The world needs healing and Cody ChesnuTT is a man on a mission to deliver shelter and solutions to those who are still in search.
Distant from the rhetoric that is often found in contemporary Soul music, Cody ChesnuTT is a meticulous and conscientious artist happy to engage with complex subjects while delivering his wisdom in a unequivocable and approachable tone.
At his fourth album since the release of his seminal classic “The Headphone Masterpiece,” we took some time to gather some insight about the recording of his new album “My Love Divine Degree” and discuss some of the dynamics that influence his incredible musicianship.
Taking breaks to fully reconnect with your private sphere seems to play an essential part in your creative process. As you put it, it’s a way to distance yourself from the many distractions that the life on stage can offer, but it is also a process that allows you to enjoy your family as much as you can and dive back in daily life stories that will inspire your music. What story would you like to tell us with “My Love Divine Degree?”
I think it’s a continuation of the story that has been developing in my work, which is how to get to the highest grade of our humanity and it’s always something that I started within myself. How to grow spiritually as a human being and how do I share it in my work in the most sincere way that I can. So My Love Divine Degree is just one more chapter in that story, where I offer whatever I can to the universe if you will, whatever healing or inspiration I can offer. That’s what “My Love Devine Degree” is about in its essence: reaching the highest love that will touch all of us and bring some healing, and the guiding light as an aid to move forward.
Why did you choose “I Stay Ready” and “Bullets in The Street and Bloods” as first drops to introduce your new album?
Well it is really relevant right now right? For what is going on in the States and worldwide. It is mind-blowing to me that we still dealing with such inhumane actions and attacking one another and using violence to resolve issues. So the main point of these songs is to offer a perspective and be part of the discussion.
Although spirituality has always resonated and has often been an important element in your musical output since The Headphone Masterpiece, how reading “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ” affected or inspired the making of “My Love Divine Degree”?
There was one particular story that really touched me. The book itself covers a lot of different accounts of Jesus travelling throughout the world, speaking to other philosophers, sages, and masterminds; discussing the different things that would move humanity forward, that would speak to the common man.
Jesus was in Egypt at the time studying a course that would allow him to experience all the trials that any other man would experience. He did this, so he would know what to offer and how to aid. And so there was this particular story where he was going for his different degrees in understanding, so Love Divine was the degree he was able to attain after he conquered fear.
In essence, it represents humankind rising above carnal selfishness and elevating to a plane where you can love one another while you can connect with everybody and make the human connection and it’s the love that we can all respond to. And that spoke deeply to me because that’s what I wanted to do with music. And so ever since then – and that has been about almost eight years ago – I’ve been walking on my own Love Divine degree and so it’s the love I want to offer to all. That is the spirit behind this body of work.
Do you think that music has really this power to affect people’s consciousness on such level?
Absolutely. Because music is that one thing that penetrates the soul. It transcends politics, gender, and class. It goes straight to the heart and that’s where the solution is, the change of heart.
So music really has feel, as I said. It really is the most powerful thing that we have right now to express or voice our opinions about how humanity can elevate, if you will. That’s the main thing using music to elevate the conversation.
In a very saturated discographic landscape like the one we have nowadays, do you think the public has still got time to connect with music with such depth?
Music is so powerful that is doesn’t take that long really. In my opinion it’s about the introduction of the idea or to plant the seed in one’s heart, mind or spirit, and once that’s there they will meditate on it in their own time. I think that even in this hurry pace and in this environment with so many distractions, music can still cut through it all and touch a person in such a way that it definitely can be life changing.
What’s your kids relationship with your music? How do they connect with your music and music in general?
They love it. I’ve been writing songs and singing since they were born so it’s a natural part of their day. They appreciate all songs, but they respond to some more than others, but they dig the vibe all around. My son played guitar for a while in school. I didn’t want to force it on him because I wanted him to choose it himself to see if he is really passionate about it.
I just expose music to him as organically as I could, and I would encourage it, and as I said, he is hearing me singing around the house and writing songs all his life, so naturally he make up his own songs, and often he’s walking around singing. They love it. So once again music is a vibration.
Do you censor any music with them?
Oh yes! I only play certain content and certain vibes around them. You know, the vibration of the music is very powerful, so I try to share as much positivity as I can, and if for some reason they hear some content that I don’t particularly care for I explain the difference.
