Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Cody ChesnuTT: Cracking the Cody

Cody ChesnuTT
Cody ChesnuTT Cody ChesnuTT Cody ChesnuTT Cody ChesnuTT

Universally acclaimed by critics for his edgy, sprawling Shortlist Prize-nominated 2002 debut LP âThe Headphone Masterpieceâ, Atlanta, Georgia-raised soul troubadour Cody ChesnuTT returns this month with his long-awaited sophomore album âLanding On A Hundredâ. Which, released internationally through established independent One Little Indian, is currently being pioneered by the urgent, tense push of its frantically-uptempo offshoot single âDonât Wanna Go The Other Wayâ.

Indeed, recorded with a ten-piece band in Memphis, Tennesseeâs legendary Royal Studios (the sonic birthplace of some of the deepest works by soul and blues luminaries like Al Green, Buddy Guy and Ike & Tina Turner), âLanding On A Hundredâ - written and recorded by Cody following a period of family-man retreat and reflection - lyrically represents his journey to redemption following years of womanising and crack addiction. Its frank, socially-conscious songs and âgrown folksâ themes driven by authentic, Southern-soul-drenched musical flavours that range from the joyous gospel/funk of ââTil I Met Theeâ and driving brass-and-strings of the midtempo âThatâs Still Mamaâ, to the Sam Cooke-influenced early-Sixties bounce of âLove Is More Than A Wedding Dayâ and spirited swing of the Stevie Wonder-recalling, grittily-pounding âScroll Callâ.

Born in 1968, Codyâs earliest experiences of the music industry found him exploring Atlantaâs generic early-Nineties R&B scene as a singer before moving to Los Angeles, California where he formed his first band The Crosswalk. Whose brief stint with Hollywood Records saw them recording a whole album before being unceremoniously dropped. Following which ChesnuTT would spend time alone in his bedroom armed with a drum-machine, an array of instruments and a dusty four-track cassette-recorder exploring raw, new sounds. All of which would eventually culminate in the 2002 release of his aforementioned, edgily-lo-fi debut solo LP âThe Headphone Masterpieceâ. Whose emotionally-intense, 36-track mix of rhythm & blues, classic rock, pop and gospel not only saw it immediately hailed by industry tastemakers, but also attracting the attention of super-credible Philadelphia hip hop band The Roots. Who in turn re-tooled one of its songs (âThe Seedâ) as âThe Seed (2.0)â for their seminal 2002 album âPhrenologyâ. A move which - with Cody himself contributing guitar and vocals to the track as well as appearing in its heavily-played music video - prestigiously resulted in an MTV Award-nominated international hit single.

Since which time Codyâs sporadic musical activities have included a fiery performance in the 2006-released music documentary âDave Chapelleâs Block Partyâ - an appearance which unquestionably enhanced his by-then already-growing status as an electrifying showman and daring genre-bender - in addition to in 2010 digitally releasing the critically-acclaimed six-track EP âBlack Skin No Valueâ.

⦠All of which neatly brings us back to today. As an articulate and down-to-earth Mr. ChesnuTT holds court with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis in London Docklandsâ plush Four Seasons Hotel on the eve of release of his aforementioned new LP âLanding On A Hundredâ. Whose intriguing title makes reference to the modern-day street-slang âKeeping It One Hundredâ.

Titling his new, second album âLanding On A Hundredâ

âWell, with âkeeping it one hundredâ already being a common saying in hip hop or street-culture vernacular, I basically wanted to EXPOUND on that by just touching on subjects that were real or truthful to ME. So, just like âkeeping it one hundredâ represents keeping it real or keeping it sincere, âLanding On A Hundredâ is a PLAY-off of that. In terms of landing on something truthful, or landing or something thatâs real to YOU.â

The background to him recording âLanding On A Hundredâ at Memphisâ legendary Royal Studios - past recording-home to classic tracks from the likes of Al Green and Ike & Tina Turner

