Cappa Is the Nashville Artist With a Heart That Beats Pop

Cappa Is the Nashville Artist With a Heart That Beats Pop

The rising Nashville-based artist talks about her new music, her favorite spots in the city, and shares a playlist featuring some of Nashville's best emerging pop talents.

The rising Nashville-based artist talks about her new music, her favorite spots in the city, and shares a playlist featuring some of Nashville's best emerging pop talents.

Text: Jake Viswanath

When you think Nashville, you think one thing: country. Tennessee's biggest cultural hub is known as the epicenter for country music, with the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ol' Opry, and dive bars and iconic venues galore within easy reach. Country vibes embodied our United State of Fashion shoot with Lily Aldridge, but it doesn't solely define the city. Nashville is the new home to a rising music scene across all genres, with new artists flocking to the city to energize their careers and gaining national attention while doing so. Cappa is one of those artists.

While she's not a Nashville native, Carla Cappa took a risk nearly eight years ago and decided to head into the land of country to pursue her music career—despite her complete disdain for the genre at the time. "When I first heard about Nashville being a big music city, I hated country at the time, despised it. Didn’t grow up on it at all," Cappa remembers. "So I heard about Nashville and was like, 'Ugh, I don’t want to go,' but there’s great music schools, so I went and of course it’s not anything like what you picture it. You think it’s gonna be this crazy honky-tonk, everything is country, but that’s not the case at all." What she found was a growing community of musicians, especially in pop, that were trying out new fresh perspectives on pop songwriting, and most importantly, supporting each other in every respect.

Following the release of her hypnotic new single, "Waste My Time," we talked to the rising artist about her life in the bustling music town, how a pop girl thrives in a country world, and her new music. And in the true spirit of Southern hospitality, she created a playlist full of bops from her fellow aspiring Nashville pop stars. Take a listen below and discover another side of the city — and hopefully something you haven't heard before.

What made you want to get into music?

My mom was a singer-songwriter, not really professionally. She sang for President Nixon, I think, back in the day for some events and stuff. But she gave me a guitar when I was seven and gave me a bunch of her old songs, and she wanted me to learn how to play them just to see if I liked it. And then I was pretty much obsessed with it ever since. I still have that guitar and all of her songs. Ever since then, I just knew that I wanted to be a songwriter, and I’ve always really liked performing my own music too.

What drew you to Nashville?

So at the time, I wanted to go to Belmont for songwriting, and there were a lot of people that had gone to the school and there’s a lot of stars that have graduated from there. That was kind of what took me to Nashville, got me to look at it. I went to school for like a year. I’m really bad at school, so it didn’t last long, but then I just fell in love with Nashville. There’s just a really cool vibe to it. There’s just tons of people in their late teens, early 20s, driving for the same thing but just with a really cool camaraderie type of thing. You know, when you go to New York, yeah, there’s tons of people, but there’s so many people and you can’t connect. It’s hard to connect. There’s so much cool stuff going on that it’s hard to figure it out, but because Nashville is so much smaller, it allows you to connect with those cool pockets more. Whatever kind of genre music you’re into, there’s a pocket for that.

So when you first started writing songs, you weren’t drawn to country at all, were you? What were you drawn to?

I grew up on emo, pop-punk, pop-rock music so that was the kind of music that I liked writing, and then it kind of just transitioned to pop the longer that I was here. The more I played with music and did sessions, playing with artists, the more I started to really enjoy the pop scene. I knew I liked pop, but I didn’t know exactly what style I wanted to write, and now it’s transformed into that. But I like all genres, and I’ll write all genres if I’m writing for other people and other artists, but for me, I just connect with pop.

Do you think there is an emergence of the pop scene in Nashville, or do you think it always kind of merges in with the country people? 

There’s definitely a really big pop scene right now, and I think that more and more people are talking about it just because it is a smaller area so if you’re doing something cool in the pop world, people can hear about it a lot quicker than they maybe would in New York or LA. But yeah, I think the scene has always been underground, I think there’s all types of styles here. But over the last 10 years in particular, as for people who have been doing pop and have gotten a little more successful, I think it’s been showing a lot more light on that.

