“This is my favorite part,” Cody Johnson says calling One Country for an interview, standing amidst the empty seats at the San Angelo Arena in Texas prior to his show.
“I like seeing it before because it gets to where it kind of looks the same from the microphone,” he says. “The lights go out and you see people, but to look at the aspects of the arena, the history and the different things that have been held here, that’s a pretty cool aspect of it for me.”
It’s an aspect that Cody will be seeing a lot more of as he tours the country on the heels of his first major label release Ain’t Nothin’ To It, which has debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s Country Albums Chart. After releasing six indie albums, his latest major label effort has garnered him the No. 1 album in the land.
It’s lead single ,“On My Way To You,” has reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Charts and Cody Johnson is riding high.
You’re current single, “On My Way To You” is Top 20, what drew you to that song?
“Whenever I first heard the song, I knew that it was something special. And it had this melodic thing about it, which is accredited to the writers, Tony Lane and Brett James. Those guys, I mean, they’re phenomenal writers. Whenever you hear the moral compass of the song—I think that that’s something we lack in country music right now, that good, clean moral compass. And as far as the dynamic of it, it already had the dynamics that you hear on the record. It had that at the demo. So from the moment I heard it, I knew that it was something special and I couldn’t stop listening to it.”
Why did you want it to be your first single off this new album?
“Well honestly, the record was done completely and ready to go out. At that point, myself and [producer] Trent Wilmon were approached by several record labels, one of them being Warner Brothers. We made a 50/50 partnership and when we started talking about a first single, I knew that on this record there were certain songs that I had in my head—’That’s the one they’ll pick,’ because that was the song that leaned a little bit more towards progressive.'”
How’d you decide on the name Ain’t Nothin’ To It for the new album?
“I felt like, again, the moral compass of that song, a dad telling his son, ‘Hey, pull back the smoking and the drinking. Don’t always tell her everything you’re thinking.’ It has a great moral compass, it has a great character about it. I have two daughters and the men in that song are the kind of men that I want my daughters to find. And honestly, because we had recorded it independently and I felt the premonition that it was going to be something bigger, I thought it would be kind of funny to say, ‘Ain’t Nothin’ To It.’ Cody, how’d you find your recent success? Man, there ain’t nothin’ to it.’ (Laughs). I thought it was kind of a fun country cliché.”
How do you decide on songs to cut for your albums?
“I think that if I can’t live a song, if I can’t wear it like a suit, it doesn’t fit right, then I can’t do it. If I don’t believe in what I’m singing, if I don’t have the passion behind it, even if it is ‘Long Haired Country Boy’ or ‘On My Way to You’ or ‘Ain’t Nothin’ To It,’ it doesn’t matter what kind of song it is, if I can’t sing it with passion, then it’s not my song.”
Why did you decide to remake “Husbands and Wives” by Roger Miller?
“‘Husbands and Wives’ was kind of a fluke deal, to be honest with you. I think no matter how long you’ve been married and how much you love that person, you’re gonna have fights with that person. And my wife and I just actually celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary.”
“Thank you. And we’re pretty young. She’s 28 and I’m 31. We’ve never even broken up. It’s a crazy thing. But you know, you have fights. You have disagreements. It’s part of it. We’re on the road and I had to leave, we’d had a kind of butting heads about something and the crappy part of it was I had to go on the road. It was time for bus call and I hated to leave and I got on the road and I was a little sad because we hadn’t really made up. We hadn’t really fixed it. And that night, on stage, for some reason, during the acoustic break, I just decided to sing ‘Husbands and Wives’ because that was what was on my mind. And the next night, my band kind of joined in on an acoustic thing and then that weekend, I was going to the studio to record the gospel song that’s on the record and two of my guys, Jody and Jake, said, ‘Hey man, what if we go put down ‘Husbands and Wives’ just for fun? That was really good.’ And so what you’re hearing on the record is, it’s a one take just messing around and that’s kind of what it was. We captured something really special.”
So for fans who are unfamiliar with Cody Johnson, what are they gonna hear on this album?
“Well, my last record Gotta Be Me, I think was me putting my foot down in the industry and saying, ‘This is who I am, I know who I am, I know who I am lyrically, I know who I am as a man, this is what I stand for. This is the kind of music I play, this is how I look and it’s not changing.’ This time around has been with no agenda. This record was created with zero thought of a record label, it was created with zero thought of getting played on any major market radio station. It was one hundred and ten percent creative because me and Trent Wilmon wanted to create a record that we wanted to listen to.
“If I got in my truck and turned on the radio and had to listen to 15 songs, these are the 15 songs that I would want to hear. And honestly, you get to take a little bit of a ride through time and influence with me. You hear a little Southern rock, you hear a little bit of almost blues-ish Motown type stuff. You do hear traditional, strong traditional currents. You hear some progressive stuff. And it’s kind of, to me, as you’re listening to it, you go, ‘Oh, I hear that influence. Oh, I hear that influence.’ And I think the point behind recording it that way would be to kind of make a statement that you can have fun and you can explore different facets and nuances of music without changing your music and changing who you are to try to get radio play or a record deal. Because ironically enough, this is what got us radio play and a record deal.”
Can you describe what it’s like to be at a Cody Johnson show?
“Lots of energy. High energy. It’s very to the point of making you have fun. It’s not about me, it’s not about my music, it’s not about our show and our lights. It’s about you, how you’re feeling, what you’re in the mood for. And we change a lot of our shows around for that in particular—’Oh, it’s an all ages venue tonight? We’ll probably do this. Oh, it’s a bar? We’re gonna do this.’ And we try to cater to that.”
So what do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
“Love on my wife and kids. And that’s not a rehearsed answer. I live for my wife and kids. Oh man, they’re great. And I hunt. I hunt a lot. When loving on my wife and kids gets too much, I hunt. And I’ve recently started riding cutting horses and so that’s a fun outlet.”
What’s your favorite thing about being a dad?
“Watching how different they are everyday, watching the new little pieces of their brain that you can tell they’re catching on to different stuff. And it’s fun watching them grow.”
What’s 2019 looking like for you?
“It looks like it’s gonna be busy as hell, that’s what it looks like.”