Cassadee Pope is living in a full circle moment. This December marks 10 years since her departure from pop-punk band Hey Monday, and her new song “What the Stars See,” featuring Karen Fairchild and Lindsay Ell, unexpectedly swerves back to those early pop-punk roots. With lyrics firmly planted in country music storytelling, electric guitars and production rumble with early aughts emo angst.
Are we really over / ‘Cause I’m a couple glasses in / Can’t help but want a little bit of closure, sings Pope over a wistful melody. Are you waiting by the phone / Are you out are you at home / ‘Cause I can’t stop picturing / What you may or may not be doin’.
The song, her first piece of new music since last year’s Rise and Shine, bursts with the kind of deep yearning that arises in the aftermath of a breakup. “I was at the house looking up at the stars on our deck. It made me think of every ex I’ve ever had, honestly,” Pope tells American Songwriter with a laugh. “Every breakup, even if they sucked and did something terrible to you, you’re still wondering if they’re upset or if they’ve moved on. The stars see the most intimate moments, like when someone’s crying in their closet or someone’s making out with somebody at the bar the day after a breakup. The stars see all of it.”
“What the Stars See,” co-produced by Nick Wheeler (of All-American Rejects) and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, bridges the gap between musical styles in a way that feels fresh and invigorating. “Karen has always been such a mentor for me. I remember meeting up with her when I purged my team a few years ago. I wanted her advice on managers. She’s always been so forthcoming with her advice and wisdom. She’s just a huge advocate for women in the format. I’ve always felt so embraced and welcomed by her.”
Pope asked if she would be involved and was met with a resounding, “Yes!”
Wheeler’s involvement is a bit serendipitous. In her Hey Monday days, Pope frequently toured with All-American Rejects, particularly on a 2009 run across Australia and New Zealand. 10 years later, during a 2019 Hey Monday reunion show, in which Wheeler stormed the stage to perform several songs with Pope, it seemed the stars were trying to tell her something. “I was singing songs I wrote when I was 18 or 19. I knew those songs weren’t exactly the things I would still do now, but there was a feeling I got with the energy and angst I realized I missed.
“I’d known Nick for a long time, but you can tour with somebody and literally never speak to them. I knew he was in town and asked him to come to show. We hit it off, and he’s amazing. Then, the pandemic hit. I was talking to the publisher about the direction I wanted to go.”
With her publisher’s recommendation, Pope reconnected with Wheeler to write a few songs. “I wrote with him a few times, and I was getting the demos back─and they sounded like finished masters. I didn’t know he could produce like this.”
By all accounts, it was a natural collaboration. Quite the guitar-slinger, Lindsay Ell’s inclusion came about when Fairchild observed the song felt like a “collaboration song,” Pope remembers. “We were sitting in Nick’s studio listening to a bunch of the demos. We knew this song would be one we would end up using for the project. It feels so empowering and vulnerable.”
While not explicitly a female empowerment anthem, it just made sense to get three women to record it. “This is such a guitar song. There’s so many guitar moments. I immediately thought of Lindsay. She’s one of my best friends. Lindsay and Karen mean so much to me as humans. I listen back to this song and get emotional. I’m so proud of it. It’s been such a healing feeling for me to tap into finding my lane with all the things that make me happy and have shaped me. Pop-punk and country are as equally influential to me.”
Pope resets her life and her art with such genre-melting, and her songwriting approach has benefited most. “Going into any session with the intention of writing a specific song with a specific sound, that’s been key. Sometimes, going into a session with no idea where you want to head can turn into something amazing, too. I went into every session very focused on what a song needed to sound like.”
“What the Stars See” serves “a really good bridge between what I had been doing and where I’m headed,” Pope says. “Then, people are going to be introduced to the heavier side of that─the more rock side. Then, there’s going to be songs that lean more towards the country side.”
Coming off a very reflective 2020, the singer-songwriter finds herself finally confronting things from her past and working through some of her pain. “I was a victim in some ways, and I’ve learned to embrace and talk about it. We talk ourselves out of being able to grieve things. I wanted this music to be completely owning the fact people have wronged me. I had times where I was definitely taken advantage of.”
Songs about healing mingle with those celebrating new-found romance and how she’s learned to let herself fall in love again. “A lot of the songs I wrote last year dive into the painful things I’ve been through. It was very therapeutic and confronting those things helped me accept them and move on.”
Throughout her solo career, from her first-ever Top 10 Hit “Wasting All These Tears” to three studio records, including the underrated Stages (2019), Pope has always commanded attention. But “What the Stars See” feels different. She owns the space, bringing together contrasting musical styles to redefine the artist and woman she wants to be moving forward.
Pope takes a breath before gazing back through the decade that separates her then and her now. “It’s one of those things where it feels like yesterday, but then it also feels like 1,000 years ago. I was such a different person. I was a kid. That decision to leave the band was really hard and painful. I felt like we were at the point where we hit a ceiling, and I needed to step away to really scratch itch” and find that creative outlet to “feed my soul. I will always be grateful for Hey Monday and those experiences.
“Starting to tour in the country realm right off The Voice, I was automatically comfortable. We toured like six months out of the year straight,” she continues. “Country tours are like every weekend. I thought, ‘Gosh, this is easy.’
“I’ve had so many different things I’ve believed in as a songwriter. I used to try to make things relatable for everyone so everyone could sing along. Now, I’m at the point where I feel I want to sing these songs for the rest of my life and be proud. The very specific experiences I’m singing about, chances are I’m not the only one who’s gone through them. My mantra now is: be extremely specific and personal. The more specific and personal you get, the more healing you get.”