Learning to [Citizen] Cope

Citizen Cope, the pseudonym of frontman Clarence Greenwood and the name of his band, is currently on tour promoting his new album, Every Waking Moment. Lucky for us, his next stop is Mr. Small’s Theatre & Funhouse in Pittsburgh.

In case you missed his hit “Son’s Gonna Rise,” distributed as one of iTunes’ free singles, Citizen Cope is a guitarist, keyboardist, and DJ who seamlessly blends together the genres of folk, R&B, hip-hop, and rock. Now, as the fusion of genres is becoming more prevalent in mainstream culture, Citizen Cope’s cult following may grow into something bigger.

“Music was something coming out of a radio or off a record, something that made me feel these things I couldn’t explain. It was magical to me, and I thought it was something you had to be ordained with,” Cope wrote on his website (www.citizencope.com).

After the success of his second album, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, and the appearance of “Son’s Gonna Rise” in a Pontiac commercial, Cope, ordained or not, has been making quite a splash in the rock and R&B genres. His gift, according to his record label, is that “he takes snapshots of the world around him, and turns them into universal truths. He sets them to the simplest of melodies, and weds those in turn to the most soul-stirring grooves.”

This gift didn’t emerge during his elementary school trumpet-playing days, but was a little more evident when he, like every other rockstar wannabe, picked up the guitar during his teenage years. While much of his childhood was spent in Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi, the years during which he developed much of his musical style were spent in Washington, D.C. Spending his time in the heart of D.C.’s go-go scene allowed Cope to heavily incorporate go-go into his music.

“Go-go is D.C.’s homegrown funk, a conga-driven style where the slowed down beat is king,” Cope explained on his website.

Another unique quirk of his style is his oddly-tuned guitar, a product of first learning how to play on a guitar that was missing the E-string and had the B string tuned to a B flat.

Shuffled around from one label to another, Cope started out by signing with Capitol Records and followed with stints at Dreamworks and Arista before finally settling with RCA.

Despite having songs licensed for commercials and movie soundtracks, you’ve probably never heard Citizen Cope on a mainstream radio station. Ascribing the lack of airplay to his integration of many genres, Cope decided to “take his music to the people.” It sounds clichéd, but Cope is serious about his focus on touring.

Spending over 16 months on the road can be arduous, at the very least. “Out there for so long, it’s a lonely existence, even when you’re surrounded by people,” Cope said. “You’re away from the ones you love, and it can be unsettling.”

However, despite being practically ignored by mainstream radio and charts, he’s made an excellent impression on the artists he has had the opportunity to collaborate with. He has released at least two singles collaborating with guitarist Carlos Santana — one of them being “Son’s Gonna Rise” — and opened for Nelly Furtado while promoting his first album, Citizen Cope. Promoting The Clarence Greenwood Recordings took him on another adventure, opening for Robert Randolph and the Family Band.

Last.fm, a music recommendation site, suggests that those who like Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band might enjoy Cope’s blues/folk/rock as well. It also mentions that Cope was featured on the Easy Star All-Stars album Radiodread, which was a reggae, ska, and dub cover of Radiohead’s album OK Computer.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, Cope’s Thursday show is cancelled. Sorry kids, but the remaining Friday show is 21+ only. Opening for Cope will be Alice Smith, a rising artist who shares his penchant for genre-blending, but with pop and soul. Best of all, this blues-rock-tastic experience is only a 1F bus ride away.