Cassadee Pope Shares How Her Pop-Punk Roots Influenced Her Upcoming Album ‘Thrive’

Cassadee Pope; Photo by John Shearer

Before Cassadee Pope made history on NBC’s The Voice as the first female champion, she was the powerhouse songstress in pop-punk band, Hey Monday. It was the success of their 2011 hit track “Candles” and EP Beneath It All that revealed Pope’s astonishing talents and unique sound to the world.

It wasn’t long until the co-ed band created waves within the rock scene. Hey Monday scored high placement multiple times on the Billboard charts, worked alongside notable names in the industry such as Fall Out Boy, and created a safe space for rock fanatics at Warped Tour.

It wasn’t until early 2012 when Pope broke away from Hey Monday to embark on her solo career. With coach Blake Shelton in her corner during her time on The Voice, the pop-rock singer and songwriter found her country sound and built a flourishing career by utilizing her honky-tonk twang. 

Ever since her debut country record, Frame by Frame – Pope toured with icon Tim McGraw, became Grammy-nominated for “Think of You” with Chris Young and released top-charting projects that received praise for her raw songwriting. 

After years of practicing her country craft, the Florida native is returning back to her pop-rock roots with her highly anticipated record, Thrive. The collection is set to drop in the fall of 2021 and will highlight her diverse musical upbringing. Similar to many other artists, the Coronavirus pandemic got Pope’s creative wheels turning and thinking how she could use her pop-punk background to create a record, not like any other.

“The pandemic kind of made me think about what makes me unique. I thought about my history in rock music, and how I have really not been able to figure out how to incorporate it in my country career, in a way that feels unique and different,” shares Pope during an exclusive Music Mayhem interview.

“So, I just made an intentional plan to go into sessions with people that could aid me in this direction. I wrote with a lot of rock writers, a lot of people I used to tour with like – Paul DiGiovanni from Boys Like Girls, Kevin Bard, who was in Stereo Skyline, and Andy Albert, who was in Holiday Parade. Then next thing I know, I have this pop-punk country record that has country lyrics and storylines, but leans a little bit more pop-rock, pop-punk when it comes to sonically and melodies,” she adds.

The dynamic musician gave her loyal fans a taste of what they could expect from her crossover collection by releasing the women empowerment anthem “What The Stars See,” featuring Karen Fairchild and Lindsay Ell, and the breakup ballad “Say It First.”

The pop-punk princess turned country trailblazer sat down with Music Mayhem to talk about her music evolution, upcoming inspiring LP, and her plans to share her rare sound and new music on her potential international tour.

Read on to find out what Pope has been up to in the exclusive Q&A below!

Music Mayhem would love to hear more about your two latest singles, “What The Stars See” and “Say It First.” We love how you blend your pop, rock Hey Monday roots with your modern-day country vibe. So, what was it like working with Karen Fairchild and Lindsay Ell on “What The Stars See”?

“The whole thing came about because I was listening through demos to start recording my album with my producer, Nick Wheeler, and co-producer Karen Fairchild. We listened to the demo of “What The Stars See,” and Karen was actually the one who was like, ‘this should be a collaboration. It sounds like it could be a really cool female empowerment moment.’ So, she offered to sing on it, which was the best thing ever! I thought I would have to ask, and I didn’t. Thankfully, I just thought of Lindsay [Ell] because it is such a guitar-driven song, and I thought she would just crush that solo and just in general fit that song really well.

So, I got fortunate with the two being open to doing that, and the song’s message is just very vulnerable. It is very honest about wanting to see what your ex is doing right now. The fact that I have two of my favorite people endorsing that message makes me feel a little more confident when I perform it. My producer, Nick Wheeler, just killed the track. It just felt like a really good hybrid of where I have come from between the pop punk world and where I have been the last nine years in Nashville.”

How did you form a friendship with Lindsay Ell and become her “work wife”?

