“YEARS IN THE MAKING”

Cody Canada & The Departed test the waters with their debut album “This is Indian Land“,

a tribute to their Okie roots.

Article and Interview by:  Tango Sho’Nuff

Cross Canadian Ragweed.   You’ve either heard of them or you haven’t, not much of a middle ground.  To some, they were one of the best kept secrets in rock & roll, others hailed them as the undisputed leaders of the thriving Red Dirt Music scene, a grassroots hybrid genre of country, rock, blues, and Americana.  While never fully penetrating into the mainstream music world, Ragweed no less earned a huge, rabidly loyal following the old fashioned way…they toured their asses off and consistently delivered great records nearly every year from 1998 to 2009.  In that time frame, they sold over 1 million albums, charted 4 Top 50 singles on the US Country Charts, and did so with little to no help from major radio and TV outlets.   You could argue a half dozen points on why or why not that big commercial break never came. Maybe it was because they were on a label that insisted on marketing them as a “Country Act” (a tag the band fought tooth and nail for the better part of a decade).  Maybe their music simply went over people’s heads, mind you Ragweed were NOT a ‘singles’ band…each studio album they released was exactly that…an Album, all killer and no filler.  Anyway, whatever it may have been, it doesn’t matter…there is no more Ragweed.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you should be aware that Cross Canadian Ragweed is no longer a band at this time.  A break from performing live was announced in May of 2010 and in the following months this turned out to be a permanent hiatus.  (for details on the demise of Ragweed please look elsewhere as there is ample documentation online via wikipedia and other fan sites)  In September 2010, holding true to frontman Cody Canada’s statement that “We’ve always said from the start, we’re Ragweed as the four of us, or not Ragweed at all.” Canada announced that He and Ragweed Bassist/Vocalist Jeremy Plato had formed a new band…The Departed.  Of course the inevitable comparisons to Ragweed began immediately and were quickly silenced with the release of “This is Indian Land”, the band’s debut album, an album that was ALMOST cut by Ragweed 5 years earlier.  Billed as an Oklahoma Tribute Album, it features NO original compositions.  Instead, the band put their collective spin on 15 cover songs, the majority of which were written by legendary Oklahoma songwriters who greatly influenced Canada and Co.  Certainly an unorthodox approach to one’s debut release, however the album succeeded in testing the band’s collective chemistry while showing Ragweed fans that The Departed were truly a completely different beast.

Aside from Cody and Jeremy’s Ragweed lineage, The Departed’s lineup could easily be deemed a “super-group” of sorts.  Drummer David Bowen has played with countless Red Dirt acts (Stoney LaRue/Bleu Edmonson) and has a mighty impressive Jazz resume as well.  Keyboardist Steve Littleton (Medicine Show) adds depth and character to the overall sound and Texas native Seth James completes the puzzle on guitar and vocals.  A mainstay on the Texas/Oklahoma circuit with a solid reputation as being equally adept at fronting a 3 piece Blues Trio as he is a singer-songwriter, (which he more than proved on his stellar 2009 release “That Kind of Man”) Seth James is the perfect complement to Canada’s raw, gutsy playing and smooth drawl vocals.  With a righteous guitar style and tone, powerhouse vocals and strong songwriting chops, James is The Departed’s “secret weapon” of sorts, a perfect foil to Canada’s larger than life personality.

BlueNote News & Reviews caught up with The Departed in late 2011 in the band’s adopted hometown of New Braunfels, TX for a co-headlining show with Reckless Kelly at the Whitewater Auditorium.  After a balls-out performance, Cody Canada and Seth James were kind enough to sit down and discuss the events that led to the band’s formation, choosing songs for their debut album, their earliest guitar influences,  and Cody Canada explains why he’s glad he waited so long to record this album.

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” Five years ago we (Ragweed) almost did this and I’m glad we didn’t….
It wouldn’t have sucked, but it wouldn’t have lived up to this.”

  – Cody Canada

BlueNote – After Ragweed’s sudden split, what events led to you and Jeremy hooking up with these guys?

