A LOT CAN CHANGE for a man in a decade.
In 2002, Cody Chesnutt released The Headphone Masterpiece. Recorded in his LA bedroom, it felt more like the world's greatest mixtape than an album. In 98 minutes, Chesnutt showcased his songwriting and musicianship via an ambitious sprawl of soul, hiphop, and rock. Thematically, it's more contained, with most of the songs devoted to either (a) Cody Chesnutt's affinity for sex, or (b) Cody Chesnutt's amazing sexual abilities.
The Roots famously covered "The Seed" on Phrenology, but "Look Good in Leather" is another representative example, as much as for the inescapable catchiness of its melody as for the breathtaking arrogance of the lyrics: "I can make any woman mine/because I look good in leather/I can rock her body so good it blows her mind/because I know how to fuck her better/better than you."
Ten years later, Chesnutt and his three-year-old daughter are leaving a bookstore in Tallahassee, Florida. She wants a snack. Over the phone, I hear him explain that mommy is making dinner and that she shouldn't spoil her appetite.
"What's an appetite?"
"It's a thing in your body," he says patiently.
Chesnutt is at home between tours supporting his second full-length album, Landing on a Hundred. It's a gorgeous, focused album that was recorded in an actual studio. Stylistically, it's reminiscent of the socially conscious soul of the late '60s and early '70s. Think Curtis Mayfield, disco strings, funky bass, and lots and lots of horns. It's cohesive, lush, and disarmingly sincere—Landing on a Hundred actually is a headphone masterpiece.
Chesnutt is typically very open about his former womanizing lifestyle. But there are journalistic ethics and then there's doing the right thing. And doing the right thing means you don't ask a man about cheating on his wife—with two women at once!—when his toddler is less than 36 inches away.
But it's no secret that the birth of his first child, now nine, caused him to abandon his penchant for philandering and settle down to a quiet life with his kids and wife, who he's been married to since 1994. Chesnutt kept playing music, but he took his time putting together a band in Tallahassee.
"I spent the first couple years observing, and I began to notice a lot of the same cats showing up at the same places," he says. "Lots of homegrown talent—from churches, people studying jazz at the university here. I was inspired by the experience of Aretha Franklin going to Alabama to record a more soulful record. They used all the local talent there, and I thought that was a good idea."
On the cover of Landing, Chesnutt wears a WWII soldier's helmet, the same one he frequently wears in concerts now. It's a symbol of his transition from a womanizer to a man who knows what he believes in and fights for it.
"The music for me is like going on the front line, facing the issues that are important to me head-on," he says. "Fighting to keep my marriage alive, fighting to keep love and soul and art alive. Fighting for a healthier direction in life, fighting for community awareness. I wanted to put my music behind ideas that can inspire and change you. People are only as good as the music is."