By Brian Tucker
Justin Cody Fox is releasing mini-EP Living Ghosts over the 4th of July holiday, a collection he calls “three singles.” The material came from a hefty amount of songs written over the course of a year. Fox asked Audley Freed (Cry of Love, The Black Crowes, Trigger Hippy) to produce and together they selected three – “Have You Ever Seen an Angel,” “Living Ghosts,” and “18 Wheels.”
The songs paint Fox in a different light than the years spent playing fiery blues based rock and roll in Medusa Stone, or even from his 2017 solo album Go Down Swinging that found him playing more country-tinged music. While they offer insight into a larger project, they serve as a solid marker in the evolution of the singer-guitarist – soulful rock and roll numbers that are free flowing and colorful.
“The rest (of the songs) are hopefuls to be recorded as well,” Fox said. “I wrote them more in small bursts of two to four a month for almost a year. I tried to let go of any direction and feed the initial spark that got the song rolling in the first place. I really just wanted, and still want, to write songs that feel right and fire on all cylinders.”
At times it sounds like Fox distilled the combustion of Medusa Stone with the soulfulness of the country music he was making – rock and roll done by a country gentleman. Anyone who’s seen Fox play live knows he’s got the chops, is a talented, powerful guitarist and singer. But here, he simply feels more at home than I can recall from seeing and hearing his music dating back to the early 2000s. Its not “more mature,” but simply sounds like Fox is comfortable, more at ease with what he’s doing. Regardless, it’s exciting to hear, and sounds like a new door has opened for him.
“18 Wheels” seems to be about duality. The slide guitar work and keys lend it a lot of personality.
Fox: “18 Wheels” represents my desire to stay moving. I know if I want to continue the lifestyle and career that I’ve built I can never stop moving. Whether that’s forward or a little sideways, just hopefully never backwards. Jen Gunderman’s keys are the bell of the ball on that song. It wouldn’t have the open and free sound that makes it without those parts. The slide was a fun addition that I fortunately was able to make work over the already full sonic palate. What you hear on these tracks is essentially live and we tried to add only small things for flavor.
Your vocals are different here than other songs.
I have heard from a few other folks that my vocals take on a different sound for these recordings and I do think they sound clear and present. What is mostly different is the fact that we used the ‘scratch’ vocal on “18 Wheels” and “Have You Seen an Angel.” That means the vocal track that was recorded with the band for reference that is normally replaced. We did change some of the inflections on “Living Ghosts” so it was mostly redone. And like you mentioned, I was very relaxed for the process and I felt very comfortable recording them.
“Have You Ever Seen an Angel” – is that a gospel tune?
Thank you. It’s a gospel tune if it speaks to you as gospel. Yes. To me it’s a song about the angels that get me through life. Most notably my wife. All the sound touches on that song are a product of Audley Freed’s outstanding vision for each song. We got together the night before tracking and he made a lot of notes on how the guitars should sound on that song. He also did an excellent job of “wrangling” my guitar playing at the end to build the solo properly.
Last time we spoke you were gigging many nights following a health scare with your voice.
I am still gigging quite a bit but I have taken out a lot of the Monday-Wednesday shows. We are traveling as a full band a lot more as well and trying to play shows that get us more bang for the buck. I am trying my best to balance but it’s always hard. I also recently opened a small office for private guitar lessons and I also do bi-weekly video work with Mojotone doing product demos and info-videos for their YouTube channel. So yes, I am busy but I love it.
You said you worked with Audley Freed for the songs. How did that come together?
Audley Freed took on the role producer for this project and he also brought in the band and provided guitar as well. It was a dream come true for me and to be able to play guitar together on a project with one of your biggest influences is incredible to say the least. I had been in touch with Audley for a few years via email and occasional coffee when I was in Nashville. One day I decided to ask him if he would produce some songs for me and that was that.
I didn’t know until we got together how dedicated and involved his role in the studio would be. He gave these songs thought and attention and he helped build them up much more than I could have done without him. It was very intense at times and very laid back at others but mostly just very fun. We recorded for three days, 10-12 hours a day.
Audley getting it all together made a huge difference and he brought some heavy hitters into the game. Robert Kearns on bass, Jen Gunderman on keys, and Fred Eltringham on drums. It was also different because we were there for the whole day each day. No breaks. No BS and no distractions. Lots of coffee and LaCroix were consumed in large quantities.
Listen the songs below: “Have You Ever Seen an Angel,” “18 Wheels,” “Living Ghosts”