Photography by Brad Ogbonna
After playing the music industry’s thorny game—signing to a major label, pumping out palpable, wide-reaching singles and submitting to the “teen pop” archetype—singer/songwriter Cody Simpson is finally doing what he wants. The 18-year-old Australian native has teamed up with producer Cisco Adler to embark on some serious musical soul searching—a journey that’s pulled together a fresh summer sound that leaves behind Simpson’s synth-pop past for a simpler, acoustic approach. His forthcoming album Free, out June 23, rides in a very Jack Johnson “Banana Pancakes” lane, but plays with Simpson’s own tongue-in-cheek lyricism like on the punny reggae tune, “Thotful.” We caught up with the teen heartthrob to talk about leaving Atlantic Records, collaborating with Adler and his supermodel girlfriend Gigi Hadid.
How has leaving your contract with Atlantic Records affected your creativity?
“It has granted me the creative freedom to realign with my roots and reconnect with my soul. Maturing as a person and opening my eyes to the world has made me realize that my artistry had been severely compromised and therefore I had to make some life changes. Now, I’m able to keep it cool and relaxed, and get into such a great headspace when I’m creating. [It’s] just me and the guitar—real fun.”
Talk about your sonic shift from synth-driven, pop sounds to more airy, acoustic sounds. Why the change?
“I was an impressionable youngster in an industry full of financially driven sharks. I’ve been writing music reminiscent of that on Free my entire life, most of it has just never seen the light of day. I was raised on country and surf, folk music—therefore this first album is now a proper accumulation of my influences. I just didn’t like the way major labels do business, [so] that’s why I had to put my foot down and go my own indie route.”
How did this collaboration with Cisco Adler come about?
“Cisco and I met due to a couple mutual friends we had living in Malibu and Los Angeles. I went to his studio in Carbon Beach and we sat atop this hill and caught a really cool vibe with each other. We connected in the sense that we had both never truly been able to let our creativity shine in an authentic way, so he understood what I was trying to do musically. We wrote ‘Flower’ on the day we first met as a little freestyle iPhone voice-note ditty that took us only about 30 minutes to complete. When the vibe is right, you just gotta ride with it.”
Do you ever feel pressured to fit within the Hollywood mold?
“Not at all—I’m trying to step out of Hollywood a little to go on more surf and road trips when I have time. ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Famous’ are two of my least favorite words, therefore I’m trying to find a nice balance of doing what I have to do to have my music and message heard, while also keeping a balanced and private lifestyle.”
How has being so young helped and hindered your career?
“Being a youngster in the music industry has opened my eyes to many things at a pre-mature age. To be 18 and actually leaving a major label to start on my own independently is a crazy thought when looking at it from an outer perspective. It has given me the courage and wisdom to see through some of the stupid Hollywood-type ideas people throw at you. It has also hindered me in the sense that I had to learn and experiment creatively in front of a pretty serious amount of people. It’s all good though—I have a lot of time to make records and improve as a guitarist and songwriter.”
Is there a central message behind your forthcoming album Free?
“There is a message of peace, freedom and easy living that strings throughout the album. Whether it is the lyrical content or just the feel of the tune, it’s always there. There are also a few environmentally conscious tracks such as, ‘Wilderness,’ and a few mellow, feel-good ones that encourage you to let go of your worries and get groovy.”
Do you feel like you relate to your pop contemporaries?
“I’m not exactly sure who my pop contemporaries are—I’m just really doing my own thing and having a good time with it; I’m trying to focus on my musicianship. At this age, I seem to be improving pretty quickly, so I’m already feeling like I can write a way more impressive [song] than the ones that haven’t even been released yet. Lyrical consciousness and the intricacy of the guitar riffs are the main focus. With the music, I want the outer edge to feel good for anyone listening, but to those who wish to tune in to the message of the lyrics, I hope to give them a whole different experience.”
What is the best part about being an Independent artist? Hardest part?
“[The] best part is the creative freedom; I don’t think there are any hard parts about it honestly. There is a little more responsibility on my end, but aside from that I’m just letting it roll naturally. As I keep making this music, it will reach the right people at the right time.”
How has dating Gigi Hadid influenced your music?
“I love G and she has influenced my life in a very positive way. In a musical and lyrical sense, I’ve been less focused on writing about love and relationships, and more about life—sharing a positive message and having a good time.”