibrato very randomly and I was like, ‘that feels nice, I like this. It feels fun’ and I stuck with it.

I remember seeing TV specials with Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston singing and I remember doting after them and being like, ‘these women are spectacular and they’re doing this. This is their job,’ so that might’ve been when it clicked. But the main goal was to do music for a living and that’s always been the goal.

I wasn’t shy getting on stage, it felt very natural, and it was very surprising to my family and my friends at the time because I was always shy and I didn’t want attention. But I then got on stage, I don’t remember [having] that fear. I got up there and even the moments where I would forget a lyric, I would just make up a lyric and I would improv at seven-years-old on stage. I remember stepping on the stage at the South Florida Fair and they started playing the track “Swinging on a Star” and I loved it, it was fun, and then it felt addictive. I really wanted to keep doing it whenever I could and I begged my parents to keep letting me take these lessons. From day one, felt natural to be on stage.

Tell me about your artistic evolution from Hey Monday to The Voice and transitioning to country music.

I tried my best to be open-minded going into The Voice because I went solo from my band, so I was doing more of a pop-rock thing, but it was still very confused and not very focused sound. When I was on The Voice, I was open-minded. Because I sang country as a kid, the idea of going back to country music confused me at first because I equated that to being a kid. I had written down a few country songs that I felt were very vocally challenging, great for a show like that, and I started singing them. I started with “Over You” by Miranda Lambert and then I did “Stupid Boy” and “Cry” and “Stand” by Rascal Flatts and all of those songs felt really good. I was putting my spin on them and making them a little bit more rock and singing them with a little bit more of a pop lean and realized that there is a lane for that in country music. There’s a newer, modern twist to it, and that’s when I realized I could go back and not have to compromise anything creatively, so it felt very natural.

[After The Voice] I came to Nashville and got right in the studio and started writing with people. That was definitely the start of my songwriting evolution because before that I had been writing, but I was still writing with that pop-punk way where it’s a little bit obscure. I’ve always written more conversational even in my old band, but I really learned how to make it all make sense and cohesive and digestible when I came to Nashville, so my songwriting started changing in a good way. I learned a lot about writing.

My first record here was definitely pop-country, I was really proud of it and it did well, and I still love it. Then I think a lot of things came into play where I lost my way a little bit. My team wasn’t quite right for me. I was not really in a space where I was taking care of my mental health and I hadn’t really addressed certain things from my childhood that were affecting me, so it made its way into my music. It was a very confused time. I remember releasing a song that I wasn’t that in love with, the label loved, so I did it. Those decisions that I would never make again because I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I compromised my morals that I felt strongly about.’ Eventually, I went to therapy and did all the things to heal. I was writing through that and not really thinking about any confines of genre, so then my songwriting took more of an open approach. That’s when I released Stages, my independent album, which definitely had a more pop-rock lean, but still the country elements of songwriting. Then I had my acoustic album last year, which was a direct reflection of the pandemic and where I was at with how I felt and what I wanted to put out into the world at that moment.

I think I’m at the point now where 2020 what it did for everybody was a time of reflection and really makes you sit and think what you want out of your life. In my case, what I want out of my career, that’s to be the most authentic version of myself and whether that makes me lose some fans in the process, I think I’ll probably gain more because I’m being real. My pop-punk roots are just as influential and as important as my country roots. I’ve unconsciously been neglecting those pop-punk roots to fit into this town and the sound, and once I realized that and it really clicked in me, I started writing these rock songs that are still country at its core, but they have more of that emo-punk sound that I love. That’s the evolution of the music.

Cassadee Pope; Photo credit: John Shearer

Speaking of new music and authenticity, tell me about the inspiration behind “What the Stars See”?

I was really resisting Zoom writing sessions the first month of quarantine and then realized that they would be a thing for a long time, so I agreed to do one. My first one was with Lindsay Rimes and Jake Rose, and the night before, I was sitting on our deck at our house and it was a very starry night and I was a little anxious about the session. I looked up and was thinking about the stars and how they have this perspective that I wish I had when I was going through a breakup and I wish I could have seen how my ex was feeling or acting on the other side of our breakup. So it came to me, ‘I want to see what the stars see.’ I knew at that point where I wanted to head with the music and the direction. I knew I wanted it to be a more punchy rock song, but it’s a very vulnerable lyric, so I liked the balance there. I wanted to make sure that the melodies were beautiful and pretty, but we were balancing it with a gritty track. It could be about anything, a friend or a family member that you’re not speaking to anymore you wish so badly you could see or know how they’re feeling behind closed doors, and the stars have that perspective.

