12:00am

Sun November 11, 2012
Music Interviews

Cody ChesnuTT: Vintage Soul With A Sense Of Place

Originally published on Sun November 11, 2012 10:36 am

The song "The Seed (2.0)," a collaboration between the hip-hop band The Roots and singer Cody ChesnuTT, was everywhere 10 years ago. But while The Roots produced album after album in the decade that followed, ChesnuTT took a hiatus. Now, he's finally out with his second full-length record, Landing on a Hundred.

"About four and a half, five years ago, material started coming," ChesnuTT tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "Certain ideas — lyrical phrases and melodies — would pop into my head, and I felt good about it. I felt energized again. I felt inspired again."

The lyrics on the new record reveal a different artist, one changed by the birth of two children and years away from show business. Musically, though, Landing on a Hundred captures the same soul sound that dominated ChesnuTT's debut, The Headphone Masterpiece. The new album was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, Tenn., the site of many legendary recordings by the likes of Chuck Berry, Al Green and Ike & Tina Turner. ChesnuTT says that was a coincidence.

"We were just looking for the best rates for analog recording," he says. "When everybody walked into the place, that energy, that soul was present. Everybody felt it."

That wasn't the only historical site to influence the making of Landing on a Hundred. While in Memphis, ChesnuTT also visited the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

"I think it just put everybody in a certain frame of mind, in terms of what we needed to do with this music," ChesnuTT says. "What kind of spirit, what kind of headspace we needed to be in, in order to document something that would really touch people and touch their souls."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was a time when this riff was everywhere. It's still as infectious today as it was when it come out 10 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CODY CHESNUTT: (Singing) (Unintelligible) nine months ago, (unintelligible) she don't know. She want neo-soul but she don't have a soul, she don't want no rock and roll. She want platinum or ice and gold, she want a whole lot of something to fold...

MARTIN: The Seed 2.0 was a collaboration between the hip-hop band, The Roots, and singer Cody ChesnuTT. But while the Roots wrote album after album over the following decade, Cody ChesnuTT took a hiatus. He's finally out with his second full-length album, called "Landing on a Hundred."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHESNUTT: (Singing) I was a dead man, I was asleep. I was a stranger in a foreign land until I (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: That same soul sound dominates this album, but the lyrics reveal a different artist, changed by the birth of two kids, and years away from show business. When spoke with ChesnuTT recently and asked him what he's been up to for the last 10 years.

CHESNUTT: You know, I have two children, so...

(LAUGHTER)

CHESNUTT: ...it's really been about the family life for me for the last 10 years.

MARTIN: So, how did you know it was time to get the creative juices flowing again?

CHESNUTT: Well, about four and a half, five years ago, the material started coming. Certain ideas, lyrical phrases and melodies would pop into my head. And I felt good about it. I felt energized again. I felt inspired again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHESNUTT: (Singing) I was a dead man, I was a dead man, of on the sea, (unintelligible) for a minute. I was a stranger in a foreign man, until I met (unintelligible) and I want to say it again, say it, I was a dead man, dead man, dead man, I was at sea...

MARTIN: So, I want to do a little compare and contrast. So, if we go back about 10 years to your last album, it was called "The Headphone Masterpiece."

CHESNUTT: Right, um-hum.

MARTIN: Which the title itself is pretty confident, Cody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MARTIN: This song is called - also very confident - "You Look Good in Leather."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU LOOK GOOD IN LEATHER")

CHESNUTT: (Singing) Listen, I can do anything I want, because I look good in leather. I can talk any kind of talk, because I look good in leather, and I know you wish that you could look like me...

Well, that's me, at what, 28, 29 years old standing in front of this huge mirror in my bedroom in North Hollywood with my leather jacket on reliving my Fonzarelli days, you know. And, really, that song came out in about 10 minutes, I believe, just me being caught up in my own ego and bravado.

MARTIN: You're not the same guy who wrote that song.

CHESNUTT: Oh, no. You know, it's been quite a change since then, you know.

MARTIN: Grown up, is that fair to say?

