Singer discusses the band’s new EP, the influence of Venice Beach, and the moments that ground him.
Cody Simpson & the Tide look to capture the carefree summer lifestyle of Venice, California, with their blues, surf rock, and psychedelia-inspired music. The vibrations of Southern California are in full focus on the band’s recently released EP, Wave One.
Born in Australia, Simpson has already had an impressive career that includes touring with Justin Bieber and collaborating with Ziggy Marley and Asher Roth. He released an autobiography, Welcome To Paradise: My Journey, back in 2013, and has continued to create music ever since. On Wave One, the artist moves away from the synth pop sounds that initially brought him into the spotlight, and finds himself creating the kind of beach-themed tunes that fit his current, more-message-oriented-but-still-laidback state of mind.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Cody Simpson to discuss the band’s new album, the influence of Venice Beach, and the moments that ground him.
Christopher Friedmann: We’re talking because you just released a new EP, Wave One. Now that the dust has had some time to settle, how is the mood in camp?
Cody Simpson: I feel quite pleased and quite fulfilled actually. I feel like I’ve made a kind of step on a new path and it’s exciting. There’s times when I kind of cocooned myself a little bit, almost a bit of self-imposed exile or something, come by the beach for a year or two and came up with a bunch of songs and started playing with the band I’m playing with now, and was doing a lot of guitar practice, a lot of reading, a lot of writing and stuff. Now I’ve come out of that shell a bit and am making the first steps on my journey. It’s quite cool. It’s a nice feeling.
CF: The album is said to “encapsulate Venice Beach.” Do you find that landscape influences your music, and if so, how?
CS: For sure, I mean it’s common amongst artists and quite a natural thing for any artist, I guess, who is writing music, can’t help but reflect what’s going on around it and the environment and atmosphere in which it’s created in plays an instrumental part in the sonic landscape of the work. And so I think even with the first wave, which I think is an exemplifier of where we are headed musically, some of these first tracks, we’ve tried to really encapsulate that whole atmosphere and feelings.
Being down here, felt the change a whole lot since 40, 50 years ago or whatever, but it still has the essence, and we would like to carry it on musically because no one is really doing it in a modern way. We wanted to be those guys I guess.
CF: If you’re taking the essence that is Venice and trying to encapsulate that attitude, I was wondering if you could you take us through a bit of your songwriting process and where you get your ideas from?
CS: Often it’s quite like I’ll be bringing in something quite, like, fragmentary and disjointed at first. Honestly, the way I do it, it can come about with…I have endless voice memos on my phone and it’s fine because I would carry around a notebook, but I have the notes on my phone so I do it all on there. And I’m just writing, whether it’s little aphoristic tidbits of lyrics or poems or whatever, or whether it’s like a guitar-riff on a voice-note stuff, and then I’ll kind of put it all together and that’s kind of how it first started.
It was with a lot of different kinds of little poems and riffs that I was writing, I would bring them to the guys because I can only do so much. I can only get a song to a place where it’s like an acoustic guitar demo or whatever and then I got to bring it to the guys and we go from there with production and bass and drums and electric guitars and things like that.
It just kind of happens like something springs out of the abyss and then it all takes form once all the guys get together and we start jamming. That’s how it all started happening because we were doing a lot of different kinds of styles, covering songs, playing every week in Venice, doing, like, blues as a trio, and doing rock and reggae and all this. Then we managed to blend it all together over the last 12 months.
CF: I understand that “Waiting for the Tide” started as a poem. It seems to be about humanity’s attitude towards environmental issues. How do you view the voice of the artist in today’s society and that responsibility?
CS: I think it’s coming around again to a point in time where people have to start speaking up again. I feel like what happened in, like, conservative-era 50’s and then kind of got blown apart in the 60’s, during Vietnam, at least in the United States, I’m not American myself, just from what I’ve read about American history, at least because I’m living here now.
It almost feels like there is a common, kinda like there is another feeling almost in the air with the current United States presidency and all that. Obviously environmentalism has become a much more pressing thing since then, so that’s kind of what I talk about, because personally I don’t know a whole lot about politics, and I think it’s all quite absurd, but the environment to me is the most important thing. Without it, we’re all deaths on the edge.
I really try and incorporate those kinds of lessons into the lyrics and poems. “Waiting for the Tide” was a poem with undertones about sea level rise and things like that and so I kind of twisted that into the song. I guess it’s about hiding the medicine in the candy in a way. A lot of people have done it. I take a lot from people like Bob Marley on that kind of stuff because you can sort of get away with listening to it in a light floaty manner, or you can listen to the lyrics and realize there is a much more serious undertone to it.
CF: Speaking of the Marleys, you’ve worked with a number of huge artists, from Ziggy Marley to Justin Bieber. Can you share with us any advice they may have given you?
CS: I don’t know specifically about literal advice that I’ve been given by people, it’s more been for me learning through observation and through seeing these kind of people setting examples, whether good or bad. I guess it’s like seeing around the industry and realizing what to do and what not to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with and meet a lot of great people and artists I admire, people like Ben Harper and John Mayer, and people like that’ve been a form of encouragement for me to persevere.
CF: The tide is a continuous theme throughout the record. What is it about the tide that made you want to make it the subject of your writing and why is it so influential to you?
CS: I try to speak eloquently on it if i can… It’s more the way it exemplifies the natural flow of things, not to be corny or zen or anything, but in the way it connects to moon cycles and things like that. I think it’s just that kind of natural ebb and flow of the music we wanted to exemplify. In the album hopefully next year it will be able to give it more of a flow, with the uptempos and ballads and all that, but overall it’s kind of an exemplar of just the flow we all, consciously some of us, and unconsciously others, try to strive for in life. As opposed to the Western kind of uptight, very above-the-shoulder, high-frequency lifestyle that kind of gets to a lot of us. I wanted to try and create some sort of antidote to that, whether it be through the live experience or whatever, that’s just kind of where we are trying to head.
CF: You are currently in the midst of a tour. What’s a perfect night on stage for you?
CS: A perfect night on stage for me is a whole lot of fun. We like to have as good of a time as we can. We rehearse, but we also like to keep it, in a way, spontaneous and light, and not take it too seriously, so we are really excited to go out and play. We are going to do a couple covers from groups that we like, and also all of the stuff from Wave One, and blues and things like that. It’s going to be a cool, well-rounded show, and I’m just excited to get out there. We really don’t want to take it too seriously. We just wanna have a really good time, and try to bring people into our world.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
CS: I think it comes from the really quite genuine and often quite deep reactions and feedback I receive from my audience or whoever, my fans. I try not to call them my fans, I try to call them my peers. It comes from the constant reminder that I’m given, whether it be through social media or things like that, of how much it helps people because you can easily lose sight of it and maybe think, “What I do doesn’t matter that much,” and all that, but when you receive these really sentimental letters and messages from people, it’s cool. It keeps you grounded.