BY LIZA MITCHELL
Breaking into country music is not unlike taming a wild horse. It takes discipline, commitment and a whole lot of heart. As part of the new crop of young emerging artists in Nashville, Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Cody Webb" has it all. Billed as “an artist you should know,” Webb performs May 12 at the Ritz Theatre (www.ritzjacksonville.org).
“You should know, but you don’t,” Webb laughs during a recent phone interview with EU Jacksonville. The South Carolina native talked about his small-town roots, writing outside the box and falling in love with his home away from home.
“As soon as I got here, I just fell in love with the city. I’d never been around a lot of co-writing, and as soon as I played a few shows in town, I knew I had to be here. It didn’t take long to figure out the next step from there,” says Webb. “It gave me a sense of validation, but, at the same time, I was like ‘holy cow, I’ve got to get a lot better.’ When you’re in a small town, you’re one of the best guitar players and writers in town, but when you get here, you’re just a small fish in the ocean. But it makes you better. That’s what I love about this town. It’s not a competition, but you’re forced to get better, be a better artist and a better performer. It’s just an energy that’s contagious.”
Webb started playing guitar as a kid growing up in Ridge Spring, a tiny freckle of a town with a total area of just 1.9 miles and 823 residents, according to a recent census. His mother had been a music major and led the music ministry at their church. His father had a band and wrote songs, so it wasn’t surprising that Webb gravitated to guitar at eight and joined his father onstage as a teenager. “I wanted to be a guitar player back then,” he says. “I had no idea what that would look like, but I was making $100 on Sundays when I was 12 or 13 and thought I was killing it.”
His first gig was the South Carolina Poultry Festival and a big step for a 12-year-old boy. “I was terrible. The intro to ‘Ballad of Curtis Lowe’ was my spotlight moment. I was so nervous my hands were shaking, and it wasn’t great,” Webb admits. “But there was a local artist named D.B. Bryant who played right after us. He was a heck of a guitar player and watching him, the whole world went away. I remember right then thinking, ‘I’m going to figure out how to do this’. Ten years later, I got to headline that stage at that festival with my band. That was pretty cool.”
Listening to southern and classic rock inspired his guitar playing, but it wasn’t until he started college at Clemson University that the former mechanical engineering major took an interest in storytelling as the basis for country music. “I got more into country, because that’s what I was around a lot,” he says. “I think writing gives you an outlet just to explore who you are in ways you never thought you could. A lot of the songs I write are about something to do with me growing up or a relationship I was in or a life situation, but, at the same time, one of my favorite writers told me one time to write about something you never do. Be creative. Make things up. I might write a song that may not relate to me in my life, but it will to someone else.”
Exploring the songwriting scene in Nashville proved to be an invaluable experience for Webb, who appreciates the different elements that co-writing with other artists brings to the table. As a songwriter, he used to spend a lot of time perfecting the lyrics, and working the “Nashville way” has helped to streamline the process.
“I’ve had to learn to write without stopping. We write every day, sometimes twice a day. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other and working with a great writer helps you broaden what you do. I had to prepare myself to just get something down and then I’ll go back and choose the ones that really fit me,” says Webb. “I’ve found more and more that it’s about a feeling. Having the perfect lyrics isn’t always what makes a great song. It’s all about the feeling it gives you, whether it’s from the melody or the lyrics or the way they mesh. You never know when that great song is going to wow you. We’re searching for that every day.”
Since making the move to Nashville, Webb has written over 150 songs and released a self-titled EP, as well as three singles ‘More Than a Little,’ ‘She’s Carolina,’ and his 2017 release ‘Don’t Tell Me I Won’t,’ co-written with hit songwriter Jason Matthews. He landed his first cut, ‘Memories Are Made Of,’ co-written with Luke Combs and Ray Fulcher, on Combs’ debut album This One’s For You.
Webb has also had the opportunity to open for such country artists as LoCash, Cole Swindell, Lonestar, Frankie Ballard and Easton Corbin. And last spring, he lived out his childhood dream of headlining the South Carolina Poultry Festival, bringing in the largest crowd to date.
“We definitely have a long way to go but a few years ago, I would’ve done anything to be where I am now. But the farther you go, the farther you realize you have to go. Throughout my career, there’s been little moments. I remember when just to be able to play that stage in my hometown was my end goal. Then you get there, and it’s well, just to play this big club near my hometown is the goal, and that happens. Then it’s just to get a major cut on a major record would be unbelievable. How do I make that happen? It’s like, ‘what’s next?’” says Webb. “The farther you get, the farther you still have to go, but you definitely have to stop and enjoy the little victories along the way.”