interview

Turner Cody: 'Brussels is one of my favourite places on this globe'

He has traded in the hustle and bustle of New York City for a family life in the Midwest, and indie folk for country. Still, American singer-songwriter Turner Cody touches a sensitive chord, especially in Europe and especially now that he is accompanied by a band from Brussels.

“I was completely bored with New York,” Turner Cody (40) tells us from his new home in Saint Louis, Missouri. Yet at the start of this century the singer-songwriter was part of a flourishing anti-folk scene, operating out of East Village bars like the Sidewalk Café, sending out a mix of swagger, rawness and attitude. “How young we were then,” he looks back now on the period he spent there with like-minded souls such as Adam Green. “But more than anything, times were different, and we were still learning the song craft.”

In the meantime, he has some 15 albums under his belt, of which he himself considers Last of the Big Time Spenders from 2013 the best entry album. With his Iron Maiden T-shirt, sleeveless denim jacket and monumental moustache, Cody still does not seem tired of his equally frayed and laconic non-image, but New York is definitely a thing of the past. “Cool when you're young, but with a wife and a kid I had no business being there anymore.”

Also, with a Brussels-based backing band – lead guitarist Clément Nourry, drummer Morgan Vigilante, bassist Ted Clark and guitarist/keyboardist/producer Nicolas Michaux, whom he calls a visionary – the difference between New York and Missouri is not so great. In both cases, there is an ocean between them.

Is not it strange to think that your band is on the other side of the ocean?
Turner Cody: No, they're such great musicians that it doesn't matter. I have known Grégoire Maus (tour manager and co-founder of the Brussels record label Capitane Records, ed.) since 2005. He hooked me up with Nicolas and his band The Soldiers Of Love. About four years ago, we played some concerts in Canada and after a joint tour Greg and Nico convinced me to do a record. I haven't regretted that for a moment. Something that sounds or looks cheap can sometimes be cool, but that is not how Nico works. Whether he is producing music or directing a video clip, he always finishes the job. A European band has another advantage: most of my audience is in Europe. A new tour as support act for Adam Green is in the pipeline, as are new recordings.

How come your fans are predominantly from Europe, because to European ears you sound pretty American?
Cody: The music the guys and I played twenty years ago in New York especially struck a chord with you. The Moldy Peaches – Adam Green's band – and other anti-folk bands became very popular in Germany. I also regularly performed with the French musician Herman Düne and suddenly my music appeared in the French film Un prophète, which was subsequently nominated for an Oscar. Call it a coincidence, but that lead to the fact that, two years ago, I was able to record an album in Brussels, nowadays one of my favourite places on this globe. At first we were not sure whether we should release the album as Turner Cody or as Turner Cody & The Soldiers Of Love, but because I also have a different musical face, the second option seemed the best to us.

Two things stand out: a sudden unabashed predilection for country and a crystal-clear production.
Cody: Personally, I would have made a pure country folk record with this new material, but Nico's technical skills have created an ideal tension between songwriting and production. That's what makes the record so accessible. As a songwriter, I've been immersed in the song structures of country for the past few years. I've always been a fan of Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt, but I've also come to appreciate Kris Kristofferson and John Prine more. Their writing is different compared to my old heroes Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. From a rather symbolic language I evolved to a simpler, more concrete language and atmosphere, typical of the country music idiom. In this way, my music not only sounds more accessible, it has also become more democratic. The older I get, the more this simplicity becomes necessary.

Do you have friends in high places, as you suggest in the title track? Do you know Mr. Wrong? Did you spend lonely days in Hollywood? In short: do you really experience what you sing?
Cody: Not necessarily. I sing about the dilemmas in my life and the problems I have to deal with. But just as often I make something up and my songs are an exercise in storytelling. I have not once in my life been to Los Angeles – I wrote “Lonely Days in Hollywood” in Paris, and I have no friends in high places either, unless you mean the angels. (Laughs) I did not write “Boozing & Losing” in a bar, but while I was on my break as a pizza delivery driver, strumming away on my guitar. Hank Williams once said that God writes the songs and he only holds the pen. It's true, a good song writes itself. “Mr. Wrong”, then again, follows a classic scenario. Country music, like western movies, builds on familiar images and tropes that we all understand and recognize.

Turner Cody & The Soldiers of Love: Friends in High Places
release on 4/6 on Capitane Records

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