While referring to contemporary POP/R&B in a past interview you compared it to chewing paper with no flavour. What did you mean by that?
At the time I was speaking about it I didn’t feel a lot of what I heard, so it’s like when you put paper in your mouth and there is no flavour there is no soul to it. It doesn’t hit you emotionally, but this is my opinion.
There is no difference to having bland food. When you put food in your mouth there’s a special experience, there is a reaction, there is a response, and a lot of the music I was hearing it didn’t have the response I’d like to have while I listen to music.
That’s quite interesting because at the times we are living in, African-American POP music has really gained momentum and dominance in the international charts. At same time the public attention towards the issues affecting the black community in the States has definitely increased again, perhaps due to the widespread of technology and social media that can make everyone participate and engage actively . However, it seems that the artistic response of contemporary musicians to the difficulties faced by their community, if compared with the legacy left by popular African-American music artists of the past, is quite mild and sporadic, Why is that?
It’s hard to say. It’s really a personal choice in terms of what you’re engaging with the music. It just depends on where that person is right now and whether they truly express what they truly feel. It’s really a hard call. That’s pretty much what I can say about it. Each individual has to take a personal assessment and see how they want to contribute to this particular issue. I think it’s getting to a point now where people are becoming more inspired.
I’ve seen a video last week, I think it was T.I. People are finding their voices in a way that is real to them to communicate what they feel about it. But it’s definitely a necessity at this point, not just to make commentary on it, but to offer up some type of solution or offer up some type of light for what is possible for the evolution of things.
What are your views on the Black Lives Matter movement?
It’s a legitimate movement in terms of trying to secure justice. I think it’s a matter of adding a focus and once again what is the overall aim and overall solution? What is the aim game? Right now I think there is a period of resetting to what to do next, but it’s a legitimate position on a particular issue. My position is that I thought there is a real solution and not just a symbolic response. Are you familiar with John Henrik Clarke?
Ok, in one documentary that Wesley Snipes put together years ago, I think it was “A Great Mighty Walk,” he was expressing that it’s great to demonstrate and to voice publicly, but we don’t want to get caught only in just showbiz and liberation, and that’s the thing. I would love to see the things move forward.
As substantial messages are quite central to your musicianship, have you ever taught that the language barrier could limit your connection with your international audience?
Not really. Because whenever I’m there, I’m always thrusting that the spirit and the energy of it is going to translate it, it’s going to cut through and connect. I show up in any place I go with the intention to make the human connection. Some people may miss a phrase and not quite understand the way that it is delivered, but they will feel the energy of the phrase, the spirit of the phrase, and I always trust that they are going to find the people. Regardless of what the language is, it’s gonna find the human heart. It’s gonna find the human spirit, and that would be the nexus if you will to allow everyone to engage and to contribute to the experience.
While listening to the Headphone Masterpiece there was the impression that all African American genres came to sit in one place, Blues, Gospel, Rhythm and Blues, Soul, Hip Hop we can even hear you rapping. 10 years forward and it seems that all these genres have stayed in your music while the charge of hip hop has left the scene. Is that true or it’s just my perception?
Well, I think the spirit of Hip Hop is always present in my work even if I’m not actually rhyming. The energy and the charge, as you said that is in hip hop, since I grew up into it, is always present in my work. But on “The Headphone Masterpiece” it was just something that happened organically.
I never considered myself an MC in any capacity [he chucles], but I just did something that I felt at the time and just drawing from tradition and what I grew up with. It felt right. A lot of work on the “The Headphone Masterpiece” is quite spontaneous, and to be honest with you I didn’t even sit down to plan the record. I didn’t sit down to think ‘Ok, I’m gonna make The Headphone Masterpiece.’ It was just me, literally me, just taking what I had in the room, and just make music for my own sanity, make something to stay focused on the creative process. So the spirit of Hip Hop in terms of wanting to be truthful in this role is still present in the music, and I have definitely to attribute a lot of that to the spirit of hip hop as well.
What is your relationship with Questlove at the moment?
We don’t see each other that often. Normally I see him in certain music industry events. The last time we actually saw each other was in Rotterdam at the North Sea Jazz Festival, and we were both doing a guest dj spot. That’s the last time we saw each other face to face, but like a year after that he did a remix for What Kind of Cool on the B Sides and Remixes album for “Landing on a Hundred.” We talked about working again in the future, so that’s always possible. We just never know when, but the relationship is still great. It’s still cool.
