There are undeniably two different sides to Cassadee Pope — the half that grew up on country idols like Shania Twain and Garth Brooks on the Florida coast, and the half that head-bangs at a Fall Out Boy concert. Both sides can be heard loud and clear on her new single “I Am Invincible,” premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country (listen below). More commanding than anything The Voice winner has ever released as a solo artist, it lets her vocals run loose on the Paramore-meets-Carrie Underwood power ballad — and leaves the twanging to the mandolins. Two sides, for sure: but two halves also make a whole, according to Pope.
“That’s a huge part of who I am,” the singer tells Rolling Stone Country about her rock & roll influences and soft spot for bands like Blink-182 and All Time Low. “I grew up singing country music, that’s a huge part of who I am, too, but I’ve always had that rock edge. And I don’t want to ever neglect that, because it wouldn’t be authentic to me. So this song feels really empowering and inspirational.”
Indeed, “I Am Invincible” follows in the footsteps of other motivational pop anthems of late: Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” except with pants on (Pope’s currently in Las Vegas, where she’s currently “staying out of trouble” — i.e. no Perry-style “Waking Up in Vegas” antics). Written by Brett Boyett and Nash Overstreet, the song struck a chord with Pope, who had been feeling burnt by the process of writing for her next record, heading into sessions daily but internalizing the nagging pressure of having to craft a hit.
“There were a few times this year when I was just writing, and writing, and writing, and I didn’t feel like I was writing the right songs,” she says. “I can’t rush the process, and I can’t be upset I’m not writing a hit in every session. It’s all part of my growth.”
“I am Invincible” also came to have particularly poignant resonance for Pope in the era of “Tomatogate” — radio consultant Keith Hill’s remarks that females were the tomato garnish on the lettuce of their male colleagues. She even opens the track with a steadfast, spoken dedication: “for my girls, the fighters, the warriors.”
“It came at the perfect time,” Pope says, “because I was feeling so empowered, especially around a time when females were finally getting a little more recognition in country music. . . Kelsea [Ballerini] is so great, and Kacey [Musgraves] too. Everybody is making moves and it’s the perfect time to prove [Hill] wrong.”
Pope’s already had her own breakthrough moments. Her debut solo single, “Wasting All Those Tears,” hit platinum status, and she took the crown on The Voice after leaving behind a successful angsty teen alterna-pop band, Hey Monday. But still, she approached Hill’s comments with a complicated set of emotions. On one hand, they infuriated her, but on the other, she had no choice but to agree. If you turn on the radio at any given moment, you’re much more likely to hear her onetime Voice mentor Blake Shelton than Musgraves — though Ballerini did recently break the mold with a Number One single.
“When [Hill] said that, I was offended,” Pope says, “but didn’t think, ‘That’s not true.’ Because it is true. Though I didn’t see it as much of a negative as some people did. It opened up the conversation a little more, and radio has done their best to make changes. I’m hoping that continues.”
She’s willing to bet that by 2016, the tides will have turned completely — which just so happens to be when her next album is due. She’s currently in the demoing and songwriting process, having compiled “enough songs for three albums,” and working with such varied names as Sarah Buxton, Nathan Chapman, Kip Moore and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley. Though one might expect her partnership with the Springsteen-loving Moore to appeal to their mutual thrash-guitar roots, they surprisingly came up with something a little softer.
“We got together and wrote this really sweet love song, a duet,” she says. “I was not expecting that to come out of him. So it was a really unexpected writing session, but it came out really great.” Since Pope hasn’t yet selected the songs for her next LP, details are scarce, but she does divulge that everything will strike the same balance as “I Am Invincible,” melding rock with country touches and its storytelling approach.
“I’ve done a lot of experimenting,” she says. “I’ve gone super-country, and a little more Shania pop-rock. And I want to stick with the empowerment [theme], because that can be something people turn to me for, and I love that direction.” Appropriately, she’ll perform “I Am Invincible” at this weekend’s Special Olympics opening ceremonies in Los Angeles.
Pope’s move to Nashville this past December has made the process of writing and developing those inspirational anthems all the more simple. Snagging an apartment downtown, she’s been taking advantage of the city’s live music scene and impromptu jams.
“I didn’t realize how many shows or little acoustic things are happening every night; it’s like heaven,” she says. “I get to go see my friends play all the time.”
As much as she loves the country songwriting scene, she also recently indulged her past a little, with a visit to the Fall Out Boy show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena (not only is she a fan, but they were also onetime tourmates of Hey Monday). “That kind of music still has a special place in my heart,” she says. “I felt like I was a kid again. I still enjoy that kind of music, and that will never change. But it’s a different story doing it. I’m in a different mind frame now than when I was 18 years old. I was definitely more dramatic, definitely more emo.”
More country, less emo, but she’ll still spin fellow Floridians and kings of the acoustic bummer strummer, Dashboard Confessional, from time to time. “Every once in a while I’ll go back and listen, and it’s fun,” she says. “Helps me remember where I came from.”