Cody Canada Interview: The Departed Get Back to What They Do Best on ‘3’
In the late 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s, Cody Canada was riding high in Texas as the frontman of Cross Canadian Ragweed, one of the state’s most legendary live acts. With guitarist Grady Cross, drummer Randy Ragsdale and bassist Jeremy Plato, Canada earned legions of fans in the Lone Star State while, alongside artists such as Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and Pat Green, helping establish red dirt music as a bona fide genre.
But in 2010, Cross Canadian Ragweed band split up; everybody went their separate ways, leaving Canada a little bit aimless. The next year, he formed the Departed with former Ragweed bassist Plato. The band released a couple of albums and went through at least a few lineup changes, but now, alongside Plato and drummer Eric Hansen, the Departed have reinvigorated their sound. Their new album, 3, out Friday (June 29), reflects the band’s new status as a trio.
The Boot recently sat down with Canada to talk about what it’s been like since Cross Canadian Ragweed broke up, how he ended up working with producer Mike McClure again and why he’s not afraid to get political.
This album really evokes Cross Canadian Ragweed’s sound during the mid-2000s. What about that period in CCR’s history did you want to resurrect?
I tried to get away from the way that I was writing and the songs that I was doing [at that time] when I first started this band. I was pretty bitter; I was mad because the band broke up. I wanted that band to be together forever; I wanted to be like a Pearl Jam, just forever together. I was mad, so I tried to change my music and the way I sound, and it just didn’t work.
I did a lot of listening to my older stuff and realized that when I was writing those songs in that era, I was extremely happy; I was extremely relaxed. I was comfortable with everything and doing a lot of observational writing. That was me. That’s how I was supposed to be; I’m not supposed to be this bitter person who’s trying to reinvent themselves.
When I finished this record, a lot of folks asked what it sounds like. I accidentally said it sounds like Ragweed. But, man, it’s me again. It’s how I used to write. If a song came to me, I wouldn’t over-analyze or think about hurting people’s feelings or being too personal when it comes to politics or religion. It’s in there, it wants to get out, so just do it. I realized that this is who I am, and this is how I need to write.
What made you decide to start working with producer Mike McClure again? He was so involved in the early Cross Canadian Ragweed work, and then the band split up.
It was really like an old pair of shoes. With the split-up of Ragweed, he was really the fifth member of that band. He was at the first gig, always there for us, but when the band split, it was weird. It was like I lost him in the divorce, for lack of a better word. We went our separate ways; I guess we needed a break.
About four years later, I finally called him and said we have to do things together again -- I miss my friend, I feel like my art is suffering. He’s a hard-headed dude, but he said the same thing. We’re good together.
[I told him] whenever I get enough material to finish this record, let’s do it together. He asked me how many songs I had, and we did the old-school Mike-Canada thing: We’ve got 3-4 songs, let’s book some dates in the studio, and we’ll write as we go. It worked; it was easy. The first day was rusty.
We wrote two songs together in the studio, which is always my favorite part. Years ago, we wrote a song called “Fightin’ For,” and that was our biggest song. We wrote “Lipstick” in the studio together, and hopefully it does the same thing.
What is your working relationship with Mike like?
We have clashed in the past, just on ideas. He would have an idea I didn’t like, or he’d have an idea I didn’t like, but we always got over it. My main concern was that I wanted to impress him. He’s the reason why I do it. I was 15 years old when I met him, and I didn’t know you could write and sing your own songs. I was really that ignorant. I always want to impress him with a song, and usually if he doesn’t like it, we completely change it. We never scrap a song -- the idea is good, and the heart is there.
There is absolutely no dancing around. Sometimes it’s absolutely brutal. Sometimes I want to cancel the session for the rest of the day and go home and cry, but it’s all out of love. I remember the first time: I wrote a song when I was 17, and he was sitting on a barstool at the Wormy Dog in Stillwater, Okla. There was nobody else in the room to me but him; I just wanted to impress him so bad. He gave me the thumbs up, I thought I’d finally impressed my teacher, and then he turned his thumb down. That’s the honesty -- that’s what makes him a good producer. He wants you to be the best you can be.
After 20 years in the scene, how have you seen Texas music change?
When we came to Texas, I grew up in Oklahoma, but I was always trying to get back. I always liked it better. When we first came down, it was like Pat Green and Jack Ingram -- they were taking over from Robert Earl [Keen] and Jerry Jeff [Walker] and stuff. When I saw what they were doing and heard what they were putting out, I thought, "Well, s--t, we can do that." It seemed like there wasn’t a lot of people playing music.
But now, it seems like there’s bands everywhere. It’s not really up to me to say whether it’s good or bad, but there is stuff that I hear that could’ve used a little more put-time into it. It is overrun right now. I’m not saying it’s bad stuff, but there’s a lot going on. I feel like a lot of the people who were playing music back then need to be back out front.
