Texas country singer Cody Johnson, now more than a year removed from the release of his career-best “Gotta Be Me,” is set to play at ACL Live for the first time this Friday.
“Gotta Be Me” debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” chart last year and birthed a Top 50 single in “With You I Am,” all without a record label deal.
Read our review: Gone Country: Texas’ Cody Johnson doesn’t compromise on ‘Gotta Be Me’
Johnson told me last week he was just as surprised at that album’s success than anyone, but he’s still focused on honing his live performance and looking forward at what’s to come.
Read on for more from Johnson about how he writes, who he listens to and what he thinks his next move will be.
This interview has been edited for length and for clarity.
Austin 360: It’s been a year since “Gotta Be me” was released and we spoke last. What ahs it been like dealing with the sudden success of that album?
Cody Johnson: It was all totally unexpected, but I feel like the album is still going strong for us. My wife said to me just the other day, ‘At what point in your career do you think you knew what you’re doing?’ And I told her, ‘I’ll probably figure it out on the next [album].’ We didn’t expect for ‘Gotta Be Me’ to do as well as it did. Especially in California and Wisconsin and a lot of other areas out in the country where it’s just now getting picked up and we thought people would be tired of it already. It’s still gaining momentum in those places, which is amazing.
And that’s not to say I’m not focused on the next album, but for right now ‘Gotta Be Me’ has been very good to us. I couldn’t be happier.
A360: Has your touring schedule changed at all as a result?
CJ: A little bit. We’re not planning on doing as many shows, but were traveling more and more in between the shows we do, so it’s more road time. I’m using that time to write and pick songs for my next album.
But right now i’m enjoying seeing the growth we’ve achieved as a band- the Houston rodeo was amazing. Biggest crowd of my career. But I’m also equally enthused to see those smaller shows in New York, California, places like that, where it’s starting to pay off. That’s what I love to see.
A360: Anything you miss from Texas while being out on the road?
CJ: [Laughs] Not to sound conceited, but I miss being able to take my wife out on a date without people coming up to me and talking to me. When I’m home, I like to be home and live my life, you know? But that’s a good problem to have, I suppose. I can’t complain. And my wife is out here with me on this stretch, and when we get back to Texas we’ll take our daughter along on those stops. I love getting to have that time together.
A360: How did becoming a father change your music?
CJ: Oh, man. It changes all of it. You have to watch what you say a little bit more. I feel like my act is clean for the most part, but I do start to think more about what I say, and try to speak with more intentionality. I’d like to see more songs written for my girls, and so I have written more for them, like “I Know My Way Back.” It’s different with daughters, for sure.
A360: Lately it’s become more commonplace for artists to speak up about current events, but some country artists don’t inject their personal views into their music. Do you see yourself as someone whose primary goal is to entertain, or do you think artists should be speaking up?
CJ: Oh, man. I definitely think my shows should be seen as a relief, because I don’t think I’m up there to tell people what to think, especially about politics. Even with last year’s election, I would just tell people, ‘I don’t really care. I’m just going to do the music and play a show.’ ‘Cause I know the people who come to see me that are all, ‘Hey man, let’s go to the Cody Johnson show this Friday!’ aren’t going to want to get to the show and hear me preach to them. I should be there to let you have a relief for a few hours, just listening to good music.
A360: On that note, especially lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of music that is a bit more edifying, or stuff that makes me feel happy in light of what’s been going on in the news. What do you listen to when you think the world might get to be overwhelming?
CJ: I’ve always liked Glen Campbell, but right now, in light of his death, I’ve been listening to him a lot more. Stuff like ‘’Gentle on My Mind.’ And Merle Haggard, too, that’s what I usually listen to. I like songs that can take me places. Just something you can’t get anywhere else.
A360: What’s next for you? After the new album, a new record label?
CJ: I think i’m just going to do my own thing. I don’t really like to make plans on that large of a scale, ‘cause you know once you start making plans, that’s when it all starts falling apart. So I’m just going to keep doing my thing and let the Good Lord lead me where He will, and we’ll see what happens.
Cody Johnson plays ACL Live Friday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. with Muscadine Bloodline opening. Tickets can be bought here or at the box office.
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