Citizen Cope hopes to share harmony and respect with Vilar Center Residency
Special to the Daily
Citizen Cope’s emotionally resonant, urban-folk music is especially poignant these days. His latest release, “Heroin & Helicopters,” reflects what unites American culture, rather than what polarizes and divides it.
“I think we’re all on a mission to find some inner peace,” Citizen Cope, aka Clarence Greenwood, said. “We’re all going towards this collective consciousness, and even though it’s dark right now, I believe we’re going to reach that place together. Peace and harmony and understanding: That’s how you combat the darkness, and that’s what this record is all about.”
Citizen Cope plays at the Vilar Performing Arts Center’s Residency series this weekend. Up to 100 tickets are available for each show, which take place on Thursday, March 4, Friday, March 5 and Saturday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m.
The new album draws on influences ranging from The Beatles to Bill Withers, Chuck Brown and Randy Newman. It explores personal journeys we take to embrace our full selves — flaws and all.
Since his self-titled debut in 2002, Citizen Cope has trusted his gut and followed his muse. His path to success has been a slow, steady word-of-mouth burn, rather than a flash in the pan. His single “Let the Drummer Kick” went platinum without commercial radio support, and The Washington Post ended up calling him “DC’s finest export since Marvin Gaye.”
Mainstream media largely ignored his 2004 release, “The Clarence Greenwood Recordings,” but grassroots support led to over 700,000 sales and landed his tracks in film and television, including “Entourage,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Alpha Dog.” Eventually, artists like Carlos Santana, Sheryl Crow, Richie Havens and Eric Clapton covered his tunes.
Cope avoids cookie-cutter genres, explaining that different American cultures, from Memphis and Texas to DC and Brooklyn, have influenced both his music and his life. He grew up listening to everything from Dr. Dre and Bob Marley to Willie Nelson and John Lennon.
In 2011, he stepped away from touring and recording to spend time with his daughter. During that period, he dealt with the death of his estranged father, who had been physically abusive before abandoning the family. He learned to forgive his father and love himself more — a deep self-reflection that informs “Heroin & Helicopters.”
The album’s title comes from a warning Santana gave Cope one night, backstage at The Fillmore to stay away from the two H’s: heroin and helicopters, which have led to so many musicians’ deaths. The message resonated with Cope, who views culture as fixated on self-improvement shortcuts, mass production instead of quality and greed over empathy.
“We’re living in an addicted society, and not just addicted to drugs or alcohol or substances. We’re addicted to conflict and fame and social media,” he said. “We’re addicted to getting what we want without working for it, without paying the price.”
So Cope uses his music to look inward and outward, recognizing the role he also plays in perpetuating the same social constructs he wants to overcome. His music is intimate, spiritual even — it’s sometimes akin to overhearing a melodic prayer that pushes boundaries and asks uncomfortable questions, like what it means to be human.
“My music has always been built around consciousness,” he said. “Essentially, I’m trying to connect an emotion and lyrics and wrap them up in heavy drums. The music isn’t hip hop; it isn’t reggae; it isn’t pop and it isn’t rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t necessarily have a home genre-wise, but it lives in all of those places. It pays respect to all those places.”
And respect is what it ultimately comes down to for Cope: respect for self, others, personal growth and intimate connection through song.
What: Citizen Cope
When: Thursday, March 4, Friday, March 5 and Saturday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center
Cost: $90 general admission
More information: http://www.vilarpac.org