Citizen Cope has never been an artist that has enjoyed much radio play or even a big push from his record companies, even though he has spent his entire career up to now on major labels.
Yet, he is in the enviable position of being an artist that can tour large clubs and theaters and, as his current tour attests, sell out multiple nights in cities like Boston and Philadelphia. To Cope, his ever-expanding popularity is largely the result of having created a sound that is uniquely his with a message that feels authentic and honest.
“You don’t want to try and make a record like somebody else makes it,” Cope says. “You just want to take the good stuff that you like or you enjoy as a listener, and if it works in your stuff, you want to [give] something from your own soul that’s original. I think that’s what people identify with in the long term. A lot of these songs that I’ve done are going to stand the test of time. It’s amazing that The Clarence Greenwood Recordings still sells a thousand copies a week, and it is six years old. The Karma Kid had its best year last year, and that’s eight years old.”
While he isn’t a platinum-selling star, Cope built a very respectable level of success despite going against the conventional wisdom that suggests that to achieve major popularity, an artist should create a focused sound that fits a popular musical format.
His four records have brought together a varied range of influences that include pop, blues, hip-hop, laid-back rock, reggae and folk. This probably hasn’t done Cope any favors with radio, where he hasn’t fit the medium’s more narrowly defined formats. The eclecticism has probably even confused some potential fans.
But now, as he releases his fourth CD, The Rainwater LP, Cope (real name Clarence Greenwood) said he was able to bring the various strengths of his three previous albums all into play on the new CD.
“Like some of the [songs] off of the first album, like ‘Salvation’ and ‘If There’s Love,’ I think, are some of my best actual songs. Clarence Greenwood, I think, is a great record as a whole. [The 2006 CD] Every Waking Moment, to me, has some of the best production that I’ve done. And I think this record kind of hopefully took something that I’ve learned from every record and kind of applied it. … I’m really excited about this record.”
In some significant ways, though, The Rainwater LP is very much its own animal.
For one thing, it is arguably Cope’s most acousticcentric album and also perhaps his most laid back collection of songs. In fact, the relaxed vibe of the CD makes The Rainwater LP feel a bit undercooked upon initial listening. But subsequent plays reveal that there is actually a good deal of nuanced production and instrumentation within the CD’s seemingly simple and pared back sound.
And the restraint Cope shows in his sonic treatments allows the seemingly simple melodies of songs like “Keep Askin’” (with its striking descending piano line), “Off The Ground” (an especially melodic reg gae-rooted track) and “Jericho” (a grooving electrotinged tune) to really shine.
The Rainwater LP may not be Cope’s most musically immediate effort, but it is a sign that his songwriting and production skills continue to grow more developed as he goes further into what is now about a 15-year career.
A native of Memphis, who spent time growing up in Texas, Mississippi and Washington, D.C., Cope went solo in the mid-1990s after a stint as turntable player in the critically acclaimed, but commercially ignored, hip-hop/rock group Basehead.
He signed with Capitol Records, only to be dropped by the label after it shelved his 1997 debut CD, Shotguns.
He’s had other record label misadventures since, moving from DreamWorks Records after his 2002 self-titled CD to Arista, only to see that label fold and his next CD, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, get transferred to RCA.
The label retained Cope for one more CD, Every Waking Moment, after which Cope was able to get his release.
He chose to start his own record label, Rainwater Recording, and release his new CD himself.
While he wasn’t having as much commercial success as he would have liked, Cope was able to tour extensively following Every Waking Moment, and that even dictated the way the new CD was recorded.
“I just was doing the record and then I’d go on tour, then I’d come back and finish some more of it,” Cope said of the recording, which stretched out through much of 2009.
Now he’s back on the road again. Cope should be able to do justice to the songs on new CD on tour, as he tours with two keyboardists, a bassist and drummer. He’ll also play a decent selection of his earlier songs, he said.
“Everyone has their favorites, so I try to cover the array of what we’ve done over the years,” Cope said.
On the Bill
Citizen Cope plays the Fox Theatre on Thursday, April 15. Tickets are $27.50. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.