Ages & Ages, The Heart Of
Tue, October 10, 2017
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm
Fifteen years and seven studio albums into a career hovering at the edges of the music business, fighting for a seat at the table, Ron Pope is now in the midst of flipping that table over. It took a decade to become an overnight success. Hundreds of millions of streams, millions of singles sold, concerts packed out into the street all over the world; all of a sudden Ron Pope is part of the discussion. “At the very least, now I don’t really have to give a shit what anyone in the business expects from me. That’s pretty liberating. It’s like ‘Everyone’s making music that sounds like such and such this year’ and I can say ‘Cool. I don’t give a fuck; my fans just want me to do something good and they’ll stick with me as long as what I record is real and honest and full of songs that are worth listening to. So I’m just gonna keep doing what I do.’ That’s the freedom that holding onto my independence for so long and finding real success has bought me” Pope says from the East Nashville office of Brooklyn Basement Records, the label he runs alongside his wife and manager, Blair Clark.
For his newest album “Work,” Pope once again co-produced with Grammy Award winner Ted Young (The Rolling Stones, Grace Potter, Sonic Youth). The duo decided to record in Nashville at Welcome to 1979, an analog-centric studio. For Pope, this album marked his first recorded to tape. “It forced us to make choices. Digital recording allows you to do a limitless amount of takes. In the past, we could do five or ten takes of everything and pick and choose, but on this record, if we wanted to record another take of something, we often had to erase what was already there. Those decisions influenced us to play like we meant it on every take. Our friend Charles Ray, who’s my favorite trumpet player, came in to help on the record and what you hear on ‘Dancing Days’ is his first take, no editing, no fixing, no reconsidering. That’s just what he played and we all just yelled ‘Next’ and moved on! The spontaneity and looseness flavored this album in a way that feels really exciting and new to me.”
“On some of these songs, you can hear Nashville. On others, we’re walking down the street in New Orleans giving away beers to strangers, or I’m down on the Florida panhandle at 19 arguing with a frat boy when my blood ran a little hotter than it does now, or I’m back home in Georgia playing the bars I grew up in or singing quiet songs in my bedroom, looking back and looking forward; you find us a lot of places on this record.”
The concept for this album came into existence one afternoon in Texas. “The boys and I were playing a daytime party in Austin, packed into the corner of this little bar on the east side of the city. Everybody was on top of each other, sweating through our boots, amps turned up, day-drunk. The horn players were almost touching the drummer; the stage was so small that the guitar players and the keys were on the floor. We only played for about an hour, but we murdered that gig! I was playing guitar solos on my tiptoes, dancing with the people who were standing in front of me; they were sweating on us, we were sweating on them, it was madness! It felt like when I was back playing the bars as a kid. The only difference was, we were just playing my songs (and people actually wanted to hear them). I wondered what it would be like to make a record that was driven primarily by those kind of songs, tunes that your favorite bar band could play, that felt new but somehow also familiar. And that’s what this new record ‘Work’ is all about.”
“All of the best characters from my own life pop up on this record; girls who burned me down and threw the ashes out the window as they drove away, the 7th grade teacher who told my mother that I’d end up in prison, my father who usually speaks in parables like the Bible, Grandpa who’s taught me a lot about how to grab life by the throat, different versions of me, both from today and as a much younger, more dangerous version of myself, my stupid friends of course, my brother who keeps me honest…the gang’s all here. Some of it is serious, some of it is playful, but all of it is honest. Whether I’m screaming over booming Memphis flavored horns or whispering an acoustic love song, I’m just trying to tell you who I am and what’s on my mind without any bullshit.”
"We ended up using a bunch of the rough mixes that I put together in the studio; they just captured the vibe right and I didn't want to over-mix and ruin it. Sometimes ‘better’ is the enemy of ‘good’ or whatever that expression says,” Ted Young commented.
“Paul Hammer and I sat down to write but we’d gotten as drunk as two shithouse rats the night before and were the worst versions of ourselves that morning. He looked like he might cry or fall asleep at any moment and I could barely sit upright. We started talking about how we can’t really drink like we used to, but we’re not ready to hang up our dancing shoes just yet and before you know it, ‘Dancing Days’ was born. There’s lots of little snapshots like that, from different moments in my life all over this record. Like the song says, I’m just gonna keep on dancin’. I’m dying to put these songs on wheels and get out on the road to work up a sweat with the fans every night.”
Ages & Ages
If Ages and Ages’ debut album Alright You Restless declared independence from the cynicism and self-consciousness plaguing a generation; and the follow-up Divisionary was an exercise in confronting change, conflict, and loss; Something to Ruin addresses the debris of our collective failures and asks whether we might be better off letting go and starting over. Recorded at Isaac Brock’s studio (Ice Cream Party), the band’s third album is still full of their infectious and joyful melodies while also reflecting on several serious existential themes.
Early on in the writing process of this record, band leaders Tim Perry and Rob Oberdorfer traveled to Central America and visited indigenous ruins partly engulfed by surrounding forests – a tangible reminder of the impermanence of human civilization and the resilience of nature. Back at home in Portland, Oregon, their community was being engulfed by something entirely different. Like so many other cities around the country, rapid growth and development were changing both its landscape and culture.
Something to Ruin came out of this reflection, exploring what it’s like to watch your surroundings implode in a frenzy of real estate development and lifestyle branding. Songs like “Kick Me Out” and “My Cold Reflection” describe an existence where almost everything is monetized and loses it’s meaning. The album’s first track “They Want More,” deals with the struggle to live an honest life in this type of superficial cultural landscape.
To set the stage for this narrative, Tim and Rob embraced synthetic sounds and artificial textures– a marked difference from the organic and documentarian approach on their previous albums. The record is also more groove-laden, with electronic experimentation pushed to the surface. Tim’s vocal melodies and the richly layered harmonies of Sarah Riddle, Annie Bethancourt, Colin Jenkins and Oberdorfer mirror themes about the power (and impotence) of the individual and the need for community.
Isaac Brock’s unmistakable, marbled baritone and guitar jumps out on “So Hazy” and traces of old Modest Mouse can also be heard in the discordant and mechanical noises that bubble to the surface on the album’s title track and “All of My Enemies.” If there is an anthem on Something to Ruin comparable to “No Nostalgia” and “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing),” it resides in the album’s final track “As It Is” which contains the trademark exultant vocals that endear the band to its fans.
What’s most perplexing about Ages and Ages is their ability to address themes of isolation, obscurity, and rejection of the well-paved path while still infusing their songs with an infectious hope and earnestness that brings even the most cynical listener into the fold. It could be why President Obama felt compelled to add their song to his personal reelection campaign playlist, or a high school choir in Burkina Faso posted a video of them singing an Ages song, and why NPR claims their music “could actually change your life.”
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