Incendiary iron cardigans with Cody Chesnutt

It is not the ideal time for a half drunk Incendiary member to stumble into the dressing room and interrupt your ironing but this was exactly the situation that Cody Chesnutt and I found ourselves in. He was armed with an iron and a half de-creased red cardigan. I was armed with a memo recorder and a brain that was beginning to lose its faculties

http://cchesnutt.com/

Cody Chesnutt

Having an interview with a band close to show time is never ideal but there I was, an hour before show time, making my way into the bowels of the Paradiso trying to find dressing room number 2. Pre-show time is an important part of the day for a touring musician. Usually they like to get the press stuff out of the way early, then find something to eat, try to waste time in some fashion for a couple of hours wandering around whatever town/city/field they happen to be in but the only real time they have to themselves is the hour or so prior to going onstage. It’s where they prepare, get their mind focused, their body relaxed and warm up for the show. It is not the ideal time for a half drunk Incendiary member (Another good reason for press interviews to be held early!) to stumble into the dressing room and interrupt your ironing but this was exactly the situation that Cody Chesnutt and I found ourselves in. He was armed with an iron and a half de-creased red cardigan. I was armed with a memo recorder and a brain that was beginning to lose its faculties due to a lack of sleep and some rather delicious Belgian beer.

 

Anyway, we sat down in some of the most ridiculously oversized armchairs ever to grace a dressing room and began to talk.

Incendiary (IN): It’s a pleasure to get some time to sit and talk with you…

Cody Chesnutt (CC): Yeah, me too.

IN: …although I’m sorry it has to be so close to showtime. Because of that I’ll try not to keep you that long.

CC: Oh cool. That’s alright.

IN: Let’s get into it. I was struck by how much of a different beast Landing on a Hundred is to the Headphone Masterpiece. And although there was a long gap between that album and this, which can often lead to an artist ‘changing direction’ so to speak, I’m not sure if anyone was really prepared for Landing on a Hundred.

I kind of want to say that Landing on a Hundred sounds ‘polished’ but that word always sounds a little detrimental …

CC: No, no, that’s ok. Compared to Headphone Masterpiece! (laughs)

IN: True. Even the studio that you chose to record in, Royal Studios. It’s got such a history to it and there’s such a Memphis sound to the record anyway.

CC: Cool.

IN: It really reminds me of stuff like King Curtis and the Memphis Horns. There’s a real crisp, clear sound to the record and I was wondering is it close to sounding like the album that you had in your head? Before you started recording?

CC: Yes.

IN: Because now, when I listen to Headphone Masterpiece again, I can tell that in places – in particular on songs like When I Find Time – there’s probably a sound going on in your head that isn’t on that record. That you weren’t able to capture for whatever reason.

CC: Right, right. That was the thing, you know. Everything was fully realised. In terms of the composition, the arrangements, I feel that everything was in its place. You know, I could have sat in the studio mixing for another month but at some point you’ve just got to look at yourself and say,” You know, it’s there.”

IN: Well you even manage to get a flute in there at one point and I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s no place for flutes in music. (CC starts laughing) But you’ve got it there and it works and that’s testament to how well formulated it is. Everything’s so warm sounding as well. It’s a really warm and inviting record.

CC: Thank you.

IN: I’ve read that it took you three or four years to pull it together, is that right?

CC: Yeah, the material actually started coming about four and a half, five years ago. And then in the last two years or so it really started taking shape. Right around, I would say…2000…the latter part of 2010 I felt like we really had what we needed to go in and document it and record it. All the parts, the horns and all that stuff was coming into place in a very organic way and then when we played it live people were asking, “Could we buy it?” So I figured then that it was time to go in and record it.

IN: I read that it was crowd funded in some way, is that correct?

CC: The latter part of it was. The initial funding came from me. I paid for it, initially, at the start of it but it got pretty expensive. (laughs)

IN: I can imagine, there’s a big band at work on this record.

CC: Yeah, so the latter part of it kept the whole campaign moving.

IN: That’s great to hear. There’s something bubbling under the surface with this crowd funding movement that I think many are missing. With Landing on a Hundred I got a similar feeling to what I got with Amanda Palmer’s record earlier this year and that is a real sense that this is exactly what you wanted to put down on record. I don’t feel the specter of a label anywhere on it, no interference at all and that’s simply because I can’t imagine a label stumping up the cash for something like this. A real, old fashioned, 70’s sounding soul/funk record with a big band. A label would have been like, “Can you get a guest star in on this?” 

CC: Yeah, right.

IN: Or they would have tried to team you up with some hip producer and made it sound all synthetic and totally opposite to what this sounds like.  I think that sense of freedom, that liberation to really follow your own heart is something that crowd funding projects can enable artists with. That’s a luxury, even if the process itself isn’t that luxurious or easy to get off the ground. And Landing On A Hundred works so well because the music, the sound of the music is so timeless, it’s not chasing the latest modern trend or fad.