And what about your collaboration with Raphael Saadiq on “Bullets in The Street and Bloods?” How did that happen?
Once again, it was a strictly organic thing. I’ve recorded most of the tracks for “My Love Divine Degree” at home ,and we went to his place to mix since he has an amazing facility called Blakeslee Studio in North Hollywood, and it felt like home. Once we got there the vibe was amazing with everything I needed. It actually felt like a larger extension of the space I had at home which is a small barn if you will.
We had seen each other in the past in certain industry functions, so while we were mixing and trying some other things he was quite gracious in saying that if I needed him for anything to just let him know. So I took him upon it, as he is an amazing musician.
One day I needed bass on a track which I only cut guitars and vocals to it and I asked him if he would like to put some bass on it, and he did it with no problem, and did it on the low and said that if I needed anything else to let him know.
I originally played the bass in “Bullets in The Street and Bloods” but I’m not really a bass player, so I’ve asked him if he would come in and tight what I’ve already played, so he got on the track to tight things up for me. He’s awesome and full of love as he comes across in the music. A truly great brother.
It’s quite cheering to see such ordinarity in music produced at certain level.
Indeed. And that’s the only way I like to approach the music. There are a lot of industry-based arrangements but there is nothing like just meeting somebody who is cool and jump on a track just out of the love and the mutual respect. I really enjoy that.
Absolutely. Do you feel any connection with any other contemporary Soul and R&B artists at the moment?
Out of the new breed of brothers that are creating Anderson Paak is definitely a major talent. I think Frank Ocean is a strong talent and a great writer. Gary Clark Jr. we have actually collaborated before, and I think he is amazing. Those are usually the ones that come to mind. I stick usually to classics but I like what they’re doing, and I like that they’re growing even on the Hip Hop side. Kendrick Lamar is a very soulful writer and very soulful spirit. He will continue to do important work.
And what about the past? People often compare your work with Curtis Mayfield. Perhaps because he had a very soulful approach to music while fusing it with social and political commentary. I’m not really sure about it, but what do you think?
He would definitely be one of my inspirations from the past. To my knowledge, he’s probably one of the very first to combine social commentary with the everyday soul vibe that you could definitely connect to. It wasn’t to heady even though it was still intelligent, quite accessible, and quite melodically beautiful, musically sophisticated, and still funky, so he is definitely one of them. Stevie Wonder is the next. I was raised on his music, and I was always blown away by his lyricism. Not just by the beautiful melody, but also by its way to articulate complex issues and still connect. I think that’s quite amazing. I remember that his lyrics would expand my vocabulary as a kid. I graduated from that to listen Marvin [Gaye]. Those would be definitely be part of the foundation of how I approach writing, but there are so many others like Gil Scott Heron who has done amazing work and many others.
Also, there are often visual clues in your work like the Red, Gold and Green flag that send us back to Africa. What is your relationship with the Motherland?
It’s quite natural. The ancestral base of it but I began to study the continent more as I got older and once I’ve made a conscious effort to know the connection, to speak about the thing that I saw that troubled me and that I would like to see, like here in the States. You know our introduction about Africa in the States was always with a negative slant so I took it upon myself to study more and speak positively and offer whatever I could to the evolution and the progress of things that were taking place in different countries all over the continent. That’s the essence of it, I just wanted to see people represented in a more positive and uplifting way.
Well Cody, to be honest I would go on and on with questions but for now I’d just like to thank you. Thank you for your time, for your talent, your patience and your humbleness. I am quite amazed by your humanity and any time I reconnect with your music it’s quite an experience, and I have to say that you are truly blessed.
Thank you. And more than anything thank you for just listening. That’s something I never take for granted because I have to tell you that there is so much music in the world, so many different artists, so I thank you for even choosing my work and listen to me and allow me to be part of your life.
Cody ChesnuTT is closing his European tour with a final show at Santeria Social Club – Viale Toscana 31 – on November 8th, 2016. Catch him on road to fully experience The Love Divine Degree encounter and beyond. Have fun.
All Images | Courtesy of Cody ChesnuTT and Evita Castine
This post is also available in: it
Sharing. Inspiring. Spreading culture. GRIOT is a nomadic space, a botique media platform, and a collective collecting, amplifying and producing Contemporary Culture, Arts, Music, Style, from Africa, its diaspora and beyond.