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Q & A with Ross Copperman
The 2001 Glenvar High grad talks about co-writing hits in Nashville and working with some of music’s biggest names.
William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
Ross Copperman, a 2001 Glenvar High School graduate, is working on songwriting and production in Nashville, Tenn.
Country superstar Kenny Chesney performs in Arlington, Texas, in November 2012. “Pirate Flag,” Chesney’s new single, was co-written by Ross Copperman and country music veteran David Lee Murphy.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
When last The Roanoke Times visited singer/songwriter/producer Ross Copperman, it was 2006.
The Glenvar High School and James Madison University graduate had signed a record deal with Phonogenic, a branch of Sony BMG Entertainment in the United Kingdom. He was writing and recording what would be his only record for that label, “Welcome To Reality.”
The disc came out overseas in May 2007. While the reality wasn’t exactly grim — two songs, “As I Choke” and “All She Wrote,” did relatively well in England — his career failed to take off, and the hoped-for run of hits in the United States never materialized.
But Copperman is no quitter.
“I work 24 hours a day, [seven] days a week,” he wrote in a recent e mail exchange.
These days, the 30-year-old is doing his work in Nashville, Tenn., where he has turned his attention solely to songwriting and production. And you don’t have to search much to hear his work.
He has produced several songs, along with music industry/soundtrack heavyweight T Bone Burnett , for the ABC network’s “Nashville.” And he co-wrote Kenny Chesney’s new single, “Pirate Flag,” with Music City veteran David Lee Murphy.
“Pirate Flag” is the No. 19 country single in its third week on the chart, according to Billboard.biz.
Copperman, a pianist who started writing songs when he was at JMU, has also co-written “Tip It On Back,” a Dierks Bentley number. Bentley opened his Jan. 19 show in Roanoke with that one, which has hung around the country top 20 for several weeks. It was No. 18 last week.
Copperman had previously written songs for Thompson Square and Steve Holy, among other country performers.
But with his television production work, Copperman found himself a bit star-struck.
He wrote that he got to work with “Nashville” stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere at his studio.
“I’m a huge ‘Friday Night Lights’ fan, so I had to restrain myself from calling Connie ‘Tami Taylor’ [her character on ‘Friday Night Lights’] several times, although I slipped up a few times in the studio.”
In this e mail Q&A, we discuss the change in his career track, how he adapted to writing country songs, what he learned from Burnett, and about his musical influences growing up in the Roanoke County school system.
Q: When you moved to Nashville, did you have songwriting and producing in mind?
I’ve always had songwriting and producing in mind. Production has always been my passion. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and hope to continue doing this for a long time.
Q: What was your thought process about moving to Nashville?
My move to Nashville came from my love of songwriting. I always remember hearing about Tommy Lee James, a fellow Roanoke native, and how he was a big hit country songwriter in Nashville.
That also inspired me to make the move as well as my love for country music.
Q: What have you found to be the biggest differences — and similarities — between writing the pop music that got you started and the country music that is being played on the radio?
Country is definitely pushing the pop boundaries these days. Everything in this business is cyclical though. Lyric is what separates country from pop, and is what always will.
Q: Do you do any writing on your own, or is it mostly a teamwork thing?
Nashville is all about co-writing. Occasionally I will write by myself but that doesn’t happen often.
Q: How does the songwriting break down for you?
For me it’s a 50/50 split between music and lyrics.
Melody was always my first strength but since I’ve been in Nashville, I’ve really learned the art of crafting a solid lyric.
Generally a co-write works best if one person’s strength is lyric and one is music. Lennon and McCartney, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Rodgers and Hammerstein. The list goes on ….
Q: Aside from Murphy, who are some other guys you are writing with?
I write with Marv Green and Jon Nite on a pretty regular basis.
Q: T Bone Burnett has been revered for decades, almost single-handedly reviving the national fortunes of bluegrass and old-time music for a bit with the “O Brother …” soundtrack. What have you learned from him and his process?
T-Bone taught me a lot about compression [dropping the attack of louder signals and vice versa] and EQ [adjusting signals of various sound frequencies], and how overusing these two things really creates problems.
He is a naturalist, as are most ’grassers. He has an exceptional knowledge of sound.
Q: Any plans for more Ross Copperman music, or have you put that aside?
I wish I had more time for my own music these days. At some point when things cool down in Nashville I will be able to make another record. David Lee and I have joked about starting a band on the side.
Q: Talk a bit about your experiences coming up in school [at Glenvar] , and how if at all it has informed you as an artist today?
I was influenced by several teachers at Glenvar. Steve Franco and Kristy Porter were very important to me when I was coming up.
I learned a lot from each of them and without their influence I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.
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