After a breakout year, Cody Johnson has set a high bar for success. In particular, his CMA Award-winning, Grammy-nominated, chart-topping hit “‘Til You Can’t” has brought the singer to career highs that he never could have predicted — and as he looks ahead to starting work on a new album, he admits that it’s a little daunting to follow up such a resoundingly successful song.
“In the back of your mind, you think about it,” Johnson tells Taste of Country. “Because it’s no different than a bronc rider who goes out and gets 90 points. Well, he wants to do 90 points every night. But you’re not gonna be able to do 90 points every single night. There’s too many variables. And the music business is the same way.”
The singer knows firsthand how unpredictable both businesses can be. A former professional bull rider who has been been a performing country artist for a decade and a half, he is acutely aware of just how much timing and chance play a role in whether or not a song is a hit. While his 2021 Human: The Double Album is his first full-length release for Warner Music Nashville — and the first to garner him massive, mainstream recognition — it’s actually the seventh album of his career overall.
So as he contemplates a follow-up project, Johnson is focusing less on chasing success, and more on the song-serving philosophy that brought him to songs like “‘Til You Can’t” in the first place.
“You know, the way we we recorded ”Til You Can’t’ was, we weren’t chasing a radio hit, we weren’t trying to win awards — we were just trying to create music that moves people and tell a story that changes people’s lives,” he continues. “So when we go into the next one — I believe this, I always have and always will — go into the studio and let the song be what it wants to be … if it needs to be slow and sad, let it be slow and sad. If it needs to be upbeat and inspiring, let it be that.”
Johnson will be putting his album-making philosophy into practice sooner rather than later.
“Actually, yeah,” he says, when asked if he’s got plans to work on a new album in the coming months.
“I’ve been writing some and picking some new songs,” the singer continues. “I think we’ve got it down for late January, early February, to go in and do a couple sessions … and hopefully have another full album out by the end of next year.”
In the meantime, he’s hoping that his new live album — Cody Johnson & the Rockin’ CJB Live — gets its moment in the spotlight. Taped during back-to-back sold-out shows in June 2022, the project is Johnson’s live show at its best, and he’s proud to memorialize the concert experience, especially because it throws a spotlight on a band that’s been with him on stage every night for years.
“When you play onstage with somebody that long, you develop this — it’s like a fluid poetry. It’s fun to hear on tape,” Johnson relates, adding that the bulk of his bandmates have been with him for at least five years.
“The culture I like to create is, when you come on board, I don’t care how well you can play. I don’t care how pretty you do things onstage. It’s very much a ride-for-the-brand mentality where we have a different standard we hold ourselves to,” he explains. “I tell my guys, ‘When you walk in the room, you’re a direct indication of me and I want people to look at you and say, ‘Hey, that’s a Cody Johnson guy right there.’
“That’s kind of a cowboy way to look at it, but it makes the culture so tight-knit,” the singer continues. “It’s kind of an all for one, one for all mentality. So it’s really special to get to share my name with those guys that work hard behind me all the time, and they rarely get the credit they deserve.”
The same mentality applies to Johnson’s studio musicians, and in fact, he makes a point of bringing his road band into the studio for a few songs on each album. “Just because I feel like it needs that color, it needs that flavor … it gives it a flair,” he explains, adding that he rounds out his studio sessions with an “amazing group” of players based out of Nashville.
“And quite frankly, they’ve all dedicated themselves to me over the years because they’re excited to play what they feel is real country music relative to the pop stuff that they [often] play on,” he notes.
Cody Johnson & the Rockin’ CJB Live came out last Friday (Dec. 2). The singer is hoping for new material off his next album to start coming out sometimes in 2023.