And that’s the way frontman Cody Canada likes it.
“Aggressive writing, that’s always been fun to me because, I don’t know, it’s like a roller coaster, it just juggernauts for me. It starts off, and you’re kind of getting to the point, kind of getting to the point, and then at the very end you’re just screaming it. I’ve always done really well with love songs and angry songs,” he said.
On the flip side of the “angry” songwriter is a devoted husband and father whose love songs typically revolve around his family. Even today, Canada still gets up to fix breakfast for his two sons every morning he’s not on the road.
“My very first priority every morning is to let them sleep in a little bit and get up and make them breakfast. I think that breakfast is a very important part of our day,” he said.
A couple of days before Christmas, Canada took a quick break from doing some last minute shopping with his oldest son to talk to the Deseret News about the new album, how the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School influenced the writing for the album, about coming to terms with his Cross Canadian Ragweed past and why The Departed’s new album finds Canada returning to familiar ground musically.
“I think that’s what the next Ragweed record would have sounded like.”
The Departed returns to The State Room in Salt Lake City on Sunday. The last time Canada played here was in August of 2012. At that time, Adventus was still three months away from being released and Seth James was still in the band sharing lead guitar and vocal duties. James parted amicably with the band in the fall of 2013 and returned to his solo career.
CC: It was something that we always kinda figured might happen because, ya know, he played for 16 years and lead his own thing and I did the same thing. So, you know, we never walked into this thinking it was going to be a life-long journey. But it was all good when he left. He wanted to get back home, for one. And he’s a blues player, and that’s really the opposite of what I am. There’s some blues-influenced songs every now and then. But I think my thing is more rock-n-roll and folky kind of stuff. I guess I didn’t see it coming, but it wasn’t a surprise or anything.
DN: When I interviewed you in 2012, you said you were excited for the chance to share guitar duties and not sing lead on every song. Was there any thought of replacing Seth and remaining a five piece?
CC: Ya know, I talked about being excited about having another guitar player and somebody else sharing the singing duties. But we did it for a few years and honestly I got to missing it. With so many people in the band there was a lot of structure. And I’m not really used to structure. Jeremy Plato (Departed and Ragweed bassist) and I, we’re the kind of guys that just holler, ‘Here’s the song, 1-2-3-4, let’s go.’ If we have the blueprints of it we can go for it. So it was nice to get back to that spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous stuff. And I really did miss playing the guitar. It feels good. I feel like I had a couple of years vacation. Now I gotta get back to work.
DN: Looking back on Adventus, did it end up being too much of a musical experiment?
CC: No, I loved it. I loved everything that we did because it was so different from what I’ve done before. I was so used to just really me leading the charge in everything. And once we got into the studio and it was my tunes, when it was the songs that I sang, the songs that I wrote, it was under my control. When it was Seth, in my opinion if that’s your song, you’re singing it and you go for it and you be the producer of this tune.
I don’t know, I think it was just one of the eras of this band. We did the covers record first, and then we did what I am calling, ‘The Seth Record.’ And now we’re back to doing it my way. And that’s not a bad thing. I missed it. And I really haven’t had an album full of just songs that I wrote and my opinions for about six years.
DN: Did the writing sessions for Adventus influence the new album in any way?
CC: The one song off Adventus that I’ll honestly hang onto for the rest of my life is ‘Cold Hard Fact.’ And that was one that really started the writing process for me, started the creativity anyway. I had ideas about where I wanted to go next and topics that I wanted to talk about. But I really felt like Adventus wasn’t the vehicle for all those tunes. Because honestly, I had a bunch that were just sitting there waiting to be finished but I didn’t want to overcrowd Adventus with my songs. I really wanted to share it. But with this newest one, it took me about three months. And really it usually takes me about a year to line up an album full of songs. But Seth left, and I was really, really hungry to get back into writing full-time and playing and singing full-time.
DN: There are a lot of ‘aggressive’ songs on HippieLovePunk, like ‘Revolution,’ ‘Boss of Me,’ and ‘Great Big Nothing.’ Where was your headspace when writing this album?
CC: ‘Boss of Me,’ it was really my youngest boy. He had been yelling that one night, and I thought, ‘That’s a really good idea.’ To my knowledge, I don’t know of anyone who’s done that yet. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a kid yell, ‘You’re not the boss of me.’ So that’s really where that’s started.
