Posted February 14, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Ron Pope: Hoping his stories connect

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks
Ron Pope and the Nighthawks

Two years ago, singer-songwriter Ron Pope put together the backing band that he calls the Nighthawks. Now, after cutting its teeth on the road, the group has just issued its self-titled debut and plans to tour the states this winter and spring to support the release. A collection of tunes that show off Pope’s narrative writing style, the album starts with the mid-tempo rocker “Southern Cross” and then continues to display his love for Southern rock, blues and country. Pope spoke to us via phone from Nashville, where he started a label about a year ago.

You grew up in Georgia. How did that influence you?
I did. I moved to New York when I was 18. Growing up in the Southeastern part of the United States, you’re near all the music that influenced everything. All the music that mattered to me either came from very close to where I grew up or was influenced by stuff that came from close to where I grew up. If you wanted to drive to the fields where Muddy Waters picked cotton or where Robert Johnson sold his soul or if you wanted to go to Dr. John’s house or go to Memphis to see where Otis recorded, all that stuff is right there. Little Richard and Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers are from Macon. Tom Petty is from North Florida. All these things intersect. You have Nashville and church music and folk music . . . American music that influenced the rest of the world is from this tiny space. Loving the blues and loving country music, that’s a delightful thing. Levon Helm talks about folk and country and R&B and he has said if you put a good strong back beat behind it then you have rock ‘n’ roll. In my mind, that’s the best part of growing up in the South. Dr. John or Otis Redding or Muddy Waters or the Allmans or the Carter Family are all part of the same continuum. For me, it made me want to create lots of different types of music.

I read that you were obsessed with Springsteen.
I certainly love Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know if obsessed is the right word. I always felt a kinship because he sort of did what I did. He was a rock band guy and then went to New York and did the Village folk scene thing. He said the difference between him and everyone else who came out of Greenwich Village holding an acoustic guitar playing folk music was that when the lights went out, he could take out his Telecaster and burn the building to the ground. When people come to see my band and know my earliest work from the demos I made and I’m two hours into my set and I’m playing the guitar behind my head and pouring out sweat, it’s a little bit of a revelatory experience to some people. That’s one of the fun parts of the tour is that it’s good to inform people about who I am. The band I’m in is the kind of ensemble that makes you want to get up and dance.

I love a great story song and I like making people be quiet, but I have more fun making people get loud.

Do you think he inspired your narrative songwriting approach?
Absolutely, at the end of the day, that’s the through line. Regardless of where I go sonically, the thing that holds it all together is that I’m a storyteller. One of the things I love about songwriting and arts in general is that it’s subjective. When I write a song, if I think it’s about falling in love or breaking up or my mother or an afternoon I spent in the park, whatever I think it’s about is irrelevant when you listen to it. At the end of the day, if you look at a painting and think it’s a painting of a house, then for you it’s a painting of the house. The same thing is true for a song. That’s what I loved about being a songwriter and sharing songs. You take it home and it becomes your story and the story of your life. That’s something that has been powerful for me as a listener. As a strange little kid, I just wanted to stay in my room and write poems and that made me different and feel apart from other people. And in listening to music, it made me feel connected. That inspired me to become a writer and I wanted to do that for other people. I want to make them feel like there’s somebody else out there and they get it. As an artist, you make records for yourself.  You put them out for the world and you want to share them.

Were you surprised at the way that “A Drop in the Ocean” connected with fans?
I don’t think anybody knows when they’re in the studio if they have a hit record. Maybe Quincy Jones does. When we’re in the studio, I know we’re making a great record. I know a song when it’s good and I know what that feels like. In terms of knowing that people are going to like a song, none of us can predict that. There are no fans in the studio you’re making it. That part is dark magic. When we were recording “One Grain of Sand,” I knew it was a song I thought was good. We recorded lots of songs we thought were good. You never know what’s going to resonate with people. All you can hope for is that the songs will resonate with people and feel good to you. That’s what we’re trying to do at the end of the day. If people don’t like them, I’m going to have to learn to make lattes or something.

