The same week Ron Pope was set to release his latest album Bone Structure, a tornado ripped through his East Nashville neighborhood and caused devastation just a couple blocks north of his house. He spent most of the next two weeks climbing onto damaged roofs and hauling limbs to the curb instead of going through the usual album press and promotion maneuvers.
“Seeing real human suffering — people whose homes had giant holes in the roof or had a wall ripped off, people standing there in the rubble of where they were raising their kids — that made it pretty easy for me to put down my guitar and pick up a shovel,” Pope says, calling from home nearly two months later. “I wanted to go out and help my neighbors. I couldn’t do both.”
And then, just as the tornado recovery effort was taken over by skilled construction crews, the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone back into their homes. Pope was supposed to spend a portion of his spring on tour in Europe, where he has a sizable following, but has instead spent the time being a stay-at-home dad for his two-year-old daughter Frankie, while his wife and business partner Blair has been leaving the house to oversee operations of their independent record label, Brooklyn Basement.
“I felt very connected to the community — we’re all working together trying to fix what we could in our neighborhood,” he says. “And we were all immediately pulled apart and separated. That was incredibly striking because it went from the most connected I had ever felt in the community to then being where you can’t get within six feet of anybody.”
Needless to say, none of this was great from a business perspective. Pope had begun work on Bone Structure in 2018 after the birth of his daughter and composed every song as something he wanted to say to her, in case something terrible happened to him and he wasn’t around to take care of her. But in the tall shadows cast by the storm and the pandemic, it was difficult for it to remain visible — Pope’s longtime fans did their best to spread the word, but these unforeseen events disrupted months of careful planning for the album’s launch.
“Certainly I believe we’re going to go back to playing shows, but I don’t know when and anybody that tells you they do is full of shit.”
“We plan everything so far in advance — we knew this album was going to come out in March [by] July of last year,” he says. “It’s really challenging to not know. Anybody that has tour dates on sale right now, they don’t know that they’re going to be able to play those shows. Nobody knows what’s happening in terms of when live music is going to come back. Certainly I believe we’re going to go back to playing shows, but I don’t know when and anybody that tells you they do is full of shit.”
Pope embraced the move to livestreaming early, creating his series “Live and in Sweatpants” as a casual, at-home answer to not being able to get out and perform. Episodes air Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. CT and whenever else Pope can manage — “Some days I have to do laundry and I’m preparing dinner and my daughter destroys the house in an especially ridiculous amount,” he says. Shows are free but guests also have the option to “buy” tickets via Paypal or Venmo along with Pope’s music and merchandise.
“I’m just pointing my phone at me and I’m just sitting in my living room singing people some songs,” Pope says. “At first I just thought this is a way for me to make people feel more at ease — to help them, to engage them. I thought it would be a nice gesture, but for me, it felt really good. It felt normal.”
To keep things from feeling stale, Pope took requests from fans and played songs from across his entire catalog — which stretches back to the mid-2000s — as well as covers.
“There was a period, I think the first six shows, I didn’t play a single repeated song,” Pope says.
A few of those songs had fallen out of his regular live repertoire and he had to effectively go and re-learn how to play them.
“People were requesting songs that I didn’t even know what they sounded like anymore,” Pope says. “I called one of my friends who used to play in the touring band, like, ‘Hey, do you have the chords to this? I can’t figure it out.’ I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to play one of my songs, no kidding.”
“Live and in Sweatpants” is at its core about engaging Pope’s audience and giving him an opportunity to do his regular job, but there’s a secondary effect of providing a little bit of calm and joy to a chaotic, scary moment in history. Even doing things like cooking at home and listening to music — Pope singles out Lilly Hiatt’s new album Walking Proof as a recent favorite — can do something to combat the daily terror.
“At a time when the President of the United States is suggesting that perhaps human beings put disinfectant into their bodies, I needed Lilly Hiatt,” he says.
Of course, his livestream performances also include plenty of the new songs from Bone Structure, which is “really getting to its feet now,” according to Pope. The album ranges from earnest piano ballads to fiery funk-rock jams, but its emotional centerpiece is “My Wildest Dreams” — a solo acoustic number that traces Pope’s journey from childhood to having a child of his own. His feelings about the song have only deepened in the last two months as he’s been with his daughter constantly.
“During the day, I’m her only playmate. I’m the only person supervising her, so we’re doing everything together. It’s exhausting, it’s exciting, it’s frustrating, it’s rewarding,” he says.
“I had these ideas about her and then she was born and turned out to be a person and not an idea,” he adds, describing his writing process for “My Wildest Dreams.” “She became more nuanced and complex. And every day that I’m home with her, I’m learning more and more about her.”
Pope’s daughter also inspired the recurring Instagram series “Frankie’s Test Kitchen,” in which the singer invites fans into his home as he preps dinner for the family. It’s another intimate, unrehearsed look into his world — something calming and compelling for wandering attention spans. While most everyone is stranded at home, it all feels necessary and welcome.
“They’ve already finished Tiger King so they need me now. There’s only so many episodes of The Office,” he says. “And when you get to the end, they’re like, ‘What do I do now?’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’m gonna teach you how to make meatballs, here’s a picture of a baby, and I’m gonna sing a Carole King song. You’re welcome!'”