For nearly thirty years, Cody Canada has hewn a legend out of the uncarved Americana block, mining Red Dirt from Oklahoma and Texas with alt-country rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed before forming The Departed in 2011 alongside longtime bassist Jeremy Plato. The Departed exists today as a wolf-lean 3-piece (Canada, Plato, and drummer Eric Hansen) that retains Ragweed’s angsty blend of honky tonk and grunge to propel Canada ever forward as a definitive storyteller and chronicler of the realm.
Hardly idle since the release of their last full-length, 3, in 2018, The Departed have always thrived on an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality of live performance crusades while Cody and his wife, Shannon, have expanded their sphere of influence by opening a branch of the musical School of Rock in New Braunfels, TX.
The ensuing pandemic provided an opportunity for the group to build their own studio where recently, Canada was able to realize the full potential of some of his favorite songs with an amplified labor-of-love revision of Ragweed’s 2004 sophomore album Soul Gravy.
Stepping out of the Lonestar wind, Cody called to talk about the Departed’s latest single, the Soul Gravy redux, what the band’s next record might be, and what it was like being honored with a tribute album by his friends and peers.
AI- I wanted to start with your latest single, “If You Want It That Much”, a song originally recorded by your old pals, The Great Divide. That one’s been in your repertoire for some time– what finally made this the right time for you to record it?
CC- I wanted to do it years and years ago and honestly, it just kinda got away from me and I forgot about it! The Great Divide cut it, and I thought, “Well, I waited too long. I’m gonna wait this out!” (Laughs) So I waited it out, and then once the pandemic hit, we built a studio, we started cuttin’ songs that we always talked about cutting, and that was one of the first ones that we did. I think it was almost ten years away from The Great Divide’s recording of it, so I feel like it was long enough!
Well, tell me about that part– building your own studio during the pandemic. That provided you with a reason to do it? Or is that something maybe you’ve had in the works for a while?
We’ve been talkin’ about it for a long time. We bought that building, the office that we have, in 2002 or three, and it was an old machine shop– about 7,000 square foot, maybe? My wife’s office is up front, and she was managing us and Wade [Bowen], Randy Rogers, and all kinds of people. We had a lot of room up there and we talked about doin’ it for years, but we were always so busy that we were never home. And then I recorded a song in there– on the bus and in the room, we didn’t build it yet. I sent it to the guy that mixes all our stuff and masters everything, and it was like $200! So I thought, “Shit, I just made a song for $200! That beats the hell out of goin’ to a studio and spendin’ $900 a day!” Really, we just put the math together and thought, “You know, if we build a studio and we start recording our stuff and other people’s stuff, we can probably make a profit off this while everything’s locked down and the pandemic’s goin’ on!” So we cut one song, then we started cuttin’ more, and now we cut a record in there and we cut other people’s records, and I would say that the pandemic helped us make that decision.
You say you cut a record in there– are you alluding to your redux of Soul Gravy or is there something else that you’ve been working on as a full-length project?
It’s the redux, the reboot of Soul Gravy. When we recorded Soul Gravy, I wasn’t real happy with the way it turned out. The songs are still my favorite collection of songs– but the way we recorded it was with digital amps. I wanted to do it with tube amps and we just didn’t have time ’cause we were so busy. We got in there and cranked out songs during the week and the weekends we were gone. I wanted to redo it, just beef it up a bit, so that’s the full-length record that we just finished. But I don’t know if I wanna do a full-length record all in one sitting, you know? I’ve talked to so many DJs and so many folks in the music business and it’s like single to single’s the way to go right now. I think I’m gonna keep pumpin’ out singles, and then maybe if I get a good collection, maybe throw ’em all on vinyl or somethin’. But you know, CDs are a dead format, so there’s no point in that anymore.
I had actually made a note to ask you about being a singles artist versus an album artist. You just did “If You Want It That Much”, and back in 2021, just a little over a year ago, you did “Shut Up and Sing” with Kaitlin Butts and Todd Snider. That’s a viable plan, to just record when you’re feelin’ like you’ve got the song— do you like that better than tryin’ to commit to the concept of an album?
It really does make it less stressful. When I was with Universal South, the Ragweed days, we had to turn a record around every sixteen months! We had to have somethin’ out on the streets sixteen months away from the last record, and I don’t really write like that. My buddy Mike McClure, he writes five songs a day, you know? I’m not built like that. I write ’em when they come to me and if I try to seek him out, I can’t do it. So it was really stressful, a lot of anxiety back in those days, which led to more drinking, which led to more anxiety! Once the record format started kinda slippin’ away and I started payin’ attention to more artists that were doin’ singles, it really was a sigh of relief! Now when it comes to puttin’ a whole record together to make sure everything works together and then having something to hold in your hand, you can read it and everything– I’m going to miss that, I really am. Eventually, I think it’ll come back, but I think what I’m gonna do for now is just song to song and then put ’em on one LP and just see what happens. I guess the answer to the question is that it is less stressful.
You brought up Mike McClure, who has got to be one of the funniest, most entertaining individuals to talk to on planet Earth, and I was curious what he thought when you decided to go back in and rerecord Soul Gravy ’cause he was there at the beginning. What was his take on it?
He thought it was a good idea. You know, he’ll record somethin’ every now and then from an old record, and back in the day when we recorded that record together, I told him I wasn’t really happy with doing the digital amplifier. It’s called a Line 6 POD, and it was just a pocket guitar amp. We did the whole record with that thing and you can dial in some really cool stuff, but to me, I couldn’t hear the amp breathing. He knew how I felt about it, but we all knew that we were on a tight schedule and he was gung-ho about it. I was gonna bring him in to produce it again, and he said, “Man, you don’t need me. You’ve done this enough, you know what you’re doin’.” He was in the middle of reinventing himself and gettin’ married and everything, so he really just kinda turned the reins over and said, “You already did these songs, just do ’em better!” I haven’t sent ’em to him yet. He keeps askin’ me when I’m gonna send ’em his way, but I’m gonna wait ’til everything’s mastered!
