Cassadee Pope on How New Album 'Stages' Took Her Life From a 'Crazy Mess' to the Happiest She's Ever Been

Jeff Nelson
Cassadee Pope

When country singer-songwriter Cassadee Pope began writing and recording for her second album in 2017, a “sophomore slump” was the least of her worries.

Within a matter of months, she'd ended her engagement to drummer Rian Dawson, as well as her partnership with most of the team she’d been working with since winning The Voice in 2012. Naturally, songs poured out of the country singer -- but even though heartbreak was at the core, Pope had never felt so assured in what she was creating.

“Instead of a bunch of people telling me why it might not work, it was me feeling really confident about the music that I want to do,” Pope says. “I knew that what I was writing and wanting to put out was good, and it was me.”

That music turned into Stages -- Pope’s first album in more than five years -- which she released independently on Feb. 1. The title is an ode to the life changes the 29-year-old has experienced since her last LP, centered on losing love and finding it again.

The lyrics of songs like lead single “Take You Home” and current hit “If My Heart Had a Heart” are pretty straightforward, which makes them instantly relevant whether you’re mid-breakup or mid-honeymoon phase. Pope says she didn’t focus on being relatable as she wrote the album, though. “I used to strive for that,” she admits. “But [Stages] is so personal, it’s hard for me to think, ‘This could be about something else.’”

Her effortless vulnerability is what makes Stages’ 11 tracks so impactful, something she felt herself while recording “Take You Home” in 2017. One of only four tracks Pope didn’t co-write on Stages, the song took on a new meaning in the studio after initially hearing it when -- as she puts it -- “things weren’t a crazy mess yet.”

“I cut ‘Take You Home’ during my breakup, and it was a really great escape for me,” Pope recalls. “I found a lot of comfort in the song, and it reminded me, ‘There’s going to be a new beginning eventually, and you’re going to be okay.’” Her new beginning is reflected in the two tracks that follow on the album, “One More Red Light” and “How I Feel Right Now,” the latter of which was particularly inspired by her new relationship with Nashville star Sam Palladio.

But while new love played a role in Pope’s confidence on Stages, perhaps even more pivotal was the fact that she made it on her own terms. One thing Pope wanted to do was work with friends, so she recruited close pals (and fellow country stars) Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell and RaeLynn for background vocals on “Distracted”; and also had Dan + Shay’s Shay Mooney add harmonies to “If My Heart Had a Heart.” Neither song officially credits featured artists, which Pope felt was important to keeping Stages more personal than commercial.

Another friend Pope includes on the album is the late Jason “Gavi” Gaviati, one of her earliest collaborators and closest friends who passed away from Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2015. Fans can hear Gaviati on the 90-second piano interlude “Gavi,” an actual recording Pope once received from the musician years ago. Pope -- who has a tattoo in honor of Gavi -- knew she wanted to include some sort of tribute on Stages, finding the perfect fit while scrolling through old voice memos from him.

“It was really crazy listening to [the piano recording], because it's sad, it's happy, it's hopeful; it has moments of darkness and moments of happiness,” Pope says. “That's what the record is, so I just felt like it really tied the album together.”

Another way Pope made Stages 100 percent personal was allowing herself to express anything she was feeling -- most prevalent in “FYI,” a warning to her ex’s new girlfriend that he’s still flirting with her (“Said if he kissed me that it wouldn't be cheatin'/ You can run with it, do with it what you like,” she sings on the chorus). The feisty song is the only track on Stages that has Pope concerned about sharing a little too much, but knew it was necessary.

“That one was just an emotion that I really needed to get off my chest, and I was proud of being able to write a song about it,” she admits. “I’m not super proud of that emotion, but it’s real, and if I just try to write songs that don’t offend anybody or push the boundary, I’m just sort of being safe. And I don’t want to be that kind of artist.”

Pope’s process for Stages helped her realize how far she’s come as a songwriter since starting out fronting pop-punk group Hey Monday (“I think [17 year old me] would be like, ‘Oh my God, I can write like that?’” she laughs). She also reached a sense of closure by translating her feelings into music, especially while recording “If My Heart Had a Heart” and “I’ve Been Good,” another breakup track. “I came into my own,” Pope declares. “I felt good, I loved myself, finally. I just knew myself, and it was a really powerful moment.”

Now that Stages is out, Pope is preparing to bring the songs to stages across North America when she joins Maren Morris for The Girl Tour in March, then headlines CMT’s Next Women of Country Tour in April and May. With new material and newfound confidence in tow, Pope is ready for whatever stages come her way next.

"I can slip into these emotions to sing these songs, but I can come out of it and be like, ‘Alright, let's go out tonight' – which is great, [because] I’m definitely not a good cry-singer,” she jokes. “I feel so in charge of my life and my emotions, and that feels really good.”