Citizen Cope Biography
Last updated: 05/09/2014 08:19:09 AM
Like a cool breeze blowing through the soundscapes of contemporary musical composition, the material composed by Citizen Cope for his RCA debut The Clarence Greenwood Recordings marks a new high point for this compelling and evocative songwriter.
“When you’re writing a song, you take in everything – the people you’ve met, what you’ve experienced” says Cope, whose real name is Clarence Greenwood. “You take in everything and it makes a story.” Recalling classic American forms ranging from dust-bowl fiction to the gritty urban poetry of the hip-hop generation, Cope displays a unique gift for narrative -- exploring universal themes through the eyes of himself and a memorable cast of characters.
These characters that populate The Clarence Greenwood Recordings are raging rebels with real dilemmas and serious passions. Cope’s songs are overflowing with poets, dreamers and crazy schemers living their lives in an insane universe. Cope says, “Besides other music, the material on The Clarence Greenwood Recordings is also influenced by folk tales and films. There are many different dimensions to these songs, and I feel a real spiritual connection to the people I write about.”
Cope’s writing is the complement to a magnetic live persona that has won him acclaim both as a songwriter who could mesmerize a “pin-drop” audience in a coffeehouse setting, and as a bandleader who could enthrall hundreds at large venues.
The sublime “Nite Becomes Day,” opens the album, introducing the listener to Cope’s personal brand of pop poetics. In his lyrics, Cope writes with urgency about human emotions and desires. “It’s the same thing that makes the moonlight meet up with the sunlight/Can’t fight it, can’t buy it/Love…I’m say it again,” Cope sings in a mellow voice that reveals his Memphis roots and urban sensibility.
From the sublime to the surreal, the masterful “Pablo Picasso” has the crazed appeal of a R. Crumb underground comix. Documenting the misadventures of a deranged dude who falls in love with a dame painted in a wall mural, Cope sings about the delusional man with compassion. “I try to put myself into the reality of the character, no matter how crazy he is,” Cope explains.
“It might sound corny, but for me music should be able to transcend all boundaries,” Cope says, “Society has a way of trying to set limits, but there are no limits in music. I don’t believe in style over substance, for me it’s all about the song. I like bringing together guys from different musical genres, be it go-go, hip-hop or rock, and just follow where the music takes us.”
The best example of Cope’s approach to enriching his music can be heard on the minimally lavish first single “Bullet and a Target.” According to Cope, “I began writing this song with no real theme in mind, but I did want to express all the craziness we go through in this country. Drug addiction, a bad education system…all of these things are damaging to our psyche. I guess you could say, I was on the left side of my brain when I did that track.”
Following in the melancholy balladeer tradition of Bill Withers and Randy Newman, the gorgeous track “Sideways” is perhaps Cope’s most enchanting song. The song has only one hypnotic verse, yet Cope sings it with a different emotional charge each time.
Citizen Cope is a multi-talented sonic auteur that, in addition to providing lead vocals and production, plays a variety of instruments including guitar, keyboard and drum machines. “When I decided to begin work on this project, I was between record companies,” Cope explains. “It was in my heart to create music that would just cut away the excess and get to my inner-self.” Refusing to be pigeonholed, Citizen Cope has created a unique recording borne of his diverse background.
Booking time at New York City’s famed Electric Lady Studios (aka the house that Hendrix built) and Central East Studios in Washington, D.C. (his former stomping grounds), Cope assembled a crew of stellar musicians to create this eclectic collection of post-millennial pop. From the bombastic drums played by Paul Buggy Edwards on the first single “Bullet and a Target,” to the stirring guitar of Carlos Santana (“Son’s Gonna Rise”), the soulful piano of James Poyser (“Nite Becomes Day”)and the beautiful bass of Me’shell Ndegeocello (“Sideways”), this disc is a mixture of sweet and rough, tender and tough.
A self-taught musician who grew-up grooving to Sly Stone, Willie Nelson, Al Green and whatever else he could sneak from his big sister’s vinyl stash, Cope explains, “I grew-up in an environment where there wasn’t much to do, so I had to use my imagination to think of creative stuff. When I finally made a spiritual connection with the guitar, I just started plucking one string at a time until I could play.”
Relocating to Washington, D.C for high school, Cope became a member of the arty hip-hop crew Basehead. Led by Michael Ivey, the group’s experimentation is often considered to have paved the way for the kitchen-sink aesthetic heard in Outkast, The Neptunes and Timbaland. “Of course, at the time the music I was making with samplers and drum machines was much more hip-hop based,” Cope explains. “Then one day I realized that if I wanted to play my grandmother a song in her living-room, I couldn’t. That was when I decided to make guitar my primarily instrument.”
Receiving early encouragement from D.C. go-go legend Chuck Brown, Cope later moved to New York and recorded a self-titled disc for Dreamworks Records in 2001. “On my first record, I threw in a lot of overdubbed sounds that just wasn’t needed,” Cope recalls. “This time, anything that didn’t enhance the material or make the songs better, I just stripped away.”
With The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, Citizen Cope has created an intimate, vibrant and enduring record – a startlingly mature and compelling document of a promising new voice.