It’s an overly sensitive, crazy, f--ked-up world right now, and everybody’s too afraid to speak their mind. But ...it’s your opinion, and nobody can take that away from you.
Does it scare you to sing about politics, which are extremely prominent on this record?
I think it needs to be addressed. Once again, whether you’re for something or against something, if it’s on your mind and you’re holding a guitar and you’re calling yourself a writer, you should write it. People like to hear your opinion whether they agree with [it] or not.
I love Pearl Jam, and I love how they’re just like Neil Young: They say what is on their mind, and then they talk about it. I saw Pearl Jam in 2003 in Houston, and Eddie Vedder got on this rant about George Bush -- I wasn’t a fan of George Bush either, but I didn’t want to hear 10 minutes of him speaking; I wanted to hear a song about it. And then he went into “Hail Hail,” which was a political statement in itself.
People are too sensitive. It’s an overly sensitive, crazy, f--ked-up world right now, and everybody’s too afraid to speak their mind. But if you don’t like the president or you don’t like what’s going down in the school or in the church, you talk about it. It’s your opinion, and nobody can take that away from you. People are afraid they’re gonna piss off the majority -- that they won’t sell tickets or they won’t sell records. They’re afraid they’re going to piss off the masses.
Would you lose what you have built if you were to say that?
I don’t want to say that I don’t care, because I love the people that we have gained as fans over the course of 25 years -- I love people in general -- but going back to my opinion, I have really close friends that are Trump people, and we don’t even talk about it. Because it gets us to the point of, man, if I say one more thing, I’m going to lose this dude as a friend.
There is a limit, but when it comes to “Samhain,” I played it at a gig in San Marcos, and said, "This song is about your president.” [A] guy [in the crowd] said, “Hell yeah, Trump!” and I told him that he probably wasn’t going to like this next song. No s--t, the guy walked out ...
I’ve gotta talk about what I want to talk about. If someone doesn’t like my political views, that’s not my problem.
What does this record say about you as a songwriter?
I feel like I shouldn’t have done what I did with the beginning of the Departed. I was really looking for a change, and a break. I didn’t want to keep doing what I was doing for that period of time.
I get asked all the time to co-write with folks, and I did that a few times, and it just didn’t work for me. I like writing with Mike. I like doing it on my own. I’ve tried writing with an old band member who was a songwriter too, and he would just say, “No, I don’t like that idea,” and shoot it down. Well, I do, and it shouldn’t make or break the tune. It just kind of thwarts the whole thing to me.
Steve Earle said a long time ago that co-writing’s like making love in front of somebody. It took me a long time to really understand what that meant, but it is. I can go to Mike with a tune because he has the same thought process and opinion as I do, but writing with other people -- you’ve just gotta get to know ‘em better.
The writing process of this record was really observational -- what was going on. That’s what I always did in the past. It is a full-circle album.
How has the new, tighter lineup changed the band’s sound and dynamic?
Going back to the beginning of the second act of the Departed, when I first started, I thought, the more the better. Then, we did a gig as a three-piece once, and I realized that all my friends are right. My wife told me, one of my best friends back home told me, one of my best friends from my hometown told me, just do a three-piece band. You don’t need to overfill it with even great musicians. We just didn’t need it for three-, four-chord rock 'n' roll.
The writing process of this record was really observational ... It is a full-circle album.
When I heard three of us play one time because our piano player had some personal stuff to do, I felt bad for a minute. I’m gonna have to call this piano player and tell him he doesn't have a job anymore ...
Jeremy and I have been together forever for a band. He’s the best bass player I’ve ever seen; he’s almost like Les Claypool good. If he hears it, he can do it. So me playing a chord as I’m seeing a lyric, he’s playing a six-string bass and filling in all the gaps. [Eric] is a surgeon; he can do anything.
It is tighter, and I think less is more. I heard a couple of other musicians, friends of mine in Gruene, said it wasn’t going to sound very good. It works, and it’s so easy. It’s so easy. I don’t have to worry about somebody going off; I know everybody’s personality. I don’t have to worry about someone going off and being too drunk to play.
Now that the Departed are releasing 3, do you feel like things are only looking up?
I’m back to where I need to be. I feel like I kind of dropped out for a bit because I was unhappy, and I was seriously unhappy. I was trying to overfill my band. Now that we’ve tightened it down to three, it’s happy again. I’m focused. Before, I was drunk all the time and stoned all the time, and playing rock 'n' roll, living the Keith Richards lifestyle.
I want to get back in the game. I don’t want to be playing a little s--thole in Fort Worth, Texas. I want to play the crowds that I deserve.
More New Albums Coming in 2018