Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Succeeding on His Own Terms: Cody Christian’s Approach To Music

Local musician and self described “Honkey Tonk Man” Christian Cody has been playing shows solo and with a band all around Hampton Roads for the better part of a decade. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

HAMPTON ROADS — Cody Christian is not the first musician to quit his full-time job for the sake of his art. However, when it comes to the method he used, he gets substantial points for audaciousness.

In early December 2021, every person employed by Newport News Shipbuilding (totaling approximately 20,000) received Christian’s resignation letter announcing that he was leaving the Shipyard in search of employment with fewer regulations on facial hair.

“After eight years of employment, I have concluded that I deserve to work in an environment where my beard is valued,” the letter read. “I have accepted a position as a Honkey-Tonk man and I can’t seem to stop.”

On its surface, such a resignation might appear foolhardy, but for Christian and his beard, it was a calculated move.

He was getting to the point in his career where shipfitting was interfering too much with his concert schedule. This made it a decision that had to be made and he figured why not try to go out with a few more Spotify followers.

Christian had been building his music career since he was a high school student in his home town of Powhatan; singing and playing at church and with a worship band.

During his early days at the Shipyard, he formed the popular Hampton Roads-based band Every King & Commoner. That group would go on to earn high honors around the region including Song of the Year from Veer Magazine and the Shakas Live Battle of the Bands.

To go along with the work he was doing with the band, he was also writing and recording music as a solo artist.

Since 2018, Christian has released three EPs featuring mostly lyrically-driven acoustic songs like “Saints of Appalachia” and “Wife and Kids” which showcase his skills as a keen observer of the human condition and as a contemplative wordsmith.

Christian says that his inspiration comes from a number of places and experiences throughout his life.

For “Saints of Appalachia,” he sings about the struggles faced by people dealing with a waning coal industry and a crippling opioid crisis. He then juxtaposes that scenery with the seemingly opulent view of the gold dome affixed to the top of the West Virginia State Capital.

For songs like that, he draws on the time he spent traveling the country doing electrical automation in rock quarries.

“I drove through West Virginia a lot,” Christian remembers. “You’re driving down I-64, and West Virginia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. But you look to the left and you see a trailer village and there are tarps on the roofs. Then you turn the corner and you see that golden dome. Just something seems wrong.”

In his recently-released single, which is the title track for his upcoming album, “Canary in a Coal Mine” Christian leaves little room for lyrical interpretation. In three verses he tackles weighty subjects like black lung, Department of Defense spending, and wealth allocation. He brings it all home with a verse about the Nashville music machine and the deals that are offered which are not always what they are cracked up to be.

The last verse references his experience with being courted by Nashville record labels.

One meeting in particular Christian was offered recording space in a storied Nashville studio and the possibility of having legendary country session musicians sit in as well as a slew of other perks. All it would cost him would be around $80,000.

He decided that was not a deal he wanted to take and made his way back to Virginia.

Inspired by other Country and Americana acts like Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson, who have been known to go their own way in spite of Top 40 Country, Christian is biding his time and working his way towards the right opportunities.

“Seeing guys like Tyler Childers selling out arenas while not being on the radio, you can’t tell me ‘you have to do it this way’ or the ‘Nashville way,'” Christian notes. “Saying you have to get the big label or have to get on the radio. None of that is real to me. The only thing that is real is if I am going to play a room and people are there.”

Armed with the gift of perspective and time, Christian is working on completing his album, that does not have a release date yet. The only time frame he will commit to is “soonish”.

As for the rest of it, Christian said he is on the lookout for creative partners who are willing to invest in his music and see it all the way through.

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