And it’s gonna get hard before it gets easy — I oughtta know.
That’s the way Cody Jinks chose to start “No Guarantees,” one of the standout tracks on his new album I’m Not The Devil. Jinks’ infectiously smooth baritone barrels through the track with a steady confidence that undermines the overall concept of uncertainty in the song.
It’s a theme that persists throughout the album with haunting regularity. Certainty vs. Painful Unpredictability. Paradox. Choice. Good vs. Evil. God vs. The Devil. The question, as Jinks puts it, “Which one are you going to be that day?”
He didn’t intend for the new album, coming out on Aug. 12, to center around such a tough theme to chew. “It kind of came into a deeper concept that I didn’t originally intend on,” says Jinks. But for a writer who so attentively puts the unpolished framework of his life into his songs, it’s not surprising either.
“I’m married with two kids,” says Jinks. “I have a mortgage and car payments. And on the road, everything gets thrown at you. You can have anything you want, and it’s an incredible responsibility. I tend to write that way.”
That’s not to say every track on I’m Not The Devil is a soul-stirring glimpse into the dark void of human nature. Songs like “No Words” and “She’s All Mine” show Jinks is a romantic at heart (though the devil makes an appearance in the latter song, too). “The Way I Am” is an unapologetic ode to accepting circumstance. “Church at Gaylor Creek” is beautifully nostalgic, if not tinged with lingering regret.
But without doubt, Jinks is not afraid to discuss the dark places in his life and the world.
Bringing ‘The Devil’ To Life
Before Jinks released Adobe Sessions in early 2015, folks had a decent understanding of Jinks’ artistry. But that album took the bearded troubadour two feet forward in a 10-year career that steadily moved in inches before.
“I started making country records 10 years ago,” says Jinks. The “country” part is important. Jinks actually played in a metal band before diving into country songwriting. “The first two records aren’t even in print anymore. It’s been steady, but there’s no doubt Adobe Sessions got me onto the scene, or however you wanna phrase that.”
When it came time to take the next step, Jinks knew he’d be returning to the same studio where Adobe Sessions came to life, Sonic Ranch Studios outside of El Paso. (In fact, that record was named after one of the rooms at Sonic Ranch). That’s partly because of the sound and vibe he and the band achieved there. And partly because it’s the only studio Jinks enjoys being in.
“I’m really not a fan of being in the studio,” says Jinks. “But I’m a fan of that place, and I’m a fan of all the people with ears who work so hard to make me sound good.” Jinks and the band spent 31 total days over three sessions, a time commitment that shines in the final product.
Most of the material on I’m Not The Devil has its genesis on the road. “I don’t write much on the road, but the last two years we’ve been out on the road so much that I’d get ideas out there and let them percolate until I get home,” says Jinks. A few of the others Jinks wrote or co-wrote at the studio.
One heavier song in particular, “Heavy Load,” stands out. It was the second-to-last song Jinks finished on the record.
“I was trying to stay out of the band’s way so they said, ‘Just go outside and write a song,'” laughs Jinks. “So I started the song with, ‘I can’t think of one damn thing to say,’ which was the only thing I could write down.”
“I guess the song shows how tired I was mentally, though, cause then I started writing really dark, which is what I do when I’m tired,” he continues. “So I sat at this house at the studio for 5 hours, just watching cars pass by.”
When it came time to finish the song, the crew decided the song needed that something extra to put it over the edge. “The song is talking about the rapture,” says Jinks. “Like, ‘We’re spiraling in the toilet bowl right now, so man we need some really gritty, Johnny Cash, Clint Eastwood shit in there. Fire and brimstone.'”
That translated to a recognizable Bible verse delivered in an eerie bridge and some inventive sounds. “It’s a famous line,” says Jinks. “Even people that don’t know it’s from the Bible, they’ve heard it. So we had fun with it. Banged on some doors for the percussion part. We had fun with that one despite the subject matter.”
An Unexpected End
Oddly enough, the album didn’t have its striking name until the very end. “My friend Ward Davis came out near the end,” says Jinks. “I was tapped lyrically, but he had this great idea called ‘I’m Not The Devil.'”
The duo knocked the song out in an hour.
“After we wrote it, we went straight in and cut it,” says Jinks. “It was like, ‘Damn man I was sitting there trying to think of a title and then that came along.'”
It’s strange how a song that came into the mix so late can so perfectly set the tone for a record. It sets the balance between tunes like the searingly biting “Hand Me Down” and the peacefully optimistic “Grey.”
But if there’s one song that truly stops the listener in their tracks, it’s “Vampires.” Written with his children in mind, “Vampires” marries melody with meaning flawlessly. Jinks perks up at the mention of the tune.
“There’s a line in there that no matter how many times I sang it, I could not make ‘Holden Caulfield’ not sound like ‘holding coffee,’” he laughs. “The line is ‘I’m another Holden Caulfield,’ who is the character from The Catcher In The Rye. It’s all about growing up and the loss of innocence. He was trying to keep kids from going off the cliff into adulthood.”
Jinks reinterprets that concept in his own way. “It’s like, who told all the vampires of the world they were welcome?” he asks. “Who told society as a whole to teach our children you can’t do this, you can’t do that? Our children come back from school and a little bit more of their innocence is lost every day because they’ve been told what they can’t do. That’s what the song is about. My wife and I are pretty hippy; we’re hanging onto Santa Clause and our kids thinking the world doesn’t absolutely suck as long as we can. Don’t take their dreams away.”
Clearly, Jinks doesn’t mince words. And his songwriting benefits from it.
Bringing the Music to the People
After a restful summer, Jinks and his band are preparing for a heavy few months of touring. Running from August through October, the tour lines up perfectly with I’m Not The Devil‘s Aug. 12 release.
“I’ve been touring so long now that we’ve got it down,” says Jinks. “We’ve done it without label support for years and years and we’ll continue to. For my management and my agent and publicist and promoters and all those dudes, the ball is rolling — and they’re pushing it downhill. They want more, more, more, and I’m like, ‘Hey I’m middle aged now; I’m making more money, I need to tour less [laughs]!'”
“But momentum is a good thing and having most of the summer off was good,” he reconciles. “By the time we go out in August, I’m going to be ready to work. Break’s over. We’ll tour real hard.”
And Jinks sees in his crowds a lot of what he sees in the metal and punk crowds of his yesteryears. “Metal and punk fans are so much like old school country fans,” he says. “Look, Johnny Cash was the first punk. Fifteen years ago when I was doing metal, all the bands would be backstage and somebody would have an acoustic guitar and we’d all be singing Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings — the stuff I grew up on.”
“Metal and old school country are obviously different, but they’re cut from the same cloth.”
Some of the best towns Jinks plays are the mid-sized Midwest towns. “I’ve just grown really fond of that area and all the people we meet out there,” he says. “The nicest, roaring loud, stop-the-band-for-a-whole-minute ovation we ever got was in Bloomington, Indiana. Columbia, Missouri, Indianapolis…just unbelievable shows every time we play there.”
In other words, you know you have something to look forward to when Jinks rolls through your town.
It’s been a hard, but steady road for Cody Jinks. And no, there are no guarantees it will get any easier. But with albums like I’m Not The Devil, Jinks is paving his path with hard honesty and unrelenting heart. It’s a combination that makes I’m Not The Devil one of this year’s best country albums.