April 4, 2012

Sitting Down with Cody Canada

A “watershed moment” is defined as being a critical turning point or a moment in time when everything changes.  Every person has one in their professional life and while some are highlighted on TV, (a baseball player playing at Yankee Stadium for the first time, or a band selling out Wimberley Stadium), often times it happens on a much smaller scale.  For some it occurs while quietly sitting and interviewing a musician you have liked and respected for years in the back of a noisy bar.  That is where we found ourselves last Friday night trying to catch a few minutes with Cody Canada after he and the band had already logged several hundred miles of travel, a few detours, heavy rains, and beautiful Houston rush hour traffic.  What started off as a simple Q & A turned into over an hour of honesty, reflection, and hopes for the future.
For those of you out there who may question the name Cody Canada and wonder who he is and why he’s relevant, we welcome you to the 21st Century.  Cross Canadian Ragweed was easily one of the most influential bands to come out of the huge “Texas Country” boom of the late 90’s/early 2000’s.  A foursome of childhood friends who seemed to take the phrase “be loud and be different” as a badge of honor.  Like the trail blazing pioneers that came before them (Billy Jo Shaver, ZZ Top, Robert Earl Keen), they set out to make their mark and did so for 15 years of “pure kick ass rock and roll”.  Unfortunately, the band called it quits in 2010 but from the ashes sprang a new project that Cody has spearheaded with a few other like-minded musician friends and thus Cody Canada and the Departed were born.  The new band is filled out with fellow CCR alum Jeremy Plato, drummer Dave Bowen, Steve Littleton on keyboards, and guitarist/power house singer Seth James.  The new band, albeit a work in progress, is already off to a great start with 2011’s excellent, This is Indian Land.  Continually burning up as much black top as possible, they seem poised to take over the musical landscape and most importantly to do it their way.

Lonestar Outlaw:  You guys really know how to cap off a whirlwind year, closing out the year in Ireland and Germany.  Was this the first trip over seas and what were the main differences you noticed?

Cody Canada:  Well my first trip was with Ragweed about 8 years ago and it was just for one show.  I really hate to fly; I’ve gotten better about it over the years but still really don’t enjoy it.  Seth and I went to Ireland for an acoustic set with Jason Eady.  It was a lot of fun but a lot of work as well.  Good work, but a lot of it.  We landed, got a little rest, went to the gig, performed, hung out with the other bands, and then drove 180 down the autobahn to the next show.  It was pretty cool.  Thirteen day trip with twelve days straight gigging.  Then we basically came home to celebrate Thanksgiving and do a couple of shows and hopped on a plane to Germany and drove all over that place. 

LS:  Where did this all come from as far as going abroad?

CC:  There is a man named Edgar Heckmann of Blue Rose records out of Germany and he wanted us to come over and work with us, which is awesome.  He puts you on his record deal and prints vinyl records, which is cool to see your album printed overseas and being labeled as an import.

LS:  Your absolute favorite memory you took away from your time over seas as a band?

CC:  It’s just a whole different game over there.  They ask you to play two 45 minute sets with a 20 minute break between, which we’re not accustomed to.  We’re really used to doing things straight through but they asked and so we did it.  Then during the set we realized, “these people didn’t move, didn’t talk, didn’t use their phones, nothing”.  They just stood there and stared at you playing music and then when we take our 20 minute break they go and grab a drink, smoke a cigarette, and come right back.  We get back to rockin and they’re right there giving us their undivided attention. 

LS:   I have noticed most of your visible tattoos have a religious theme to them, was there any significance to getting the newest one while in Ireland?

CC:  I just wanted a tat man.  As a non-denominational Christian, getting the rosary just seemed right.

LS:  And with that tattoo it makes a baker’s dozen right?

CC:  Actually 14.  I have a big piece I’m working on that I was supposed to get last week but just ran outta time.  It’s gonna cover my whole back and be a field of bluebonnets for my kid.  It’s pretty cool.

LS: Of course “Bluebonnets” is only one of the many softer sentimental songs you’ve written and It’s always been a great contrast to hear some kick ass rock and roll mixed in with a touching slower song.  Which one is easier to write?

