EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CODY JOHNSON

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Texas Country Superstar Cody Johnson released his newest album, “Gotta Be Me,” over the summer. Like each album before this one, “Gotta Be Me” in casting a shadow on its predecessors. If you were one of the hundreds of BCS residents to make it out to Wolf Pen Creek this past weekend, you’re well-aware of what CoJo is bringing to the table. We sat down with Cody to discuss the album, his expectations, and his plans for the future.

MW: The last time we talked, the new album was still in production and you teased at the song list – calling it a bag of skittles – all different flavors, but still Cody Johnson. Having released the record, did you expect it to drop at this magnitude?

CJ: Hahaha! You know, I wouldn’t say that I expected it. I think if you expect it to do well, you come off a little bit cocky. In the back of my mind, I want it to do well, but at the end of the day I literally just got down on my knees and prayed – “However you want this thing to go lord, let it go that way.” Low and behold, it did what it did and it’s doing what it’s doing. I’m just trying to sit in the saddle on this deal, just trying to stay on board!

MW: Amen brother. Well, you’ve always had a knack for songwriting, and your ability to script a story into lyrics has proved time and time again that you’ve got a well-secured place in country music. We look back at songs like “Pray for Rain” and “Diamond in My Pocket,” tracks that fueled your career and maintain spots as staples of your live show, but now you’re releasing hits like “With You I Am” and “Kiss Goodbye;” has your songwriting process changed? Or are we seeing an evolution in your style that’s come with experience?

CJ: I really think it’s just the people you put around you. For instance, you mentioned “Kiss Goodbye,” that was a song that was brought to me by Dan Couch and Dale Oliver. They had already started writing it without. They had put together this whole demo of music with no lyrics. Dan had lived with that music for a little while and he had actually written that first little talking part to the song, based upon what he saw in his head when he heard that music. He had put together that whole ‘As I slide the key into the ignition of this old truck’ part, and he told me he could just see this kid driving down this white dirt road in his old Ford pickup – on his way to tell his girl that he can’t be with her anymore – and man he just saw it. When you’re in a room with a guy who has a vision like that, it’s just one of those things where you close your eyes and just see that vision – then you just go with it. The guys that I write with are so incredible, just like my producer Trent Willmon, those guys know how to bring things out of me – especially things that I maybe didn’t even know that I had. Without changing my style and who I am, they know how to draw those things out of me. It was a really cool experience on this record, because I tried really hard on the writing to make sure that I wasn’t just writing it just like I wanted to. Much like being an athlete, if you ever think that you have it totally figured out and ‘this is how I do it,’ that’s pretty much where your ceiling is. One of the things that I always admired about Michael Jordan was that he considered his teammates to be his coaches, claiming they would always teach him something that he didn’t know – and we’re talking about the best of the best. Ya know? I’ve never forgotten that. I try to make sure that, when I’m writing, I don’t put too much Cody in it. But I don’t want to lose it either

MW: That’s something you can hang your hat on. Speaking of being true to yourself, you made it clear to us several years ago that – having done some work up there yourself – you don’t possess this misconception about Music City that supposedly comes with the Texas Music territory. But with the release of “Gotta Be Me,” there have been articles surfacing that claim you’re beating Nashville at its own game; do you even have time to notice what’s going on down Music Row?

CJ: I do, but I try not to keep my head in the clouds man. I don’t want to get caught up in all that stuff. It’s something that Cory Morrow said to me a long time ago – “Don’t ever forget why Nashville is Nashville. The Opry is there for a reason. Country music lives there. Don’t be bitter. And don’t ever treat Texas or Nashville like either one isn’t important.”

So, to continue on that, I don’t know that we’re beating anyone at their own game. I just think that we tried to include a lot of Nashville entities from the very beginning, just to see if that would work. We were trying to take my music to a different level and some people wanted me to change my style and my image, obviously that’s not going to happen so we simply thanked those people for their time. Some people weren’t sure whether they wanted to get on board until the very end, and by then it’s too late – so we just shake their hand and thank them for their time as well. I don’t know that I’m beating anyone at their own game, other than just being myself and doing what I’ve promised my fans, my family, and my team that I’m going to do. So I just continue to be myself and give this thing over to the good lord, just do my best every night and pretend like it’s just any other job.

MW: Once again, we’ll affirm that with an amen. Well, keeping things as consistent as you have, your career has been on this seemingly exponential climb since the very beginning – no plateau of recessions in sight – can you even fathom what your next move or milestone may be? Or is that simply something you’re taking one chord at a time?

CJ: I take everything one day at a time. Like you said earlier, I would’ve never expected this thing to do what it’s done so far. In the back of your mind you always want it to be successful and you want things to happen, but I’ve learned in my life that if you want something too much, even when it happens it may not be what you wanted if you set your expectations too high. I’d love to do a live record, I’d love to do an acoustic record, I’m already thinking about what I may want to do with the next studio record. I think everything moving forward will just be instinctual, like we’ll know exactly which doors to walk through when they open. All I can focus on right now is playing that record as best we can each night on stage, and that every article or radio spot that I do gives the best depiction of what we’re trying to say with this record. The next door will open when it’s time to open, and hopefully I’ll be lead into the right one.

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I don’t know that I’m beating anyone at their own game, other than just being myself and doing what I’ve promised my fans, my family, and my team that I’m going to do. So I just continue to be myself and give this thing over to the good lord, just do my best every night and pretend like it’s just any other job.

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All I can focus on right now is playing that record as best we can each night on stage, and that every article or radio spot that I do gives the best depiction of what we’re trying to say with this record. The next door will open when it’s time to open, and hopefully I’ll be lead into the right one.

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