For Joseph Pope III, who's played in a number of local acts like Born in the Flood, the Wheel, Fairchildren and is now the front man of Miss America by Wheary, songwriting is like falling in love.
"It's like you're in this honeymoon period, and you're just so infatuated and that's all you think about. You go to work and you think about this person," he says. "I'd go to work and I'd think about the song and so love being in that place that I often don't want it to end, and just keep exploring with the songs and don't actually bring them to completion because I want to stay in that place."
And staying in that place is why Pope typically takes quite a long time to craft songs for Miss America by Wheary, a project he started a few years ago that sort of grew out of Fairchildren, which was Nathaniel Rateliff's backing band: Pope, Julie Davis (of Bela Karoli and Seven Hats), Patrick Meese (of Centennial) and James Han. Pope has known Rateliff since they were kids growing up in rural Missouri, and while the latter was on the road doing a solo tour, Pope, Davis, Meese and Han decided to start another band. While Joe Sampson was recruited to play bass originally, Rateliff eventually took over his spot in Miss America. The group recently released its five-song debut EP, All is Not Lost.
The band's unusual name came from a Fairchildren merch suitcase. The group bought it second hand, and it was made by the luggage company Wheary. The model was the Miss America; the tag on the inside just said Miss America by Wheary in cursive letters. When they were forming the act, they came across the tag and thought it might work for a moniker.
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Before Miss America formed, Pope says he had been slowly building some confidence in himself as a songwriter. About six years ago, during a stint in Dust on the Breakers with Jeff Linsenmaier, Jeff Davenport and Tim Hussman, Pope says he began working on his own material again after a lengthy hiatus. Linsenmaier encouraged Pope to take the songs he was working on seriously, "because we had all that time supported a lot of other visions, musically, but none of us had ever taken our own songwriting seriously."
"It was this nice way for us to push ourselves into uncomfortable places, the idea being that you really aren't growing if don't feel any discomfort," Pope adds.
That idea of being a bit uncomfortable is part of the nexus of Miss America, where some of the musicians aren't playing their main instruments: Davis, who has mainly played bass in projects, is behind the drum kit in Miss America, and Rateliff, who normally plays guitar, plays bass in the group.
"I think one of things that draws me to it and I think it sets it a little bit apart from, just because we're all a little uncomfortable," Pope says. "Because we're all... It's a little bit challenging...it's a little different for all of us, even though we're comfortable playing with each other. I think that's one of the things we all enjoy about it."
Pope says it's really great to have such good musicians that he trusts. Maybe there's melody on the piano that Pope wrote and he'll give Meese free reign on it. "I'm such a sucker for delay and pedals and reverb and washed out madness," Pope says. "I'm always encouraging him to go crazy. There's a lot of freedom in the band. Nathaniel gets to do more sonic stuff than what is typical of a bass player in a band like this. Julie playing the drums, and she's never really played the drums. So that's kind of a new thing for her."
While Rateliff, Davis and Meese are all skilled musicians, they're also brilliant singers who their own acts as well. When the three of them team up for harmonies behind Pope's understated vocal delivery, it's damn near gorgeous.
"I had this pipe dream that if I could only somehow convince these guys to back me up and we could do a show I'd feel like the king of the world," Pope says. "And that kind of came true. It kind of happened that way."
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