You’ve been playin’ these songs for many, many years, you’ve had the experience recording them, and I’d wondered what you and Jeremy [Plato] had learned after all this time, bein’ back in the studio and confronting these songs in that setting again?
We’ve really approached it the same way. All but maybe two songs on this record, we play every night– and now we play everything on it every night! But it really was like ridin’ a bike or readin’ a book that you read before. It rekindled some old feelings, especially with the tunes. There were tunes about my sister-in-law and there were songs about Jeremy’s family, and it felt good to go back and redo it. I thought it was gonna take us a bit, but we smashed it out in like four days! We’ve been livin’ with those tunes for 19 years now, so it was pretty easy to do it. And workin’ in the studio with Plato is just a dream! It’s a dream gig!
There’s more to this than just you weren’t happy with the original recording. You guys had the problem that you couldn’t actually get your own album and take it out on the road and sell it. That was really the catalyst that made you go, “Well, we need to go and do this,” right?
Yeah. They released a box set called Box of Weed when we had one more record with [Universal South]. They’d changed, you know, they’d fired Tim DuBois and Tony Brown and brought in some other dudes, and those dudes were just so Nashville and so pop country, and we got lost in the mix. And we didn’t wanna work with ’em anyway! But we were in a contract, so once we left, they put out one more release and it was a box set. I called ’em and said, “Can I get my hands on it?” And they said it was gonna be $35 apiece. Like, “Man, I’m not paying for my own music!” But that’s really what happened– they wanted me to buy it ’cause I didn’t own the actual records. So I’m gonna do the Taylor Swift thing and just go back and redo it!
I know that Lee Ann Womack, who originally appeared on Soul Gravy also appears on this new version. Who else did you get involved?
Randy Rogers and I wrote the “Again” song, he’s on it. I got one of our students from the School of Rock in New Braunfels sings on it, Ray Wiley Hubbard sings on it, and I got another guy that’s been jammin’ with me named Ryan Snipes, he’s all over this thing. I really wanted to showcase the people that helped me write the tunes. Most of those tunes were just me, but I really wanted to do somethin’ with Randy. I never really sang a song with Randy that was on one of our own records.
You and Randy, along with Wade Bowen appear with Ray Wiley Hubbard on his new album, on “Even If My Wheels Fall Off”. You guys always sound like you’re having a ball when you’re together!
Yeah, we do! We’ve been doin’ this for so long together, it’s like ridin’ a bike!
Tell me about paring down the band to a 3-piece. Honestly, is there anything hipper than a dynamite power trio? I feel like it’s the epitome of rock n’ roll!
(Laughs) I had fought it for so long! I wanted to have a piano in the band, another good guitar player in the band and then it just… Man, it just kept not working and I really wanted it to work! So finally, after, I don’t know, my second piano player, I was like, “Man, that’s it, I’m done! I can’t do this anymore. I’m tryin’ to force something to happen.” We made it a 3-piece and it just made it so much easier! I know how Jeremy plays, he knows how I play, so it’s almost like closin’ your eyes and just blind faithin’ in it. But recently, we have added another guitar player. He’s really with me on the weekends ’cause he’s an instructor up at the School of Rock, so I only get him every now and then, but he’s one of those dudes that knows when to play and when not to play. A lot of people that I’ve played with in the past, nothin’ against ’em, they jump in and start bangin’ away (laughs)! You really need somebody that’s sittin’ there thinking’ about it and payin’ attention to when he should play– and that’s what Ryan does. But most of the time it is a 3-piece still and, man, it’s just turn the amp up as loud as it’ll go and go for it! There’s nothin’ like that feeling!
I had one last thing I wanted to ask you about and probably, I would imagine, you have to rank this up with one of the coolest things that’s ever happened in your career– The Years tribute album. All those artists involved– BJ Barham, Jamie Lin Wilson, Reckless Kelly, Stony LaRue, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen… That’s just off the top of my head! You’ve been involved in those MusicFest tributes, but what was it like with all of those performers up there honoring you?
It was weird (laughs)! No other way around it! I’d turned it down a couple of years prior, and I don’t know, I didn’t really feel like it was time to do somethin’ like that. But my wife, as usual, she said, “You know, it’d be really cool for the kids to witness this,” so I dove in! I got to pick some songs, but a lot of ’em I told everybody just to go for it. But man, it was emotionally draining! I mean, it was such an awesome day, but just like tears all day long, just old stories and stuff! It was such a great day!
What surprised you the most from the performances?
I think it was BJ because he had asked about what’s the most personal song and I said “The Years”. It’s really about my upbringing and my folks’ divorce and everything, and I thought he was gonna do it the way it was on Mission California— but when he did it the way he did, it just knocked my socks off, man!
I’m gonna tell him that when I talk to him next! What is the rollout plan for the Soul Gravy revamp?
Right now, we are waiting on artwork and as soon as we get that done, we’re gonna let everybody know what our plan is. ‘Cause I don’t really think we have one at the present moment.
And despite what we were talking about earlier, did I see that you do intend to have it on vinyl?
Yes! Yeah, that was the main reason, really, besides owning the music again. I wanted to put it on vinyl ’cause it’d never been on it.
Do you see yourself having the opportunity to do any other reissues or inaugural vinyl releases?
I’ll probably do the purple Ragweed [self-titled] record ’cause it wasn’t on vinyl. We started puttin’ things on vinyl with Garage. So “Purple” is definitely gonna be one of ’em. I just don’t know when yet.