CC:  Oh the special songs by far, they slow everything down.  That’s the easy stuff because it’s all heart.  The upbeat fast ones, those are the ones that take time.  They usually turn out angry, which ain’t all that bad either. 

LS: So after coming back home you guys turned around and headed out to Steamboat which is where many fans saw you guys for the first time.  Is Steamboat starting to tame down a little more these days and becoming more kid friendly?

CC: Yeah, pretty much everyone brings the kids out there and at first I didn’t know what to do. I absolutely love my children but I kept having that feeling that I was going to miss something, some song being played at 5 am that I didn’t hear.  But now it’s better.  I don’t need three days to recover from staying up with Reckless Kelly afterwards and the little ones get to get up on stage with Dad and do “Bluebonnets.”  Taking the kids has certainly helped us health wise.  The parties are always going to be there.  There’s always another festival around the corner.  I love my time with my family.

LS: Speaking of Reckless Kelly, did the prank wars finally cease when Ragweed wasn’t together anymore?

CC: Yeah it actually ended on our only tour with Reckless.  It was towards the end and there was turmoil in the band and they felt it.  It was our tour manager Bert and I always doing it because no one else (in Ragweed) wanted to get involved.  So we did the catfish in their van that stayed there for two weeks.  They put stink bait in my microphone just before we went on stage.  That was nasty.  All the guys were so nervous so finally I went to Willy (lead singer of Reckless Kelly) and said “the rest of my guys are kinda scared to hang out so can we be done with this”?  He said, “honestly, we’re too old for that shit” and that was that.  They actually had one last one but that was personal for me and I should have gotten them back but whatever.

LS: So we have to ask, have the Ragweed requests finally started to taper off?

CC:  They have.  It’s certainly not as often as it used to be but it still happens.  Some places it happens more than others but I just try and politely say no.  We’re gonna play some (Ragweed) songs but we can’t play them all.  Just because I wrote the songs doesn’t mean this band (the Departed) knows them.  We’ve done a couple of one offs as a three piece set as Ragweed in Steamboat and Denver and we were going to do one at LoneStar Jam this spring but we had to pull out. 

LS:  It seemed as though the last Ragweed album (Happiness and all the Other Things) really found you guys in a great place.  Sound wise, conceptual wise, it really sounded like things were going to the next level and then next thing you know, Ragweed is no more.  Were you as happy as you seemed about the direction everything was heading in?

CC:  By this time there was some inner turmoil with the band but most of us loved the album.  With these albums you don’t have to haul ass all the time, it’s ok to be articulate and authentic at the same time.  No need in going 100 miles an hour.  I liked the album myself.  There are a couple of songs I wish I hadn’t written but that’s where I was at that time.  My wife and I were have a difficult time and fixing things was the only thing that was on my mind.  Now everything is awesome and still when I see that album I’m like “ahh, I only like three songs”.  Cause if I hear some of those old tunes it just brings back those memories.  I think it was a really good record but I wish I had put the brakes on and waited till things were better to write a song.

LS:  Are you able to put the brakes on?

CC:  It’s hard.  I’m the kind of person that if it’s on my mind then it’s gonna end up on paper.

LS:  So when things are rough in life and you write a song about it, is it difficult to go back and perform that song later?

CC:  I usually don’t’ even if it was a really good song. 

LS:  Your style is so unique that there is never a doubt when you have something to do with a song we hear.  Are you trying to change things up completely with the Departed or just do some adjustments here and there?

CC:  I was really worried about “what is this going to be?.  I knew that the songs I did would sound like mine and the songs Seth did would sound like his.  And then one day I told Seth, who really is my right arm in this band, I just need to calm down and let it happen don’t I?  He said it’s gonna do what it needs to do.  I originally wanted to do this record with Ragweed but it just didn’t happen.  We (the Departed) didn’t want to just throw an album out there and then look back and say “man, I wish we had waited a little while and gotten some more stuff under our belt.”  So I finally got a chance to do the album I’ve wanted to do for almost ten years and really showcase the artist that I grew up idolizing.  For our next album we have 8 songs that are completely done and another 10 that need a little tweaking.  We’ll hit the studio in late April and I really don’t think it will take long at all because we’ve already been playing these songs live so we’ve got a good grip on them.
LS:  Joe’s on Weed in Chicago has seemingly become a home away from home for all the guys from Texas.  It feels as though every other week that you or Stoney, or Wade, or Randy are playing there.  How did that come to be?