Do you feel the pop and country intertwining in Nashville specifically?

It’s a little interesting. To me, they’re definitely separate just because at some of the venues that we have here, there’s different pockets for pop venues compared to country venues. Like, downtown Broadway has all the country music. Downtown is where a lot of the country is because the town was kind of built on that. It’s kind of stayed more there. And then pop is a little bit more spread out at these different venues. A lot of pop artists don’t stay downtown because it’s more of a honky-tonk.

Do you ever feel the country vibe in your songwriting or is it a conscious thing to keep it separate? 

I kind of keep it separate. I don’t write enough country. Sometime I’ll be writing and a line will come up and I’m like, “Ok that sounds a little bit country.” I don’t know why, it seems that if you get a little bit more poetic, it leans a little bit more country. But it’s pretty much kept separate for the most part. I don’t write stuff where I’m like, “Oh! That could be a country song!” But I used to hate country music, and now I don’t feel that way at all about it. I love a lot of the country artists that I’ve gotten to know, and they’re so genuine and down-to-earth. I like the way that they write, the whole music scene—the camaraderie of country. I could see messing with it someday. But, for now, pop is my jam.

What is it about pop?

I don’t know. I think, to me, I love how catchy it is, and my goal is to always make it very relatable but still have it be stuck in your head at the same time. I think that’s such an interesting thing and an interesting talent to be able to do. In some other genres, it doesn’t have to be as catchy off the bat, but I feel like in pop, if it’s not stuck in your head after like 20 seconds, you really have failed. That’s something that has always drawn me to it. It’s a really big challenge for me, and that’s why I think I like it so much because I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason that makes something so instantaneously catchy. I know Max Martin has written books about it. It’s a beast of its own.

A while back, I heard your newest single “Waste My Time.”Take us into that song. What was its inspiration? How did it come about?

I spent more time on that song than really any of my other songs I’ve done in the past. I don’t want to make a song to be catchy just ‘cause it’s catchy, you know? I wanted something that was very relatable off-the-bat, very catchy but also something that I personally connected with. I don’t put on pop music to jam out in my car, I put on pop music to relate to it in a weird way and to feel better. So that was the kind of song that I wanted this to be, something to put on when you’re down. It’s more relationship-based, but it really works if someone or something is putting you down and being like“You’re not good enough.” It’s just like if you think I’m not good enough, get out of my way. I don’t need you here. That was basically the idea in relationship form, but hopefully it works with listeners on both ends of that because that’s how I felt while writing it. I deal with a lot of it obviously. In music, a lot of people are like, “You’re not that good at this.” And you’re like, “OK, well then move because I’m gonna do it anyway.” [laughs]

I know you hadn’t released music for a year before releasing this song. Is that correct? 

Yeah, a hiatus of sorts, I guess. I was always writing. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I had a bunch of stuff fall through, like publishing deals and record deals, and I was kind of like, “What about me and what I’m doing is not worth it enough?” I just had to find a place where I felt good about what I was doing regardless and willing to do it for music’s sake because I loved it. It’s really easy to get caught up, especially in Nashville because it’s like… I know it’s a very up-and-coming town, but you just see people that come out of nowhere and you’re like, “Where is this coming from? That person obviously has something that I don’t.” And that’ll kill you to live that way. So it was like I was still doing music, but I wanted be in a good place when I released new music and do it because I love it and not worry about the success of it, just worry about the fact that it was the best that I could do.

Do you think Nashville has helped you or hurt you to contribute to that feeling?

