Cody Chesnutt on Baby-Making Music, Living in Florida, and "Being the Best Human"
Cody Chesnutt's fans are used to an explosive and eccentric live show during which the bearded soul crooner dons a matador's cape and dances his sexy dances with audience members.
And that army helmet he wears? There's more revolutionary power under there than under all the helmets at a Critical Mass bike rally. Normally, he travels with a band too large to fit on the stages he plays. But tonight at Ricochet, the cape will stay in a hanging bag backstage while Chesnutt plays a solo acoustic set of songs from his new album. And the show is free if you RSVP.
The man behind the upcoming album Landing on a Hundred has landed in the 305 from Europe, where he just finished a week of shows. Now, in this second installment of our conversation, Cody talks to Crossfade about his responsibility for the children conceived to his music, his life in rural Florida, and how you -- yes, you -- can be the best human you can be.
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How much responsibility do you feel toward all the children who will be conceived to your new album?
I just hope the children take away from this project that humanity and human dignity has value and always had value. It should be protected and championed, our humanity, from the pressures, inventions, government policies, that cloud our perception.
The last time you played in Miami, your band was so large that it couldn't fit on the stage and had to play out in the audience. In an ideal world, how big would your band get? Would everyone be in your band?
What you saw was the core. The only thing I would add when resources allow are strings. I love strings. I'd love to bring a percussion player and a few strings so we could communicate the whole listening experience of the album live.
Thursday night's show is going to be acoustic, which sounds so different from the album. What changes when you play those songs that way?
Acoustic, it's a little looser. I can take time and deliver without being tied to the beat. The lyrical content probably comes through a little clearer as opposed to it flying by a little too fast. With the intimacy and the delivery, I can get a little deeper.
Will you be releasing any more of the new songs in acoustic versions?
We could be looking at an acoustic release of these songs. Maybe a live recording of the new material, too.
Granted, The Headphone Masterpiece came out ten years ago. You haven't really been playing those songs lately. Can you still connect with them?
I want to be consistent when I play a show. Some of those songs are still worth revisiting to me.
"When I Find Time," I think is a very, very relevant song. And not too far away from where my heart is now. I can play that song now and not feel any conflict. That is definitely one that stands out to me. And I've never played it live.
I just never got around to it. But if you bring this message, this feeling, this soul, you don't want to start mixing it with the meta because it will become a distraction. I definitely prefer to keep this live experience on Landing on a Hundred.
How conscious was the shift in style and content for you from the first album? Was it just something that happened over the course of a decade and those EPs?
It was pretty conscious. I felt it bending. I felt it was time for the next thing. Most writers and artists, I think, are always thinking of the next thing. The EPs bridge, they work to connect the two experiences.
You now live in Florida. How much has being here influenced your lifestyle and music?
It definitely has influenced my lifestyle and that has an influence on the music. It's North Florida, so it's a little more on the rural side. I'm in the country and it's quiet and peaceful and I get to reflect and listen more than I can in the city. It was the perfect spot for me to transition to into a new body of work. It brought me the clarity and focus I needed.
What did you focus on?
On being what's important to me. Being out there helped me be one with my thoughts and to document that. That's the greatest lesson from The Headphone Masterpiece, that I had to be sincere about what I was feeling. I had to be truthful.
How do you actually spend your time up in North Florida?
It's a combination. It could be as something as simple as walking around. We're in the middle of lots of oak trees and pine trees and to be surrounded by this greenery is always healthy and inspiring. It's a reminder of what is truly real. And that's what helped me the most. And it allowed me to really think that life is living it as I was living it.
What do you feel more connected to these days?
Situations, family. My son and my daughter. The strength that it takes to make it through the day. To sort out whatever issues your friends and family may be facing on a human level. Those are things that I really want to tackle. Not the superficial pop side of things that are dominating the airwaves. Marriage, trying to make that work. Balancing a passion and being a parent. Concerns about what's happening in the community. I took a lot of time to observe and to listen to what other people were saying that was important.
One of the things that really stands out on the album is that even when you're dealing with somewhat dark subject matter like smoking crack, there's a triumphant sensibility and a joy in getting through it. How necessary was it for you to have that in the music?
On this album, everything is not autobiographical. I drew from people around me, their own battles with addiction, their struggles, and what it took for them to find balance. Balancing on the tightrope and trying to find the common denominator. What can we agree upon at a human level. I wanted to touch on and try to address it as simply as possible and directly as possible. To offer what I felt in terms of inspiration to work through it or to offer some kind of change in your life. If I made it through, I wanted to show other people that they could too. What do you think about it?
It's really inspiring, that's the only way to put it. They're great songs. But more than that, I think this is music that can do things for a person and can help them change. I felt different after listening to it. Better.
I think that's great because the aim that I was going for was working to make these really deep issues really accessible and to make people think about it, even if they haven't smoked crack or been bogged down in addiction. To make them look at their own situation and if they have any hurdles of their own and they can draw on the songs as inspiration.
How did you make it through?
My personal thing is something that has been said a million times. You cannot lose faith, you cannot lose hope. It is what allows me to make it every single day. It's my passion. This record, I would like for it to be a great example of faith and faith applied and really applying the faith. You have to really put faith to work, not just have faith.
And you found it.
People are sometimes looking for that. On some level, though, people are looking to be human again. It's so much the invention and the machine and how fast it movies. But we haven't figured out how to be be human yet, to be the best humans we can be.
Cody Chesnutt. A solo acoustic performance. Thursday, September 27. Ricochet Bar & Lounge, 3250 NE First Ave., Miami. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show is free with RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 305-673-3873 or visit ricochetlounge.com.
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