'Voice' Winner Cassadee Pope Talks Debut Album, Life After Television: 'It's Harder'
The 24-year-old transitions from pop-rock to country, with help from mentor Blake Shelton, and THR exclusively debuts her new song: "This Car."
Cassadee Pope first traded her Converse sneakers for Cowboy boots when she decided to audition for The Voice. Now, it seems the 24-year-old season three winner has permanently hung up her rock laces as she releases her debut country album, Frame By Frame, out Oct. 8.
The Blake Shelton mentee is also becoming a familiar face in Nashville, but Warped Tour enthusiasts likely recognize Pope as the lead singer of the pop-rock band Hey Monday, which split in 2011 so that Pope could pursue a solo career. Over a three-year span, the band had released one studio album (2008's Hold on Tight, via Pete Wentz's Columbia imprint Decaydance), three EPs and toured with the likes of Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, Yellowcard and We The Kings. While the band has frequently stated that they're "on a hiatus," not broken up, Pope says she doesn't anticipate a reunion anytime soon.
"I'm not gonna say never, but I don't see me going back with Hey Monday for a long time," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I've barely scratched the surface as a solo artist."
When Pope auditioned for The Voice with "Torn," she had her pick of coaches. Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Shelton all turned their chairs for her -- but Pope clearly had an eye on country. She chose Shelton.
"He has a lot of faith in his artists," Pope says of her mentor. "That's not to say the other coaches aren't good at what they do… but he's good at letting his artists have their own vision and he trust them. He never pushed me to do a song that I didn't like or didn't want to do." Among the artists Pope covered during her time on the show: Gavin DeGraw, Maroon 5, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow and Faith Hill.
Pope became Shelton's second of three victors, wedged between season two's Jermaine Paul and season four's Danielle Bradbery. Now in its fifth season, Pope jokes that The Voice may need to change its title.
"If he wins again, they will have to call it The Blake instead of The Voice," she says with a laugh. (The only coach to have had a contestant beat Team Shelton is Levine, who mentored Javier Colon during the show's first season.) And while the Emmy-winning NBC series has achieved monumental success in the realm of reality TV, it has been widely criticized for failing to produce a viable music star. Pope hopes to change that.
"I think it has a lot to do with the work you do after the show," she says of her predecessors' lack of commercial success. "I think some people might have a skewed vision of what life is like after you win The Voice and they might think it's more of an easy road, but I found that it's harder. People want you to exceed their expectations even after seeing you on a TV show. They want you to be better than on the show and if you're not, they don't care about you.
"I'm not sure why it's been a challenge with the past artists, but I'm sure there's a lot of factors, things that maybe the label figured out after the first few people," she concedes. "I'm also the first person to sign with Republic Nashville, so I'm on a good team!"
Pope's position as a country crossover, and her proximity to perpetual troublemaker Shelton, puts her right in the middle of a highly publicized civil war currently brewing in Music City. While Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift are among the performers putting modern twists on the classic genre, artists including Zac Brown and Kacey Musgraves have expressed their disdain for the new, more rock-friendly sound coming from their colleagues.
Earlier this year, Shelton added fuel to the fire by saying: “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”
Musgraves, meanwhile, told American Songwriter that she's unhappy with the direction country music is taking.
"I love country,” she said. “Do I love what it’s turned into? No, not all the way. It’s a little embarrassing when people outside of the genre ask what I sing and I say country. You automatically get a negative response, a cheese factor… My favorite compliment ever is when someone says, ‘I hate country music but I love your music.’”
Pope's response? "I think it's silly that it's a debate."
The "Wasting All These Tears" singer says that all genres have to change with the times to stay relevant.
"I feel like country music has done that so well through the years -- gone with the times, but stayed authentic," she says. "Country music has evolved since it began, quite a lot actually, so this isn't the first time that change has happened. Country music continues to be the biggest and most relevant genre because it is good at juggling both [sides of the argument]."
In the months following her Dec. 18 Voice coronation, Pope has hit the road visiting radio stations and talk shows across the country, building buzz for her debut single, "Tears," and making appearances at the CMT Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Grammys party circuit.
"The first two months were the most grueling," Pope confesses. "It was worth it, and I think it got people to believe in what I'm doing and got to know me a little bit better -- knowing that this is an authentic thing that I'm doing." Her whirlwind year was documented on film and will be shown to the word in the CMT docu-series Cassadee Pope: Frame by Frame, debuting Friday, Oct. 4, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Frame By Frame, the album, hits shelves just days later.
Pope co-wrote five of the Republic Nashville release's 11 tracks, plus both bonus songs featured on the Target deluxe edition. Among the more personal cuts is "This Car," which the singer describes as a "blast from the past" and THR exclusively debuts here.
"I wanted to go back to when I had my first boyfriend and we were driving around in his car all the time," she says. "We had a lot of experiences in that car: our first kiss, our first argument, getting pulled over by the cops, getting stuck in the rain. I looked at it like the car was a church or a temple, someplace where you figure out a lot about yourself."
Pope confesses that she and the car's owner no longer keep in touch, but that she "had a lot of heartbreak and a lot of love with him."
"This Car" is co-written by Pope, David Hodges and Gordie Sampson, and produced by Dann Huff.