CC:  I can’t remember who played there first, I think it was Ragweed.  We were out with Dierks Bentley on the “High Times and Hangovers” tour and the owner fell in love with the type of music.  We talked to him all night and he just really loved what was going on down in Texas and the next time was with Robert Earl Keen and then that left the door open for everyone.  His name’s Ed and he’s just a big fan of the scene. 

LS:  Your old band used to do a kick ass version of “Late Last Night” and it was always great to see Todd Snider join you guys on stage.  How did that become a regular thing?

CC: We were playing in Nashville one night and he was just hanging out.  He asked if we had that song in the set list and we said “of course”.  He asked where in the set list it was and we said, “eighth”.  He said, “why don’t we just do it first” and that’s the way it’s been ever since.  It’s tradition now.  He’s a cool cat.
LS:  You go back quite a ways with him, how did that come to be?

CC:  I first heard Todd on the Conan O’ Brien show back in ’94.  That was back when they seemed to have an Americana band on every single night.   I saw Snider and was like, “Holy shit, who is this guy?”.   Then I moved to Stillwater and Mike McClure gave me an album and said that I probably wasn’t gonna like it but give it a shot anyway.  Turned out to be Todd Snider and I loved it.  Just a huge breath of fresh air.

LS:  Are you going to have a chance to get back on the road with him anytime soon?

CC:  I hope so man.  I’ve told him that, with my new band, just throw us a set list and we’ll do it.  I think that’ll be fun. 

LS:  Can you give us two memorable moments with Snider that stand out?  Maybe one personal and one stage moment?

CC:  At Larry Joe Taylor’s festival years back he played early and was hanging out before we performed.  We got to talking and I finally let it all out man, telling him he’s a massive influence and how much I respected his stuff.  He’s a really humble guy and a good friend.  I was having some writer’s block issues a while back and he just said, “grab a bag of weed and get your ass out to Nashville and we’ll write.”  I still haven’t done it yet but it’s certainly on the agenda.  As far as the stage moment, he was coming up on stage with us one night and asked if I had a D Harmonica.  I said, “yeah, I’ve got one and I know how you act.  I have just this one so don’t throw it into the crowd because it’s the only one to get me through this run.”  So he said “cool man.”  Got up on stage, blew into the harp, did his thing, and then threw it into the crowd.  Just turned to me and grinned and walked off the stage. 

LS: During your time with Ragweed, we could count on an album, whether it be live or a studio one, every year and a half.  That’s a pretty hard pace to keep up but do you think the Departed will be able to replicate that?

CC:  Yes.  The one good thing we have right now is no pressure from a record label.   That always killed me.  When we were doing the Garage record, we were sitting in the conference room of Universal South and I told them, “whatever you do, don’t ever put me under pressure to put an album out.   Don’t say we have to have it by this date because it’s just gonna screw me up.”  So I had just said that and one of the suits speaks up and says “I think we need to have it by October 23rd.”  I said, “what did I just say (about setting dates)”?  He said he was sorry and I wished him good luck on hitting that date.  So we walked into the studio with four songs, three of ours and one Trish Murphy.  But by the time we walked out we had recorded fourteen and one of the guys from the record label said he knew we worked better under pressure.  I told him “maybe so but let’s not do that again”.    With the Departed, we should have had an album out by now but we’ve just been busy.  It sounds bad but right now we’re twice as loud and half as popular so we need to work, keep burning up that highway. 

LS: With every post, tweet, comment, whatever, you seem so humbled by starting over again?

CC: Oh I love it, absolutely love it. 

LS: What is the best part about starting over?

