First impressions are tricky maneuvers, especially when you've got a past like Cody Canada. He spent 16 years in Cross Canadian Ragweed, one of the leading lights of the Texas Red Dirt movement. When they broke up in 2010, Canada and bassist Jeremy Plato forged on with their new band Cody Canada & the Departed.
As Ragweed's main songwriter, Canada helped build the Red Dirt brand, a loose blend of country and rock that ran the spectrum from Southern and heartland rock to hippy jams, outlaw country, and honky-tonk. Recognizing the weight of his Ragweed and Red Dirt legacy, Canada wanted to take his time making their first original album.
"I wanted to buy some time between Ragweed's last show and the first original Departed album. I wanted it to be thought out and good. I didn't want to just jump into it," says Canada. "We didn't have anybody breathing down our necks, so I wanted to make it as good as we could."
But he also wanted to tour, which is a lot easier with an album in hand, particularly as a new band. So in 2011 they released the 15-song This Is Indian Land, which surveys several generations of great Oklahoma songwriters from Leon Russell and J.J. Cale to Bob Childers and Kevin Welch. In retrospect, he realizes that might have been confusing.
"I understand now that folks didn't understand why we put out a record of all covers. If that had been in the middle of Ragweed, they wouldn't have thought anything of it because we'd had so many other albums," Canada says. "I've learned that for some reason it's been hard for some fans to get over Ragweed. It's very nice of everybody, but we just need to let them know that it's done. We put out the Indian Land record because I wanted to get something out as fast as I could, and it was something Jere and I had talked about for 10 years and just never got around to."
The end of Ragweed can be traced to their jump to the majors in 2004 after a decade of independence. Though things with the label were fine at first, when the people who signed Ragweed were fired, the bandmates found themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
"They wanted haircuts and songs written by other people. That was the biggest insult. We got 10 albums that are all self-penned and now you want someone else to write it? Go fuck yourself," he says. "That's when the pressure was really on because we couldn't get off the record label, and they wouldn't let us go because we were still selling records."
Around the same time tension arose between guitarist Grady Cross and drummer Randy Ragsdale, who wanted to spend more time at home with his autistic son. They might have replaced Ragsdale (and this was the gist of Cross' complaint), but that wasn't the way they said they'd do things in Ragweed, and Canada is nothing if not loyal.
"We could've kept the name and kept on rocking, but I'm pretty hard-headed. When we were kids we always said from day one if something happens where somebody wants to leave or god forbid something bad happens, then let's just end it because it's never going to be the same," he says. "If you do continue on, ain't nobody going to be happy."
Finally in November of last year, they made their proper debut with Adventus, billed simply as the Departed. It rocks much harder than Ragweed. It ranges from Southern rawk like "Hard to Find" to the high-throttling classic rock of "Flagpole," whose opening riff echoes Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," and the swamp-funk of bandmate Seth James' single "Prayer for the Lonely," written in the wake of his mother's death.
James has been at it for nearly as long as Canada, fronting the Seth James Band. He brings a growling gospel blues style to the band that meshes nicely with the greasy Southern sound. He's taken some songwriting weight off Canada's shoulders and proven inspirational as well. Canada gets his own vocal growl on during "Flagpole," which incidentally came out of a riff James had been fiddling with for years.
"With this act we sat down before the first practice, me and Seth, and started writing, and started realizing what we could do together," he says. "With this act I usually come up with words first and then add to it, and Seth, you know he's a riff master. So it's really a perfect team as far as I'm concerned."
James has helped with writing as well, sometimes tempering Canada's impulses, as on the aforementioned song. "Flagpole" opens with the lyric "You tell me how to feel, it doesn't matter anyway/ The only thing that's real are the lies that you tell." It resolves in the chorus: "You ain't the only one to be under the gun, this won't last forever, like a hammer on a nail, together never fails."
"I came up with that first line and the minor chord fell in. Anger and minor keys are made for each other. Then I gave it back to Seth. He made it bright and shiny and gave it a light at the end of the tunnel. He said, 'You can be angry through the verses, but when it comes to the chorus let's let everyone know it's going to be okay,'" Canada says.
Time is the great eraser. With each new release Canada puts Ragweed further behind, and he's already begun with this louder, crunchier second act.
Canada says, "It's kind of an awesome thing now when we kick into a Ragweed song. We can see people go to the bathroom because they've already heard it and they want to get back to the Departed because they haven't heard those yet."