CHESNUTT: Yeah, absolutely. Grown up, matured as a, you know, human being and as an artist as well.

MARTIN: I want to talk about the process of making this album. Your last album, you made at home, really lo-fi situation. This one you upgraded big-time. You recorded the album in Royal Studios in Memphis.

CHESNUTT: Correct, um-hum.

MARTIN: And, I mean, lots of legends have passed through those doors - Al Green recorded there, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner...

CHESNUTT: Ike and Tina Turner.

MARTIN: Yeah. That's a lot of soul in those walls, in those halls.

CHESNUTT: It was just a coincidence that, you know, we actually recorded there 'cause we were just looking for the best rates for analog recording.

MARTIN: So, you were just looking for a good deal?

CHESNUTT: Yeah, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE AND HAPPINESS")

AL GREEN: (Singing) Love and happiness. Wait a minute, something's going wrong...

CHESNUTT: When everybody walked into the place, the energy that's, that soul you was speaking of, was present. Everybody felt it.

MARTIN: Really?

CHESNUTT: Yeah, 'cause the acoustic treatments are exactly the same. A lot of the microphones...

MARTIN: So, there was equipment there that some of those legends have used?

CHESNUTT: Absolutely. And I think the highlight of it was me actually having the opportunity to sing on the microphone that Al Green recorded "Love and Happiness" and "Let's Stay Together."

MARTIN: Did it make you sound better, did you think?

CHESNUTT: Well, I don't know if it made me sound better. But the microphone itself is really good. It was an old RCA microphone with the number 9 on it. And he always wanted to use the one with the number 9 on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHESNUTT: (Singing) Now, I don't walk, know how to ride, know how to stay fly in the hardest times. But what we don't know is that ain't gonna be enough...

But I want to add something else to that story.

MARTIN: Yeah.

CHESNUTT: What really set the tone for the whole recording session was we visited the Lorraine Motel that morning, where Dr. King was assassinated. And I think it just put everybody in a certain frame of mind in terms of what we needed to do with this music, what kind of spirit, what kind of head space we need to be in, in order to really, you know, document something that would really touch people and touch their souls.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHESNUTT: (Singing) Something around me tells me that there's more to this prize than the dime has shown me. Waiting on a paycheck, but isn't every day the payment? Well, I think so, I think so...

MARTIN: You are back on the road now for this album. I wonder how that is sitting with you after spending so much time at home. After focusing on your personal life and your family life, is it now hard for you to be away?

CHESNUTT: It is. It's an adjustment. The other night I was driving home and my daughter was in the backseat and I was explaining that, you know, I was going to have to leave again. And very straightforward, as children can be, you know, she said: Well, you need to stay home with your family.

MARTIN: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

CHESNUTT: And so, you know, what can you say after that, right?

MARTIN: What did you say after that?

CHESNUTT: Well, I said, yes, I do, but at the same time, you know, your father needs to go out and work and share his music with people and, you know, take care of things. But I do, you know, want to spend as much time as possible. Hopefully, I can bring them on the road in the coming year.

MARTIN: When they were little, did you sing with your kids?

CHESNUTT: Oh, always, constantly.

MARTIN: What's your go-to song with them?

CHESNUTT: It just depends. Sometimes it's something I just make up on the spot. Sometimes it's a song that I wrote for the first album that still has kind of a childish innocence about it. It's called "Up in the Treehouse."

MARTIN: Can you sing a little bit of that?

CHESNUTT: It goes: (Singing) Hello, my best friend, do you remember everything that we shared in the backyard, in the treehouse, in the springtime of our youth? Dream, dream, that's all I do. Dream, dream, about me and you. Something like that.

MARTIN: Cody ChesnuTT. His new album is called "Landing on A Hundred." He joined us from our New York bureau. Cody, thanks so much. It's been a pleasure to talk with you.

CHESNUTT: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHESNUTT: (Singing) I felt the cold when I (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: And if you want to hear more tracks from ChesnuTT's new CD, go to our website, npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

Related Program