Alistair Pope On Love, Loss & Overcoming (Exclusive Interview)

U.K. based song-master, Alistair Pope debuted his beautiful folk song titled “New York Times” via Spotify today. The song flows perfectly with acoustic guitars, a tasteful lead guitar riff, and soothing vocals that croon a story of love and loss, and traveling. The song showcases Pope’s ability to tell a story, especially a story that others can relate to. We were lucky enough to get to chat with Alistair to hear about this masterpiece of a song and his relationship with music. He bravely opened up to us and our readers about his personal story.

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RTP: What inspired the lyrics in this song? Can you share more of the story?

AP: New York Times is essentially a getting-over-a-marriage song. I was inspired to write it when the thought occurred to me that my life had changed so much in such a short time, and this fact was put into keen focus when viewed through the lens of my three visits to New York, which occurred three years in a row. I visited NY in 2014 with my wife and baby. It was a turbulent time in our 12-year marriage. In 2015 I visited again, this time as a single man, adjusting to a new life, painful feelings still raw, and exciting prospects ahead. I felt really bruised but also like I was popping back into shape, like a coke can becoming un-crushed, as I began to self-actualize as an autonomous, independent being. I had such great times on Bleecker Street at the Red Lion and the Bitter End, jamming with my good friend the piano player Richard Coulson. In 2016 I visited again with a girlfriend, and sometimes we hung out at Sunny’s in Red Hook, which is a great bar for intimate live music performances. I’d love to play there one day. I was excited to visit Café Wha? Where Hendrix was discovered by Chaz Chandler of the Animals, but it turned out to be far too commercial for my tastes; it was all about covers of pop songs for a drunken Saturday night crowd, whereas Sunny’s is so real and raw, and all about the music. Don’t go there; you’ll ruin it.

RTP: How long did it take for you to write this song?

AP: Once the idea struck me – I think I was listening to New York, New York by Ryan Adams at the time – I knew straight away that I would have three verses because of my three visits to NY. I picked up my guitar – a Seagull that I bought in New York from 30th Street Guitars during my last visit (good guys in there; they gave me a free T-shirt for my birthday) – and the melody, chords and first verse came to me straight away. Then every time I played guitar I would play that song, letting it grow a little each time. I added the chorus later. I re-drafted the lyrics four or five times, just changing words here and there to better focus the story. The song evolved over several months. I definitely took some cues from Jason Isbell’s lyric writing on songs such as Speed Trap Town; I aspire to be as excellent a lyricist as him one day. I’ll keep writing and trying until that happens!

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RTP: What are some of your personal struggles/emotions that fuel your music?

AP: I am very grateful now, and consider myself lucky in so many ways. However, battles with depression held me back time and time again over many years. Anxiety, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence affected my decision making process, so I think I said ‘no’ to a lot of opportunities that maybe deserved a ‘yes’. Work breeds work and nothing breeds nothing. I could have enjoyed my life a lot more than I did. Now I am happy to write openly about those struggles and those times, because in 2013 I started psychotherapy, fueled by the fear that my depression would negatively affect my daughter’s childhood, and also fueled by the fear that I would end up like my mother. Counseling changed my life so much for the better. In 2014 I discovered transcendental meditation, which has also changed my life dramatically. I am very lucky.

RTP: What’s your biggest dream for yourself? For your music?

AP: For myself I dream of being happy and healthy to a ripe old age, so I can be around to be the best father I can be for my daughter as she grows up and becomes an adult. For my music, this is my debut single from out of nowhere, so I would love to have some followers on Spotify so that I gain a sense that my song is being listened to and appreciated. In the future I’d love to do a living-room tour, and maybe one day sustain myself entirely from original music, though I am fully aware that this is a mammoth ambition.

RTP: Who are your greatest musical influences?

AP: If you’d asked me when I was a teenager I would have said Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer, etc. These days it is Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Father John Misty and Ezra Furman. I’ve always loved David Bowie, Elliott Smith, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and 1950s Chicago blues like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. I went to BB King’s Blues Bar in Memphis in 2015; his all-star band were great. Graceland was really interesting, but if you’re in Memphis you have to do the Sun Studios tour; it’s the best. I loved it so much I have framed a brown paper bag with their logo on it and hung it on my wall.

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RTP: What are your near-future plans for your music career?

AP: Right now I am back at school again, studying for a degree in songwriting, so I am busy writing a 7,500 word thesis on the psychology behind the unspoken social contract between the unsigned artist and the supportive fan. The course is over in May 2018, and I hope to release a new single every two or three months while slowly finding my audience one-by-one and supporting myself by continuing to teach guitar. If you’re ever in West London, come by and learn some modal scales and funk rhythms.

RTP: Is there any time you have felt that your music has been misunderstood and how do you explain yourself?

AP: I am new to the whole idea of ‘being an artist’ in the public sense and releasing material, and what I am already discovering is that everyone has their own wildly differing opinion about the same song, e.g. ‘I love/hate your voice’ or ‘I think this song is beautiful/boring.’ My own perspective as a music listener has changed so much over time, so I can see how people think what they think. For example, I used to find acoustic guitar singer-songwriter stuff really boring, but now I can’t get enough of it. How I deal with any negative criticism as an artist is the same way that I deal with life in general: by keeping in mind that the quickest way to be happy is to accept reality for what it is, and the surest way to be unhappy is to keep pining for your own fantasy to become real. So I really hope you enjoy my debut single New York Times, but if you don’t, that is reality and I will accept it with a happy heart, and come back with better songs for you to hear in the future.

RTP: We are so glad we got to hear from the songwriter himself, Alistair Pope, and really dive into the meaning of this song. We love the song so much and we hope that it will reach a large audience and this story of loss and overcoming can be quite hopeful and helpful to so many out there! Thank you for sharing your story Alistair!

Hear the incredible song here:

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