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The 405 meets Cody ChesnuTT

The 405 meets Cody ChesnuTT

by Sam Willis, 26 November 2012

With his new album Landing On a Hundred just released (his first studio album in over a decade), and a recent performance on Later... With Jools Holland, The 405 had a lot of questions to ask the smooth talking Cody ChesnuTT (aka soul's prodigal son).

Here we chat about Death Row, modern music and Al Green...

When do you first remember music coming into your life and thinking that you wanted to become a musician?

It hit me really early man, like maybe 6 or 7 years old 'cos I started bangin' on the drums you know. I believe I connected really early with the rhythm and soul of it all and then I eventually moved to playing the piano, because I have an uncle who plays classical piano and I would love to hear him play. Then I learned a Commodores song 'Easy Like Sunday Morning' at around 8 or 9 years old and I think there was no looking back after that.

So drums was the first instrument you learned then?

Right yeah then piano and then guitar, but I picked that up in my 20s actually.

Even though your sound includes a variety of genres it has a staunchly 70's soul sound, do you think it's important for your sound to have a very direct connection to your influences?

Oh yeah for sure 'cos that's what I cut my teeth on as a kid, it's something about the roots of your childhood that you stay connected with. That was my introduction into music and how to communicate from within a very deep place, that was really where I learned that so yeah it's always with me.

I read that you used to write songs for Death Row in the early stages of your career, how did this come about and are there any songs we would recognise that you wrote?

I have a cousin who was in a singing group, doing a kind of Boys to Men thing, you remember them? So Death Row was looking to diversify and go into the pop world and the boy band thing and I was brought in as a songwriter after my cousin told Suge Knight that I wrote songs. He liked my writing style and brought me to California; you know, to get me in the studio and see if we could capture something. I probably worked with them for a few months and the last thing I did with them was a song for Tupac after he died. They wanted to do a tribute album to him and they were also doing 'The Gridlock' movie so they wanted a soundtrack, but the tribute album never materialised so they took the song I did for that and put it on the soundtrack for 'Gridlock'. It is the last song on that album and that was the last experience I had with Death Row as a writer.

You have said that Landing on a Hundred represents the journey you've been on since your last release, whats happened in the 10 years since The Headphone Masterpiece?

Just a lot of every day life, you know? I have two kids and if you have children you'll understand the demand that that is. I just really took it upon myself to really live it and not really try to fight with, you know, thinking should I have a career or shouldn't I? I just thought 'I'm a family man now let me really get to know this new human life and what this is all about' and that just really opened me up to taking it day by day because I knew that it would affect my songwriting and give me something more meaningful to talk about so I really wasn't in a rush or under pressure to get back into the industry so to speak. I just wanted to take my time and just live.

So do you think the music took a back seat during this period or did it just give you something different to say?

Yeah that's it, it changes your perspective and allows you to be a bit more aware of what it is that you're putting out in the world. For me it definitely gave me more clarity and purified my soul and my mind because I am trying to keep my child's mind pure and preserve their innocence so to speak. So all of that had an effect on the way I approached the writing process. I wanted to make music that I could play to my children and in my house. That was a huge inspiration and had a huge impact.

Landing On a Hundred seems a lot more honed, focused and smooth compared to The Headphone Masterpiece, do you think your long time away gave you time to improve your songwriting without the label pressure?

Yeah it totally did, that's what I loved about it, I could really take my time and evolve, not only as a man but as an artist as well. I'm so glad I had that opportunity because it allowed me to come to it in a fresh way and rediscover it for the first time. I'm very thankful for that period and it allowed me to have a better understanding of language and the tone of language and words, and how to narrow things down and get to the point in a concise way.

You recorded in the Royal Studios in Memphis, the same studio that the legendary Al Green recorded many of his classics and used the same microphone as him. What did that experience mean to you as a soul artist?

That was mind blowing. You know you grow up as a kid listening to all of these records and when you're young like that and you hear a song it's like it's coming from this mysterious planet somewhere and then you walk into this place where it all happened and its pretty overwhelming. So Boo Mitchell, the guy who runs it know, which is Willie Mitchell's son he said that he liked my vocals and said 'why don't you use this microphone?' and he brought out this classic RCA Microphone with the number 9 on it, and that's the one that Al Green used on 'Love and Happiness', 'Let's Stay Together'; all those great classics man. You know, you grow up on these tunes, and here's the microphone that the vocals were captured with.

One of the highlights of the album for me is 'Everybody's Brother', is narrated by three characters: the Drug abuser, the adulterer and the hustler. Are these characters from your life?

Yeah from my personal experiences and also from other lives I've observed, like family members and people in the community just every day people trying to sort it out. I really wanted to bring a voice to those things that I thought had not been addressed, at least not the way that I wanted to see them addressed. It touches on how people, and myself, were kind of behind the 8 ball but now we've moved beyond and have a pretty decent outlook on life and are moving forward in a positive way and were not interested in going back to the chaos.

That's why the refrain is "No Turning Back" then I guess?

Exactly yeah, and it's like any other situation you know? You have to remind yourself because it's easy to slip back into old habits, so it's a constant reminder to keep moving forward.

And do you think you've stuck by that so far?

Oh yeah man that's the only way I could have written it! I had to really experience it so I could know how to apply it to life and apply it to my craft and it's been a really big part of my life for sure.

I read that you described some modern club music as chewing paper because there's no flavour. I really like that analogy and completely agree, do you think there is too much of this kind of music in the industry today?

Oh man it's over the top! To the point where I can't listen to the radio for maybe 10 minutes, I have to go back and listen to some classics or something. I just can't imagine putting out so much music that you do not feel, I just don't feel it. That's why I made such a comment because it's gotten to the point now where it's just a sound right? It's just something you hear.

I watched your debut appearance on Later... with Jools Holland last week and thought you were brilliant, how was it for you?

It was cool. The television environment is a very interesting one to connect with but I think overall it was a cool connection and people seemed to really feel it and it came over well.

What have you got planned for the future? Now you've had a ten year gap between records do you think that it's likely you'll be releasing stuff more frequently?

I believe so, even with this one it wasn't planned that way, I really tried to go by the inspiration and what the material was dictating, but I have maybe five or six songs I've been listening to and jiving with, so another album could probably come in another year and a half or two years maybe.

So we wont have to wait so long for the next one then?

[Laughter] No I don't think so.



Landing On a Hundred is out now via One Little Indian.

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