CC: Thank you. When I was trying to wrap my head around the approach, sonically, I figured that regardless of how much technology is moving forwards there’s certain things, like a drum or a guitar. They still work, they still connect. It’s just how they’re used or how they’re captured or recorded. The human body still responds to it that’s why a lot of people go and buy classic records. I wanted to see if I could still use real instruments, you know, but just put an energy that was relevant to me right now into it and capture something that people will embrace or find accessible. It’s really important to me that the music is accessible.

IN: Headphone Masterpiece goes in many different directions, and although Landing on a Hundred takes many different turns itself it feels like a much more focused record. It works as a whole piece, to me. Headphone Masterpiece feels, to me, like an album by a guy who’s…not so much messing around, although there’s a lot of humour in the album, particularly with tracks like Bitch I’m Broke and Look Good In Leather…

CC: True, true.

IN: …but it’s a guy who’s thinking, “I’ve just got to get something out of me.” As if you just felt the urge to do something, without really knowing what it is. Whereas  Landing on a  Hundred feels like it’s by a guy who’s said to himself, “Well, if I’m going to get up there and say something I’d better have something to say.” Is that a fair assessment?

CC: Absolutely. Being away and being in a completely different environment. I’m out in the countryside, down in the state of Florida. And, you know, having kids, all these things just gave me a completely different perspective. I really wanted to capture that with the body of work. All the time I spent listening, observing, in a different way and really understanding that I can…I can still be honest but I can give some thought into what it is that I’m going to project to the world. Or what it is I’m going to offer because words really affect people. I was definitely a bit more conscious of the language and tone of what I was communicating.

IN: Lyrically we could go into detail on many aspects although I don’t think we have time but, from your point of view, is there something that brings the album  together as a whole, as a piece? Is there one?

CC: There are several themes but the underlying, or continuum, through it is just, you know, trying to get that best part about humanity and moving forward with that. You know, really trying to take the best that’s within us and keep moving in a positive direction. Overcoming whatever adversities, continuously growing. All those different kind of core human elements is the kind of main theme running through the record.

IN: There’s a lot of reinforcement in there, lyrically. There’s also quite a bit of fear in the album as well. In many of the ‘stories’ there’s obviously a lot going on in the background that’s hinted at and suggested. Whatever it is that’s going on at this point, whether it’s drugs, money, or whatever day-to-day kind of struggle the listener is dealing with, or that the song is referencing.

CC: Exactly.

IN: The album is there to tell you that if you’re confident, if you put a face forward then you can….In England we always say “Putting a brave face on it” will see you through. If you can stand up and tell yourself, “You know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out today and try and beat this.”

CC: Exactly, exactly.

IN: And some songs really feel like a call to arms but as much as there’s a lot of it aimed at the audience I get the sense that a lot of it is actually aimed at yourself. Would that be true to say?

CC: Well that’s where it all starts from anyway.

IN: And is that where the helmet you wear on stage comes into play? I heard you talking about it on a radio show a few weeks ago, and you were saying the helmet is a symbol, a barrier for defending yourself against…

CC: Not so much defending myself but more about soldiering myself. These issues are really important and it’s about putting myself on the front line of real, present issues that’s going on in my life and in my community and what’s really happening globally. Trying to be a part of, what I think is the elevation of a conversation that’s happening, in art and in society. People are making contributions to really push it forward so the helmet is just a bit of symbolism. A bit of artistic liberty to say that I’m on the front line with my end, you know?

IN: And it looks cool, let’s not forget.

CC: Oh thanks, (laughs)

IN: Anyone wearing a helmet and a beard gets instant bonus attention points from me, I tell you. I mean, I can’t grow a beard anyway so I’m instantly jealous anyway but with headwear too, man, you’re onto a winner. I’m not sure about the cardigan though.…anyway, where were we? Oh yes, the song Under The Spell of the Handout, there’s a number of ‘woop woops’ in there, but there’s a line where you say What am I steppin in? and is it a ‘woop woop right after that or do they sing something else?

Cody then begins to sing me half of the song a capella, leading up to the lines

CC: What am I feeding on? Woop Woop

What am I steppin in? Woop Woop.

Yeah, there’s some ‘woop woops’ in there.

IN: Ah, you see, when I first heard that I thought they sang, ‘poop poop’ at that point.

CC: (laughs) Really?

IN: Yeah and you know, there’s a part of me that’s actually a little disappointed that they don’t. But hey, what can you do? Well, I’ll just finish off by saying it really is a fabulous record and we wish you all the very best with it.  Have a great show too.

CC: Thanks Damian. I appreciate it.

 

And after that, I left him to his ironing board and made my way back through the warrens of the Paradiso. As for the show? Magnificent.

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