Brian Tucker of Star News - Wilmington, NC
On Saturday at Waterline Brewing Co. Justin Cody Fox will be releasing his solo album “Go Down Swinging.” For anyone who has followed Medusa Stone, the band he sings and plays fiery bluesy hard rock and roll for, will undoubtedly see a different side of Fox on the new material.
He wrote most of the songs for the record alone in his music room, not revealing any of it to Medusa Stone musicians Dave Morse and Jeremy Summers. The songs often have a country-meets-rock sound and Fox’s singing and playing takes different directions that won’t leave fans disappointed.
You can read my article on Fox here and below is more of my conversation with him about making the new album.
A lot of the new material relates to family, and a shared life.
Fox: Absolutely. I wrote the majority of it for the new album, a couple like “Better Days” and “Light Inside of Me” were written before. “Better Days” was written when I was 18 but I never have a place for it on and album.
Did lyrics for it change over time?
No. I had a book…we had nine songs for the record and I had a book of songs I haven’t used. (Producer) Worth (Weaver) asked what we had left and I played him a couple. I was looking for something to add to the content of the album. He liked “Better Days” and said put it down. We did a rough version to decide what it needed to be right, so we added keys and backup vocals. That was it.
Medusa Stone is on hiatus?
Medusa Stone is still something we can do if we need to, if a show offer is there, but the only the shows we do is if House of Blues calls or it’s an opening spot. Dave (Morse) and I really have been doing what do now about since I quit the guitar shop. I was seeing the more I booked and worked the more secure money was coming in compared to teaching guitar lessons. You don’t know if your student is going to show up, or renew. I have about ten students now because I’m so busy.
Jeremy (Summers) was at a phase then drumming-wise, he didn’t want to play much, unless it was opening spots, didn’t want to play around town. So Dave and I started filling up a calendar playing acoustically.
Was that country influence always there?
Last year I did a seven song release, an acoustic album with a soft release. I recorded in Nashville and it definitely had a country flair to it. I wanted to follow that up on this record, in a way, it’s not country music but its Nashville-esque, if you can say that.
Some of those songs I’d written before. I think being myself…I have people around me – Worth producing it and Dave my right hand man every step of the way, but when it comes to writing and planning a record it starts with a concept inside your head first. What it was for me was to not worry about an image of a band, with Medusa Stone. I felt like every record had to be progressively more rock and roll, heavier, just to keep up with the image of the name itself. Medusa Stone sounds harsh. I love that kind of music but I also like sensibly written music as well. I just love songwriting in general and I got more into that taking breaks and playing acoustic guitar.
It goes back to my childhood too; all that was playing in my house and grandparent’s house was classic rock and 90’s country. I definitely think those influences have always been there and I think I’m a lot less timid to show them now that I don’t have an image of a band to worry about. My thought was to write songs I thought were good and not worry about the genre. I still there’s a big blues influence on the record as well.
The new album is less showy, less about fireworks. It reveals a different side to you musically.
That’s something we tried to concentrate on this record, there’s maybe three solos on the record where I really let loose, even vocally. Worth said, let me produce it and let’s feed the songs what they need and put out something that speaks for the songs and North Carolina. Each song has a guest star, either from Wilmington or North Carolina. All the keys were recorded in Atlanta by Rhett Huffman, but he’s from Wilmington. I think Worth wanted to make a statement with how he recorded and mixed it and the quality he put into it. I wanted to make a statement that just in North Carolina, centered around Wilmington, we have a record that sounds like it could have been recorded anywhere in the world.
In a way, this album is like sunshine, especially in the aftermath of good and band things over the last few years.
I think it’s me taking a breath and saying I’m a musician, I want to make records, and I’m not held back any restrictions. Just being happy with the whole process, I think that’s what was most relieving in this process for me – being in the moment and enjoying every bit of it.
