Few will deny that in the late 90s, Cross Canadian Ragweed brought Oklahoma’s answer to Pat Green across the Red River, slamming it into the ears of Texans riding the wave of regional pride for all things Texana. Their music had a similar bravado but wove in grungier, angrier, more serious tunes in between the party anthems about beer drinking and pot smoking. Boland, Stoney, and a host of others soon followed and it wasn’t long before Texans adopted the boys from Oklahoma as their own, initiating the melding of two scenes into the under-descriptive but oft-used Texas/Red Dirt moniker.
The Ragweed train roared, having both hits and misses along the way; but lead man Cody Canada’s transparency paired with the garage band piss and vinegar that the group brought consistently for 15 years endeared them to their fanbase. But internal strife caused it all to disintegrate in 2010 with the band calling it quits as gracefully as it could, retiring the name in the process. The breakup disheartened not just the entire regional music scene but left both remaining members Cody Canada and bass player Jeremy Plato with a musical identity crisis.
The story goes that Cody picked up the phone a day or two after it became official and asked his musical partner of 15 years, “What are we gonna do?” to which Plato responded, “We’re gonna start a rock ‘n’ roll band, that’s what we’re going to do.”
So The Departed was born with Canada and Plato starting anew, the wounds still too fresh to simply pick up where they left off. But with a legacy already taken root and a rabid fanbase eager to follow, the task of establishing a new identity could only be described as daunting, if not impossible. As we’ve been taught, you’re always 17 in your hometown and Cody and Jeremy never left the neighborhood. People wanted Ragweed Part II and when they didn’t get it, the backlash ensued. Cody pushed back crazy rumors and deafening demands for staples like “Boys From Oklahoma” and “Carney Man”, which he swore never to play again.
Watching Cody and Plato’s musical journey since the Ragweed breakup has been fascinating. Not in the circus spectacle sense; it’s all underpinned in admiration, watching two guys who were once on top of this scene playing large venues and festivals all of a sudden having to play dive bars to pay the bills. As a fan, you hope your heroes persevere and as a writer, insight into the artist’s mindset is coveted. Cody has always obliged, never pulling punches about what is on his mind. For several years Canada seethed bitterness, anger, fear, and insecurity. It was concerning but it wasn’t all bad, most artists use those feelings to drive their music.
Balancing Cody’s heart-on-his-sleeve personality, Jeremy Plato has always come off as a quiet Steady Eddie. His foundational role in the band mimics his musical role as a bass player. It was cool to see him shine last year when commandeered The Departed and released “In Retrospect”, an entire album of old-school country covers.
In the midst of The Departed trying to figure it all out, there were experiments that failed, primarily, having a band with two frontmen – Canada and his longtime friend Seth James. While this combo ultimately did not work, neither were at fault and without question, Seth James is one of the most talented and under-appreciated artists around these parts. The chemistry was just odd and it confused people.
When I spoke with Cody 18 months ago, the anger was gone, and he was on the search for inspiration in the midst of a writing drought. Sitting down with him this winter, and despite just overcoming a very scary ordeal with his voice, he spoke about “3” with a peaceful enthusiasm. Excited to get it out into the world, devoid of anxiety. It’s the kind of peace you have when things are clear and you have life as under control as you can. Over the last 6 months, I’ve seen Cody play “Carney Man” with McClure with a smile on his face and sing “Boys From Oklahoma” like he was in the thick of those Ragweed heydays. He’s embraced the past, realizing that mixing in old with the new makes people happy and using music to make people happy is a good thing.
In late June, Cody Canada and The Departed will release “3”, which aptly summarizes their state of affairs. This is their third album of original material (Adventus & HippieLovePunk being the predecessors), the third year drummer Eric “Waldo” Hansen has been behind the kit, and “3” being the number of members in the band. The singles “Unglued”, “Lipstick” and “Daughter of The Devil” are already out there and we got to hear a few others off the record at recent live shows. Thus far it’s safe to say that The Departed finally appears to be comfortable in its own skin. They aren’t trying to be Ragweed, but the sound is as true to those roots as we’ve seen on any Departed record. The guitar-driven rhythms and harmonica parts that we all know are there to underpin the meaningful songwriting Canada and producer in crime Mike McClure have always strived to achieve.
This discussion with Cody Canada is a long time coming. We talked on the back porch of his abode for the week in Key West during Mile 0 Fest. Some of the stuff heard during the interview has already leaked out and the intent was to get this out just before the original “3” release date of April 20th. Once the release moved to the summer, I ended up shelving it. In the interview, we touch a lot of subjects: overcoming vocal issues, family happenings, the Ragweed breakup, the evolution of The Departed, and of course “3”. It’s all good stuff, enjoy.