LA-Based Songwriter Greg Copeland Releases Socially-Potent Single “We the Gathered”

Article Contributed by Dreamspider Pu… | Published on Friday, June 21, 2024

Singer-songwriter Greg Copeland is a Southern California native whose music is rooted in the tradition of songs that tell complicated stories in the fewest possible words. Everything counts in these songs. Not a bad golden rule. Copeland’s comfortable, yet candid, way with words, raw emotion, and strength of character, coupled with the intricate nuances of these musical compositions, allow him to shed light on difficult circumstances.

Copeland is set to release Empire State on September 6 on his own label, Franklin & Highland Recordings (U.S.A.), as well as Hemifrån/Paraply Records (Non-U.S. Territories).

Copeland debuted in 1982 with Revenge Will Come (produced by Jackson Browne). After a 26-year hiatus (long story), his second album, Diana and James, appeared in 2008 on Browne’s label Inside Recordings, followed 12 years later by his third album, The Tango Bar (2020). Now, just four years later, at the age of 78, he offers his new 5-track EP, Empire State.

Copeland's inspiration for writing seems to bubble up from within. He says, “When the odometer clicked over to 2000, I somehow started writing again. Don't know why, just had to, and the three subsequent recordings are what matter to me most at this point.” His characters and narratives “volunteer” themselves to be bared to the world through song and often recur throughout his catalog of music. Like a sentinel keeping watch, his songs are a report back to the listener.

Both Empire State and 2020’s The Tango Bar were produced by Tyler Chester (Madison Cunningham, Sara Bareilles, Sara Watkins, Margaret Glaspy) and feature longtime comrade (and producer of Copeland’s 2008 release) Greg Leisz on pedal steel and mandocello, among other instruments. Chester, a multiple Grammy-nominated producer, session musician, multi-instrumentalist, and composer, also plays keys throughout Empire State as well as bass on the first track. Returning from previous albums to join them on the EP are Val McCallum (Jackson Browne) on electric and rubber bridge slide guitar; Jay Bellerose (Joe Henry) on drums and percussion; and Jennifer Condos (Joe Henry) on bass for a couple of songs. Sara Watkins joins on fiddle for a track.

“Recording with this band is songwriter's heaven,” says Copeland. “Every single one of them has a head for lyrics, so they're all focused on what's actually happening in the song, which is incredibly rare all by itself. Tyler is the mayor; Leisz is both the doctor and the sheriff—he finds the center of gravity in a song and then just plays; Val is the black sheep brother you can't help but love; and Jay and Jen are the Department of Water and Power—adding to the whole atmosphere. I love every one of them. And Sara fits this like your sister coming by for cake. Totally ok, yes, this feels right."

A sense of urgency is felt throughout this entire collection of new songs. Empire State opens with “Boon Time” on a seemingly quiet note before quickly becoming a wake-up call with the lyrics, “gunshot ringtone / honey what do we do now?” It could be the opening scene of a movie, foreshadowing violence in the future of what Copeland calls “our rude political awakening.”

“We the Gathered,” the EP’s first streaming single, could legitimately be called both a straight-up hymn and a soundtrack for a Cormac McCarthy story with its foreboding quality and the lyrics, “Nation in pieces / People in pain / Systematic bullsh*t thick as sugarcane / You're going to want that machete / Put down your heavy load / Long way / Short road.”  

On “4:59:59,” the protagonist is digging ditches as a way out of addiction, earning big respect for hard work: “Oxy cotton candy owned me flesh and bone / I burned other people's bridges / So I could be alone / It took a worn-out pick and shovel / For me to find a stepping stone.” Sara Watkins shines on violin here, adding to the pensive tone of the song.

Greg Copeland

Coyotes recorded by Copeland in his backyard literally speak for themselves in “Coyotes,” setting the scene for the title track to close out the EP. “Empire State” is about a songwriter who left her boyfriend, left New York City, and left the American Empire all at once—with the scars to prove it. She made up her mind about what she wants, and just does it. “It's just baby talk / And baby steps / Until it comes down / To the Silvertone / And your fingertips / Everybody's got their own little jukebox this is mine.”

Like 2008’s Diana and James, this collection of songs could also be about a couple. Copeland says, “The couple here is the fictional character Vincent Brady (the mentor of the man in ‘4:59:59’) and the woman coming west from NYC in the title track. It's actually a prelude to their future relationship, which I would guess will succeed because they both get their strength from the same source: optimistic struggle. They—and we—will survive the sugarcane.”

Dive Into A Bit of Greg Copeland History:

Copeland grew up in Orange County, California, and has been a friend of Jackson Browne since the 1960s. With Browne, he co-wrote “The Fairest of the Seasons” (later recorded by Nico). Copeland co-wrote Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's first big single, “Buy For Me The Rain,” with their mutual friend Steve Noonan during those early days, as well as the song "Tide of Love.”

Copeland didn’t release an album of his own until 1982 with Revenge Will Come on Geffen Records. RWC was listed in Time Magazine’s “Ten Best Rock Albums of 1982” (alongside Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, and Lou Reed). Although the debut received strong accolades, this album has never been issued on CD or reissued on streaming services.

First released on Revenge Will Come, "El Salvador" was recorded by Joan Baez in 1989, and the song "Revenge Will Come" was covered by David Lindley.

The New York Times’ Steve Holden recognized Copeland’s “feisty, original voice” in Revenge Will Come when it was first released and said, “His protagonists are drifting malcontents seething with rage in an environment that’s physically and spiritually desolate. Any of them might have wandered out of a Robert Stone novel” and that “RWC [is] teeming with life and wild intuitive connections that make poetic sense.” The songs in Empire State follow that same track.

For more information about Greg Copeland, please visit: and his new facebook page