Memphis rules again


It’s been a decade since Cody Chesnutt’s last release, but Landing on a Hundred is worth the wait. JIM CARROLLmeets the soul soldier

So what took you so long to follow up your debut album The Headphone Masterpiece?

I didn’t mean to take 10 years out, but I was raising my children and getting to know what that was about and having my own personal transition and getting ready for the next body of work. I didn’t realise it would take 10 years, but that’s how it turned out. I don’t think it will take 10 years for the next work to appear.

Why did you end up in Memphis?

I knew I wanted the album to have the feeling and tone of a lot of the records for the 1960s and 1970s, those great analogue recordings from back then. We were trying to find a great analogue studio with a good rate and it just so happened that the Royal Studios had the best rate and Memphis isn’t that far from where I live in Florida.

When we got there, we found out that they still have all the gear that they used on those great records, so it was perfect. Willie Mitchell’s son Boo is running it and it’s doing great. You feel the history when you walk into the room. That was the icing on the cake. The acoustic treatments and microphones and recording board are still the same so you’re aware of the space and the history that has been made there.

That era produced some very strong musical statements from black performers about the state of the nation.

It was a very important time for black men. They were very aware and conscious of the social conditions and how their music had the power to impact on that. They also knew how strong the black voice had become in those critical times. It would be a great thing to revisit that again and use the power of black musicians to address the issues we face in our communities right now.

Do you think today’s artists are aware of that power?

When I talk to artists, we talk about how, if the nation is prepared to change, we should also change and bring a new elevation and social consciousness to the conversation. When you talk about politics, there’s always room for improvement and it hasn’t been a perfect administration since President Obama went to the White House. But it has inspired the whole community and especially artists who are now much more aware of the content of their work.

The tone of your own material has certainly changed since The Headphone Masterpiece, hasn’t it?

Absolutely. You become more aware of what you’re putting out there and what you’re saying and the energy you are transmitting. Even though I was already becoming aware of what I was saying in the lyrics and how people were reacting when they analysed them, the arrival of my children actually cleared up my mind and gave me a truer perspective to write on. I think I’ve become a more mature writer.

So what inspires you these days when you come to write?

Life’s twists and turns and how you deal with all these different circumstances as they arise. I think it’s great to tap into the range of human conditions and the streets are just one element of that experience.

It’s definitely benefiticial to the art to acknowledge every facet of the community, from the street to the professionals to everyone inbetween.

You raised the cash to pay for Landing on a Hundred from a Kickstarter campaign. Are you a big fund-it-yourself fan?

I’d heard about it before and my friend Suzy Philips raised funds via Kickstarter to buy a van to sell Lebanese food on the streets and she was successful. But it was my manager who brought it back to my attention again and said it might be a great opportunity to connect with the fans and be as creative as possible. I enjoyed the process and I think a lot of artists really need to check it out for themselves.

* Landing on a Hundred is out now on One Little Indian

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