CC:  You know the old dream where you’re in your 30’s and you get to go back to school and you already know everything and it’s just a breeze?  That’s what it is, exactly.  I feel like it’s brand new but I know what I’m doing this time. 

LS: Have people’s perception of you changed over the years, especially since the break up?

CC:  It’s been tuff, coming out of a band that was together for fifteen years and people didn’t want to see that end.  We’re just having to try and shift their ears a little bit and see this new thing we got going on.  One of our first shows as the Departed was at the House of Blues in Houston and this guy walked up to me and said, “I love it, I think you’re gonna run off a lot of Ragweed fans but I dig it.”  He got it man.  It’s not about the party, it’s about the music.  That was a problem we had (as Ragweed) was too many people were there to hear “Boys From Oklahoma” and then once they heard it they turned their brains off.  Now we only have half the crowd but it’s the half we really want that are there for the music. 

LS:  You’ve been all over the charts as far as popularity wise both here in Texas and across the nation.  Have you been able to help some of the other guys who are getting more of the national exposure now?

CC: You know some of my best friends are going through it now and we talk.  The fans calling them a sellout and we both know that you bust your ass to reach a goal and when you do fans are gonna get mad about it.  And it’s because you don’t belong to them anymore, you belong to everyone. 

LS: The term “selling out” has always bothered me.  I agree that there is no doubt that certain bands or artists have done so but for the most part I look at it as anyone getting their first job, more than likely you don’t want that exact job all your life.  You probably want to rise up the ranks to a bigger position with more exposure and better compensation.

CC:  That’s right man.  Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, all of us could have (sold out).  But we didn’t.  There’re plenty of people in this scene that have and they showed us all the example and laid a bad foundation.  It happens though.  When you’re on top you have a million friends and when you’re on the bottom you have none.

LS:  Who are/is someone you see really breaking through next?

CC: As far as ticket sales I’m not really sure who’s doing what these days but my personal taste leads me to Jason Eady.  He is as country as Merle Haggard or Marty Robbins.  He opened for Randy Travis one time at Gruene Hall and absolutely slayed that crowd.  In my opinion, if he is not the biggest thing in Texas in a year then something’s wrong. 

LS:  Your old band had a clever way of describing your sound as “sounds like country, smells like rock  n roll.”  What are the ways you’re describing your new sound with the Departed?

CC:  I’m really waiting for that first record to come out.  If you know Seth’s style and if you know mine, you know it’s just goes together perfect.  Seth has that deep seeded blues thing going on.  His hero is Delbert McClinton and then you have Scott Weiland and Merle Haggard as mine.  You put all that together and that’s where we are right now.  Once we finally get that album out and I just hope to slide it across the table and say here it is, here’s our sound.  Put it in your ear.

LS: For the new album, are you guys writing individually or as a band?

CC: Seth and I are both writing, together and alone.  He just did a song with Kevin Welch that’s awesome.  It’s so beautiful, it’s a love lost song.  Just amazing.  For the most part it’s he and I.  We’re gonna put “Calling all Demons” on the album.  Seth has played that song forever but never put it on an album, just said he couldn’t “find it”.  So the first time we played it as a band he said “yep, found it”.  His voice is so massive.  I remember walking into Midnight Rodeo in Austin years ago and hearing him and saying to myself that I’ve got a good feeling we’re gonna be playing together someday.  Here we are years later.

LS: When you hear the term Outlaw, who is the first person you think of?

