Since graduating from Warren Wilson College earlier this year, Cody Wright has not had a moment’s rest. He’s the bassist in a band called the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra – described by WNC Magazine as “a breed of jazz unlike anything you’ve ever heard” – and they’ve been traveling the country all Summer, spreading their infectious funky sound. Wright and the Fourchestra returned to the College on Friday, August 26 to play for students. Before the show, Wright spoke to The Echo about his musical childhood, jamming at Wilson, and life on tour.
Wright’s parents first acknowledged that their son was gifted when, by the time he was four years old, he could reproduce anything he heard, be it music on a video game, sounds from the TV, or songs on the radio. He could distinguish between similar sounds, like those of James Brown and Stevie Wonder, and could recognize the distinct sounds of different artists.
“To me, it was normal,” Wright said, “but my parents noticed… If you see a kid like that, you give them an instrument, so my parents gave me a pair of bongos.”
After getting his first taste of what it was like to play an instrument, Wright was quickly drawn to the sounds of the guitar. When he was nine, his father handed down his own acoustic guitar so that Cody could learn a few chords. More fascinated by the heavy sounds of distortion, Wright didn’t actually pursue his interest in guitar until he was thirteen, when his nephew got an electric guitar and amp.
“I just took that thing over,” Wright said. “I heard that electric sound and I was like: there it is. All that passion I had for the sound of guitar four years previously came back around.”
Instantly, Wright was able to reproduce sounds by ear. The first songs he learned were by groups like Led Zeppelin and Stevie Ray Vaugn. His passion was in that type of music–heavy, distorted riffs and bar chords but when Wright was 16, he enrolled in lessons for jazz guitar.
“I took those lessons to learn the theory behind what I was already doing,” Wright said. “That was really important to me, being able to understand music as I do today, especially now in [the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra] because we play a lot of jazz oriented stuff.”
Jamming at Warren Wilson and in Asheville.
When Wright arrived at Warren Wilson College in January of 2008, his music life had mostly involved recording demos of himself playing guitar in the same heavy rock style he had first loved. There wasn’t much of an audience for the kind of music he was playing, however. So with acoustic guitar in hand, Wright stepped out onto campus in search of whatever musical atmosphere the College could offer him.
“I found that Wilson was a very stimulating environment for going out and playing acoustic music with people,” he said. “There was more of an audience for that.”
Between on-campus jams and the Swannanoa Gathering, Wright honed his skills on the acoustic guitar. With the exception of what Wright called a “joke band,” he never used those skills to form a band or play shows for people. It wasn’t until the fall semester of 2010 that Wright started to look off campus for musical opportunities.
“After four semesters, I decided to look at the Asheville music scene because I was going to graduate soon,” Wright said. “I was honing my chops here and wanted to get out there and see what I could do.”
Wright would go to shows at local bars to play along, listen, and network. It was at a soul jazz jam at MoDaddy’s when he first met Jonathan Scales. The Fourchestra was playing that night as a guest, and Wright played along. After the show they exchanged contact information.
The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra.
“He dug what I was doing and I got a vibe from him that was like, this would be a cool guy to work with in a band,” Wright said. “I sent him a pretty ballsy e-mail saying I know you have a guitar player but I’d love to play with you somehow.”
Scales wrote right back saying that while the group wasn’t looking for a guitar player, they did have an opening for a bass player to try out.
“I was like no way, I’m a guitar player. I’m not going to sell out like that,” Wright said.
He said thanks for the offer, but didn’t pursue a spot in the Fourchestra any further. In January of 2011, however, Wright received a text from Scales out of the blue. It said: I really want you to try out for bass.
“At that point, I realized he was more serious,” Wright said. “Out of nowhere, he reached out to me like that.”
This time, despite having never played the bass before, Wright agreed to try out for Scales’ band. Scales sent him four songs to learn for his audition, which would be on the first day of the Spring semester. Despite his nerves, Wright rocked the audition and was accepted into the band the next day. The band was just finishing up the last track for their new album, “Character Farm and Other Short Stories,” and Scales told him that if he wanted to be on the album, he would have to come record with them the very next day after he got the spot in the band.
“I was really nervous,” Wright said. “I had never really played the bass before… but music is music, you know, and knowing that, it’s kind of easier to approach a new instrument.”
With natural musical ability and recording experience from his high school days, the recording was a breeze. Wright would play different parts at different times and Scales would tell him what he wanted on the track. Wright got to play with a violinist named Kasey Greesen, a member of the Flecktones who is also featured on the track.
After countless hours of memorizing his different parts, Wright played his first show with the Fourchestra in March at Pisgah Brewery, where the band opened for Jeff Coffin and the Mutet.
After the first show at Pisgah, the band played a few other gigs in spring including one at Warren Wilson’s Sage Cafe. It wasn’t long before they started traveling. They played at bars and colleges up and down the east coast and into the Midwest. Wright says that while he enjoys playing at bars for the laid-back, fun atmosphere, he prefers playing at colleges because it provides the opportunity to “enrich someone else’s life.” His favorite tour memory thus far, for example, was when the band was invited to teach and play at a percussion camp for 12-17 year olds at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD.
“We got lodging and food – that was some high class stuff, man,” Wright said, “but the most enriching part to me was the whole aspect of teaching, the whole aspect of knowing people are going to ask you questions of what you just did. It makes you more aware of what you’re doing… so that you can be ready when someone asks you what you did. That’s something that sets college gigs apart from bar gigs… Playing for bars is fun because you really get to let loose, but there’s people talking everywhere. A lot of people listening, but a lot of people talking, too. That’s just how it is.”
His least favorite aspect of the tour is the fact that when they travel to different cities, they don’t have the time to hang out and explore or meet people.
“I say that with reservation,” Wright said, “because that’s just how it is for a performer.”
Upon returning to Wilson, Wright felt more confident in his playing.
“I know people will have a good time,” Wright said, “so my confidence lies in that. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what you live for as an entertainer: giving people something to bring their spirits up and move around and go nuts.”
His return to Warren Wilson also sparked feelings of gratitude for the musical opportunities the school provided to him and all students.
“I’m really glad that Warren Wilson has open mics,” Wright said, “and that everyone at the open mics is given a chance to play. They don’t shut down on people… The fact that [open mics] are there is pivotal in showcasing someone’s talent that you might not have had the opportunity to hear.”