Ron Pope’s path to his next album Bone Structure, coming in 2020, was diverted in perhaps the most dramatic way imaginable.
Pope had initially planned on making a fun record to follow up 2018’s Work. While on tour at the beginning of this year, however, his car and driver were attacked by a pair of masked men while Pope, his wife and their baby daughter were settling into where they were staying.
“It was this really terrifying experience,” Pope tells Billboard. “I’ve never been afraid in that way before. Before you have children, the prospect of losing your own life is very scary. But the prospect of someone hurting your children is unthinkable. The whole thing was overwhelming.”
The incident also shook Pope into a new musical direction for the album. “I started to consider the notion that if something were to happen to me, if I were to die, at this point my daughter [now 18-months-old] wouldn’t know me,” he explains. “I started thinking about what it would look like if I made a record of songs where I was either speaking directly to her and talking about my experience of being her father thus far, or telling stories of my own life that have some kind of moral. I thought that might be of use to her, to share these things that I would have at some point, but do it now.
“I didn’t mean this to be maudlin. There’s certainly oomph and energy in these recordings, and some of them are joyous. It’s not all a darkness or sad whispers from beyond the grave kind of thing. I just wanted to leave some breadcrumbs for her if, God forbid, something terrible did happen.”
In doing that, however, Pope allowed himself to dig into aspects of his life that he’d left unexplored, at least in his songs, to this point. “There were a lot of things in my own life that I tried not to point my focus towards as a songwriter because some of it is uncomfortable,” he says. “Like, my parents and I have a very positive relationship at this juncture in my life, so focusing on the places in my childhood where, for better or worse, they came up short, that always felt unnecessary to me. But in trying to explain myself to my daughter, I thought it was reasonable to tell her everything and not hold anything back. I wanted to tell her the whole truth.”
The song “Wait and See,” whose video for the track is premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Oct. 24), addresses the perpetual question children are asked about what they want to be when they grow up. “The idea we give our kids is there’s some straight line ahead of you, but life’s not usually like that, and there are a lot of twists and turns along the way you don’t foresee,” Pope notes. The video, conceived his wife and manager Blair Clark, depicts a young Pope exploring several interests — including baseball, which he played at Rutgers University — while the current Pope hovers like a kind of ghost, or at least specter, of life future until the two meet face to face on a street.
“The thing it’s saying is it would be nice if adults told children, ‘It’s OK if you don’t walk a straight line from here to where you’re headed,'” Pope explains. “It’s sort of a reflection of me as an adult in the same room with me as a child, an assurance to that child that it’s OK if you don’t know where you’re going and it’s OK if you’re afraid, ’cause eventually you’ll find your way. And it’s OK if it doesn’t happen all at once. I think that’s something I need to hear all the time — even now.”
Pope, who hits the road again in January, has been releasing songs from Bone Structure since September and has already put out “Take the Edge Off” and “Practice What I Preach” in addition to “Wait and See.” The 14-track album is due out in March and he plans to keep the flow of material going until then.
“What I wanted to do is give a little taste of the different sorts of things that happen on the album,” Pope says. “Because it’s something different for me, I want people to have a chance to live with it and understand what I’m doing and get on board. There’s plenty there, so I hope what we put out early will get everybody curious and interested in what else is there.”
The video for Pope’s “Wait and See” is below.