Cody ChesnuTT’s music and live shows are filled with deeply personal stories of struggle, heartache and redemption. ChesnuTT took a ten-year hiatus between his critically acclaimed debut album, The Headphone Masterpiece, and most recent record, Landing on a Hundred (an album he chose to crowd fund on Kickstarter) to focus on family life; reconciling with his wife and raising their two children together in Florida.
Now back on the road, ChesnuTT tours and records music his way, without the shadow of the big labels that had vied for his attention after the massive “The Seed 2.0” was released with The Roots back in 2002. Fiercely independent and true to his work, the open-book musician is flooding with honesty.
How do you feel about he current state of R&B lately? The influence of EDM in a lot of it has been really bug these past few years.
Honestly, I don’t feel too much about it. A lot of the feeling has gotten lost for me because I grew up with the golden era of soul music and funk music of the sixties and seventies; there was so much heart and soul, and in my opinion, you just don’t get that these days with the music that dominates the mainstream. There’s a beat and a catchphrase that kind of blows by, but nothing that really moves me. I grew up on music that made you cry; that brought you back to the core of your humanity, but I don’t get too much of that from the mainstream. There are artists, like Gary Clark Jr., who are preserving that spirit and keeping that flame alive, and I think it’s actually going to come back to being the standard. It’s like eating candy and sugar all day then suddenly you just wants some water [laughs].
So what do you think of the argument that’s been made about [Pharell’s] “Happy”, and that it’s too pop to be considered R&B.; like the genre is going through a bit of an identity crisis….
Yeah, but at the end of the day it really isn’t that important. It’s about if you’re feeling the song or not. I’ve have heard “Happy” on urban radio; I live in Tallahassee, Florida, and they play it a lot on one of the main urban stations down there. It’s moved people all over the planet. Just like Motown; it’s that sound that you can’t really pigeonhole – it’s a sound that people can connect to, so I’m down with that.
How important is the element of spontaneity in your sets and when you’re recording? Watching how you and your band flowed through your set was pretty incredible to watch.
Thanks, Yeah, it’s really important because sometimes that’s really where the magic happens. When something happens by mistake, or when you’re writing or recording and things that you didn’t predict happen. We’re always looking for those moments. And live, it really helps the overall vibe a lot. A lot of it is mapped out and planned, but it’s still open for things to happen which keeps the energy up and keeps things more interesting for everybody.
And how about the breaks in your sets; where you tell such personal stories about family and your past troubles…were you always comfortable with being so open with an audience or was that something that kind of came to you in your later years?
I’ve had to mature in it, but I’ve always tried to be as forthcoming as I can in the music, because that’s what inspires me to write. I really want to write about the journey. I grew on that kind of music: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, all those guys. It was just the music about the everyday experience, that’s why it’s lasted for generations. So I grew up on that and I had to grow into my own understanding of communicating my personal issues that everyone can relate to one way or another. Even if you’re not married, you can understand that commitment is a real thing, and it takes effort everyday so that’s really what I try to express sometimes.
This article originally appeared on markermagazine.com in November 2014.