Cody Simpson has been away from home a long time. It’s been a decade since he packed up and moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of the American dream. Following in the footsteps of Justin Bieber (now a friend and collaborator), Cody Simpson was discovered on social media, placed in major label offices and boardrooms, and asked to sing for his supper.
His story is well-documented: Cody Simpson’s family uproots themselves from Australia’s Gold Coast and relocates to LA, he signs to Atlantic Records, is co-managed by industry mogul Scooter Braun, collaborates with big-name acts (e.g. Flo Rida on “iYiYi” and Justin Bieber on “Home to Mama”), releases two commercially successful albums, followed by his first independently-released album at just 18 years of age, has a stint on Broadway (Anastasia), and all the while has his personal life plastered across tabloid media. Currently, there are almost one million search results for ‘cody simpson miley cyrus’.
But when Simpson sits down with Rolling Stone at his local café on the Gold Coast, the success of his American dream couldn’t be further from his mind. Simpson has a new dream; well, two in fact. The first, his album, is ready and waiting to be unleashed on the world, and the second is being trained for twice a day in an Olympic swimming pool. Incredibly though, he has found the time to work on both.
“I was running out of reasons not to live in Australia again,” he says over an oat milk latte. “[…] I sort of said, ‘Okay, if I’m going to do this for real then I need to not have all these other things pulling me left and right’. So I just came home.”
Up until April last year, Cody Simpson had been building a life in Los Angeles. After what can only be described as a mass exodus from his major label lifestyle—where he had lawyers help him out of his label and management agreements and moved to Venice Beach—Simpson locked himself in his house and honed his craft as an acoustic-rock singer-songwriter.
“I had a moment where I just felt like I wasn’t seen for who I had slowly been becoming,” he explains, “and so my response to all that was sort of a double middle finger, you know, to the whole thing.”
On his bare-footed debut independent album, Free, Simpson had found his voice. No longer was he Australia’s own pop export, a malleable product to mould to current music trends, he was the acoustic-strumming torchbearer of feel-good soft-rock. But with grand designs to win Olympic Gold in 100m Butterfly for Australia in 2024, he knew he had to remove himself from the temptations and distractions of La La Land.
After the decision was made to pursue music and Olympic Gold at the same time, Simpson has become like a racehorse wearing blinkers. In November 2020, his swim coach gave him what he calls “an easy week” where the daily training sessions were less intense. Simpson booked a space at Village Recording Studios in West Hollywood and gave himself eight days to record an album. It had been five years since he cut Free, but alongside his producer Adrian Cota, Simpson completed his upcoming record bar two additional sessions.
The first single, out Jan. 25th via his own Coast House Records and The Orchard, acts as a re-introduction to Cody Simpson’s music. Previously known for his personal unpacking of global and social issues on record (e.g. “Wilderness”), this new era will see him delve into his past relationships as he mines them for the wisdom and memories that he is now grateful for.
First single “Nice To Meet You” is effortlessly warm and strikingly philosophical. Co-written with Adrian Cota and Nick Maybury, the single, along with the entire upcoming album, was arranged in the studio with live musicians, including string and horn sections.
Lyrically, it’s about the gratitude that finally arrives after a break-up. Musically, Cody Simpson is a man who knows his worth, but he’s not about to bore you with a laborious guitar solo and intricate noodling. Instead, “Nice To Meet You” feels just right, warm enough for you to take ownership of the song and soundtrack your own experiences to it, but exciting enough to notice the growth in his craft as a musician.
“I had just come out of a relationship and was potentially about to go into another one, so I was just in this sort of emotive stage of having all these mixed emotions and feelings. I had a lot to draw from,” he says.
“It’s a funny experience when two people start to pretend on the surface something didn’t mean what it meant. But then underneath you have all these fucked up ideas and feelings in your head,” he continues. “It was like practising non-attachment in a way, which is very hard to do.
“[…] There’s contempt and then there’s indifference,” he says of the two common post-breakup emotions. “And so it’s trying to go from contempt to indifference, with compassion. “Nice To Meet You” played with all those feelings.”
In April 2020, Cody Simpson released his book of poetry, Prince Neptune: Poetry and Prose. One might think the 128-page book of poetic expression would be easy fodder when it came time to record his album; but Simpson rarely explores his poetic musings when it comes to his music. In fact, you’ll only see one instance of Cody Simpson poetry on the album, and it’s in “Nice To Meet You”.
“There’s a lyric in there, which I think is one of my favourite lyrics in the album, ‘Seeing the demise dripping from your eyes / Watch the tears fill a cup full of compromise as the angel sighs / So unwise’.”
Despite being an overachieving force when it comes to his career, perhaps the only counter-blast for Cody Simpson music fans right now is the fact he’s unable to tour. His demanding training schedule is set to heat up this year creating an unconventional album roll-out—even in the midst of a pandemic where concert cancellations are the brutal norm.
As we step into the new era of Cody Simpson, it would be easy to view a sonic change with some level of surprise, and forget that he kicked off his commitment to music while most of us were still being asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. His career so far is a similar length to some of our most celebrated contemporary artists, and he’s just getting started.
“[The album] does feel like a reintroduction to me,” he says. “And it’s a definitive piece for me that will hopefully be the first of many on this musical path I’m on.”