A Few Minutes With Cody Canada

Cody Canada talks with Pollstar about his new band and why Cross Canadian Ragweed fans should feel right at home with The Departed.

2010 wasn’t the best year for fans of Cross Canadian Ragweed, the band consisting of Grady Cross, Cody Canada, Randy Ragsdale and Jeremy Plato. In May of that year the band announced it was taking a break, noting that drummer Ragsdale wanted to spend more time with his autistic son.

But life in the slow lane wasn’t what Canada had in mind. The Red Dirt Rocker, along with Plato, has formed a new band – The Departed. And, while it remains true to its Oklahoma heartland roots, the band also rocks the room a bit more than Cross Canadian Ragweed.

Calling from Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla., Canada not only talked about The Departed, but the veteran musician also told us about what inspires his songwriting and how the band’s first album of original material – Adventus – came about.

(Left to right) Chris Doege, Seth James, Cody Canada, Steve Littleton, Jeremy Plato.

What can fans expect from The Departed and the new album that they didn’t get from Cross Canadian Ragweed?

The obvious is more songwriters and singers. There are three of us this time instead of two of us. It’s nothing against Jeremy [Plato] in Ragweed, but it’s just a little fuller…. it’s a little thicker.

Is this a democratic band as opposed to a frontman with backing musicians?

Yeah. Ragweed was democratic as well. I was the one writing most of [the music]. In this thing everybody gets their chance. Because of the amount of players, we try to even it out, especially on the record. We try to even it out where everybody got a chance to play enough solos and stuff like that. It’s definitely an all for one, one for all kind of thing.

Playing with the new band, what do you offer to make the Cross Canadian Ragweed fans feel at home?

I think that, if it’s something Jeremy and I am involved in, we’re definitely going for the Ragweed. There’s a difference between Seth [James] [and me] when it comes to writing. If I see something happen, I’m going to write about it. Seth does the same thing. But I’m a very literal writer. I’m a big fan of Randy Newman. I think if people dug Ragweed, they’re going to dig this. It really is the same kind of thing, it’s just a little bigger, a little heavier. It’s definitely more rock ’n’ roll than Ragweed was.

I think that we got pigeonholed sometimes with the country thing just because of the Nashville label. We got some CMT stuff, and I heard people all the time say, “I don’t like country music but I like y’all.”

I’m not really a country music fan, but I’ll take it. I think they’re going to dig [it]. It’s been kind of hard on the road, at times because there were some people that were upset about it. But the fans didn’t. The only thing I had to tell those people was, “Man. It happens. You got to move on and if you really liked what you heard before, you’re still going to like this.”

Regarding radio airplay: Are you folks too rock for country yet too country for rock?

That really has been the case of my career. Period. We got some country airplay and no rock ’n’ roll airplay. I think that this band, we actually have a better shot at rock ’n’ roll and we don’t really have that big shot at country.

Cross Canadian Ragweed and your new band The Departed have both been called “red dirt rockers.” Are you comfortable with that label?

Yeah. I was comfortable with it just because it gave Oklahoma music a label. It gave people from Oklahoma the spotlight. That’s what I love about Oklahoma music. It’s that all for one kind of thing. Everybody supports each other.

What can inspire a Cody Canada song?

Writing for me really starts with driving. If I get out and take a drive, that’s usually where it comes from. I’ve written a handful of tunes without a guitar just driving down a back road. I get home, put a guitar to it, and it really turns out as I envisioned it. It sounds so cliché, but it’s emotion, whether it’s love for my kids and my wife, the troubles in the world, or something eating at me, I got to get it out. [It’s] therapy writing.

So when you get home and put the guitar to it, do you already hear what it will sound like with the band?

I hear what it’s going to sound like with just a guitar. Once we get into the studio and start creating, it’s like cooking a pot of chili. We’re just adding to it. If that works, we’ll keep it. If it doesn’t sound right, we won’t.

Is it pretty much the same process with the other members of The Departed? Do you add to somebody else’s song?

Oh, yeah. Everybody has their own ideas. We usually sit around at soundchecks or in the back of the bus, and somebody will throw something out. The one cool thing is, everybody is very persistent. You’ll hear [someone play] the same riff or progression for two or three days and it’s like, “All right. This person is very adamant about this. Let’s get on it.” And it starts adding up. Jeremy pipes in … This is a very vocal band. Everybody has opinions on stuff.

There are certain songs on the record that weren’t written in 45 minutes. They were written in two months just because it wasn’t quite right.

Sounds as if you and the band won’t play any song before it’s time.

I’ve been very guilty of that in the past. It’s been a long time ago, but I’d write something, sing it, and I wasn’t quite ready to let it go, yet. I didn’t doctor it up.

My favorite thing is, when we’re on tour together and with other musicians. It’s late night and everybody is having a good time and it’s like, “Now the true test. Let’s play this song for our peers and see what they think about it.”

You have to be pretty brave to put it out there for criticism from other musicians.

That’s the adventure of it all. I love it. There were 18 tunes ready for this new record and the hard part was getting rid of four of them. Whether it just didn’t fit the mold of the record or it wasn’t quite finished yet.

What are your recording sessions like? Does the band play live or do you track everyone individually?

We play live. That’s the thing. We play live to get the groove, to get the drums and bass. Then, by stroke of luck, there’s a guitar part that’s perfect, that’s right on. But 99 percent of it, we get the drums and bass first. Then we go back and start adding to it.

I did a record with Ragweed that was individually tracked and it seemed soulless. I think gathering around all in the same room and jamming together – that’s the way to get the soul of the tune.

You’ve been playing live and making records for years. What’s still as much fun about your career as it was when you started?

