Cassadee Pope blew up her whole life while making her second album, Stages: she ditched her label, her finacé, her manager, and her music publishing deal.
This dramatic fresh start gave Pope the creative freedom that eluded her on her first album, 2013’s Frame by Frame, hot off a win for Team Blake on season 3 of The Voice. This time, she co-wrote many of the tracks and took her time positioning and recording the material. The album was released independently by Awake Records and Pope is spending the spring on tour with Maren Morris.
Refinery29 caught up with her to talk about putting women on the tour bus, learning to trust your instincts, and who we can borrow a tampon from around here.
Refinery29: Some very personal experiences inspired your new album. Can you tell me about writing the songs?
Cassadee Pope: “The whole album’s very personal. I went through a lot of changes back in 2017. It was hard, because I left my record label, got out of my publishing deal, changed management and lawyers, and got out of a long-term relationship. It all happened at the exact same time, which was my decision — I just knew that a big change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy. I was creatively stunted. A lot of the songs on Stages are songs I wrote during that time. It was a therapeutic process, going into the studio;I’m grateful that my producer, Corey Crowder, was open to doing that with me without a label or concrete plans to release anything. I got to a place of confidence and comfort with myself. As soon as I changed my perspective of myself, started really loving myself, that’s when everything changed. All the professional stuff followed suit and fell into place.
It seems like a good time to explore nontraditional models because women seem to be having problems with the traditional ones — like radio in country music. Is carving your own path more satisfying for you?
“Once you break off the chains and stop thinking of things in a formulaic way, your brain opens up. You start to understand that you can do anything you want. If it’s authentic to you and you believe it in, a lot of times it will succeed because people identify with that. The world is in such a crazy place that people want realness, they want to feel something. I think my fans are responding to my album because it’s all over the place emotionally, it’s a rollercoaster.”
One of the big themes for women in music in 2019 is not wanting to be the only woman in the room anymore. Considering how collaborative the writing and recording process are, what has your experience with that been like?
On the road with my band and crew — even when it was all male, which it has been for the majority of my career — I’ve never felt unsafe or put in a bad situation. This tour around, I have two women out with me. One is my tour and day-to-day manager, the other is selling merch. We’ve only had one show, but it already feels different and I love it. It’s an energy thing. There’s something nice about having another woman in the room. A lot of times, sitting there with my band or crew we’ll talk about life, and men and women — and I’ve been the only one there to represent women. And, there are the obvious things like borrowing a tampon [laughs].
When I’m in a session, it’s helpful to have another woman’s perspective, because men say things a certain way and sometimes that’s not exactly how I would say it. I wrote with a lot of friends, too, so I think the reason the songs are so authentic is that I got to do what I wanted without a lot of cooks in the kitchen but I also wrote with people who know me. There were a lot of girl songwriters and friends who sang on the record also. The song ‘Distracted’ has Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell, and Raelynn singing on it. It was fun to say I want as many women as I can to be part of this.”
I talked to Carly Pearce last year, and she told me that some women in her Nashville circle have been getting together in songwriting sessions and talking after #MeToo, forming support groups around each other. It sounds like you might have that going in your girl tribe too.
“I have heard stories that aren’t out — it’s everyone’s decision about what they want to do with an experience. But it is crazy, the amount of things I’ve heard my friends have gone through. I’ve definitely had moments where I said, ‘You have to tell somebody.’ Thankfully, they've been things that haven’t crossed a certain, clear line but they are things that made me say, ‘Hmm, that person could probably cross the line with somebody else down the road and if you say something it might prevent that from happening.’ I can tell when anyone is talking about it with me, it’s therapeutic for them to get it out and speak about it. Keeping it bottled up, it can fester and that’s not good for anybody.”
I wanted to ask you about the big initiative the Grammys announced to help get more women into production roles. I’m hard-pressed to think of a woman who is a producer in country music — I think it may actually be worse than other genres. Why do you think we still think of these as jobs for men?
“I don’t know. I have a friend, Alex Kline, who is a great producer here. She’s definitely good enough to have singles on the radio, if not better than some of the things I’m hearing. I think that good old boy's club mentality is still intact. There’s still a problem with people thinking that women can’t produce or play guitar or play drums as well as a man. I don’t know what it is, but that’s something that is still being said.”
What can we do about it? We’re being told it’s up to women to hire other women and prove these things aren’t true, but that only gets us so far.
“I think it could also be a generational thing. The more we do and talk about these things, the more we bring women on tour, the next generation will see that and it will inspire them to think that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen in a year. It’s probably not going to happen in five years. But hopefully, it will happen.“