Artist Feature: Citizen Cope (Cape Cod Roots and Blues Festival)

The Cape Cod Roots and Blues Festival is scheduled to take place in Nauset Beach, Massachusetts this Saturday, September 14, 2019. The Festival, in its second year, is a celebration of all things family, music and community. CCRB is presented by G. Love & Special Sauce  – with band member Garrett Dutton (aka G. Love) leading the way as a native New Englander.

This year’s event will feature performances from G. Love & Special Sauce, Citizen Cope, Chadwick Stokes & the Pintos, Mihali, and Boston-based DJ Clearcola. For more information or to snag some tickets visit the official web site.

Earlier today, we had the pleasure of chatting with Clarence Greenwood  – who many of you may know as Citizen Cope. For those who might not be familiar with Citizen Cope (what’s wrong with you?!?) Greenwood is a singer, songwriter and producer who has been making beautiful, thoughtful music for decades. In March, Greenwood released his sixth studio album, “Heroin and Helicopters.” His music can be found in films, T.V. shows and he has performed or worked with a long list of musicians, including G. Love & Special Sauce – the connection that brings us to the Cape Cod Roots and Blues Festival coming up this weekend.

What do you feel is the biggest difference between Heroin and Helicopters and your earlier albums? Do you feel like the break between album releases contributed to that or was it more about the personal changes and events in between?

Greenwood explained that he doesn’t like to necessarily compare the albums or seem them as different in that sense. One tangible difference he did explain was that he feels like his voice shows up better in recordings than it has in the past. He went on to explain that “as an artist you feel the pulse of the world. It’s your perspective on the world, on the pulse of the world” that changes or without using the word change – results in the sound or feeling of the particular album.”

I think this answer is a good introduction into what felt like a pretty deep conversation and into Greenwood’s style. He doesn’t seem to be the type to look at things so simply as oh this is different from this. He tends, at least based on my impression, to take a more big picture or a more thoughtful look at things. Rather than saying what’s changed about his albums, he seemed to be looking at what’s changed or developed with himself.

Let’s shift a little, can you talk a bit about your relationship with Garret Dutton and how that led to playing at last year’s (the inaugural) Cape Cod Roots and Blues Festival?

“Garrett and I have grown close over the last 5 to 6 years. We did a festival in Mexico together, Slightly Stoopid’s festival Closer to the Sun. We hung out and wrote some stuff together and it developed from there. We actually first met on one of those band cruises.”

As far as that relationship leading to playing the festival, Greenwood explains that at some point he had wanted to put together his own festival. Garrett later approached him about CCRB – and he definitely wanted to support his friend and his vision for the festival. He went into a lot of detail here describing the thoughtful way the festival has been approached by his friend.

What was that experience like?

“Great. It was great for me. Great for me to see my friend doing something he wanted to do . . . it was not just about going out and making a lot of money – [this festival] was about building something in the community.”

From what I understand, CCRB is more of a vibey, local feeling – less corporate feeling festival?

Greenwood explains that “sometimes when festivals get so big they become events in themselves. There’s nothing wrong,” he says, with big festivals, but he likes the idea of this festival designed to “engage the people in the area” and says Garrett who has purchased a home in the area and lives there has a “committed approach” to this concept. “I hope the area sees he’s done that [built something for the community] and allow him to let it grow, in terms of what it can be not necessarily in terms of size.”

Greenwood explains that he “thinks evolution of festivals is being driven more into everyone having a great experience . . . people want to got out and be a part of a crowd. We need interaction in our human lives and that’s what we gravitate towards.”

Artists want people who come to the shows to have a spiritual experience, to be able to go to the bathroom [without a line], to get shade and have an environment conducive to enjoying the music. You want the people to have that experience.” He goes on to explain that there are definitely people who want or who choose to pay extra not to be jumped on and not to be part of moshing and mud – but that sometimes the laws and the pricing may act to limit the experience. He thinks there is “room for both” in the festival world and it sounds like CCRB is definitely a festival these guys are proud of.