Cody Canada – Seth and I had talked about doing a side project kinda record.  Not necessarily touring it or whatever but you know, just make a record.  I told him I wanted Jeremy (Plato-bass/vocals) involved, Seth had a drummer in mind, it really didn’t get any further than that, but once Ragweed split it looked like a more permanent thing.  I talked to Plato the day I got the call about Ragweed splitting up and I asked him what we were gonna do?  He said: “Were gonna go play”…so I said, “Alright, I’m gonna call Seth and talk to him about it.  And he said, “I’ll call Dave (Bowen-drums).  Simple as that (laughs).  We were prepared.

BlueNote – You’ve been wanting to do this album for a long time.  I’m sure there was a huge list of songs you wanted to cut.  How did you go about deciding which tracks made the album and were there any others recorded that didn’t make the final cut?

Cody Canada – There weren’t any that were cut that didn’t make it.  When we first started rehearsing at the warehouse there were 5 songs set in stone.  We all had our iPods out jamming the songs and stuff, but there was one tune we tried at practice that just didn’t work.  It was a Red Dirt Rangers song called “Deep Ellum Blues”.  It just came across as very “white boy blues”.  We tried to soul it up, but we couldn’t do it.

Seth James – It was very “Blues Brothers” blues (laughs).

Cody Canada – Well, all I had in my head was John Cougar singing it (laughs).  There’s plenty more songs out there that we’d love to do.  I’d like to maybe one day do another record like this, you know, not “Indian Land 2″ or anything…”This is ALSO Indian Land” (laughs)…but just maybe 5 or 6 songs somewhere down the road.

BlueNote – Typically, how long did it take to map out the song’s final arrangements and were some more difficult than others?

Seth James – A lot of them just happened by jamming and playing them over and over.  We just bashed em out and they naturally became our versions.   There were a few that were a little more stressful.  “Face on Mars” was kinda an evolution in the studio.  There were a lot of factors that went into that one.  The version we were listening to was recorded sped up so it really wasn’t in key, it was just whacked….it was awesome…but we kinda had to wrangle that song a bit.  But for the most part we just learned em and played them enough that they sound like us.

Cody Canada – There were 2 songs that changed because of Seth.  The first was “True Love Never Dies”.  When we first laid that one down it was very…”cocaine, nashville, sped up”…like, if we sped it up a little more it would’ve been bluegrass (laughs).  But one day Seth came in with that riff and Steve fell in on the Clav and it just brought that tune to life.  It wasn’t like we were just covering a song, but making it our own.  And “Face on Mars” was the other one.  We really weren’t sure about that one at first but Seth wrangled it and it turned out great.  Seth brought a lot of songs together like that.

BlueNote – After waiting this long, to have the album done and out, besides the joy you must feel knowing that your new band’s debut album has been well received…not to mention the fact that you’re benefiting your musical heroes and influences by exposing their music to a much larger fan base…how do you think the album turned out in the end?  Was it worth the wait?

Cody Canada – (laughs) I don’t mean this in any way negative towards Ragweed you know, its happy, its lovely, but…we couldn’t do these songs justice.  We were a 4 piece rock band.  And I don’t mean this in a bad way, but, Me and Jeremy were the main contributors.  Now, we have the tools to do it.  5 years ago we almost did this and I’m glad we didn’t.  It wouldn’t have sucked, but it wouldn’t have lived up to this.

BlueNote – Comparisons to Ragweed are inevitable.  With the addition of Steve (Littleton) on keys, and not to mention that you now have TWO certified bad-asses on guitar…it seems in terms of songwriting that The Departed can cover a lot more musical ground.  How has the songwriting process been so far?

Seth James – It’s going like it always goes, it’s work, but it feels more home than ever.  You know, when you get new writing partners it can always be a nerve-racking experience, but it’s not like that at all.  It’s natural, we never really sat down and talked about what direction we’re gonna go in and what not.  We’re putting the work in and it’s going great.  The songs are really coming together.

BlueNote – How much original material does The Departed have right now?

Seth James – We’ve probably got about 15 started and about 3-5 finished.  We’re still getting a feel for the process cause there’s 5 songwriters in this band, and everyone is pulling from their influences and stuff.  We’re still figuring out how to throw them all into the pot if you know what I mean.

“People expect something great from us and I was a little scared
at first about living up to that.  But after that first writing session,
I wasn’t scared at all (laughs)…I sleep good at night.”
- Cody Canada

BlueNote – Fans have been treated to one original tune already via your live shows and YouTube.  When and how did “Black Horse Mary” come about?

