After 10 years on the road and releasing music independently, Cody Johnson is readying his major label debut Ain’t Nothin’ To It on Warner Music Nashville. The Texas native tells Sounds Like Nashville it’s his most honest release yet, and it was his manager who convinced him to shop the project to various record labels.
“I feel like the last 10 years of my life were working towards this,” he explains, settling into a chair at Warner Music Nashville’s office. “Why would you not want, what I consider to be the largest record label in this town, to get behind a record that’s 110-percent me?”
Johnson explains that the 15-track project was created with no radio agenda or label agenda. He was planning on releasing Ain’t Nothin’ To It independently until Warner offered him a 50-50 co-venture deal where he didn’t have to give up ownership of his music or masters. The project will be released on the newly minted CoJo Music / Warner Music Nashville imprint.
“What you’re hearing is my brand of music. There is no influence whatsoever by a record label in Nashville. They just want to take what we’re doing to a larger scale. I’m really, really, really thankful,” he admits.
While Johnson has previously released five albums on his own, many country fans are being introduced to the singer’s music for the first time with his latest single “On My Way To You.” A song he calls the “countriest, most George Strait sounding song” on the record, “On My Way To You” is a soaring ballad that has a man looking back on past relationships before finding true love with his current flame.
Ain’t Nothin’ To It features a versatile sonic blend of Johnson’s influences including blues, southern rock and traditional country. Each of these elements are embodied in his Charlie Daniels Band cover of “Long Haired Country Boy” featured on the release. Johnson also penned two of the album’s most heartfelt songs, “Dear Rodeo” and “His Name Is Jesus.”
“Dear Rodeo” is a personal song that Johnson co-wrote with Dan Couch after the urging of his publisher Scott Gunter. A former rodeo bull rider, while Johnson still team ropes and rides in his spare time, he says it’s not like when he was riding bulls for a living.
“I thought that was going to be my occupation. I wanted to be a world champion cowboy. It’s proof that if you just let go and let God put you where you’re supposed to be . . . it just didn’t work,” he says, pausing in reflection. “I was good enough to get by for a little while, but it wasn’t for me. Whenever I had to stop, for a guy like me, failure, I hate failure. Failure is not an option for me. “
He continues, “I always felt like that was an area of my life I just failed. I didn’t get to the end goal. Scott said, ‘You know, that’s something you’ve never written about. You’ve written a lot of rodeo songs, but you’ve never written about the fact that you’re not doing that full time.’ He asked me why. I said, ‘Because it felt like a divorce.’ It really did. It was a wound that I didn’t want to look at. He said, ‘You should write about it.'”
When Johnson told Couch the word divorce, his fellow co-writer suggested if the rodeo is a woman, they should write a love letter to her and tell her how he feels.
“It’s very real. That’s probably the most of my pure, naked soul that I’ve ever put on paper,” he admits. “My favorite line of that song is, ‘I’d like to think you miss me too, but I know you don’t.'”
Another song that holds great meaning to Johnson is the album’s last track, a gospel song he wrote called “His Name Is Jesus.” The decision to put the song on the album came to the singer after his pastor approached him about a video he saw of Johnson performing. On stage Johnson said, “I’d like to give the man upstairs all the credit.”
“He said, ‘Would it kill you to say Jesus Christ?’ Then I thought about that song. I wrote it in 2004 on Christmas Day. It just came back,” he recalled.
Johnson went into the studio to record the song with his guitar player and fiddle player and a room microphone. There was no tuning or editing, just three men playing the song in one take.
“We knew that it was meant for something. You don’t walk into a studio and do a job like that–it wasn’t coincidence. So we knew it had to be honored. It means something to me,” he says softly. “God gave me the gift to play music, and I feel like I owe it to Him and all of these fans to play exactly what I’m supposed to play. Don’t differ from that. If I differ from that at all, that would be my downfall.”
Johnson further explains that Ain’t Nothin’ To It is comprised of 15 songs that he personally wants to listen to while driving around in his truck. He was simply determined to release the best album he could on his own and now with Warner Music Nashville behind him, Ain’t Nothin’ To It will reach an even bigger audience than he could have imagined.
“I [am] a fan of these songs. When I’m singing these songs, I find that I’m having more fun, and my crowd is seeing me and they’re getting that fun. It translates to them a little bit more, which is different for me. I think it really changed my mindset and it got me outside of my writer’s box,” he concedes. “I just let it all go. I quit trying to get a deal. This time it was, ‘Man, I just want to go have fun and make a record that I would want to listen to.’ Lo and behold, that’s what changed it.”