Today, we’re featuring a limited-edition version of Cody Jinks’ new album, Lifers, in the Vinyl Me, Please store. You can grab that here.
Below, read an interview with Jinks about signing to a label and finally getting some recognition at 38 years old.
Who the hell is Cody Jinks?
For the country artist’s fans — who go by the name “Flockers” and, accordingly, show up to Jinks’ shows in droves — he’s one of the genre’s younger saviors, harkening back to the days when country valued Merle more than “hey girl.” For others, he’s a relatively new name, though, at 38, he’s already released several albums, has toured extensively and is something of a cult figure among genre purists.
2016’s I’m Not the Devil was a long-overdue breakout success for Jinks, cracking the top five of Billboard’s Country Albums chart despite being released without the muscle of a record label. The success of that album took Jinks a lot of new places, including the late night television circuit and to multiple sold-out shows at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium.
On his new album Lifers, his first with a record label, Jinks doubles down on what made I’m Not the Devil a critical and cult success: honest songwriting, expert musicianship and a take on country that bridges the gap between the outlaw movement of the 1970s and the music of contemporary left-of-center country artists like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. He’s also brought some friends along, inviting fellow songwriters like Paul Cauthen, White Morgan, Tennessee Jet and Austin Allsup on board as co-writers.
We caught up with Jinks a couple weeks after Lifers’ release to discuss songwriting, releasing music with a record label, and landing on the radars of the folks on Music Row.
VMP: You’ve had the album out for just a couple weeks now. What’s the reception and the experience been like for you so far?
Cody Jinks: A relief. I didn’t realize but the other day one of the guys in the band was telling me that last week was the one-year from when we started the record. It literally took almost a year. We had it in the can by January and the rest of the time was trying to get it ready. The typical thing, it takes a long time for anybody to get a record out. So relief is probably the biggest word I can come up with. I’m grateful. I’m relieved.
This is the first album you’ve released with a record label. How has that experience compared to what you’ve been used to in the past?
It was really no different. I signed with Rounder in between being done with the record and the record actually coming out. They literally just wanted what we did. There were no outside hands on the record. Rounder really had nothing to do with that record, which is the main reason I chose to go with them, because they wanted us for us. We recorded with our band, and it’s not like that a lot of times when you get involved with big record deals and record companies and stuff like that. But they wanted me. They wanted us.
Yeah, that sounds like the best of both worlds. You get the creative control and get to do what you want but still have the support and manpower of a label.
That was a breath of fresh air for sure. I’m almost 38 years old and this is my first record deal. It was definitely a nice thing to be able to cut what we wanted to cut and have Rounder say, “This is awesome. We love it. We want it.”
One thing I was struck by when spending time with the album is that you pulled together such a great roster of writers. It’s cool to hear so many talented writers with different perspectives, but on an album that’s cohesive and really sounds like you. How did you go about choosing who you wanted to pull on board?
That really happened organically. I’d had the concept of doing a record like this with a whole bunch of different writers years ago, but it didn’t take shape until this record. How that happened was being on tour with these guys; most of the writers on this record I’ve done a lot of touring with or at least played with enough times to have gained a rapport and a sense of respect. I really have to get to know somebody before I sit down and write with them. That’s just how I operate. But over the years I’ve made so many good friends and had so many tourmates that it just happened. I didn’t really push for it. It was just kind of one of those things where I’d call Tennessee Jet and something would happen organically. It just kind of fell in my lap. I love everybody on the record, even the guys I didn’t write with and just covered their songs. I did another Billy Don Burns song and another Scott Copeland song. I only had one on there that was just solely me, which I’ve never done. Most everything on all my records has just been me.
Speaking of the track you wrote yourself [“Head Case”], that was the track that I kept coming back to and thinking about. Can you share a little about how you wrote that song and what it means to you?
That one was a tough one to write, to be honest with you. Artists are all kind of weird in their own way and we all kind of live in our own heads most of the time. I wrote that song right after Chris Cornell passed away; he was a big influence of mine. At the same time, Scott Copeland was in jail, so that’s where the line, “All my heroes, they’re all dying or sitting in a cell” came from. Questioning your own sanity is a tough thing to do. It’s even tougher to do when you’re in front of an audience. But that’s really been a song that we’ve had great response from. It’s kind of been a sleeper song that everybody has kind of gravitated to, which I did not expect at all.
Yeah, you don’t hear too many songs like that one. It’s honest and vulnerable in a way that a lot of people are probably looking to hear but can’t always find.
Yeah, being vulnerable, it’s kind of — metaphorically — like walking out on stage and pulling your pants down.
You mentioned having one of Billy Don Burns’ songs on the album. He’s certainly a hero among his fans, but there are also likely some folks out there who haven’t heard of him or don’t realize the influence he’s had. When did you first become a fan, and what does his music mean to you?
That guy is super special. He’s pushing 70 years old. He’s a treasure that not a lot of people know about. The guy’s been around forever. He’s worked with a ton of different people. He’s worked with Merle. He’s written for Willie. And here, later in his life, he’s finally starting to get what I see as credit due. I first heard of him five or six years ago. I was doing a show up in Illinois and there’s a show promoter up there I’m still friends with, and we were doing a show with him and he said, “Have you ever heard of Billy Don Burns?” He played some and I ended up stealing two of his Billy Don Burns CDs and went home and dove into them. I was like, “Where has this guy been?” He’s been up; he’s been down; he’s been in prison. He’s finally have a resurgence. Whitey Morgan’s cut his stuff. Josh Morningstar, who penned “Must Be the Whiskey,” he’s cut his stuff. It’s funny because you’ll talk to Billy — and we’re all in our late 30s and 40s — and he’ll say, “It’s really nice for you young guys to be cutting my songs.” We’ve all been doing it for 20 years ourselves. He’s a sweetheart.
To your point about how long you have been doing this, you have several albums under your belt, you’ve toured a ton, but with that it seems like when you put I’m Not the Devil out there was a shift for you. You’re selling out the Ryman and playing on late night shows, that kind of thing. Could you feel that coming as you guys were leading into the release of that album?
No. Not at all. There are a lot of factors that go into where we are right now and timing is as big a factor as anything else. Having the material, having the right band and crew and management, people set in place around you is obviously very important, but I credit a lot of it to timing. I’m grateful to be on the cusp of this shift that we’re seeing in our kind of music. Devil was definitely a turning point for us. The record before that, Adobe Sessions, we started seeing a lift. Then when we put Devil out we’re selling out the Ryman. None of that was expected. I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s as shocking for me as it is anybody else. I read something the other day someone had written about the record sales for this new one and the comment was something like, “If people on Music Row are still wondering who the hell Cody Jinks is, they don’t have to wonder anymore.”
Brittney McKenna is a writer living in Nashville. She contributes regularly to many outlets, including NPR Music, Apple Music and Nashville Scene.