Cody Canada on moving past Ragweed's legacy, finding inspiration from Young and Petty, and coping with the horror of Sutherland Springs
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Proving himself over and over again had started to wear down Red Dirt pioneer Cody Canada — so much so that he had to step back from creating new music.
Canada founded the seminal Oklahoma band Cross Canadian Ragweed in 1994, one of the earliest, most successful bands in the then-burgeoning Red Dirt genre. He then formed his own Cody Canada & The Departed after Ragweed's breakup in 2010 — and, ever since, he's been dogged by Ragweed's legacy.
"I wasn't trying to run away from the Ragweed thing — hell, I was most of that band," Canada said. "But I needed a break, man. We were doing 280 shows a year, people's marriages were at stake, and I needed to take a break. And when I did, people said 'Ragweed this' and 'Ragweed that,' and I kept getting pissed.
"It's a good position to be in ... but people needed to give me the chance to prove that I didn't need that name."
It took a while, though, for the Departed — which will return to Amarillo for a 10 p.m. show at Hoots Pub, 2424 Hobbs Road — to coalesce. Initially formed as a five-piece with Texas country star Seth James as the co-frontman, the band is now a trio, with fellow Ragweed alum Jeremy Plato on bass and Eric Hansen on drums. After debut album This Is Indian Land, a tribute album to other Red Dirt pioneers, and follow-up Adventus, which went in a more alt-rock direction, The Departed found its greatest success with 2015's HippieLovePunk, which Rolling Stone praised: "Shot through with organ, harmonies and plenty of guitar muscle, it's a bigger, bolder, boomier version of the sound Canada's been creating for roughly two decades."
And then, Canada hit the wall.
"For a couple of years there, I was kind of afraid to write," Canada said in a Monday phone interview.
Canada vented his fears and his anger over the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in a few tracks on HippieLovePunk — issues that continue to crop up today. Just the day before our chat, 26 people were shot and killed and 20 others were injured at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, 35 miles south of Canada's home in New Braunfels. "Of the 30 deadliest shootings in the US dating back to 1949, 18 have occurred in the last 10 years. Two of the five deadliest (including the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas) took place in just the last 35 days," CNN reported Sunday.
"I was trying not to write another HippieLovePunk," Canada said. "I love that record, but I don't want to repeat myself. But it's hard not to because of all the sh-- that's going on in the world. ... I can't run from it."
Canada laid back for a good stretch of 2016, traveling the country and enjoying concerts with wife Shannon and boys Dierks and Willy, including a Neil Young show and one of the late Tom Petty's final concerts.
Seeing his musical icons helped get Canada out of his slump.
"Just like a lot of people, I'm just unhappy with the world and the feeling that I can't do anything to help it ... but I saw Neil Young and noticed how pissed off he was about everything, and I thought, I can do that still," Canada said. "Voice your opinion — that's what music is about. This isn't Russia. They can't silence you for having an opinion in music.
"Then I saw Petty and remembered, as cheesy as it sounds, that three chords and the truth is what people need," Canada said. "I had been trying to write outside my element, but I got back to three chords and the truth."
And, after this summer, Canada was on a hot streak, cranking out songs for a new album, 3, due out April 20: "It really is nice to have that resurgence. It gives you the feeling that you have your muscles again."
Then came Sutherland Springs.
"This is the kind of stuff that usually fuels my writing, but man, it's just getting to the point of singing the same old tune," Canada said. "It's starting to get difficult, especially when there's no change involved.
"I think we're all f---ed, to tell you the truth," Canada said. "I went to Target last night with my boys because we were out of milk, and they were scared sh--less. 'Daddy, we don't feel right.'
"I don't feel right either, but we've got to get milk."
Will the latest tragedy eventually inspire or hamper Canada's muse? Even he's not sure yet.
"It's been several years since I was unable to turn off the creative element (as happened after 2015)," Canada said. "But it'll happen again, I'm sure."