Author note: The festival is promoted as a celebration of family, live music, community, and the natural environment of Cape Cod. I think that was a concept that without those words Greenwood really emphasized in our conversation. That he was proud and happy for what his friend had designed.

A lot of the songs on the record speak for themselves, one of the most intriguing to me was Caribbean Skies. Can you talk to us a little about what you were  feeling when you wrote it – I understand it was kind of maybe a late addition to the mix after a trip to Jamaica?

“It was.”

“It was kind of funny someone wanted a holiday song. Then I started writing the chords and getting it down and it turned into something else entirely. The theme . .. we are all in the same universe, breathing air, in the same solar system. Despite our differences, we do have a common ground and a common consciousness . . . and I am personally in search of finding that again. So that we can start enjoying. … and realizing that we are one despite our differences.”

I think what was intriguing about it to me is that the song actually has a very serious, deep theme despite having a light name . . . I like that

You know someone commented online about [the lyrics] saying that I needed a geography lesson” The point, he explains, is not geography – “it’s that the moonlight in say Taiwan is the same moon. The air we breath is recycled and the rain that comes down . . . We have moved away from seeing the universe as the powerful entity that created us. We have lost so much of the ancient knowledge and wisdom . . . the question is how much have we lost?”

He gave this answer while also talking about how we are all trying to live in this fight or flight existence – seemingly ignoring all that we share as people.

It sounds like whoever made that post about the lyric just completely missed the whole freaking point of the song . . .

“Now everyone’s a  critic, because we have the internet its easier to have some conflict than some unity. I’m not talking about just going out and praising everything” – he explains that when everything just gets praised that’s a problem too.

We are just conditioned to “judge each other, police each other . . . because of our own shortcomings. We all have those self doubts, those reservations. Our job is to realize we don’t have to act upon them and to learn from that.”

In playing festivals has there been or is there something from you record you are excited to see the crowd respond to?

“You know what’s kind of interesting . . . I wouldn’t consider myself as a lighting in a bottle type of artist. . . more of a slow burn. I have fans that support my music that are dedicated. Introducing that on some festival levels can sometimes be challenging. It can take a little while for my music” for people to appreciate and maybe understand the depth that might be my way of explaining what he was saying here. He went on to explain that he doesn’t generally consider himself a great festival act (I beg to differ and am looking forward to what will definitely be an amazing set) and that’s why he has concentrated on headlining other shows.

“Every festival has kind of a theme – whether it’s EDM or hip hop . . . the same as radio stations will only play one type of music. They’ve really started dividing music in order to advertise to people more effectively. You hear big artists talking about who they like, and they are naming people . . . dividing themselves.”

That’s an interesting point. After the DJ situation (see below) I don’t believe everything I read on the internet, but from what I was reading it looks like when you have been asked to name artists you like or who inspire you in the past the lists have been very broad thematically….

“My common denominator is the emotion and heart that the people put into their music. Be it Al Green, Kurt Cobain, Miles Davis, Dolly Parton . . . or just the songs, like Bob Marley or Lennon… Whatever genre . . .country, rap . . .  what can’t be explained . . . what it is about is what touches people’s emotions.”

Feel free to take this any way you want – funny, serious, off the beaten path . . . is there something you would like fans to know about you or your music that they may not know? We have spent a lot of time talking today – maybe an inarticulate way to describe it about kind of the problems with the world and the way things are, in some ways – so I don’t know if that’s an angle to explore?

“I think it is not really what’s wrong with the world . . . I like to look at what’s right. Some people see the music as dark, but any struggle or problem it’s a gift. Just be recognizing something like that it allows you to be aware. It is not supposed to be woe is the world it’s a gift. The power of the world can overcome any disadvantage or loss. What we lose – we lose for a reason and not to acknowledge that . . . the light follows the dark and the dark follows the light.”

I spent quite a bit of time listening to the music and it’s interesting to me that people see it as dark. I feel like it is realistic and thoughtful . . .not dark?