âWell, that wasnât actually something that was planned. Instead we were originally just looking for the most affordable analogue studio we could FIND. And with me now living in Florida, because Atlanta and Memphis are the two closest places to where I live, those were the places we checked out FIRST. And the reason we ended up choosing Royal Studios was purely because Memphis had the best RATES! You know, it was only once we actually GOT there that we realised weâd made the perfect CHOICE! Because, with so much great American soul having come from there and with âLanding On A Hundredâ in essence being a spiritual soul record, we suddenly realised it made perfect sense to come to a place that had been almost like the GENESIS for that kind of music! I mean, walking in was first and foremost like a spiritual EXPERIENCE, to be honest. Because you could still really feel the energy of the place and all that had been invested CREATIVELY there. Which is why everybody ended up becoming truly INSPIRED - and I think that definitely translated in terms of the actual performance on the RECORD. I mean, the fact that I was actually singing into the same microphone Al Green had recorded with in the early-Seventies literally made my HANDS tingle!â

Codyâs early experiences of the music industry

âYeah, the early-Nineties was basically all about me trying to get my foot into the industry by doing pretty much the cookie-cutter R&B of the TIME. You know, this was the era when R. Kelly and those kind of artists were just breaking through. So when I saw that, I was like âOK, easy enough - I can DO something like thatâ - even though deep down inside I always knew that I had more RANGE, because Iâd grown up listening to a wide variety of MUSIC. So then, when the generic-R&B thing never really took shape, I basically just went on a path trying to find MYSELF as an artist. Which eventually led me to Los Angles, where I started my band The Crosswalk - which in turn really enabled me to expand on some of the musical ideas and OTHER influences Iâd had⦠So yeah, we played together for maybe two-and-a-half years, got a record-deal with Hollywood Records... But then, though we recorded an album for them entitled âVenus Loves A Melodyâ, it was never actually released and they ended up DROPPING us⦠So with the band then breaking-up, I basically just went into my own little corner and vacuum, and just started creating music purely just to keep my own SANITY. Which is what led to âThe Headphone MASTERPIECEâ!â

The story behind Cody making his first solo LP - the aforementioned, Shortlist Prize-nominated double-album âThe Headphone Masterpieceââ¦

âWell as I said, my band had just broken up. So the scenario, if you can imagine it, was very much one of me trying to keep my head together after investing all this time and money and creative energy into an album that had just all of a sudden got SHELVED. You know, it was like the carpet had just got pulled from UNDERNEATH me. But then, because Iâd already been writing some material with the groupâs NEXT album in mind, I already had some ideas that Iâd begun to BUILD on. So from that I basically just went into my bedroom and started fleshing out some of those songs Iâd begun writing, as well as working on some NEW stuff... And before I knew it, I had all this material right there in front of me and no idea of what I was gonna DO with it!... So then one day I just started compiling it all, stringing the songs together, writing and listening to it, building on it... And eventually it all started taking shape and a STORYLINE of sorts started emerging! At which point I was like âOK cool, thisâll be my new ALBUM!â!... And thatâs how âThe Headphone Masterpieceâ came to LIFE!â

Codyâs views on the way the music industry has changed since the release of his first album 10 years ago - particularly as an independent artist in todayâs internet-dominated world

âWell, I definitely perceive it as a positive thing, in the sense that it allows people to be more HONEST in their music. You know, people now can release things without a lot of filter and those people have in turn then inspired other people ALSO to take control of their destiny and define themselves as artists. But having said that, it is a challenge still in terms of the intellectual property side of things. I mean, in order to create a living for yourself you do have to really be strategic as far a how the music GETS to people and how you USE it... So yeah, I guess overall itâs a bittersweet situation. Because, while I love the fact that you can have access to so many different territories today at the push of a button and that it has allowed a lot of freedom in terms of exposure and the sharing of ideas in music, the DOWNSIDE of it all is obviously the issue of piracy plus the fact that weâre now almost oversaturated in terms of the music thatâs OUT there.â

The single âDonât Wanna Go The Other Wayâ and album âLanding On A Hundredâ as both out now through One Little Indian.

You can read more from our interview with Cody ChesnuTT, including Cody's thoughts on The Roots remake of "The Seed" as âThe Seed (2.0),â plus his reaction to his new album being described as âfrank and socially consciousâ - all in our print issue out on Nov 16... Click below to get your copy...

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