I’ve always been fascinated by stars and space, and the fact that we’re in space is so mind-boggling to me. I always feel a connection, if it’s nighttime or daytime, to the sky and nature. I’m a big believer in feeling grounded anytime you’re engulfed nature, so I always feel this insane sense of Zen. It puts things into perspective, the fact that we’re all so small in comparison to what’s out there. It always inspires me no matter if it’s a stormy night or if it’s a starry night, I’m always inspired by nature and the elements. I grew up on the beach in Florida and then I would take the summers with my family to go to Pennsylvania. My mom’s from Vandergrift and it’s very rural town. Those were the times where I would be sitting, looking at the stars and it’s this suburban town where there’s no lights. I always grew up appreciating nature and all it’s different offerings.

How did Karen Fairchild and Lindsay Ell became a part of this song and what makes them the right fit?

Karen is helping me with the whole project. [We] were listening to the demo, going through the songs and she was like ‘I feel like this is a collaboration song. This could be a a girl power moment without it being so obvious. I could sing on it with you, or we can have Lindsay on it.’ I was freaking out that she even offered that. I had the plan to ask her to sing on something as soon as she became involved in the project because I’m a huge fan of Little Big Town, but I love her voice. I was so excited that she was down to sing with me on that, and then thinking of another female artist that I love, but also love as a person, was Lindsay. That song has so many amazing guitar moments that I thought she would nail, so of course she was top of mind for that. I was so lucky that she was down to do it. They both are sentimental to me as people in their own respects. Lindsay’s one of my best friends and we’ve been through a lot together, and then Karen’s always been such a mentor for me in this town and she’s always been open to give me advice through the years and always been supportive. Sharing this moment of complete authenticity, and I feel I’m very intentional with this project, so having people involved that I love that I want to be around feels so right.

How do you feel like you are being intentional in making this album?

I think the word has always been something that I’ve struggled to achieve because I’ve always through my career and in life felt like I should say ‘yes’ to everything and don’t miss an opportunity, and it led me down a road of doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t necessarily make sense for who I am or my brand, or trying to get people to know me better. That’s my goal with this record is really get my fans to know me better. I feel like saying ‘yes’ to many things or spreading yourself too thin can muddy people’s perception of you or your message. That’s a big deal to me, being intentional with the decisions made around the album and with the people I include on the album. The producer is [Nick Wheeler], he’s the guitar player and one of the solo writers of The All-American Rejects. We toured together 11 years ago and it feels very nostalgic and it makes sense. Then the co-producer Karen Fairchild is very much a huge piece of my career and has been since I came to town, so she represents the country, more recent stage of my career.

Making those intentional decisions that completely help aid the project into being exactly what I want it to be and not letting decisions or pressures of exposure or what will make this album the most mainstream or more digestible, not letting those decisions affect the project, it makes me sit and think a little bit longer about things, which I forgot what it was like to do that. It’s really nice to sit and reflect and think, ‘how would this affect everything?’ and go through all of the different ‘what ifs’ and ‘how will this look?’  or ‘how would this make me feel?’ and really making decisions off of my gut and my heart. That’s been a really big one for me.

What does “What the Stars See” say about this next phase of your career and what we’re going to get through this album? What will fans learn about you?

I think the song is a perfect bridge between what I’ve been doing and what I’m about to do. The song itself is a country song, I think it’s a storytelling song and very relatable. But the music is definitely more rock and the melodies are not the typical, easy to follow country melody. It’s not as familiar as a lot of the classic country melodies are. I’m really incorporating all of the things that I love so much, but there are definitely going to be more songs from this era, this project that lean way more rock or way more country, so I wanted to put something out there for people to strap in and be like, ‘this is going to be different, but it’s still Cassadee.’ I feel like this is an introduction to the new era of music.

I think fans are going to see the younger me. I feel like the reason this has been such a healing project for me too is that I’ve been very in touch with my past and confronting things from my past that really sucked or hurt and bad decisions I’ve made or decisions someone else made that really hurt me, things that are painful sometimes to confront that I’m really airing out on this project. I think fans will be able to see, especially the fans that have followed me through this whole time from my band to now, they’ll really get a look into what I was dealing with or what I was experiencing during those times where I was in Hey Monday or even before that, so I think they’re going to get to know me pretty well because of that. This process of reconnecting with my inner child, or even my inner young version of me, has been so good for me to do, and really letting myself grieve those times where I’ve been hurt or the loss of innocence, really letting myself write about those things and airing it out, I’m sure people will find some comfort or relate-ability in those songs.