I can honestly answer that question with “It’s still fun.” Everything about it. These days are more fun than it used to be [because] we don’t have to answer to anybody. We don’t have a record label telling us, “I don’t know about that, I don’t know about this.” We get to do it ourselves. We get to give people advance copies of the record without somebody yelling at us.

Do you see the Departed as a touring band that puts out records? Or is it a recording band that tours to support records?

We’re definitely a touring act that puts out records. This is our job. We’re on the road 220 days a year, missing birthdays, our kids’ lives. We don’t miss holidays. I promise you that. But this is what we do. We’re truck drivers or gypsies.

How do you move the Departed from town to town?

We’re on a bus. That’s one good thing about playing as much that you can afford to get a bus. Sleep is very important. Sleep and creativity. That’s the one thing a bus offers you. Then, when it’s time to write or even listen to the rough cuts of the records, you can all sit in the back lounge of the bus and create something. We have guitars tacked to the wall.

What was the biggest hurdle in forming the Departed?

The people accepting the fact that Ragweed was over. I kind of understand, I guess. I’m a gigantic Stone Temple Pilots fan and when they split, it was hard for me to follow each member in the direction they went because I thought it would never be as good. But I was wrong. I dug what they did individually.

But getting people to accept it… Finally, two years into it. I’ll tell you what happened. We put a cover record out of all the Oklahoma artists that I grew up listening to and hung out with – This Is Indian Land – I wanted to do that forever but the label wouldn’t allow us to do it because they wanted originals. I told them, “Man, We put out 10 records. Can we do something for our friends?”

It wasn’t a strong “no,” but we had the feeling it was going to get shelved and we didn’t want to take that risk. Once Ragweed split, we didn’t want to rush a Departed record and have songs that weren’t 100 percent finished. So that was perfect timing, I thought, to put that Indian Land record out, and then in the meantime write songs for the new record. Since, we’ve been playing nothing but the new stuff at shows and giving people little snippets on the Internet. People are finally coming around. The people that were doubters are coming around because now they get to hear what we have to say.

Do the Cross Canadian Ragweed fans feel at home with the Departed?

They do. They finally do. We toured Indian Land for a year and a half. Even before it came out, we had all these songs. We had them recorded, we just didn’t have the record released yet. We were touring these tunes [with] a few Ragweed tunes. It seemed like they were waiting [for the new songs]. And talking with people after shows, [they’d say], “We dig Indian Land, but when’s the new stuff coming out?” That’s a good problem to have.

We started playing this live stuff. We debuted pretty much everything on the record up in Challis, Idaho. Reckless Kelly does this Braun Brothers reunion show up there and there’s 4,000 hardcore listening people. They’re not really there for the beer slinging. They’re there for the music That’s why they drove all the way up to the top of the mountain.

We played an hour set of the new stuff, and that’s when we realized that was what they were waiting for. And it was what we were waiting for to. We finally got their attention.

What are some of your favorite places to play?

You can pretty much put me anywhere in California and I’m going to have a smile on my face. Even Los Angeles. I know that’s rough for some people but I love it out there.

My wife is a Californian, and I’d never been there. It always seemed like a fairy tale place, a place that was so far away when I was a kid. When I married my wife 15 years ago, I went out there and hung for about a week and fell in love with the joint. We didn’t play California this year at all. They were upset and so were we. I think we’re going to head out there in January.

I like going into a big city and playing a small club. I go to New York and it’s so expensive to play. You have to park in New Jersey and haul your gear over in a Ryder truck and it’s a pain in the ass. But once you get there, it feels good. It feels good for people who are so busy, have so much going on.

What’s the secret to keeping a marriage together when you’re on the road as much as you are?

I don’t know if I have the answer to that one. Trust is one. She was with me for seven years on the road. Then she got pregnant with our first kid. She was Ragweed’s manager and she’s the Departed’s manager. We just keep it all in-house, for one. We have sisters, wives and friends working for us. My wife and I have a very good friendship and relationship. We’re really the same person. She knows I’m not going to do anything stupid.

She’s my best friend, a fantastic mother and manager. The one thing that keeps the wheels moving in both bands is she doesn’t take shit off anybody. She knows when it’s wrong, she knows when it’s right and she’s going to stand up for both. She definitely sticks to her guns and I think that’s what we saw in each other.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

There’s been several. I got, I hate the word, but [I had] writer’s block for a while. It was while Ragweed was disintegrating, I kind of panicked for the moment and I just kind of got lost.

I called Robert Earl Keen and said, “I can’t write a song.” And he said, “Just write one.”

Then I called Todd Snider – those are two of my biggest heroes – and he said the same thing. He said, “Just write.”

Then I called home and talked to my oldest son, and he kind of saw through it. He said, “Why are you blue, Daddy?”

Then he said, “Well, I think it’s unfair that … you didn’t write a song for my little brother, so why don’t you just write a song?”

So the best advice is, “Just write.”

“Everybody has their own ideas. We usually sit around at soundchecks or in the back of the bus, and somebody will throw something out.”

The Departed’s album Adventus drops Nov. 13. Upcoming shows include Helotes, Texas, at Floore’s Country Store Nov. 2; Roscoe, Texas, at The Lumberyard Nov. 3; An Adventus CD release party in Fayetteville, Ark., at George’s Majestic Lounge Nov. 9 and Shawnee, Okla., at the 3rd annual Jam Fest Nov. 10.

Canada will also play a series of non-Departed shows with Jason Boland and Chris Knight. Beginning in December, stops include Dallas at House Of Blues Dec. 5; Houston’s House Of Blues Dec. 6; New Braunfels, Texas, at Gruene Hall Dec. 7 and San Angelo, Texas, at Blaine’s Pub Dec. 8.

For more information, please visit TheDepartedMusic.com.