Only a few hours before their Grand Ole Opry debut and days from an album release, Cross Canadian Ragweed members Cody Canada, Grady Cross, Jeremy Plato and Randy Ragsdale sit nonchalantly cracking jokes and telling stories at a Nashville office. If they are at all anxious about their big night and new release, it isn't showing.
"It's something we've always wanted to do," said Canada, the lead singer. "Actually, it kind of just came out of nowhere. We knew we were playing a gig tonight, and then a couple of days ago, the manager called and said, 'You guys want to play the Opry?'"
Smiling, Canada adds, "That's a pretty dumb question. Yeah!"
Ragweed's alternative country sound and Texas rock 'n' roll edge may not fit within the country music spectrum for some. Even for the band, playing the Opry came as a pleasant surprise.
"What I think is cool about it," said Canada, "is we're not really that country and we get to play the Opry. That's cool. That's them bending a little bit and us bending a little bit."
The four members started playing together 13 years ago in Yukon, Okla., and have remained friends since childhood. ("Yep, until this morning," joked Canada.) The band later moved to Stillwater, Okla., sometimes referred to as "North Austin" or "West Nashville." They played continuous gigs, earning recognition within the Oklahoma-Texas music scene. After releasing four albums on their own, Ragweed signed their first record deal with Universal South in 2004. They have been known to spend a taxing 260 days of the year traveling from one venue to the next.
"We don't get a lot of radio support, and it doesn't really bother us that we don't. We do get it in some areas. But without radio support, you've got to keep playing," said Canada. "You've got to stay in front of people, or they forget about you."
The new album, Mission California, consists of their familiar Texas rock with the occasional road song thrown into the mix. "I know that's always cheesy," said Canada, "but if you approach them right, I think they can be good." Producer Mike McClure (formerly of the Great Divide) and the band traveled to Strait Studios in Santee, Calif., where they spent more time than usual perfecting the CD.
"We had a lot of time for this record," said Canada. "We had 25 days instead of three or four. We'd finish some songs and then call it a day and come back the next day and just listen and pick one."
The exceptionally personal project features five co-writes as well as six original tunes, including the heart wrenching tune, "Lawrence," about a young boy accompanying his homeless parents as they sing on a street corner for money.
"The way I always describe it is, he looked like he had chocolate ice cream all over his face, he was so dirty," Canada said. "He hadn't had a bath in forever, and he was just humming along and kicking his feet. Just like nothing new, nothing strange about that to him. It was sad, but he wasn't. Sad to me just because I was an outsider looking in, but he couldn't have cared less. He was just sittin' next to mom and dad, just jamming."
The song also features friend Lee Ann Womack. Canada said she fits perfectly and balances out their rough kind of sound. "We'll work with her again," he said. "I love having women singers in the background. I think it gives it that Southern rock feel."
Bassist Plato takes his turn at the mike for the first time on "Soul Agent." His deep, gravely voice paints a picture of strong, hopeful individuals who comfort others the best way they know how.
"I've always loved that song," said Plato. "I started singing it on the bus late at night. After a few beers, I'd grab a guitar and just play songs on the bus." After singing a few lines during sound check one day, Canada said, "Man, we ought to just play that live."
However, their upbeat songs don't go unnoticed. "Record Exec," "Deal" and "NYCG" keep that familiar upbeat tempo, and comic relief is never far behind, especially in "Smoke Another."
"That is the day in the life of our men," said Canada. "We did a sound check in Baton Rouge, and we had a long night just like every night. I walked up to the mike and I was real gravelly. Making fun of myself, I said, 'Smoke another cigarette, drink some more booze ... check, check, hey, hey, one two.' I told McClure about it, and he said, 'We probably need to write that one.'"