Cassadee Pope on How Boyfriend Sam Palladio Helped Her Work Through Abandonment Issues

Cassadee Pope released her new acoustic album, Rise and Shine, on Friday

Cassadee Pope
Cassadee Pope. Photo: John Shearer

Like many across the country, Cassadee Pope has been feeling the emotional impact of quarantine.

"Over the last week, I've felt a little off because I think I neglected my processing time," the country star tells PEOPLE. "Usually every day I either meditate or read a book. Like everyone else, I've been reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. And I also listen to Brené Brown's podcast Unlocking Us. I wasn't doing that for like a week and a half or so because it's just been all album promo, and I'd not made the time for it."

"So [on Tuesday], I realized, 'Why do I feel this way? Why don't feel like myself?'" she continues. "I opened a book and started reading, and I had tears in my eyes. I was like, 'Oh, I've been starving my soul from this kind of dialogue.'"

In an effort to help others amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pope, 30, released her acoustic record Rise and Shine in full on Friday. On its title track, she hopes to bring a dialogue about mental health forward.

"This year has been really weird, for so many different reasons," she says. "Obviously the pandemic has thrust us into isolation and for me, I definitely need human connections to feel normal. So I hope 'Rise And Shine' is one of those songs that gives them hope and lets people know, 'Hey, through the darkest times we can get through it and we can find meaning in those times and really use it to our advantage.'"

It's a message Pope had to learn herself throughout the years, as she worked through mental health struggles like abandonment issues.

"I went through my parents' divorce when I was 11," she says. "Seeing my dad leave and move on to a new family really quickly was hard. I think I brought that into my life now where I have this overbearing sense of: I need to be interesting enough and good enough and funny enough and entertaining enough for people to stick around. When someone leaves, especially someone that influential to you and that important in your life, you take that with you through everything."

"I have a long line of divorce in my family," she adds. "That's something that I think about, and I want to break the chain eventually."

Though therapy has helped her work through those issues, Pope admits she's still a work in progress.

"I've continued to put the work into learning more about how things follow us and traumas stay in our bodies," she says. "My main thing is really being able to name what I'm feeling and what is factual and what is a story I'm telling myself. Most of the time, the lack of self-worth and the lack of confidence are stories that I'm telling myself. So it's definitely a journey and it's still something I struggle with, but at least now I have the tools to talk myself out of it."

Pope says her boyfriend of two years, Nashville alum Sam Palladio, has also been a huge support.

"I'm very open with my boyfriend about it," she says. "He's very supportive and gives me everything I need to feel safe and content. So you also need a partner to kind of help you with it too. I'm very lucky that I have that."

Cassadee Pope and Sam Palladio. Live in the Vineyard

On her new song "California Dreaming," about somebody who "really" hurt her in the past, Pope enlisted Palladio, 33, to sing the backup vocals.

"I love his voice, and it's really awesome that I get to have the man that's making me happy and who I'm in love with singing on a song about somebody from my past," says Pope, whose engagement to All Time Low drummer Rian Dawson ended in 2017. "It feels like this full-circle moment. It was really fun to get in the studio together. We've done stuff at the house and sang together and done virtual shows together, but we've never actually gone in a studio and recorded something officially. So it's exciting, and it's one of my favorite songs."

On the song "Sand Paper," Pope addresses a time in her life when people were telling her who to be and how to sing.

"I've had to really put some work into my self-discovery journey because I started in music when I was 4 years old and started to sing professionally when I was 12," she says. "'Sand Paper' is me coming to a place of realization that I've let people manipulate me in a way where I was fearful that they knew more than I did, so I needed to listen to them. I became so, in my eyes, watered down and so not myself."

"I was trying to hide the fact that I was in a band because I didn't want people to think I was less country because I was in a rock band," she continues. "But that's what makes my sound what it is, and that's what makes me the kind of singer I am. I was told by people that it might make people in the country industry not believe that I'm a country artist and that I'm just faking it. 'Sand Paper' is a song where I'm declaring that I'm done letting people try and change my shape and smooth out my edges."

With her country cover of her former band Hey Monday's song "Hangover" on the new record, Pope proves all of her past naysayers wrong.

"It was always one of the songs that I felt was going to outlive all the other ones," she says. "I mean, I love all the Hey Monday songs, but I feel pretty strongly that they are such a snapshot into that time of pop punk and pop emo. We had a reunion show last year, which was incredible, but I kind of feel like I'm playing a part now. Whereas when I'm singing 'Hangover,' I still feel like, as a 30-year-old woman, I believe every word. I'm really excited that I got to reimagine that for the record."

Pope was the lead singer for Hey Monday from 2008 to 2011. Shortly after she left the band to pursue a solo career, she competed on and won season 3 of The Voice in 2012.

"I came to Nashville right after the show," she says. "People embraced me and I felt very welcomed, but I also felt a challenge to prove myself as an artist and not just a winner of a singing competition. There were some obstacles, but it was a really cool process. In the midst of trying to prove myself, I also had people who welcomed me with open arms right away that are still like family to me. I really accumulated such an amazing support system here, right off the bat, in Nashville."

The Voice - Season 3
Cassadee Pope in 2012. Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

Ever since, Pope's home base has remained in Nashville, where she and Palladio recently bought a home together last year. Throughout quarantine, Pope says Palladio has been her "saving grace."

"Sam and I, we have this house and we didn't really get into until November, then we were busy, busy, busy," she says. "This pandemic hit, so we're finally getting to house stuff. We just finished standing our fence, and we're getting furniture moved around and getting new furniture and painting the walls and all that stuff. So house stuff has been taking up a lot of time."

"But we're also doing fun things, like we've gone to the drive-in to see movies and gotten better at cooking," she adds. "I never thought that would happen, actually not burning things and cooking decent meals. We got kayaks, so we try and get out on the lake to just get outside here and there. It's weird. You wake up in the morning and you're like, 'Okay, I'm going to take on the day.' Then by the time 7 or 8 rolls around, you just wonder where the day even went. So it's not been dragging, thankfully."

When life gets back to normal, Pope hopes she can "get back on the road" and play her new record live for fans.

"I guess the world is going to determine a lot of what I am able to do," she says. "I think that it would be really special to have a coffee house tour where I'm just doing an acoustic tour that's very intimate."

Cassadee Pope
Cassadee Pope's Rise and Shine. John Shearer

One thing that's certain, though, is that this record is just a "preview of what's to come."

"For my next full-band record, I'm going to go more pop-rock," Pope says. "I'm going to stick with my roots of when I started playing in bands and revisit that part of my life. I've been doing a lot of Zoom writes where I'm focusing on that and really streamlining the writing process to focus on obtaining that sound. It's been really fun. It feels like me, and I can't wait to get in the studio to do that. I hope it's by the end of this year."

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