I did have a slight delay. I was working so much last year that I couldn’t get in the studio that often anyway. I had played so much I got sick and couldn’t take a break, I had ten or eleven shows in a row. I got a couple of little polyps on my vocal chords and lost all but my lower range for three weeks. I took five days off, the most I could afford. The doctor said to take ten off and not to talk. He put me on steroids too. I took five days off and tried not to talk and that’s impossible with a three-year old. I have to be really careful now that I have rehabilitated myself. But once you have those, if you push too hard or you don’t sing properly, they will come back.
You sound different, not just musically, but more personal.
We’ve been rehearsing for the CD release and there’s a more laid back feel to the performances. It’s nice though, because songs like “Light Inside of Me” and “Hurt Me,” there are still some rockers on there. We were working on “Hurt Me” last night, it’s got a killer groove anyway, and its nice to go back to that heavy rock feel groove for a few songs in a set.
It’s been a decade for Medusa Stone, you’re still friends, still playing, and there’s kids now.
That’s changed a lot of stuff for me, how I view life. I think musicians have a lot of issues with self worth, especially if they’re not famous or super successful because they feel like they’re choosing a lifestyle that can be super detrimental to a family. I think I deal with that a lot, wondering am I doing the right thing for my kids to be pursuing this, or should I fill out an application at GE or something. It’s always in the back of your mind and it’s important to talk to your partner about it and make sure you’re on the same page. Fortunately for me I have Laura’s support and on the other side I’m working as much as I can as a musician.
How aware is he of what dad does as opposed to what other dads do?
It sucks to leave for six nights a week. I’ll make dinner for everybody and then go out and play. I’ll say, ‘Daddy’s going to work, I love you.’ (My son) doesn’t want me to go but he knows what I do. I don’t think he puts that connection together that dads do other things but he is aware that I play music for work. Sometimes it’s cool and sometimes it’s not cool. We were eating at a restaurant an doing an acoustic thing there’s a lot of restaurant gigs. He said, daddy do you work here? I said, ‘Well, sometimes.’
How did “Popcorn Sutton” come to be a song?
That’s a song that started as a concept. It’s older, probably two years old. “Gettin’ buzzed like Popcorn Sutton.” We were watching the Popcorn Sutton documentary about moon shining. He was from North Carolina and lived in Tennessee, supposedly the last moonshiner. There was a Netflix documentary about him. He lived his life by his own rules. I thought it was an old school, outlaw kind of thing, the last of those guys and I thought it would be a good term – “I’m getting buzzed like Popcorn Sutton tonight, you’re gonna drink some good moonshine and get wild.” I started conceptualizing, how can I make this into a song I came up with the theme of being from the city, being unsatisfied with your daily life and fantasizing about wanting to be a moonshiner, and committing to that life. Like whiskey and women, once you get into it you can’t get away from it.
And “Don’t Wake Me Now”?
That song describes how I had to step up my game and how hard it is to play music full time. I was supplementing it with lessons and working at the guitar shop but once Dave and I committed to this five six nights a week thing I was really tired. (My son) had just been born and we were getting back at three every night. I was having to get up with him and sleeping on his schedule. I felt like I was holding on to this dream that I didn’t want to wake up from yet, wasn’t ready to stop. That’s why I wrote it as don’t wake me, I’m not ready to stop dreaming yet.
ENCORE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW
JUN 14 •
“I took my time with this project,” Justin Cody Fox says of his soon-to-be released record, “Going Down Swinging.” For more than a year, he’s been working on the album while playing live shows four to six nights a week. “Squeezing in studio time is a challenge,” he cracks.
Nevertheless, Fox completed the album and is ready to celebrate its release on June 18 at Waterline Brewing—alongside a lot of folks who helped make it happen. The record, heavy with country, soul and Americana, was produced and recorded by Worth Weaver at his Red Room Recording studio in Leland. With Weaver, Fox wanted to showcase as much North Carolina talent as possible. Guest performers throughout “Going Down Swinging” include Randy McQuay II, Allison Donnelly and Jacquie Lee from Striking Copper, as well as Worth Weaver himself.
