For The Record
Cody Canada on making real Southern rock, Latin wordplay and giving up radio
Cody Canada makes rock music. If you want to get specific, Cody Canada makes good, honest, warts-and-all Southern rock, with a little bit of Texas country sprinkled throughout. That’s what he’s good at and that’s what he’s been doing in various ways for the last 20 years.
A veteran of the Red Dirt music scene, Canada has been doing his part to bring Oklahoma’s fiery brand of southern rock to Texas audiences for years. Equal parts Neil Young and Waylon Jennings, Canada often weaves tales of rebellion and romance into a form of song that would sit comfortably amongst a wide range of American rock music in your record collection.
"We’re all very different people with the common goal of making a kick-ass record."
Most of Canada’s career has been spent fronting Cross Canadian Ragweed, a group that’s still revered in nearly every Texahoma college town. But the last two years have seen him dedicating time and talent to The Departed, a project fueled by a diverse group of musicians that are devoted to taking fans to various ends of rock music’s spectrum.
As for the songwriter himself, Canada's been doing anything but sitting still these past few months. Hot off of the release of The Departed’s latest album, Adventus, he has set aside a little bit of time to play some acoustic shows with fellow friends Jason Boland and Chris Knight on their current "Love, Conspiracy, and a .45" tour.
Canada recently spoke with CultureMap about the recording of Adventus, The Departed’s latest album, new stuff he’s been listening to and Latin wordplay.
Like any rabid music fan, he couldn’t resist sharing a little bit with us about a few recent grabs from the used record bins of Dublin, either.
CultureMap: You recently released an album with your new band, The Departed, called Adventus. I love the wordplay surrounding that album’s title. Tell us a little bit about what that means in the context of your career.
CC: The name was my wife’s idea, who is also my manager. One day she said, “I think you need to call the record “The Arrival,” since it’s The Departed’s first album full of originals.
"I actually gave up my radio years ago. There’s just not that much going on there these days."
Our first album together, This is Indian Land, was a chance for me to keep up a promise I’d made to all these Red Dirt musicians a while back. I promised that one day I’d record an album full of their songs. I had my hands tied with my old label or else I’d have done it with Cross Canadian Ragweed, but now I have 100 percent creative control.
So, Adventus is an “arrival” because it’s our first record full of originals together. But I didn’t like the way “The Arrival” sounded, so I looked at several different languages and ways of saying that. Latin was the one that really struck a nerve with me, so we went with that.
Led Zeppelin actually wanted to use the picture on the album’s cover back in ‘68, but their management said “no way.” I’d like to think that the world has grown up a little bit since then. It works great for our album. The music’s like a shot to the ear.
CM: I read a recent review that describes Adventus as "more Red Hot Chili Peppers than Red Dirt." I’m sure you’d take that endorsement gladly, but your music has its own personality. Are you going for a specific sound when you record?
CC: Hey, I’ll take a Red Hot Chili Peppers comparison any day of the week!
Though, when recording a record, you need to clear your mind and not think about the sound. Don’t go for a specific sound . . . just let it happen. With Adventus, it’s like this; here are five guys from four different bands. Let’s see what happens when we record.
We did it all the Grateful Dead way, hit things over and over until it sounded perfect. Once we had that down, we re-recorded the song all over again. Sort of deconstructed it until it was unrecognizable, but the end result was an even better version of the song.
We’re all very different people with the common goal of making a kick-ass record. And with that being said, I’m still writing more and more.
CM: Each of you has such a different personality, but Adventus definitely doesn’t seem like it was recorded under any sort of White Album-type tensions. What is your approach when you play with such a diverse group of guys?
CC: Nah, no tension at all. It was all perfect harmony when we made Adventus. I wouldn’t be playing with these guys if it wasn’t fun. We all agree on what’s going on the record.
There was only one song on the record that everyone liked but me, and it was one of mine. I had one little line that was eating at me, but everyone wanted me to keep it.
So in that situation, we’d have a saying. A little joke in the studio. We’d say, “The band sucks. Let’s fight!” which would keep reminding us that we can always wait on the next album to put out a song that’s not quite perfect yet.
We’ve got enough tunes on this one to play, and we don’t ever want to be stuck playing songs that we aren’t 100 percent in love with.
CM: By that same token, what’s it like sharing a stage on this tour with guys you’ve played with over a long span of your career?
CC: I started my music career when I was 16 with Jason, playing some acoustic shows with him up in Stillwater, then driving back to Yukon where Cross Canadian Ragweed would play local gigs. If Ragweed didn’t have a gig part of the week, then I’d get one with Jason to fill in the gaps.
So with Boland, playing music feels like an old pair of shoes. It’s nice that I get to hear his new stuff and he gets to my new stuff, and it’s a real treat to hear the old stuff too.
There are a few songs in particular that I’m really looking forward to hearing him play at House of Blues.
And Chris? Well, that’s just intimidating! He’s a great poet. If he’s talking or singing, the crowd had better be listening. [chuckles] He’ll call you out if you aren’t listening.
But he’s intimidating in a good way because he’s so passionate about his music. Being on the road, you can’t exactly sit and write as much as you’d like, and that’s what Chris wants to do.
So those two and a half hours sharing the stage with those guys are special. It's not only for those of you going to the show, it's for us too.
CM: Your music has always had your own personality, but a joy that I take when listening to you play is how much you love your influences. Neil Young easily comes to mind, and there are several others as well. Was there an "a-ha moment" for you when music just made sense, or what?
CC: There’s been several. When I was five, my dad took me to see George Strait. Then I hit about 13, I heard other music. Willie and Merle changed it for me as a songwriter, and then Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots happened.
It was all so liberating and rebellious. I still had that songwriter aspect, but I still saw what rock and roll could do. The older I got, the more I started intertwining songwriting and rock and roll. I keep telling myself to make the music good, but make the lyrics good too. So I try to blend both as best I can.
CM: I know you’re a record collector. I’m one too. Can you tell me about your best find?
CC: I was in Dublin last year, around November, and there was a record store on the main drag in the Temple Bar District that had a sign that said Thanks for twenty great years. Going out of business.”
I went in there and found a live Pearl Jam bootleg from Zurich, 1992, on pink vinyl. A 6 Euro find! I would have had to pay over fifty bucks for that on eBay. I was ecstatic. I’ve also found a couple of Robert Earl Keen records at some pawn shop for two dollars a piece. [Laughs] Of course I could have just asked Robert for those records myself, but it’s so much more fun to find them when you’re not expecting to.
CM: What music are you listening to right now that your fans would do well to check out?
CC: I’ve been real guilty for listening to the same bands over and over again. I’ll often wait for the guys I’ve always relied on to put out new stuff, but I’ll find a gem or two every once in awhile. The latest one was Glen Hansard of The Frames after hearing him open up for Eddie Vedder in Austin a few weeks ago.
I did hear a new (to me) Merle Haggard song the other day called "Streets of Chicago." Great song.
And this may surprise you, but I think Sheryl Crow is a fantastic songwriter.
Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Adam Hood or not, but he’s made quite a name for himself in Dallas and around Austin.
Jason Eady’s another one. Those guys are all the the real article. You won’t find their stuff on the radio, I don’t think. I actually gave up my radio years ago. There’s just not that much going on there these days.