“She and I have really been in each other’s lives for the last eight years since I have been in town. I have been seeing her at shows and stuff, and over the last four years, we have gotten really close. We both Kind of went through some tough changes in our personal lives a few years ago. So, it was kind of crazy how we both were able to help each other. If I ever have an issue or something that I need to talk through, she’s the first person I call, and she’s the first person I think about. It is just great that she also just so happens to be an artist! That’s kind of the cherry on top. It helps that she gets where I’m coming from on that side too.”

Could you tell us the inspiration behind your latest track, “Say It First”?

“I wrote that will Ross Copperman and Heather Morgan. It was a session that I really wasn’t prepared for. I kind of went in not being really sure of what to write about that day, and thankfully Heather Morgan had an amazing title, “Say It First.”

I immediately just interpreted that as being the first person to say a relationship is over, even when the other person in the relationship knows it’s over too. So, I actually wrote that, and it wasn’t one of the most recent songs I wrote – it was something that was from an older batch of songs. Since I wrote that track, I have really gone through being the person to “Say It First,” which was really painful and challenging.

I feel like I can sing it now with a different approach and a different perspective. The reaction has been amazing from fans that have just expressed ‘I have been that person or ‘I was on the receiving end of someone saying it first.’ It’s really nice to hear that perspective. It’s been interesting to hear how people interpret it.”

What was it like to perform on The Kelly Clarkson Show and announce your album on her platform?

“It was sort of an organic thing to happen. I was so excited even to just get on her show to perform “What The Stars See,” but then my team and I were like, ‘should we use this opportunity to promote the fact that there is an album?’ I have been keeping it a secret and working on this album since April of last year. So, that was really special to announce it on her show because she was like a mentor of her team a few years on The Voice.

It was a full-circle moment, but I chose the title Thrive because there’s an actual song on the album called Thrive. I wanted that to be the title track because the song is very empowering, and it is about how you choose to survive something, or you decide to survive and thrive from something terrible. In my case, a few people from my past that I have survived for sure really added fuel to my fire – both career-wise and personally. So, I wanted that to Kind of be the message of the album. This album is all about perseverance, but also just Kind of acknowledging those tough times and being willing to confront those about being wronged and taking accountability for things that I did wrong. So, the album itself is just very well-rounded when it comes to confronting things from my past.”

You previously shared that you will be blending your Hey Monday roots into your country songwriting with this new record. So, could you tell us a little bit more about the LP and how it came to fruition?

“Last year, I was supposed to get in the studio around April and cut a few songs that I had written in 2019 that I loved. Obviously, I couldn’t do that…so it really forced me to sit back and think, ‘are these songs really going move the needle for me?’ or ‘are they even what I am truly wanting to do in this next chapter?’ I didn’t realize that I was really just trying to chase country radio. The pandemic kind of made me think about what makes me unique and different is my history in rock music, and how I have really not been able to figure out how to incorporate it in my country career in a way that feels unique and different. So, I just made an intentional plan to go into sessions with people that could aid me in this direction.

So, I wrote with a lot of rock writers, a lot of people I used to tour with like – Paul DiGiovanni from Boys Like Girls, Kevin Bard, who was in Stereo Skyline, and Andy Albert, who was in Holiday Parade. Then next thing I know, I have this pop-punk country record that has country lyrics and storylines, but leans a little bit more pop-rock, pop-punk when it comes to sonically and melodies.”

Could you share with us your relationship with Nick Wheeler, your producer?

“We go way back to my Hey Monday days and his All American Rejects Tour in 2009. Then we toured again in Warped Tour 2010 together. So, that’s Kind of how we got involved, just by writing together, and then I found it really important just to make sure I kept my country elements intact because this is who I am.

I grew up learning to sing country music, and it is very much a part of my heart too. So, I thought having somebody who’s been such a mentor to me over the years, like Karen, involved would be a game-changer. It really has been amazing to have her there along the way to co-produce and throughout references that are rare, unique, and different. We got in the studio to record the whole album in like four days with the band in December. Since then, I have been chipping away at the vocals and having some features being worked on, some more features for the album. So, it’s almost finished, and I’m just so proud of it.”

