Cody Canada is back in the driver seat. After the dissolve of his legendary Red Dirt band Cross Canadian Ragweed, Canada has found new life on the road with his group, Cody Canada and the Departed. Canada and band will make a stop in Santa Barbara wine country when they visit Standing Sun Winery on Wednesday, August 19, in support of their new album, HippieLovePunk. I caught Canada on the phone as he was descending from the mountains, and he opened up about touring, Red Dirt music, and Sandy Hook.
Glad we got a hold of each other. We were coming out of the mountains. The whole schedule’s been shifted. This is our first day out of Idaho.
How’d Idaho? I love it. I’ve been going up there for 10 years every year, about this time every year. We’re in Salt Lake City today.
How’s the tour been going? Been going good. On the way to Idaho, we played Montana and Wyoming. We only had one show in Idaho, saw all of our friends there, and hung out there for a week. Feeling pretty good.
How do you spend your time on the road? Do you guys hang out, or keep to yourselves? No, we all hang out together. That’s what’s good about this band is everybody does everything together. Driving down the road I took the TVs out of the bus because it’s just distracting, you know. We have Apple TV in the front so we listen to music and watch shows every now and then. For the most part, it’s just music, playing it or listening to.
What have you been listening to lately? Well, my friend Jason Isbell knocked it out of the park with his new one. It’s really good. That’s been on repeat for about a week now. He’s just incredible, you know, and makes me proud to be a friend, makes me want to be a better songwriter, and makes me want to write more.
How have things been with The Departed? It’s the fifth year for The Departed. It’s taken some time. I expected to hop right in and go, that it wasn’t gonna be a struggle. But it was pretty rough. I knew that I wouldn’t have all the Ragweed fans. I have some. When we started it, we had two singers. When he left, I started getting into writing the songs myself, doing the guitar work myself. This last year, I hopped back into the driver seat, and we got all those fans back. As soon as I was doing my thing, all the old fans came back and tripled our crowd. It’s been work, but it’s been fun work.
How is this band musically for you — a new direction, or more familiar, more of a homecoming? It’s more of a homecoming, you know. When we first started it, I was looking for a different direction that was kind of the same musically but a little different. It didn’t work. Then I said, I’m just going to be myself, cause that’s where I’m comfortable. I write the songs, play them how I would play them, and we build the songs around them. It will organically be what it’s gonna be, and everybody’s real laid-back and easy. Everybody gets along real well. It’s back to basics, back to what I started doing over twenty years ago.
A Rolling Stone article mentioned that your new album, HippieLovePunk, features songs on the Sandy Hook shootings. Can you speak to that? I have two boys, age nine and seven. They were the exact same age [as the Sandy Hook children] at that time. They go to a private school. My wife and I dropped them off at school, then we went to get breakfast and saw it unfold on the news. They gathered all the kids into the chapel and we joined, played games and stuff, didn’t tell them what happened….It was about comfort in tragedy. I can’t imagine that happening to my kids or anybody’s kids — I can’t imagine it happening to anyone. We stayed with them there and then came home. The record took three months to write after that. Anyone who’s picked up a guitar, or piano, knows how when you write songs…we try to be happy but end up being sad, and I felt my Neil Young influence coming out. I was sad about it, and it made for some statement songs, where you pull your head out of your ass and say: Let’s get everybody on the same track together. We need to take care of this. We’re not here for very long, and the one thing we really need to care about is our kids.
How are your kids doing with having a touring dad? Do they join you on tour? They come with me every now and then. It’s a lot of fun; they love music. They sing and play, and have been learning to play. I spend every second that I possibly can with them. My wife is my manager, so when I get home, she’s ready to go do something, go to the bar and have a beer. When I get home, I’m ready to sit at home with the kids — that’s all she’s been doing for a month. The kids haven’t really been on long runs. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, ever since I was a teenager, about 21 years, and with the Ragweed guys we were doing 280 shows a year. Everybody started having kids, and we tried to slow it down. Right when we were having kids is when we hit our peak. It was then we realized we were missing out on some important years with our kids, the educating, the being there for them. The last couple years, we’ve taken it down, just playing weekends in the summer, They start school again next Monday and then I’ll do 30 days on the road and be home for a week and a half, two weeks, and just play around the local area.