You’ve been making albums for years. What makes this band and this album different?
I have been a solo artist for a very long time. In early 2014, I went and toured America and all the shows sold out. A number of promoters around the country invited us to come back and play exponentially larger rooms. I called up all the guys in New York who I always want to tour with but are always busy. Mike Riddleberger, who plays drums with us now, I’ve known for 13 years. From the first time I heard him, I knew that was my horse. In 13 years, we’ve played one show together because he’s always busy. Any time I’ve done any recording. I always asked Mike to do it. These guys are busy dudes. I started calling them and I don’t know if the universe decided it would work this time. I called Mike first assuming he would say no because he’s always too busy. He opened his book and was available. I thought my phone was broken. It went down like that, just like dominos. I had no intentions of starting a band or making a new album. I was on my way to Australia. I had just put out an album and was on my way to Australia when I started putting this group tougher. Once I had the other six guys in place, I realized they’re all incredible singers. It’s like being in a choir only everyone has a beard and wears lots of denim. I thought I should write something with big harmonies. I was in L.A. and I had a few days off. I started writing with this idea in mind. I wrote “White River Junction.” Then, I wrote another song. I started writing and I had all these dudes. I started to think we should record an album. We were going to go to Georgia and I kidnapped everyone and took them to Georgia. We went to Georgia with the intention of making me another solo album and then going on this tour and that was going to be it. When we got there, my friend who is a world renowned engineer and producer came with us. He’s an incredibly talented dude. He came to record us. You could feel that we were becoming a band as we were doing this. Everyone was contributing to song arrangements and everyone was getting along really well. Each of these guys is the best I’ve ever seen at what they do. I’ve seen them on stage in other bands and sometimes you see Andrew Pertes, our bass player, playing and he’s so much better than every other person in this band. Everyone in this band has been in that position. In this band, they come together and they’re like an all-star team. It was like falling in love. It’s like nothing else I ever experience but finding true love. It’s like this is the place I’ve belonged my whole life.  That’s how it became a band and this became the debut release for us. We just naturally transitioned into this thing. For me, it’s been a revelation. I look to my left and this guy is a monster and I look to my right and that guy is a monster. We love to challenge each other on stage. Working in the studio is inspiring.

The album is the peak of my artistic achievement so far. These guys have made that possible.

Your career stretches back a good decade. It seems like you’re finally getting the recognition you deserve. Do you feel that way?
As an entertainer, you have to understand you don’t deserve anything, no matter how hard you work. Nobody deserves accolades for writing songs. School teachers and firemen deserve accolades. I don’t know if I’m getting what I deserve. But it’s wonderful that we worked so incredibly hard on this and that people seem to get it. I wrote 150 songs and we whittled then down to get the 11 on the record. Some of the songs you hear we recorded in five different arrangements. I dedicated a year of my life to this and so did all of these guys. We buried ourselves in it up to our necks. It was the hardest I ever worked on anything in my life. I’m flattered that people like it. The shows are beginning to sell out and I think it is obvious people are connecting with this record in a way that we hoped they would. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see its success.

Upcoming 2016 Shows

February 18

February, 19

February 20

February 21

February 23

February 24

February 25

February 26

February 27

March 1

March 2

March 4

March 5

March 6

March 8

March 10

March 11

March 12

Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse

Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge

Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero Theatre

Boston, MA – Royale

Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar

Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom

Ann Arbor, MI – Blind Pig

Chicago, IL – Metro

Minneapolis, MN – Mill City Nights

Seattle, WA – Neumos

Portland, OR – Star Theater

San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall

Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom

Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom

Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater

Oklahoma City, OK – ACM Performance Lab

Dallas, TX – Granada Theater

Houston, TX – Warehouse Live




Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].