Such an occurrence took place last week and I was, quite naturally, intrigued. I had intended to post nothing but Christmas-themed records during December but I think that The Last Few Days, the debut album by a young Canadian artist by the name of Cody Robertson, deserves your attention – hence this extra post. Oh, and he’s crowdfunding his next project and you’ve only got until December 23 if you want to get involved.
I’ll let Cody tell you his story himself: “I finished The Last Few Days in 2008, when I was just starting high school. Some of the songs are about experiences, dreams or jokes that I found interesting at the time. Some of the songs are not about any real events at all because, as a young person without a wide selection of life experiences to sing about, sometimes I would just sing silly songs or sing more ‘serious’ songs about experiences that I hadn't really had.”
Cody is a prime example of what Irwin Chusid would call an ‘outsider’ musician: he’s a young man with limited musical experience but who has something he wants to express. There’s lots to enjoy in the world of outsider music – and I’d certainly include acts like The Shaggs in that list – but there’s also a lot that troubles me. Many so-called outsider musicians are people who have serious mental health issues (Wildman Fischer and Jerry Solomon, for example), and there is a dichotomy at the heart of what many accept as outsider music. Clearly it’s perfectly alright to enjoy music by people whose creativity stems from their own experience (however uncomfortable those experiences are for the average listener), but it’s not acceptable to laugh at a ‘funny’ record that has been produced by someone who has health issues. Unless they intended that record to be humorous, of course.
Anyway, back to Cody: “I enjoy some of the work I did on the album, but a lot of the production, timing and singing makes me cringe. Almost every song I made got a place on the album, whereas many talented artists will make a lot of music and then choose only the best for their albums. Any album I complete represents quite an accomplishment for me because I am prone to procrastination and have a love of dreaming up and planning projects, but not finishing them.” I really like Cody’s honesty: as a teenager I would often dream up ideas for songs and I write a whole bunch of awful tunes which embarrass me to this day. Luckily very few people have heard them.
“In the six years since I released The Last Few Days I feel that I've grown as a person and as a musician,” Cody tells me, admitting candidly that being a musician “is certainly not my full time job. I think my next album shows a marked improvement over it. The songs are more genuine and I took more care when producing them. If I get around to it, I hope my next album after that will be better yet.”
I like Cody, and I genuinely like The Last Few Days. True, in places it is pretty cheesy, but he was just a teenager when he put this out, and I’d rather the naïve honesty and joy of a song like Brittany than any of the detestable output of a million other little teenage snots. Seriously: wouldn’t you rather listen to Cody’s Happy Song – which contains the brilliant line ‘I would tell the truth but it’s not really true’ and could easily be a They Might Be Giants outtake – than the hateful Video Games by the Black Out Band? The album’s failings are also its charms: his voice is off key and the instrumentation on a couple of tracks is out of sync, but some of the songs are really creative – this is far from awful. Yes, the keyboard part to Untitled is almost a direct steal from Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, but if you’re going to plagiarise something you could do a lot worse - and I suspect it’s purely co-incidental (incidentally, I originally misread this as Untitled: pleasingly the song is called Untilted because Cody himself once misread the same word!) Yes, it sounds exactly like it was recorded in a bedroom – but so was Your Woman by White Town, and that was a massive hit. I laughed out loud at several points when listening to Hookfoot: I think you will too. ‘Your foot is a hook and you always fall down/And it’s funny’. It is.
If you go to http://codyrobertson.bandcamp.com/album/the-last-few-days you can download the whole album. Chuck him a couple of dollars while you’re there: he deserves it. He tells me that he’s only sold a bout 20 physical copies of the CD, and most of those were to family and friends. I hope those 20 people appreciate it.
Cody’s next album, Midsized Eras, is out in early 2015. He’s releasing it under the name Optional because he wants to distance himself from his older music, which I understand but I think it’s a shame. “I am trying to get it into the hands of people who are interested in it by doing a crowdfunding campaign,” he explains. “The main focus is selling 100 CDs for $1 each with free shipping.” You can find out more about Midsized Eras – and hear three songs from the project – at http://optionalsongs.bandcamp.com and preorder your CD there (you can, if you choose, pay more than a dollar).
“Making music is a hobby for me,” Cody tells me. “It's something that I love doing, but I would be more encouraged to keep making it if I knew that a few other people actually enjoyed it. I can always make it available for free download and hope someone finds it, but getting some CDs in to people's hands means more to me. I hope the campaign will generate enough interest to connect my music with those who find it interesting. We shall see!”
Good luck Cody: I’ve already ordered my copy. Why not have a listen to a couple of tracks, then go to http://codyrobertson.bandcamp.com/album/the-last-few-days and grab the whole album?