You’re in Idaho now and just passed through Wyoming and Montana. Do you have any favorite parts of the country? I like all of them. I love what I do, I like getting out to places. Idaho’s a once a year thing, has been for 10 years. Wyoming, Montana, Dakotas, and stuff, we don’t get there very often. I like going to the states we don’t really get to often. A lot of people in our genre of music don’t go to them much either, it’s hard to route…Everybody listens, they don’t care what song you sing or what band’s it from, just as long as you’re there. Now we can go pretty much everywhere and know we’ll have people. Our fans are a little different than some, they’re there for us. If we blew a tire on the bus someone would be there fast as they could. Everybody’s in it for the same reason, and that’s for each other. I love California, and we’re looking in Idaho to get a house there. Really it’s anywhere, as long as there are people who will listen.
You’ll be playing in wine country out here soon. Do you like wine? I like wine. I’m a big pinot noir fan.
That’s our specialty. Uh oh. We’ve played California for 15 or so years. I make it a point to go. There was this one booking agent we had, he had us going to play in L.A. at a small bar that wasn’t very friendly, I said, let’s go to the wine country, let’s go where people are happy. L.A.— no offense, but I didn’t have a good time the times I’ve played there. People seem hurried. I said, let’s go to wine country, where people are relaxed.
You are often associated with the genre Red Dirt country. What do you think of the label? It definitely describes exactly what we are. I heard the term Red Dirt music when I was younger, when I grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I didn’t really know that this Oklahoma stuff existed, and I lived right in the middle of it. I thought it was this hokey Grateful Dead kind of thing, but everybody had their own style — from The Flying Burrito Brothers, then Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, all back to Woodie Guthrie — it all worked, it all worked together but it was different.
I had a friend, just passed away a few weeks ago, Tom Skinner — he was my mentor, he was my dude. He said, “Red Dirt music is music that’s as pure and true as the dirtiest red in Oklahoma.” It’s all stemming from Woodie Guthrie, you know? Music that’s a little folkie, with the anti-government, the love, and the take care of each other stuff. And I just followed suit, and just did what those guys were doing. A guy said we were Red Dirt, and now, no mater where you go any radio station plays Texas Red Dirt. It went from when Ragweed came into Texas we were “so Oklahoman” — it was football related. Texans and Oklahoma have always had a hard time with each other. We said, “You guys don’t like us? We’re doing all we can. Just forget about football and enjoy the music.”
The next time, we had them. And it started juggernauting. We told people, just chill out, enjoy the music. It may not be my hot spot to say, but a lot of people take the music of Oklahoma and take it out into the world, and that’s what Ragweed was doing…Just the other night the singer of The Turnpike Troubadours came to one of our shows in Tulsa, and that’s crazy for me. It makes me feel like I’m getting old. The other thing is that it really makes me proud that I influenced somebody that is only nine years younger than me, and now they’re on top of the world.
That’s quite a legacy. It’s pretty humbling, I love it.
Tell me about the title HippieLovePunk. The DJ of a Texas radio station, the number one Americana station in the world for years, he asked me how this record was going, and I said, “It’s going good.” And he said, “Is there a theme to it?” I said, “It’s peace and love and anger,” and he said, “Like a hippie-love-punk thing.” And I said, “Yeah, you just named the album.” It sounded kind of perfect to me.
Are you much of a hippie? Oh, maybe a little a bit. I don’t think there’s anything better than to just see everybody get along better and have fun. I love to see old pot-smoking dudes bring their kids to shows. We’ve been doing it for so long that first their kids weren’t even alive and now they’re 20 years old, but I guess we’ve always followed Willie Nelson. He’s been really good to us and helped us out and it’s just how he does it, how he did it, bringing the hippies and rednecks together, and we just wanna have a crowd that’s full of everybody.
Well I’m sure you’ll have a great crowd when you guys come to wine country. We’re ready.
Cody Canada and The Departed play Standing Sun Winery (92 2nd St #D, Buellton) on Wednesday, August 19, at 7:30 p.m.; doors at 7 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 691-9413 or visit standingsunwines.com