Cody Chestnutt: Kickstarting a comeback
Cody Chestnutt has been off-air for some time. With the release of his first album ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’ in 2002 he announced himself as a major talent. But right now, ten year’s later, he’s a pauper, begging, having set up a crowd-funding page on Kickstarter to fuel the release of his new album, ‘Landing on a Hundred’.
“I heard about Kickstarter 8 months ago” he says. “A friend of mine started a campaign to set up a truck to sell Lebanese street food.” Taking a less meaty direction, Cody saw the platform “as a great new vehicle in the modern age to open myself up.”
The particular site in question, set up in April 2009, is a proxy for crowd-funding with a speculated success rate of 40%. For a musician the site provides a simple economic shift. Rather than borrowing the money from a record label and repaying them with cash and ownership of the music, you take the loan out with your fans, repaying them with records, t-shirts, artwork, and personalised gifts.
This element of collaboration fits well with the production of Cody’s record.
Unlike his auteur debut – demo recordings, written, performed, and recorded on his own, at home on a four-track – Cody decided to bring in other voices for ‘Landing on a Hundred’. The new record, one of 2012’s best, has been produced by Patrice, and includes Britons Matthew John and Izzy Dunn, along with church and jazz musicians local to Cody in Tallahassee, Florida.
“I often find myself myself in a [creative] vacuum, so I really wanted people to contribute their ideas as to what the songs needed. I needed that for the record to reach out and touch people.”
Having had his track ‘The Seed’ covered by The Roots, written for Death Row records, and been signed to Hollywood Records with his former band The Crosswalk, Cody is connected. So why did he opt for local musicians? Surely established recording artists would have been a safer bet?
“I was inspired by the story of Aretha Franklin and the Muscle Shoals. You know it right?”
Franklin once recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, an in-house studio band commonly known as The Swampers. Having only met them on her arrival at the studio she recorded ‘I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)’ off the cuff – a song that would project her into stardom.
Recorded at Royal Sounds, Memphis, famous for the late Willie Mitchell’s creamy production of bands ranging from Booker T to Cat Power, ‘Landing on a Hundred’ has no hangups acknowledging its influences.
Even Cody’s attire is directed elsewhere. “It’s all symbolism. The helmet symbolises that there’s a battle, definitely. The cape I wear is actually called a Kaba. It’s an Ethiopian piece, which was great because people would ask a lot of questions about it, so it was good for educating. But unfortunately I lost that when I was flying about, playing shows.”
Fans of the ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’, which gave prominence to a series of hedonistic relationships, might be surprised by the calmer mood of this new album. Cody has been baptised since. Following a couple of years on the road he took a self-confessed sabbatical from music, and focused on raising his two children. He is now a man at peace with himself, singing in reflective mood.
In this case the idea of crowd-funding was an afterthought to a record already made. From the vantage point of having the record ‘in the bag’ these artist are reaching out to their fans declaring, “If you want this record on vinyl, or CD, or accompanied by a tour, the power is in your hands.” In that there’s an honesty, placing the artist as an internet busker, levelling with their audience. It is real 2.0.
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