The throaty vocals of Clarence Greenwood offer the appropriate audio cure for just about any of life's miseries. Since the '90s, this Southern crooner has written emotional tales for the Americana soul under his Citizen Cope moniker.
Singing with his eyes closed through the start of the 21st Century, his relatable albums and modest style have attracted hundreds of thousands to the music. Greenwood powered through the cutthroat bigwig recording industry just to end up on the other side with his own independent label, Rainwater Recordings.
Today, he records albums on his own terms and performs around the country, visiting more than 40 cities with each tour. In advance of his upcoming show at Revolution Live, we spoke to Greenwood about his desire to work with D'Angelo, his growth as a human being, and his up-tempo time in the studio with the Mars Volta's drummer, Deantoni Parks, during the production of recent release One Lovely Day.
New Times: As a songwriter, who are some of your past and recent inspirations? Why do you think it's important to keep the folky storyteller types alive?
Citizen Cope: I don't think there's a lot of people writing in that sense, and it's just something that came naturally to me — the emotional connection I would get from someone like Bill Withers or Bob Marley or John Lennon. You have to commit spiritually and emotionally to the song. I was always kind of drawn by those artists. We're living in times where I think money has become something everyone is chasing around, like a carrot on a stick. We've lost touch of our purpose with all the technology and advances. We haven't made many advances toward human compassion or love toward each other. Those artists have proved their music speaks to people and gives value to life. It's important to kind of have a resting place.
You've worked with Eric Clapton, Santana, and Richie Havens. Are there any other greats on your wish list you'd like to collaborate with?
I'd like to work with Norah Jones and Dr. Dre... I'd love to do a song with D'Angelo.
The last time you visited South Florida, you were touring as a solo acoustic act. This time, you're heading back with the band. How do the performance experiences compare?
I just always liked performing solo because that's where a lot of the songs were written — on a guitar and just voice. As a producer, I always want to add more to the songs. You can rest a little easier with a band; you can put your guitar down for a second. But both of them serve different purposes. I think there's the rock show and the intimacy of an acoustic setting; they both show spark in a different light.
The subjects of your recent release, One Lovely Day, seem to get even deeper than those on some of your past albums. What inspired the writing process this time around?
I think you just grow as a human being and things are more important to you. Emotions that you have sometimes settle into different things. I wanted to evolve the songs I've written already. You've got to write certain songs to get to other songs — like a stream-to-a-river-type thing.
The song "Peace River" has some progressive elements, including a drum 'n' bass edge, plenty of percussion, and some throwback melodies. It's a standout track on the new album. What inspired you to shake things up for this one?
I've been doing similar tempos for a while. The concept of the song is somebody not being able to shake their past; it's a song about reconnecting. Deantoni [Parks] played the drums, and he kind of went with a double-time beat toward the end of the song and the outro, and then we sat with the song and doubled up the beat. He's like one of the top drummers in the world right now. He has his own passion; he can pretty much play with anyone. His vibe is his own.
This is the second release off your independent label, Rainwater Recordings. Can you tell us about some of the other musicians in the process of or interested in working with your label?
We recently worked with Alice Smith, but it's pretty much just a few of my projects, because I don't have proper funding, and it takes a lot to develop an artist. I can do it myself, because I have a history and fan base, but it's a long and arduous task. You have to find the right artist. It's hard for a lot of people to commit their life to something, especially now, when there's not a lot of investment for new artists, and no matter what anyone says, you need that.