Fox took some time to tell encore more about the new songs and its featured guests.
encore (e): Tell our readers a little more about who you worked with on the songs.
Justin Cody Fox (JCF): Sara McDaris is on the majority of the album and provides backup vocals. Jacquie and Allison are featured on “Better Days” and “Hurt Me,” providing classic Motown backing vocals. Randy McQuay II plays harmonica on “Be My Truth.” Rhett Huffman plays keys on “Go Down Swingin,” “Better Days,” “Hurt Me,” and “Hold On.” Richard Welsh adds dobro to “Popcorn Sutton.” Adam Carswell plays rhythm guitar on “Don’t Wake Me Now,” and Worth plays rhythm on “Light Inside of Me.”
e: You perform around town a great deal—are these mainly songs you’ve been playing for a while live? How have they developed from stage to recording studio?
JCF: Mostly, no. I’ve tried to keep a wrap on most of the songs and play them rarely until the release. The few that were played live mostly just got a light polishing in the studio, with arrangement changes and lyrical tweaks.
e: Why choose “Going Down Swinging” as the title track? How does it reflect upon this album/project as a whole?
JCF: I’m 30 years old; I’ve been playing music for a living since I was 15. No joke. I rented a house from my parents at 15. After 15 years of writing, performing and recording without a major break, you get a sense of fight or flight. It’s a fight to make it work financially, especially with a wife and two children. So I called the record “Go Down Swinging” as a poke at career stereotypes for musicians. A small number of musicians like myself make a living doing this. We aren’t rich but we are dedicated. We’re not pretending and we aren’t wasting time. We are living a life of dedication to craft. If we are fighting a generally losing battle, why not go down swinging?
e: Can you tell readers more about the meaning and storyline of “You’re My Faith”?
JCF: It’s my redemption song in a way. I wrote it for my wife and boys. Until she came along, I had a lacking faith in life and what comes after. This song is about their love giving me strength to believe in a bigger ending—or after-ending rather.
e: What do your kids think about the record?
JCF: I have two boys ages 3 and 8 months. They love all of my music, but I think they may be a little biased…
e: What was it like working with Jared Sears and November1718 Films on the video for “You’re My Faith”?
JCF: Jared is amazing. That’s a simple fact. He’s got it all put together, and it’s a pleasure to work with that type of professionalism.
e: “Popcorn Sutton” is more hard Southern rock about making “damn good moonshine” and the sheriff turning a blind eye. How did you come to write this?
JCF: I wrote this song about Popcorn Sutton. He was a famous moonshiner, born in NC. He lives in Tennessee, and makes moonshine in the old-fashioned way and lives by his own rules. I respect that and wanted to give him a nod in this song.
e: What does this record represent, in terms of your growth as a songwriter and musician?
JCF: I think it represents the very term in question: growth. I wanted to make a record that was all about the songs—not the image. Not the genre. Just feeding each song. Growing them from ideas into productions.
e: I have to ask: Your Facebook background photo has nine guitars lined along a couch—are those all yours?
JCF: Well, I must say it’s a portion of my horde. We talked about my career length earlier, and as a guitarist, I like to have a lot of tools for any musical situation.
e: Can you tell readers more about your collection?
JCF: Two of my main guitars are “Woody” and “Cherry.” Woody is an early ‘80s Warmoth parts Stratocaster that has an unfinished body and a lightly finished flamed maple neck with jumbo frets. It has Mojotone Custom Wound pickups, handmade by David Shepherd. Cherry is a 1974 Gibson Les Paul with jumbo frets and Custom Wound pickups also made by David Shepherd of Mojotone. All of their awesome products can be seen at mojotone.com
e: Tell us about your CD release party at Waterline and why you chose to debut your album there.
JCF: Waterline only does original music at their brewery, and I think that’s important. They support local musicians and make local beer. I’d love to have an incredible turnout that night to show them how awesome that support is for our musical community.