Cassadee Pope; Photo by John Shearer
Cassadee Pope; Photo by John Shearer

Will there be any features out of the country genre?

“I can’t talk about it yet, because there’s one that I that we’re literally editing right now that I’m listening to, and then there’s one that hasn’t happened yet. If it happens, I will just be the most excited person. I’m sort of superstitious…so, I don’t want to say it until it’s mastered, sent in, and everything, you know.”

Would you classify this album as more of an emo/country album or like a pop-rock with country elements?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s funny. I guess I listen to it, and I think these songs are pretty pop-punk, pop-rock, and then I talked to Jonathan Daniel at Crush Management, and I sent him some songs because I wanted him to Kind of tell me what he thought of it – he was ‘like, yeah, I mean, it still sounds country to me. So, it really depends on the person and, you know, what their ears pick up.’ It will be fun to see what people think it classifies as, and that’s what I love about it. I am passionate about all those genres, so I guess it’s up to the fans to decide what, you know, the main ingredient is.”

Could you tell us a little bit about what it means to keep the pop-punk music scene alive within your music?

“I think it’s nostalgic for a lot of us at certain ages. I know that there’s a pretty wide range of what pop-punk is now, and I love that. I think that makes that genre so special because there are so many different elements that separate these bands from each other. Still, also, I think just the culture and honest lyrics and the, you know, the unapologetic approach is what makes everybody in this genre pop-punk. I believe it is important because it’s Kind of bringing us all back to what we, where we found ourselves in.

I found my sound and myself and my personality during those years I was in Hey Monday. Touring the world, or even just listening to “Take Off Your Pants”  by Blink 182. I found myself in those ways, and sure, I was 18, and I had to find myself more later on, but I think it made me feel like I belonged. I had a group of people that felt the same, and we were very different, but we all Kind of played in the same playground. I think that’s what makes pop-punk so special. I love seeing it stick around, and there’s definitely a resurgence. I love seeing bands like All Time Low, who’ve been around for a long time, finally getting like No. 1’s at radio, and I think that’s such a huge validating thing for me, you know, going into this next chapter. I’m like, okay, I’m creating something that feels authentic to me, and it just so happens that it’s coming back around, so that makes me feel excited.”

Who would you say are a few of the pop-punk artists or country musicians that have influenced you during the writing process for Thrive?

Blink 182 has always been a huge influence and there’s a few songs that definitely lean Blink on Thrive. I really loved the band Biffy Clyro, especially over the last or so… I started listening to them when I was on The Voice because one of them, the runner-up of The Voice, Terry McDermott, and he told me about Biffy Clyro, especially their latest record, that just came out last year, A Celebration Of Endings, That album influenced me sonically for this record. I also just always go back to old Avril Lavigne, that album Under My Skin. That’s always been a huge influence songwriting-wise, just the angst and emotion behind it and the production. I’ve always loved Michelle Branch. Her first album, The Spirit Room, where, I mean, I feel like she and John Shanks, her producer, created such a unique special sound that I brought into this next project. So, there’s, and I think like Shania Twain definitely has had an influence on me performance-wise. Still, I think one song in particular on the album leans very Shania, so all of these elements are very visible on the record.”

Do you ever foresee Hey Monday coming and making a return or doing a Pope/ Hey Monday mixed tour?

“Yeah! I think that’s why we’ve never wanted to say that we broke up because we all felt like this isn’t something that’s never going to happen again, it’s just me. It was really my decision to leave and pursue my solo career.

So, I felt like it was really important to make sure that I put my solo career first and put all of my efforts into it because once you start to break off and spread your tension, especially in my case. I’m still really trying to build something here. You can kind of miss out on opportunities and stuff, so I’m not quite there yet, but I think, eventually, definitely a reunion of some sort or whatever, maybe a new song or something could be great. It might be a minute, but we loved the reunion show so much that we were going to do it yearly and then the pandemic happen. So that sort of set us a back a bit, but that’s definitely something we’ll do again. Maybe there’s no new music that comes out with it but a reunion show is so fun, we had the best time.”

