Interview: Ron Pope and the Nighthawks

Written by Laura Curry

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks have been on the road for their North American tour, which continues tonight at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia, PA. Fans should start getting amped to hear the southern, country and blues-inspired rock tunes of this spirited seven-piece band.

Ron Pope, known for his heavy and heartfelt tracks, “A Drop in the Ocean” and “Fireflies,” is back with an entourage of his favorite Brooklyn-based musicians including Paul Hammer, Alex Foote, Andrew Pertes, Alex Brumel, Michael Riddleberger and Alan Markley. Together they bring you soulful anthems, passionate ballads and harmony-driven songs that urge you to sing—or dance along.

Ron Pope shared his excitement for the tour and said, “The show is pretty much locked in and the band is firing on all cylinders.” He explains that when you first start putting together a show, there are kinks that have to get worked out. Their tour in Europe and plenty of rehearsing helped them work through these kinks and now, Pope said that it’s been road-tested and it feels right. In the coming weeks of their North American tour, Pope thinks their shows will get even better, and he is excited to see it happen.

Photo Credit: Saidy Lopez/Pop-Break
Photo Credit: Saidy Lopez/Pop-Break

When Pope thinks about the southern country-inspired rock sound of Ron Pope and the Nighthawks, he doesn’t see it as a deviation from his other music.

Growing up, all the music that Pope loved and was inspired by came from within a few hours of where he grew up. “Whether you’re taking influences from the blues or country music ­– or Dr. John, Muddy Waters or The Carter Family – whatever you like from that part of the world, it’s all part of one continuum—like chapters in a book. They’re all part of the same story. So for me, what we’re doing now is that synthesis of all of these things that come from the south.”

Pope hasn’t changed what he’s doing. Instead, elements of this Americana sound are present in songs like “Atlanta” or “Daylight,” as well as their New England sessions. “It doesn’t feel like a departure; it feels like another chapter in my story—it feels very natural.”

He said matter-of-factly, “Whatever feels right to me at the time is what we’re going to be. That’s one of the benefits of being an independent artist. I get to decide what I create.”

To expand on this subject, he explained, “You’re making art for you, and then you’re sharing it with the world—you put it out for them…You want to make people happy. Creating this album outside of the vacuum of a recording studio, and being able to work out new songs and play them live in front of people, it definitely added some level of interactivity that you don’t have when you’re making a straight-up studio album. So that definitely did add some fan participation in a way that we never had before.”

In the past, Pope focused on simple chord structure and a simple vivid narrative. In his last album, Calling off the Dogs, he wanted to be inspired as a composer and feel like he could do anything, or go anywhere with his music. He pushed himself to create in ways that he hadn’t in the past, which required stepping outside of his comfort zone.

In regard to Ron Pope and the Nighthawks, he said, “With this album…I felt really inspired to make music that felt simple to me. It was a very fluid progression into making this album.”

He said, “I didn’t enter this record with any kind of intention. All I wanted to do was write great songs that I really believed in and arrange them in a way that felt good to me.”

Ron Pope

Pope revealed his positive feelings about this album, and said, “This record turned out this way and I love it. For me, it’s the singular artistic achievement of my life, head and shoulders above everything else. It has distinguished itself as the best thing I’ve ever done.”

 Pope emphasized the time and energy that he spent creating this album. He wrote 150 songs and spent over a year working on it. They recorded it in multiple sessions, whether that was in Georgia, on the road or even at shows. They kept chipping away at it until they found a cohesive set of tunes. Overall, they recorded 40 songs and narrowed it down to these 11.

He said, “I think feeling very clear-headed and inspired going into it helped as well. Being in the room with these guys just feels damn good. That just made me want to do better.”

While there is no direct concept to the album, Pope says that through all of his albums, the narratives drive the music. So in that way, his entire career has been driven by one concept and that is a focus on narrative.

Photo Credit: Saidy Lopez/Pop-Break
Photo Credit: Saidy Lopez/Pop-Break

The song, “Hell or High Water,” anthem-like and horn-heavy, which has a fancy new high-energy music video, took nine drafts and a whole lot of time before Pope deemed it complete. “Sometimes you get to a place where you feel like you’ll never get it exactly right. On that song, I knew that we could get there. After a lot of tweaking, we finally felt like this is how it was supposed to sound all along.”

Pope’s desire to spread happy vibes to the audience through his music is obvious in his words.

He said, “All you can really hope for as a musician is to make people feel good—make them feel happy that they worked out whatever they had to work out during the show.” Fans are putting money into coming to their performances, and Pope wants to make people glad that they spent their night with them.

On a final note, Pope said, “This whole process just felt right. I think that’s why I like this record so much and why I’m so proud of it. It just feels right to me.”

Ron Pope and the Nighthawks perform on February 20th at The Trocadero in Philadelphia