“People don’t know how to . . . they haven’t been taught to express emotions and we don’t really live in a country, a society where expressing emotions is encouraged unless its bashing someone or something.”

“I was reading a book about human nature, I think it was by Robert Greene, the Laws of Human Nature.”  Greenwood explained that though the book provides somethings he found contradictory – one line really stuck out to him: “People don’t want the truth they want the fantasy. Oh fuck, he thought, that’s why I never sold millions of records.” (we laugh). He goes on to explain that as far as music, that’s why people “like hearing about driving a fancy car, with a joint, and a beautiful woman. I get it but I think we all have our different strengths.”

That reminds me of something I heard somewhere that’s kind of similar. When people ask you how you are doing, they don’t really want the answer . . . they want you to say hey cool I’m doing great bye. They don’t want to hear well actually I am really struggling with x or y today.

Greenwood explains that sometimes things are great, but that he somewhat agrees. We don’t do a good job of really connecting – “I am trying to live in the moment, trying to reconnect with what my purpose is. People are too scared to take chances and just living in a shadow. If you don’t take chances you are setting yourself up for an amazing amount of failure. The people who take the chances, like Martin Luther King . . . that move things forward.

“I overheard someone say, people are almost phantoms behind their real thoughts. The people who actually make a lot of progress in the world are the ones who were not afraid to take chances.” He describes how in his view, there is always resistance to big changes – “there was resistance to giving up slaves, to changes in industry, to spiritual advancement to any kind of new path – it’s just that path of least resistance and the thought of oh well I will just do the easiest thing. That’s easy to do if you are a certain race or gender to make the easy choice because it [society] was set up for you. We end up not really holding accountable people who take advantage of that system.

We have lost sight of things, because of our individual needs and goals – we have everything we need within us. We have been hoodwinked to think we don’t. Meanwhile, we are sitting here worried about someone who didn’t inflate a foot ball enough, but we aren’t worried about having our data stolen, or companies getting our children addicted to opioids. We aren’t worried about how the system encourages or forces doctors into prescribing . . . or healthcare. These little worries are taking us away from the real challenges. These industries are so big they are hard to challenge.

Thank you for listening to my rambling. . . 

No. Thank you for your time. These are very cool thoughts – I pause and then say. That’s what we do right, we listen to something deep and then say oh that’s cool. So they are cool thoughts but what I really want to do is take it in and understand it and form a more thorough response – we should all work on that before giving a generic response. I am going to do my best to take this conversation we had and try and cover it in a way that honors its depth.

“It’s nothing unique, this is not just my individual thoughts its an ancient view that’s been interpreted the wrong way or translated to us the wrong way.”

“We can’t solve all the problems of the world, but we can live without worrying about tomorrow or yesterday. That’s a challenge for most people to just . . . its taken me years to get here and that only came after years of trying to do it the other way and it not working. Greenwood explains the importance of considering “ancient wisdom that rings true without being diverted by greed, religion, race and culture – not to allow the other stuff to cloud the vision.”

So I will conclude with three important things!

First, from everything we have heard, including from Citizen Cope himself, CCRB is a different kind of festival. One that focuses on the community and on a great fan experience – making people comfortable and providing an environment conducive to appreciating the music.

Second and most importantly: Thank you to Citizen Cope a.k.a. the very thought provoking Clarence Greenwood. We hope that we did this conversation justice. He really took quite a bit of time to talk with us and after something of a stilted start on my part I really felt like after that we had a real conversation, a dialogue. I try not to repeat the same praise over and over after interviews, but I have been surprised time and again by how willing to talk about their profound or poignant thoughts many of the artists have been.

Also – Wikipedia is wrong and needs to be changed. I am hereby making one particular change a mission.

In all seriousness though everyone, please check out the Cape Cod Roots and Blues Festival and Citizen Cope’s most recent album Heroin and Helicopters. More info on all of this can be found on his page here.

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