On Cody Jasper’s debut self-titled record, the former Wildbills singer-guitarist shows that he’s more than just a guitar slinger for hire. It’s more than just a rock and roll act. While he’s adept for guitar swagger, he’s also a capable and proficient singer-songwriter. Cody Jasper isn’t a hollow record bookended by a tough, gritty rock and roll surface. There’s substance on the inside as well.
For just a nine track album, Jasper covers a lot of ground within the 37 minutes of play. He goes from Saturday night rockers such as “Cherry Pie” and “Evil Woman” to exhaling on Sunday morning reflections like “Holy Water” and “Mona Lisa.” That’s where the beauty of the record really shines through.
Everyone loves the exaggerated, larger than life rock persona of “Cherry Pie.” That’s how we want our rock stars. We romanticize the lifestyle of a womanizing wild man rocker. But we also demand to see behind the curtain and view the man within. The lonely morning after. Jasper let’s us in on songs such as “Rosemary.” That’s what makes this record work so well. The serene, self-reflections make the bruising rockers that much better. And vice versa. It usually takes rock bands years to figure that out–and often too late. Luckily, it’s caught on with the 24-year-old Jasper.
We caught up with Jasper a few weeks back on a chilly Blue Light Friday night. Then, he was opening up for contemporaries Taddy Porter. Tonight (Friday, Feb. 21), Jasper returns to The Blue Light with band in hand for an official album release show. Along with Jasper, Thieving Birds will be playing.
Watch/listen to “Mona Lisa” below.
New Slang: The first time I listened to this record, it felt very familiar and warm. It felt like something I was already familiar with. There’s some things you guys did that make it feel really comfortable. One of those things is the guitar tones on this record. They’re warm and old. How do you find those? Was there anything specifically that you had in mind going in that you wanted specifically?
Cody Jasper: You know, no there wasn’t. It all just kind of happened while we were there. They had great gear. I’m a gearhead as well and have tons of vintage shit. They had a lot of vintage stuff. Nick Jay was a big part of it. He pushed me into elements that I didn’t want to go in, specifically guitar tones. I wanted to use my normal rig and he was suggesting all these other things. I was learning a lot of things while I was there. A lot of it came while we were there. We wanted to keep it simple. We didn’t want pedals. We wanted amps cranked–old amps. Everything was pre-1965. Everything was old, cranked, and pretty direct.
NS: Something else you guys do that’s small, but that adds so much is there’s all this talk between you guys in between songs. Who’s idea was that? Why’d that end up being left?
CJ: It was already on there while we were there. When Nick was mixing, he kind of left some in there. Jordan Cain of Jonathan Tyler, he was playing some drums for me. On the song “Deal,” at the end of the song–we had been having so much trouble with it. When I originally had it, it was more straight up rock and roll, but when Nick and I started working on it together, it started turning into this groovy, grease band, kind of funky stuff thing. We had been trying different styles for the song and Jordan at the end was saying “It’s just a matter of opinion” on which drum beat was better. And then on “Black Cadillac,” Jason Burke, he was assistant engineer on the record. I met him while working on the record and he became one of my best friends through the process. We had just so much fun doing the record. Me, Nick, and Jason were just talking back and forth the entire time. There was just so much good stuff. Like on “Black Cadillac.”
NS: With “Black Cadillac,” with it being the first song, when I first put it on, I thought it had maybe skipped into the song because it just starts off in the middle of a conversation.
CJ: Yeah [laughs].
NS: I love all those little things. Nick Jay produced and played on the record. It sounds like you guys had a good vibe going between one another. You guys were on the same wave length. Was there anything you guys did to make sure you had that good vibe going?
CJ: Ummm… [laughs].
NS: [Laughs]. I think that’s a good answer.
CJ: [Laughs]. Actually though, we did this record like one week and then like six months later, did another week. The first three songs we did, it was just awesome. We did have a few arguments over things, but I think it was all constructive.
NS: Yeah. Some of that is good. It’s healthy. You’re from Amarillo. I didn’t realize that the first time we met. It’s not the first place I’d have guessed after hearing you play. It has to be some of the most dynamic stuff coming out of the Panhandle in a while though. How do you think this area influenced you though?
CJ: Well there’s definitely that southern influence. Growing up on country before falling into rock and roll. I thought I really wanted to do that only before. But there’s some softer songs on the record. I started writing softer songs because I didn’t want to become redundant with the rock and roll. It’s hard to write really great rock songs over and over. I knew I could write a couple for this record, but could I write the entire record without it sounding redundant? That gets boring. I think those softer songs have a country feel. And you know, growing up in a place, there’s always going to be personal history. There’s a lot of Amarillo muses you could say. Girlfriends and the way you grew up.
NS: Growing up in an area that’s rich culturally with music, I think often it’s natural to rebel against what’s going on around. With this area being known for country and folk artists, I’m sure that helped.
CJ: Yeah. That’s a great answer. I’ve never really thought about that.
NS: When I was first told about this record, I was told that it was in the vein as some blues rock bands like Taddy Porter, JTNL, Uncle Lucius–all those Dallas and Austin blues bands. There’s certainly some great rock tunes on the record, but I really think the record became really great when you did go to those softer songs you mentioned before. You get into “Holy Water” and it goes into a nice transition from the rockers into this laid back feel. How important is it to have that balance?
CJ: To me, it’s very important. I thought my best songs were those soft songs, but I’d been doing guitar driven music for so long, I wasn’t comfortable showing them. Those are so personal. It was kind of awkward for me to let it out. And I was shy with them. I was confident with my guitar playing and the dirty, rock stuff, but not in my softer songs. Stuff where you can’t hide behind a loud ass guitar. It was important for me to show diversity. I love so many kinds of music. You know, I could be a total straight blues man, but I love doing country stuff. I love pop ballads. I just tried to show them all.
NS: Yeah. It’s like there’s five versions of each song and you chose what fit best. So the song “Mona Lisa,” I think that’s probably my vote for best song on the record–at least at this moment. I think it’s pretty amazing. Tell me about how you wrote that song.
CJ: I’ve always thought that I looked at life with a different perspective than most people. My mom was always encouraging. She encouraged me as a kid to be myself even if it was considered crazy or weird by others. I dressed like I do now then, which is pretty crazy in a small town like Amarillo [laughs]. I always wanted to have a good influence on people with music. That’s one of the things you really want as a songwriter. That song was kind of about how I try and live my life. Be who I am and be who I want to be. When I moved down to Austin, at the beginning I got lost in the lifestyle. I got lost in drugs, rock and roll, partying, wanting to be famous. Wanting to have money. And that’s what the first lines are: Trade your diamonds for gold. Nick was saying that it didn’t make sense. It’s about trading diamonds, these flashy things for gold–which isn’t necessarily money or a bank account, but things that are valuable. Family and friends.