It’s a lot of both. Nashville is such an amazing town for everything and for music and pop music in general. It’s also hard because it’s small and very competitive, so if anybody’s getting something cool, you’re hearing about it. It’s a small little pop niche group here, which is awesome—everybody is very supportive. But, you know, it’s like with any music town, no matter what kind of art you’re doing, there’s always going to be people progressing at different levels with it. You want to do it because you love it, and you want to support other people and have them support you. So I think Nashville, definitely for a little bit, I was like, “Ugh, this is too much. It’s always in my face. There’s so much going on! I can’t keep up with it all.” But once I took a little step back and then released my own music again, I felt a lot better about it.

On that note, is there any favorite spots that you have?

I love East Nashville. That’s where I live now. I’ve been here for eight years, but I never lived in East Nashville before a couple months ago, which is crazy. East Nashville—it’s so small. It’d be like the Brooklyn or the Bushwick of New York. There’s really cool bars. It’s just the vibe of it. It’s not like you’re going into a place and it’s gonna be extraordinary. It’s just the vibe and the community that is here that is so cool, it’s the people here that make it cool. I love Rosepepper Cantina. They always have this sign out front, I don’t know who makes the board, but they just have the funniest stuff on the sign. It’s just like the most depressing and hilarious things. It’s like “You don’t need somebody’s hand to hold when you have two margaritas in each hand!” So, Rosepepper is rad. I like Burger Up. They have these really cool burgers that are from a local farm in Franklin, I believe. There’s Cafe Roze, which is my favorite. It has a pink sign out front, and it feels like something that would be in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a little bar spot. And then a lot of the bars we’ll go hang out that have shows, like Mercy Lounge. I’m playing there in a couple weeks, but they’ll have shows there but you’ll also hang there. And then the Crying Wolf—that’s actually my favorite bar of all time. I love it. It has like taxidermy on the walls. The couple that runs it, one of the guys was in a Rihanna ad. One of her perfume commercials. Just this random guy, and he has neck tattoos.

Maybe some of your favorite shops? Do you have any there? How is the fashion scene there? 

There’s this guy, Phoenix, his name online is PhoJo because his name is Phoenix Johnson. He was actually the boy in one of my music videos, which is really funny, but he’s a really cool stylist. He actually styles all of Paramore’s stuff now. But he’s in town, and he has this clothing line. They’ll do really cool fashion shows with that. And then there’s a couple others. One girl, who did Project Runway and won, is here also. She makes really cool art deco fashion pieces.

Do you think pop has been more accepted in Nashville because of people that have crossed over to pop? Like Taylor Swift or Shania Twain? 

Absolutely. I really do. I feel like when I first moved here, it felt like it was an indie-folk and rock scene than pop. I couldn’t find any for a long time, and I feel like seeing some of those people crossover—even in the country scene now, I’ve seen people who are coming up that are country but pull from that pop element, like Maren Morris. She’s Nashville, but those songs are pop songs in a lot of ways, and it was kind of cool to see what they do. I think it’s definitely helped the scene become more accepted. When I go to L.A. now, producers and labels are like, “Oh, we’re setting up offices in Nashville” or “I want to move to Nashville. We’re trying to have a home in both places.” So that’s cool to see.

What are your goals for the future? 

I have a lot of goals. I’ve been going back and forth from L.A. and Nashville, just songwriting-wise. More and more people are coming here, but it really works well if you can work with people a little bit all over. I’m trying to get out to Stockholm also in March. Traveling to work with artists kind of all over because I’ve been working with so many Nashville artists for so long, so I want to try to get some different places. And then, release a lot of music. I have a feature song coming out Friday with this artist called Goldhouse. He’s done some big remixes before, and he produced the latest MO single. And the girl that wrote on it wrote the latest Dagny single, which I’m obsessed with. So that comes out Friday, and then I’m just hoping to release. I have some features I’ve been working on, some new singles of my own. I’m hoping to just release a lot of music this year and write for other artists too.

Do you ever see yourself extending out of Nashville permanently? 

I would always like to be somewhat based here. I would always like to have a house or keep an apartment here because I feel like people are gonna be like exclusively coming to Nashville in the next couple years to write pop music. I would never want to leave permanently.

Credits: Photo by Sara Kiesling

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