CC:  You know the Outlaws we know and think of didn’t like that word.  It’s like Seattle not liking the word grunge.  But the first person to pop to mind is Waylon.  Billie Jo Shaver and Willie Nelson.  Willie because of how he did things.  They told him to do things a certain way, be polished, be nice, clean cut and it worked.  But finally he was like, “man I wanna do things my way so he went to Texas, grew his hair out and became himself.  And he’s still doing it.  He’s certainly the “Industry Outlaw”.  Waylon was the same way though he played the game a little bit. If I hear Outlaw, I think Waylon.  It’s was just the other day that the alarm went off and the first thing I heard was “10 years ago today, Waylon Jennings passed away.”  Same day as Jeremy’s (Pluto) birthday.  Can’t believe it’s been that long.  We played on 6th Street in Austin a long time ago and Shooter (Jennings) old band was playing the same night.  We had finished our set and he says “come have dinner with us”.  I asked who “us” was and he says you, me, your wife, and my parents.  I said, “your parents are across the street and you want us to eat with them?  I gotta be honest, I don’t think I could sit across from your beautiful mother and your father and keep my shit together.  He says, “man it’s no big thing” and I said ”I respectfully have to decline.  Unless you want me acting like Chris Farley and saying stupid stuff like “remember the time you did that song with Willie Nelson?  That was awesome.”  Hindsight being what it is I wish I had done it because it wasn’t too much later that we lost him but there was no way I would have been able to keep it together.

LS: Are there still other artists you get geeked about still?

CC: I still get nervous around Robert Earl Keen.  I’ve been friends with him for a long time now and when I’m around him it still takes me an hour or so to shake the fact that he is my hero.  We kept trying to get a tour together with him years ago and it kept getting passed.  I kept wondering what was wrong and I certainly felt we could be the opener for him.  So it finally works out and we have 10 dates.  First night I knock on the door of their (REK’s)  bus and ask if anyone wants to grab a drink?  No takers.  Second night, same thing.  Third night, I’m like “hey. I’m going to grab a drink and if anyone wants to go that’s where we’ll be.”  So finally I hear a rumbling from the back and it’s Robert Earl and he says, “hold your fucking horses, I’ll be right there.”  It was in Milwaukee and we were playing at the Pabst theatre.  Across the street was this spy bar where you had to do this little song and dance to get in.  You were on video and the people inside sat and laughed at you but it was cool.  Well the owners of the Pabst come over and asked if we wanted to go smoke a joint?  Sure thing. They tell us George Winston is playing and Robert says, if you haven’t ever seen him you really need to.   So we ended up on top of the Pabst theatre watching George Winston practice his piano and sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels between the two of us.  We talked about who inspired us to get into music and everything else under the sun.  That was the night I felt like we finally made that connection.  We’ve been on several tours together since but it’s always that first hour that I just don’t know what to do with myself.

LS:  So who were the inspirations?

CC: Bob Dylan for him and Merle Haggard for me.

LS:  Any others that make you star struck?

CC:  There should be but I try not to let it mess with me. 

LS: Give us an example of a night where you stood back and said, “Is this really happening”?

CC: We were in Nashville for a CMA awards show or something and we went to a party hosted by Jimmy Buffet.  His manager called and said “Hey Canada, get your ass over here, Buffet’s looking for you.”  I said, “Bullshit, man”.  So we went over there and sure enough Tony Brown (Jimmy Buffet’s producer) is playing on a baby grand piano and Buffet is sitting there playing guitar and singing along and Keith Urban is also there singing along and pickin.  So Buffet goes to the bathroom and I think to myself, this is my moment.  And in front of the bathroom was a guy who looked like Shaq’s twin brother says, “just wait a minute, he’ll be back out”.  So I wait and he comes out and I say “hey, wanna smoke a joint?” and he says, “man, I just did.  Let’s go and play some music”.  So we sat around and played some Rolling Stones, some Beatles, and other stuff like that.  That was easily one of the coolest nights of my life.

LS:  So let me get this straight; you, Keith Urban, and Jimmy Buffet sitting around a private party playing whatever songs come to your mind?

CC:  Yep.  There was another night like that in New York.  It was me, George Straight, Lee Ann Womack, Jimmy Buffet, Tony Brown, Randy Owen (of Alabama fame), sitting around a piano.  It was just one of those magical nights where next thing you know it’s 7 a.m. and you’re hoping you didn’t mess up bus call.  That’s the type of night where bus call is gonna have to wait.  George Straight is the first concert I ever saw and he put the bug in me. 

LS:  Are these encounters with Lee Ann Womack what led to your collaborations on Soul Gravy and Mission California?

