Music News

Coping Skills

When it comes to straddling genres, few artists have the crossover breadth of Citizen Cope (aka Clarence Greenwood). He's listed with granola-heavy website, and he certainly has the lazy acoustic-guitar appeal of Ben Harper or Jack Johnson. But his lyrics also have a gritty, street-worn sensibility reminiscent of Everlast, and one of his songs was picked up by Pontiac, aligning him with a certain type of adult-alternative/minivan-driving-yet-free-spirited listener.

Despite sell-out performances and recent appearances on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and Last Call With Carson Daly, Cope hasn't made much of a blip on national radio. And perhaps his lack of easy definition is reflected in his having jumped ship from three major labels over the years, citing creative and management differences. But with Every Waking Moment, his second record at RCA, he seems to have found a home. We recently spoke with Cope about the role of major labels, among other things.

Westword: This is the first time you've ever done two records in a row on the same label. In this day and age of MySpace, iTunes and self-promotion actually getting bands heard, do you think major labels are more of a hindrance than a help?

Citizen Cope: They're a necessary evil. They've come to the point where most record-company presidents want to be the star. They'd rather be the artist, the most important person. It's kind of a weird dynamic, but it's just due to the corporate structure. It's not necessarily that the president of the label owns the company; he's just a rent-an-executive, almost.

Are the major labels at least able to help you get your music heard in more outlets?

All of the shows have been selling out with no major radio play and very little press. We don't get any radio out there in Colorado or anywhere else. It's been amazing: I did a massive giveaway campaign with the last record, gave away tons of copies of the entire disc, so a lot of people got turned on to the record that wouldn't have. Everyone will be singing along; they know all the lyrics. So it's a real positive thing; it's not celebrity-driven or hit-song-driven, so when I get stopped on the street, it's not like, oh, they saw me on TV or heard me on the radio. It's 'cause they've been living with that album.

You've always been a storyteller in song, but you've also been doing some songs that are more political lately, like "Friendly Fire." Is that tougher to pull off?

I think it's just conscious -- I don't think it's necessarily political, because I don't have any kind of agenda with it. I just think it's everyday life. Shit affects you with the people you love, situations you're in, the country you're in, the company you keep, the government, how that affects you -- all that kind of stuff. It's just like opening your eyes to what somebody else is suffering or what they're going through.

No one else seems to be able to label your music. Do you want to take a stab at it?

Everyone always wants to put everything in a category or put a name to something or compare it to something, but I just say, "You gotta hear it."

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Kurt Brighton