Cody Canada – First time we sat down to write, the seed of Black Horse Mary started.  We went up to my dirty man cave place, had a beer, smoked some weed, talked a little about the direction of the song and it just flowed.  We got to a certain point where it stalled, so…the next day we were rehearsing for an acoustic gig and we just jumped right back into it and had it finished in about 3 minutes.

BlueNote – I hear a faint Stone Temple Pilots influence in the song, was that intentional?

Cody Canada – Again, nothing against my friends in Ragweed, but it’s a different beast now.  We couldn’t pull off shit like that.  I kinda hate that so many people know what a big STP fan I am but…it’s just GOOD music.  It’s not like I’m trying to rip em off or anything, but I am influenced by them.  Hopefully people will hear the song and go…”Oh yeah, I get it.”

Seth James – You know, that music was popular when all of us were growing up.  Whether you’re a musician or not, it was everywhere.  It’s hard to have that kind of commercial success and still make great original music, and they did it.

Cody Canada – Yeah, and it’s cool because, Weiland has the DeLeo brothers, and they write all the music and then he adds the lyrics.  That seems so strange and alien to me how they do it like that.

Seth James – But you hear that collaboration in their music.  When you listen, you can tell that they all had a hand in it, which is very similar to us.  I’m not saying we’re STP (laughs) I’m just saying that’s how this band works as well.  We all have a hand in and we all contribute.

Cody Canada – I know what we are.  We’re old friends and were all musicians and were together now.  People expect something great from us and I was a little scared at first about living up to that.  But after that first writing session, I wasn’t scared at all (laughs)…I sleep good at night.

BlueNote – Ragweed were known for pulling out some pretty off the wall covers during their live shows.  From “All Along the Watchtower, to Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” and even Primus’s “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver”.  Tonight I watched you guys tear through the Buddy Miles/Band of Gypsys classic “Changes”…any other ideas been thrown around about songs you might add to the set at some time?

Cody Canada – I wanna do “Dust & Bones” by Guns N Roses.  I think we could kick that songs ass.  I can sing the low part and Seth can do the high part.  I think it’s right up our alley.

Seth James – We listen to so many different kinds of music.  We’ve got all these classic rock songs we wanna do.  We’ve talked about doing Mad Season tunes.  Me and Plato listen to a lot of old-school Parliament and Isley Brothers.  We’ve talked about doing stuff off “Maggot Brain”, you know, it’s all over the map.  That’s the great thing about this band, we did “Changes” tonight and probably could’ve done “Super Stupid” right after it and it fits, it doesn’t come across as weird.  At least I don’t think it does (laughs).

BlueNote – Strictly guitar speaking, who were some of your earliest influences?

Seth James – My earliest influences were guys that my Dad played with.  A guy named Bobby Mack, he was one of the many players overshadowed by Stevie Ray’s success.  A lot of blues guys, Freddie King, Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters…I could go on and on but yeah, mostly family and such early on.

Cody Canada – Man, first song I ever learned was “Rebel Rouser”.  I learned it on one string.  I showed a local guitar teacher in Oklahoma what I’d learned and he said “That’s cool…but you know there’s 5 other strings” (laughs).  But, Pete Anderson, he was my first big influence.  I went into a music store, bought a tuner, the first 2 Dwight Yoakam records on cassette and the books to go along with them.  Then around the time I was 16 I was big into Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray…my Mom let me stay home from school the day SRV died.  But Pete Anderson was the first.  And I always loved Billy Gibbons too.  To me, it never sounded like he was playing the guitar, it was more like he was kicking it’s ass (laughs).

Seth James – When I hear Cody play, I think of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ted Nugent, you know, REAL rock guitar players.  There’s just not a lot of players like that nowadays.  There’s a lot of guys that play classic rock that’s kinda in that vein, but not a whole lot that are just full on rock guitar players.  To me that’s Cody’s world.

BlueNote – OK, last one.  Slick, Hoss, Biggun, Injun…how did the nicknames come about?

Seth James – (laughs all around)  I’ll go ahead and claim it, I am certified nickname giver.  You do a lot of stuff to entertain yourself out on the road (laughs).  They all mean something, but that’s a whole ‘nother interview.