If it seems like 21-year-old Cody Karey has been preparing his entire life for his self-titled Verve Records debut album, that’s just because it’s true. From the moment the then-18-month-old rose from his high chair to warble along with “Achy Breaky Heart” at a Pizza Hut somewhere in north British Columbia, and received a standing ovation, Karey’s destiny was sealed. A world-class tenor pop vocalist, he was discovered by label Chairman David Foster-who has a track record for that sort of thing-Karey’s bow has attracted some impressive talent, including Grammy-winning producer Walter Afanasieff [Mariah Carey, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion, Lionel Richie] and ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Bernie Herms [Brad Paisley, The Tenors, CeCe Winans, Casting Crowns, Jackie Evancho]. With a nod to admitted influences like Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, Cody makes each of the album’s 11 selections his own, letting the music do the talking on numbers like “You Are the Song,” a Bernie Herms/Josh Kear-penned track that introduces a distinctive new voice, bringing into focus Cody’s unique blend of both classical and mainstream pop worlds. The debut album, given its pedigree, is certain to draw comparisons to Josh Groban, and it’s one that the confident Cody doesn’t shy away from. The powerful diverse record showcases his talents and serves as a magnificent starting point of a young artist on the rise. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Cody to discuss his musical roots, the challenges involved with creating his debut album and his evolution as an artist.
We wanted to start by going all the way back to the beginning. What are some of the first memories of music in your life?
My Mom was a singer when I was growing up and she had a country band. She played quite a bit of rock ‘n’ roll too, so that was the music I first remember. My Mom was a big reason why I got into doing music. She influenced me in that direction. It’s funny; she tells the story all the time about me saying “Hey Mom, I want to do what you do!” She would ask “What’s that?” and I would say “I want to be a singer!” She says, “Ok, well, the next time I got out and the band has a show, we will let you do a song.” She always tells the next part as me saying “I don’t want to play in the places you play. I want to play on the big stage!” [laughs] I guess my first memories of music. It was my Mom and her band. I watched them and I really think that is a big reason I am doing what I am doing today.
In those earlier years, who did you look to for inspirations as a musician and performer?
It is kind of interesting. I come from a very small town in the middle of V.C., so I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of music when I was a kid. I listened to a lot of country and rock, whatever was on the radio. I listened to a lot of oldies as well. My Dad loved to listen to a lot of old time rock ‘n’ roll, so I would listen to things like AC/DC, Metallica and all of that stuff. It is kind of interesting because orchestral music and symphonic sounds mesh so well with that type of music. Oldies rock from the 60s and 70s is sort of a formative point for today’s pop music. I guess my early influence would be things like old time rock ‘n’ roll like Trooper, Supertramp and AC/DC. When I grew up a little bit and started to be exposed to other music through the internet and the like, I discovered Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti. No one was listening to that where I grew up. I fell in love with the idea of being able to blend symphonic and orchestral accompaniment with pop instruments. I always had a strong voice as a kid, so I felt that was really was my direction and I was pulled in that direction at a very young age.
Was there a particular catalyst that made you pursue music as a career?
I have always had a really deep passion for music. When I was a kid, it was an escape for me. It was also a way to dream a little bigger than the town that I grew up in. I always had an affinity for it as well. I had a very, very supportive family. I suppose the catalyst was when I had the opportunity to meet David Foster. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t even know who he was! I had the opportunity to meet him and my Mom, being the musician that she is, definitely knew him as the man behind all of these great pop artists. She really pushed me to do that and from that point I got to be a little bit more familiar with the commercial side of the industry. I just fell in love with being on the stage and playing with great musicians. I have had the opportunity, over the past few years, to record my debut record. That was an amazing experience. I just keep falling deeper and deeper in love with the creative process. It is incredible! It really is. It is something I am so passionate about and I am very glad to be able to do what I do!
Speaking of your debut album, did you have any expectations or goals you were aiming to accomplish with this release?
Absolutely! I think I just wanted to define who I really am as an artist or at least get a starting point because I don’t think that ever stops changing because we are always growing and changing. I suppose my goal was to put a collection of great performances and pieces of music together that would resonate with people and to discover who I am as an artist. It was a long process, almost two years, putting this record together between the actual signing of the contract and the release. It was an incredible learning experience and I got to work with a lot of great people. I think I fulfilled my expectations by creating an identity for myself and discovering who I am. I think we also did a pretty good job of putting together some music that people will enjoy that has content and a message. I am very happy with how it all turned out!
