“People from my school went on to colleges and the 9 to 5 life but it wasn’t for me,” says Citizen Cope, a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood. “In America, if you don’t follow that path, you either have to start a business, break the law, or be a self-sustaining artist. All are more time consuming and stressful than having a traditional 9 to 5.” We asked the artist and producer about his new album One Lovely Day, his approach to songwriting and more.
How would you describe your style of music?
You have to listen to it. I once heard Quincy Jones say, “You can’t talk about music. You have to hear it.” I subscribe to that.
Your songs have been covered by Carlos Santana, Dido and Richie Havens. Which was your favorite cover, and why?
Anytime someone covers your song it’s really cool to hear the interpretation that they come up with. I recently heard a cover of my song “Lifeline” from a Toronto-based artist that I thought was compelling. Richie Havens, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana are ambassadors for peace and love. You have to have respect for those who have made it in this shady business.
What’s it like to play shows solo acoustic as opposed to with a band?
The solo shows are intimate and come reveal the soul and the depths of where the songs were written. The full-band performances represent the recordings.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
It started out with poetry. It was something that felt was pretty powerful and that was coming from a deeper place than the conscious mind. It started with spoken word, and that developed singing-melodies. When I incorporated playing the guitar and singing from within, I started feeling the goose bumps that you get when you know something is true. It was a release. Powerful, and it came pretty early. It was a foundation that could be built upon.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
I wrote some spoken word and did some recordings, but my breakout period was when I wrote some songs living in DC. I wrote “200,000 (In Counterfeit 50 Dollar Bills),” “Shotguns” and “Officer Friendly.” “Shotguns” and “Officer Friendly” were never released but I recorded them for a record that never came out when I signed with Capitol Records. When I wrote and finally recorded “If There’s Love”, there was a calming feeling of “I could be doing this for a long time.”
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
There are a few works in progress.
How do you go about writing songs?
Try to find some solitude. Get a routine, ideally. It’s not as easy on the road.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Randy Newman, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, and 2Pac.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Life, joy, pain, after-life, the unknown, the past, the present, the future. But mostly to give some love; maybe give to others as music has so wonderfully given to me. It was also out of circumstance. I was not a good student or test taker. The education system in DC was very poor, one of the worst in the country. People from my school went on to colleges and the 9 to 5 life but it wasn’t for me. In America, if you don’t follow that path, you either have to start a business, break the law, or be a self-sustaining artist. All are more time consuming and stressful than having a traditional 9 to 5.
What’s a song on your album you’re particularly proud of and why?
I think the production on “Something to Believe In” is good.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is….
Waiting for a missing line or word to show up when you have most of the song.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Willie Nelson, Shelby Lynne, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Thom Yorke, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Andre 3000, and D’Angelo.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Marc Anthony Thompson aka Chocolate Genius. He really goes to a place most writers are scared to approach. But it’s the stuff I love. I recently heard a song called “Memories and Birds” by a North Carolina songwriter named Kenny Roby that floored me.
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
Too many to name, but “Wonderful World,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Imagine,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “What’s Goin On”, “Lucille,” “Many Rivers to Cross.”