‘Revolution,’ and ‘Easy,’ and ‘Great Big Nothing’ were all the product of watching the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. I watched that happen on TV and my kids were exactly those grades when that happened. And it just really made me question what kind of place we live in when, (pauses), my parents sent me to school and never worried about it. You know, if there was a bully or something you just handled the bully and moved on. You didn’t have to worry about your kids not coming home. So that was really it for television for. I just turned off the TV and said, ‘Ya know, I’m going to write about this.’ And I think being influenced by Steve Earle and Neil Young and Todd Snider and stuff like that, the hippies, I think that it was inevitable that those tunes were eventually going to come out the older I got. But watching that Sandy Hook thing on TV, I don’t know, it just really rocked me. And I thought I needed to be at least one voice and say, ‘Hey, what are we doing?’ Whether it’s angry or a plea for help, ‘What’s happening?’ What’s happening to the world when we can’t send our kids off the school and not worry about it?!
DN: How important is family to you?
CC: Family is the number one important thing to me. It really always has been, long before I had the boys. I watched, as we all did, so many families split. I was one of them that had that. But there was always a side of my family that was super tight. And i just think that family comes first. That’s why my wife (Shannon Canada) is my manager. She has been for 17 years. And one of my best friends is our sound guy. And Jeremy Plato on bass guitar, I’ve known him since 6th grade. I just think family is important. If you can’t trust family, you can’t trust anybody really. When the kids came along the family got more important. I’ve learned how to balance it. Honestly, when I get home from a three week run and have been staying up to 4 or 5 in the morning, I instantly fall right back into home mode and get up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 8 at night. And once I hit the road it takes me a little bit to get back into that. It’s easy to get back into home life because I’m tired.
My dad was gone just as much as I am. He was oil fields. Still is. But he balanced it. You know, when it was summer time I was on the road with him. I would sleep in the truck with him and we would fish in-between jobs and he would take me to go and eat breakfast and everything. That’s what I try to do with the kids.
DN: You’ve been playing more Ragweed songs in concert over the past year. And in the new bio on your website it almost sounds like you’ve reached a sort of peace with your Ragweed past. Were you at any point ever trying to distance yourself from your Ragweed past, and have you reached more of a peace with it today?
CC: The Departed was already rehearsing and recording before Ragweed’s last show (October 2010). It’s a vicious business. And if you disappear for six or seven months, you gotta work hard to get it back again. So I wanted to just fall right into something. But I didn’t want to fall right in to what people expected. I’ve seen other bands do that and I didn’t want to go from Ragweed to The Departed and instantly be playing Ragweed songs all night long. I didn’t want that. It took awhile for people to still understand what we were trying to do with The Departed. And it got to where night after night I could barely say a word on the mic without somebody yelling a Ragweed song. It made me distance myself from them just to prove a point to people. ‘If you’d just be patient for a minute, let me do this for a minute, I’ll get back to those songs eventually,’ because they’re mine. They’re something I worked really hard to get into people’s ears, and they did eventually.
You know, I saw a lot of people at night after the shows and they’d say, ‘Well, I don’t mean to bring up old things but I saw you back in….’ And I started realizing I’m putting off some sort of negative vibe. I don’t want you guys to think I can’t stand Ragweed, because I love it. I started writing those songs when I was 18 and finished writing for Ragweed when I was 33. That’s a lot of growing up to do. So there’s a lot of life experience in that.
One night, I was out in California and this lady told me, ‘It’s not necessarily the band that we miss, we just miss hearing those songs.’ And that’s when I turned it off. I said, ‘You know what? You’re right. I’m going to go back home and tell The Departed dudes we need to work up about 30 Ragweed tunes just to have ’em in our pocket.’ And I did come to grips with it. I’ve come to grips with how I write and Jeremy and I singing the songs, it’s always going to sound like Ragweed because I’m my own kind of person and so is Jeremy and when we sing together we sound like brothers singing and it’s distinct. People know who it is. And that takes a lot for me to say that because it sounds like I’m bragging. But I understand when people hear my voice they associate it with Ragweed. So yeah, it is kind of coming to grips with who I am, and I just need to be comfortable with it in whichever band. It doesn’t have to be either band. I can go out and play acoustic. As long as people dig it and as long as there’s people who are having fun with it then I don’t care what band it is.
DN: On Cross Canadian Ragweed’s last album, Happiness and All the Other Things, one of the songs that stood out was ’51 Pieces,’ which had a heavy keys part. That sound continued with the addition of Steve Littleton when you formed The Departed. From a musical progression standpoint, HippieLovePunk seems to be the album most people would have expected Cody Canada to release after the Happiness album.
CC: Man, I’m going to 100% agree with you. I said this to the guys in the band, if we would have come out with a record right after the Happiness record, it would have been this. It would have sounded like this. This is also my first attempt at really producing the thing. We all produced it. We did it on our own. And it came out organic and it sounded like something I did. I think that’s what the next Ragweed record would have sounded like. It would have sounded like my tunes with just a little different twist on it.