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Q&A: Acoustic blues-rock recording artist Citizen Cope

Between plenty of long stints of touring, Brooklyn-based blues-rock artist Citizen Cope put together his first self-released album on his own new label, Rainwater Recordings. The State Press caught up with Clarence Greenwood, aka Citizen Cope, for a phone interview before the album was released.

State Press: Your new record, “The Rainwater LP,” is the first album you have released on its own record label, Rainwater Recordings. In your last newsletter on February 9, you expressed a lot of feelings of disappointment in the music industry. Let’s expand on that. Clarence Greenwood: It’s just a changing time. I think record companies are now more like holding companies. They kind of own content. They don’t have the capacity to market, develop or even protect the copyrights. If you’re an artist, you make a record and you sign it away forever. Sometimes you’re really young when you sign your first contract, and you learn a little bit. I made the decision just to put it out myself because I really see the value in it.

SP: How was your experience different on this album now that you and the band got to make the music the way you feel it was right? Was the recording process any different? CG: It wasn’t really different. I took the same approach as I’d always taken in making a record. I just did it like it was a major. I spent the same kind of money, I hired the same type of people and I just took my time with it. I was able to rely on [the] expertise of some people that I trust as far as playing for a few people and getting a few comments. It was pretty much the same thing, except I was paying for it.

SP: What’s unique about your style is that, as much as gaining popularity and recognition is important for an artist, Citizen Cope tends to let their music spread by word of mouth rather than doing a lot of advertising. That really says a lot about you as an artist. So why not ever go mainstream and put yourself out there a little more? CG: I don’t think you can pick mainstream. I think mainstream is a whole different thing. I’m an artist, not necessarily an entertainer, so I think it has the capacity to seep into people’s psyche a little slower than something that is going to hit you and be something of the moment. It’s weird…there are certain mainstream artists that get all the Grammys, but they can’t sell as many tickets as me in the US. It’s kind of a perception of what people like more so than anything else.

SP: Let’s talk about working with other people. You did a really interesting double interview with Kelly Slater in 2007 in which you interviewed each other. What was that like? CG: I was in Hawaii on vacation and it turned out that I was down there at the same time as Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu. It’s a big wave [competition]. It just so happens I was down there and there were some photographers and a writer down there from Surfing magazine. They asked us to do an interview together because I ended up watching part of it from where Kelly was and he was in Jack Johnson’s backyard. I had never met Jack or Kelly before, so it was kind of something that just happened. Those kinds of things happen in Hawaii.

SP: You also did an awesome collaboration with Carlos Santana on your song “Sideways.” I’ve read that you don’t do a lot of collaborations because you feel that unless you’re really feeling it and it’s perfect, you don’t want to make the music anything that you feel it shouldn’t be. How do you feel about doing collaborations in the future? CG: I think if the voices work together well and the song is good, [then] it’s all good. I don’t believe in it just for the sake of collaborating. If it means something, if it takes the song to a different place, I’m all for it. But I wouldn’t just put Lil’ Wayne on a song. I mean, I’d like to, but I wouldn’t put him on just because I could get him. There would have to be a place in the song for that.

SP: Let’s discuss some of the songwriting. Many of your songs are written in more of a storytelling style than in the format of a typical love song. Some of those stories sound like you’ve been through a hell of a lot of tough times. Are those songs that you write about true experiences of yours or of others that you know, or are they ideas that blossomed from your imagination? CG: I think songs are just deep in a subconscious … they’re emotions that people identify with. It’s hard to really say what the songs are about. I’m a writer and I have experienced a lot, but I don’t think that I’ve experienced any more tough times or joy or pain or whatever than anybody else. Maybe I’m able to put that emotion on a tape so people can identify with it. The reason I think people like your music is because [they think], “Oh man, I feel like that person.” They’ll hear a song and say, “I feel exactly like that” or “I identify with that lyric or that … something about the music.” There’s something within them that they see or hear. It’s just the ability to be able to put that down or express that.

SP: What’s the main driving message in “Let the Drummer Kick”? CG: Well, I did the music for “Drummer” first. I had that for a while. I had the beat and the piano and the organs. I didn’t have the lyrics. I think the driving force behind it is perseverance and the heartbeat of life … just the drum, the kick. The drummer kick can be an analogy for your heartbeat. You know, just continuing to live despite the obstacles that might come to you in life. It gives you a feeling of hope despite things that are difficult.

SP: Let’s touch upon some of your live work. You and your band really bring it. But it’s a different kind of show than most artists play because you guys play in more intimate settings. What’s your perspective from on the stage? What kinds of vibes do you guys get and how does that keep you guys going? CG: I guess just the music [keeps us going].

SP: Besides the lengthy tour that you just started, what’s next for Citizen Cope? Fans are eating up the new album already, but I think they already want more. CG: I think I’m not going to wait so long to do another album. I’ll probably do another record maybe within the next 16 months, hopefully.

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