Born and raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, indie-rock singer-songwriter Cody James started making music when he was a kid – and his passion for the craft has only gotten stronger since then.
He discussed that passion, and what led to it, with the Peninsula Pulse before his Nov. 18 show at Door County Brewing Co. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
Sam Watson (SW): What got you into music?
Cody James (CJ): My sister’s husband is a big fan of KISS. He came into the family when I was five or six. It was KISS that first caught my attention and made me want to be a rockstar as a kid. Later, it was bands like Nirvana. My brother was into punk, so I got into bands like The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Misfits.
I still like the bands I liked as a kid. But I’ve really jumped into blues, jazz and R&B, artists like Gary Clark Jr. and Pink Sweats.
SW: When did you realize that this was what you wanted to pursue as a career?
CJ: I think it was when I was a little kid. I’d always write little stories about how I played a show in an arena full of screaming fans and made a billion dollars a show.
Then when I was probably seven or eight, my dad got me a guitar for Christmas, and I’ve been playing since then. I played my first show when I was 14. I’ll be 35 next year.
SW: How has your approach to music changed over the years?
CJ: When you’re first starting out, you tend to write pretty simple songs, if you write at all. You end up trying to emulate the artists you looked up to. Now, I’m searching for things I haven’t heard, as opposed to emulating things I have heard. I like to find a new and interesting sound that can be put into a relatable context. Whenever a musical artist hits me with that, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow.’
SW: How would you describe your sound?
CJ: That’s a hard one. I always say my sound is kind of pop-rock, indie-rock, but with elements of jazz. I love jazz in a pop singer-songwriter context.
SW: Is music your full-time gig?
CJ: Yes. I usually end up playing one to three solo shows a week. I have a band too; it’s new and we’re still getting the ball rolling. I have a studio here in my basement, so I’m here a lot writing, recording, sending booking emails throughout the week. Then usually on the weekends I’m out playing shows.
SW: One to three shows a week sounds like a lot. Does it feel like a lot?
CJ: It can, but at the same time, I’m making a living playing guitar and singing songs, so I can’t really complain.
I tour, too. At least once a month, I’ll drive somewhere six to eight hours away in a given direction and do a weekend of shows there. This year, I did a 10-day tour where I went all the way down to New Orleans, Florida, and the Carolinas.
SW: And later this month, you’ll be in Door County. What brings you here?
CJ: Oh, I love Door County. I love getting out of this big metropolitan area [the Fox Valley area, including Oshkosh, Appleton and other cities]. Once you get out and go up north, the air is so much cleaner and I swear the sun is brighter. I love being in nature, and Door County – there’s a kind of magic about it.
I’ve played the Door County Brewing Company before; I think this will be my third or fourth time now. It’s always such a nice experience.
SW: Do you have any projects you’ll be working on through the winter?
CJ: My new band – The Cody James Trio – just played our first show this summer and we’re going to record pretty soon, starting next week. Usually I bring songs and we rearrange them as a band. It’s been a lot of fun.
Catch Cody James on Nov. 18, 3-7 pm at Door County Brewing Co. and Music Hall, 8099 state Highway 57 in Baileys Harbor. Or stay in the loop by following him on Facebook (facebook.com/realcodyjames) or Instagram @real_cody_james.