CC:  A gentleman by the name of Enzo had done all of her albums and he left MCA to manage us, which was a huge deal at the time.  He had managed her and worked on all of her albums and we ended up doing a show together in Houston (The Rodeo nonetheless).  We went backstage to meet her and she was just the coolest chick.  Sailor mouth, party girl, Outlaw.  Sweet Mom, loving wife, and all around great person but might still be able to drink you under the table.  We got to talking and she said I’d love to work with you guys sometime.  We really hit it off and thought to ourselves, we’ve got something pretty special here.  Sure enough I called and said we have something and she said, “just hold on to it and I’ll fly down to Texas to record it”.  And that was huge, the fact that she would come to us.  All she said was “I just want some Whataburger and a six pack of Budweiser when I get there.”.  I played it, she loved it, and that’s how “Sick and Tired” came to be.  Garage was much more of a rock n roll album so there really wasn’t room for her but she came back on Mission California and did “Cry Lonely”.  We had some great plans for that song to do a music video out in Steamboat.  I had the story written out and we were gonna do a Robert Rodriquez type of thing with blood on the snow.  We wanted it to be similar to like a B horror movie but it just didn’t work out.

LS: Tell us about the acoustic tour you did with her?

CC:  That was the most fun ever man.  It was Lee Ann, Stoney, Wade, and me and she always thinks I’m just this rock n roll guy.  So one night we all stayed up on the bus playing songs and I bet her that I knew more George Straight songs than her.  She called Bullshit and I said, “alright, tomorrow night I/m gonna prove it to you.  That next night I didn’t play any of my own songs, just George songs.  Not the hits, the obscure ones.  She is so awesome, can’t say enough good things about her. She always made us sound cleaner than we were. 

LS: One item on tour you can’t do without?

CC:  It’s gonna sound strange but my blood red Doc Martin’s.  I’ve worn Doc Martin’s since I was thirteen and I’ve had a lot of people give me shit about it but I don’t care.  I’ll walk in wearing those and a flannel shirt and people will say “what’s up Eddie Vedder?”  I’ve been wearing them since I was a kid and I’ll wear them till I die.  If I leave them behind I have my wife mail them to me. You gotta have a good set of tires man.

LS: Marijuana is obviously an open subject with you having come up a couple of times in this interview and I remember you doing an article in High Times magazine not that long ago.  So how are you gonna handle that speech with your own little ones?

CC:  Well I know it’s coming, I just know how my kids are.  I’m gonna bust them and then I’m gonna have a talk with them.  I’ll just say here’s the deal, I’ve been doing it forever.  Here’s what to do, what not to do, who to trust, who not to trust.  Just be smart about it.  I’d rather you smoke pot than go drinking and driving.  I’ve had that argument with Wade (Bowen) a 1,000 times.  Our kids are cousins you know and he’s like “I can’t believe you’re going to let your kids smoke pot”.  I’m not gonna walk into their room when they’re 12 and say “hey, let’s fire up a doobie”.  I wanna wait till I find their secret stash and then sit them down and talk about it. 

LS:  Wade is of course not only a great friend but a brother-in-law correct?

CC:  Wade’s married to my wife’s youngest sister, Jeremy (Plato) is married to the middle sister, and then there’s Shannon (my wife).

LS: That must make for some eventful Holidays?

CC: They’re good, they’re really, really good.  Wade’s kids and my kids are pretty much the same age and now Jeremy has a kid.  So we all go to Grandma’s house and sit around playing songs.  Willy (my youngest son) made his debut this year singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” live on radio. 

LS:  How’d he do?

CC:  He did great, his brother kept hogging the microphone but it turned out alright.  I was like, “don’t argue man, save it for when you’re in a band together.” 

LS:  Would you wish the same life for them?

CC: Yeah I do.  That’s nothing I would change about what I’ve done.  I do wish the same for them.  You get to travel and see the world and make people happy.  That’s my big thing, music makes people happy.  Music’s the key, it’s in everything.  The world would be very different without music in it. 
LS:...We couldn’t have said it better ourselves...

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