Looking back on the process of creating your debut record, what stands out as some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Singing live and singing in the studio are two different things. That was an obstacle initially, how the different takes would come together to create one fluid performance that would have emotion and register with people. That was really different for me in the early stages. Another challenge was hearing a song in demo form, without any production, with only piano player and another songwriter who may not be the best singer in the world trying to relay their song to you. Hearing through all of the dust that is there and being able to find the jewel underneath is a big challenge. They were great experiences for sure!
You worked with a lot of talented people on this album. You mentioned David Foster and another one of the talented artists you worked with is ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Bernie Herms [Brad Paisley, The Tenors, CeCe Winans, Casting Crowns, Jackie Evancho]. What did you learn from your time with those talented people?
Bernie is amazing. It was a pleasure working with him and I look forward to working with him again in the future. Bernie likes to do a ton of takes and makes sure we have the absolute best thing in the bag without any editing. There is a really good reason for that. When you start doing too much editing, chopping, mixing or matching in this genre of music, you do tend to start losing a little of its spirit or soul. The lesson I learned from Bernie is when you are giving a performance in the studio, you have to go to a deeper emotional place than when you are giving a performance on stage because there is no crowd to interact with or reach out and touch in that space. You really have to dig way, way deeper and rely on yourself to inspire those emotions. As far as working with David Foster, I have known him since I was fourteen and worked on the album, working on the live show and putting together the deal together. I have learned a ton from him along the way. I suppose one of the best things is that good is the enemy of great. That is something he loves to say and it is definitely true. We just have to keep striving for the better with every opportunity, raise the bar each time and try to give people something more real, relatable, humble and great every time.
You mentioned your live performances. What are your current tour plans looking like and what are some of your favorite tunes to play live?
As far as touring goes, we are working on a handful of things for the new year. I know my Canadian label would love to see me be on a Canadian tour, so we have a few things in the works that I can’t talk in too much detail about at the moment. We are definitely working on that for the new year. As far as my favorite songs to perform live, “A Million Pieces” is amazing to play when you get good lights and a big stage. I love that song. Another one I love is “Sentir.” It just has this undercurrent of South American/Latin passion that gets me fired up. I love performing that song. Of course, the first single from the record, “You Are The Song,” is one that really touches me emotionally and is one a lot of people relate to. Anything that I can reach out and touch people with is a very satisfying thing to do and I think those three songs do it for sure.
Do you have any plans for any video releases in the near future?
Yeah, we have plans to get a video of the single. We have been working on it for a while and it should be coming up right around the corner. I had a great time filming the video on the rugged California coast. You can look forward the “You Are The Song” video in the near future!
You are just starting off in your career, so you have a long road ahead of you. What do you consider your biggest milestone so far and what be some of your musical bucket list items?
The biggest milestone for me so far is actually getting this record out there. The first part of that was getting a major label deal was a big thing because those don’t happen particularly often anymore. Secondly, getting the record out there to people and having it be what I personally feel is a good record and something I am artistically satisfied with and proud to put my name on. As far as a bucket list item, there are so many to choose from! One big one would definitely be to play a headlining gig. I desperately want to play a headlining gig at Madison Square Garden one of these days with the New York Philharmonic and all of the bells and whistles. Doing a big arena tour and bringing my music all across the world to everyone I possibly can also tops that list. I would love to get to a place where I have a handful of records and can look back on a career and can say I am satisfied, haven’t made too many mistakes and have met a lot of great people along the way. So being able to tour the world and being really satisfied with what I have been to people musically would be my bucket list items.
What do you feel is the best lesson that might be learned from your success so far? Any advice you can pass along to aspiring musicians?
Absolutely! The best lesson I have learned so far is that you cannot do it on your own. You need a team of people who you can trust and rely on. Another thing is if you ever get to a place where you feel like you feel you are done or are satisfied with yourself in your ability, depth of your emotion or your last creation; it is probably not a good thing. As an artist, it is imperative that you keep growing and moving forward into uncharted territory and finding new parts of yourself to share with you listeners. Again, good is the enemy of great. If you stop growing, you are not moving towards greatness.
Are there any charities you are involved with that we can help spread the word on?
A great charity is Canuck Place Children’s Hospice (www.canuckplace.org) in Vancouver. They are a support network for gravely ill children and their families. That is one that is close to home for me. There is also the Sarah Mclachlan Foundation (http://www.sarahschoolofmusic.com) in Vancouver, which helps to bring music to underprivileged kids. I grew up in a very small town and there wasn’t a band or music program. I had to travel four hours a week to get voice lessons, so I think anything that can help bring music to children is a great thing as well!
Thanks for taking time out to speak with us today, Cody. We look forward to spreading the word on you!
Thank you so much! Talk to you again soon.