The last single Hey Monday released was “Candles,” I know you mentioned previously that you were really enjoying putting that out as a country single. And that just celebrated its ten-year anniversary this year, so I mean, that’s amazing. Do you have any plans to maybe celebrate that?

Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny. There’s all of these really monumental dates and stuff, and thank God for social media and my fans because sometimes the dates just float on by, and I’m like, whoa, that’s a big deal. How did I miss that? So, I didn’t even know that until you just said it, so thank you for telling me. I will celebrate accordingly. But yeah, I remember, it’s so weird. I went on my first country radio tour right after The Voice in 2013, and I was blown away at how many country program directors at these radio stations, these country radio stations, came from rock radio stations, and they were a few that I had met way back in the day with Hey Monday, and they were like, a few of them were like, did you ever release Candles as a country song because that feels like a country song, and I had just heard that over the years, so that’s why it just kinda stuck with me, like, I mean, maybe I would re-release it, I don’t know, but it gets tricky with like, the, with Columbia owning the master, and all that, so I don’t know how all that would work. But I wrote that with Mike, so we could probably figure something out.

So, going to your days on The Voice. I see your trophy back there, which is just incredible still. I mean, so, have you been in touch at all with your coach since The Voice, like with Blake?

Yeah. He, so he just had his, gosh, what was it? His tenth-year anniversary of being on The Voice, and we all sent in videos and congratulated him, and he reached out and thanked me for that. He held my album release party for Stages at Ole Red a few years ago. So, he’s definitely continued to be supportive, and he’s taking Lindsay out on tour, which I’m really excited about. I’m gonna go visit her out there and visit him, too. Yeah, it’s just been really great to have somebody in your corner like Blake. You know, he’s awesome, he’s so supportive.

Credit: Twitter @CassadeePope

I know you mentioned that this album was mostly written throughout quarantine. What would you say would be one thing that you learned about yourself during this time off the road? I mean, I know it’s probably been a really tough year for everyone, especially musicians, because you’re used to probably touring 75% or more of the year. So, being home, like what have you learned about yourself?

I learned that I need to do better at finding my self-worth in myself and not my career. I’m always better and more confident when I’m busy and have stuff going on, and I have new music out. Like, that feeds my confidence a lot, which I think is normal, but I don’t want to rely on that, because last year happened, and hopefully, it never happens again, but you just never know, and when you get that rug pulled out from under you, I mean, I was just faced with myself, and like, what do I have to offer if I’m not doing music, and I’m just working through that and making sure that I don’t sell myself short, but I’m just a musician, I’m a person, I have a lot of great qualities and things to offer. That was like, that was a big piece of work that I had to do and just, you know, and also missing playing shows. Like, I don’t really get adrenaline like that from anything else. I mean maybe a roller coaster, but (laughing), not the same thing, and not having that for a really long period of time kinda started to mess with me, and it took me a few minutes to really be able to identify why it was I was feeling kinda down and sad, and it was like, oh, well, there’s this thing that I have all the time usually that really makes me feel like high on life. So just kinda working through those things and trying to find that feeling elsewhere in my life and not have to rely just on that constantly to feel validated, so, interesting.

Aside from new music and everything you’ve been working on –  what else is next for you in 2021? 

“I’m having a meeting today with my management about touring and shows and just getting the ball rolling on those things because, like I just said, I feel the best when I’m on stage and when I’m on the road and going back to the Hey Monday days, I’d be gone for like three months at a time.

I kind of want to get back to that and just get on the road for long periods of time and get overseas and travel the world and go to the places I haven’t been back to since Hey Monday, like Japan and Brazil and Indonesia, and that’s what I want. And so, really just thinking bigger here, as far as a global approach to touring, is my next goal.”

About Andrew Wendowski & Tiffany Goldstein

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