Love and Other Stories: An Interview with Ron Pope
“I was actually telling a robot story,” insists Ron Pope, 30, as I awkwardly apologize for the spotty phone connection wherein I describe his voice as “sounding like a robot.” He launches into a ridiculous story about robots while I try to contain my pleasant surprise. Good humored, lively, and conversational, he’s not exactly the sappy, brooding, “Ryan Gosling in The Notebook” type that I had imagined when I first heard his hit, “A Drop in the Ocean.” His story is not the conventional romantic comedy of love between two people. It is a burning love for a form of art and an inability to say everything he wants to about it.
Each time I ask about a pivotal moment in his life, he answers with a response that’s somewhere along the lines of, “It was one of those things that sort of happened.” He believes it was a fateful whim that transformed him from a baseball player at Rutgers to an Anthropology major at NYU with a feverish zeal for music. And even his move from his band The District, to a successful solo career was, according to Ron, “another thing I didn’t really decide.” His injury kept him from playing baseball. The online response to his solo music was positive, and hence began his solo career. These are things that were out of his control.
But in my opinion, Ron’s musical willpower and fervor far outweigh the occasional strokes of good luck. Just looking at the sheer volume of his music, a whopping 12 albums in just about six years of his solo career, it’s hard to imagine a sense of dedication that is anything less than whole-hearted.
Not only has he been playing the guitar since he was 12-years-old, it became his “religion” in college. The piano, which he began playing his senior year of college, also became a full-time hobby after college. In other words, he’s been making music for a “loooong time.” He simply “treated it as [his] job even when it wasn’t [his] job.”
For the moment, Ron is no rock star on the road, but rather a friend with a funny story to tell. His words come fluidly as he recalls the memories of playing in bars as a 15-year-old, a locale inevitably filled with drunken adults that “throw bottles and cigarette butts.” He recalls a particular “fan” in great detail: a sound engineer in a biker gang with a leather vest, no shirt, and a bandana. From this interesting character arose some mischievous acts. Everything from fussing with the lights and the smoke detector, to trying to pick up the band’s girlfriends.
But Ron’s every word is like fizzy soda—energetic and airy. “The good thing about that is that there is nothing you can do to shake me,” he says. “No heckler, no abuse, no problem…nothing can make it so that you do anything but [put on] a good show.” He’s been through alcohol-induced harassment and back, and hell hath no fury like this man’s determination to perform for his fans. “Every night that people show up is the best night,” he says with a winning attitude.
Every statement he makes about music is a symptom of sleepless, out-of-breath, ever present love. “My music sort of happens in a lot of different ways,” Ron says. The process of writing music varies for him; the seed of a song can sprout from merely a couple of words, a riff, some chords, or all at once. His stupendous memory serves to remember the birth of every song. He tells me of an instance in which the entire song occurred to him in the shower. He came out of the shower and urgently started writing it all down, still wrapped in a towel. “The reason I tell that story is that it’s only happened once,” he emphasizes. It all depends. There are years in which he’s written a jaw-dropping 250 songs, and they were all a product of coincidence and diligence.
That’s not to say he spits out every song as they come to him. He guesses that only 10-15% of the songs he’s written over the last decade are released to the public. Math may not be my strong suit, but that percentage in relation to his 12 albums (not including the music he’s written for The District) adds up to a number I can’t begin to fathom. I’m left to wonder whether he has time to eat.
Or sleep. Ron has written, produced, and released some albums independently. He chuckles, “The short answer to how I do it is I cannot sleep.” Even finding a record label that understands “what it is that we are doing and how it is unique” is a matter of luck to him. He simply didn’t find that match early in his career.
His most recent album, Calling Off the Dogs, features a heavier mood and a complex layering of instruments that strongly contrast his earlier work. “As an artist, I wanted to create without any boundaries,” Ron proudly declares. The whim of a true artist colors him as he says, “It could have been really bad but it turned out to be something I’m proud of.” And that’s just the summarized version of all the things he tells me about this album, each sentence like a love note to his songs.
He laughs with incredulity when I tell him that his music must result in numerous girl fans. After catching his breath he tells me, “Well…I’m married.” Ron assures me that his audience is diverse. His best guess is that his fans simply think of him as a messenger of the emotions of love; that they think, “I want someone to feel that about me.”
And this was the most personal love story I’d ever heard from a robot.