Q&A with Chicago Farmer


He might be a small town boy, but Cody Diekhoff has a big presence when he is on stage.  Even if that stage is on the same floor everyone is standing on, right next to the bar everyone is crowded around.  He is used to being in those smaller gin joints and squeezing himself into a corner to perform his songs, as many up and coming singer songwriters are. Diekhoff tours by the name Chicago Farmer and originally hails from Delavin, IL, a barely there town as you cruise by.  Having been in his fair share of hole in the wall venues,  probably drinking cold beer just as often as he performing in them, Cody uses these experiences as inspiration.  A small town upbringing is what he knows, what he writes about, and what is gaining his success.  Currently on tour in support of his new album Backenforth, IL, this small town boy made it a point to hit up those smaller towns with fans that have driven long distances in the past to support his musical career.  Now they can just go around the block. It's his way of giving back, relating to all his fellow middle of nowhere folk, that know how it is to travel hours to the big city to see their favorite band.  I'm one of them, and most of the people drawn to Chicago Farmer are in the same position. Cody is no stranger to the city though, having lived in Chicago, and is very familiar fast paced life.  He has embraced all sides, but is now focusing on his efforts and paying homage to the places and the people that are little less traveled. Presently settled into his tour and latest release, he is returning to small town America and stopping in the more rural areas of the U.S.

Prior to his show in Canton, IL, I had the opportunity to interview Cody on 11/12/13 for local radio station affiliate WBYS.  Our first meeting was typical, casual, minor chit chat, learning about each others backgrounds.  Interestingly enough we have quite a bit in common, coming from similar areas and having mutual friends.  Then of course, right to business, and into the interview.  

He appeared timid towards the radio microphone at first, but the interview went smoothly.  (Listen to the interview here.)  He was modest, honest and you could tell the idea of the smaller venue tour was more appropriate for the singer and less like a gimmick.  We aired only two songs off the album.  The first, "Everybody in this Town," recounts the mentality and sometimes relentless drama that you can run into by merely being from a place where everyone knows you, or thinks they do at least.  The other "Backseat", accompanied by singer Heather Horton, is one of very few love songs gracing his repertoire. Cody admits love songs are not really his style, but couldn't resist expressing love for his wife who has been a major supporter and now part of his management while he is on the road.  Listening to the lyrics of "Backseat" brings you into a true love story, where he confesses that his lovely wife is first and foremost in his life.  The sign of appreciation is one that any woman would love to hear.  He might not be known for writing love songs, but he sure does it well.

When I arrived to the venue, Bistro 101, a dark, slightly upscale haunt, rather different that country dive bar that you usually find in these country towns, Chicago Farmer wondered amongst the crowd. Mingling with patrons and hanging with his wife Kymber while she worked his merchandise table.  He casually sipped his beer and listened to his opening act, fellow singer songwriter and friend Nathan Taylor.  An appropriate scene for a bar show.   The room, comfortably packed on a sold out Tuesday evening with faces of all ages, eager for his performance to begin.  That shy, humble demeanor was still present in Farmer while he graciously thanked me for our interview that day.  Little did I know that the tentative attitude I had witnessed before was soon to disappear.

Chicago Farmer took to the corner of the room set aside to be the "stage" which was nestled next to the bar shortly after I joined the party.  Standing only feet away from the people crowded around him, he took in his surroundings, while he tuned his guitar.  The coy demeanor I had witnessed earlier evaporated in an instant and the showman appeared as soon as he began to speak.  No longer meek, Chicago Farmer took to the stage mic like a fish takes to water, drawing the attention of every ear in the room.  He chose to begin by addressing his accent, or drawl that is.  How it couldn't quite be pin-pointed by people he met on his tour travels.  In his travels, fans wondered, if the slow roll in his speech was from the deep south or the northwest, or maybe people find it familiar to their grandpa's old time accent. Well, I guess they've never been to a small town in the Midwest before.  That drawl comes from middle America, where the world is simple, the people are truthful and the memories are thick of the country way things once were.  Or so it seems.  

That small town boy, very much still there, becomes the entertainer, the performer, the musician, steps up front to transport you to an easier era with modern day terms grounded in roots, folk and blues.  Cody's voice strong and eerily stuck in a time that seemed to be long gone.  His haunting voice seems to draw on the likes of Woody Guthrie and John Prine, and Cody would be the first to tell you these men are where he draws his inspiration.  

Telling stories from the eyes of that small town guy in songs like "Everybody in This Town" and "The Twenty Dollar Bill".  Cody's sound might be old-time, but the show was anything but dusty. Hooting and hollering from the crowd and jigs being danced.  Fans laughed at his witty banter and savvy stories, all the while attempting to find the words to sing along.  I must admit I was leading the way with dancing and humming along to tunes that had been stuck in my head for a week as I prepped for our interview.  The whole room was coming alive with a new found energy based in folk music.  

Chicago Farmer received big reactions from some of his older songs like "Illinois Anthem" where the jilted lover takes revenge on a former girlfriend with nude photos.  One regret of mine was forgetting to ask him if that was really true. Did he reveal nude photos of that school teacher he once dated or was it just the thought that he could do that that made the song what it is? Toes could not help but tap with the beat of "200 Miles Away", as you relate to the feeling of worry he emotes through incredible tone and expression.  Nearly every Chicago Farmer song can be branded as one that will get "stuck in your head".  You will catch yourself humming his catchy tunes days later, surrendering to the melody.  Diekhoff is very much the story teller, drawing you even closer into the embrace of his music, especially when he recounts one of his first dates with his wife before leading into "Backseat".  Every woman in the bar had a hard time resisting the urge to swoon, as his wife gazed lovingly towards him from the back of the room.  A moment I would have no doubt that she looks forward to each night on his tour.  Most everyone in the room recognized his rendition of "Proud Mary", pulling several listeners to the dance floor that were waiting for the right moment.  The evening was alive and magical in the small town of Canton, IL thanks to Chicago Farmer.  Hopefully it will happen again, and maybe next time he can bring the whole band.  Either way, Chicago Farmer is a must see if you have the opportunity, and Backenforth, ILan album to add to your collection.  

This is the raw video of my interview Chicago FarmerThank you to WBYS for letting me use their space & air waves & thank you Chicago Farmer!

Q&A with Charlie Faye


American Singer/Songwriter Charlie Faye out of Austin, TX took touring to a new level with an experimental idea that has landed her music in front of more crowds and given her many more collaborators, and she had a full length album at the end of her journeys.  Her exploration was documented in her sophomore release “Travels with Charlie”, where you follow the sultry folk singer from one city to another across the U.S. in search of new experiences and musical adventures. I had the opportunity to interview Charlie in Asheville, NC, while she was on the road, and now that the album is finished she continues to tour and promote with daring enthusiasm.

Let’s begin by letting our readers know a bit of your background. When did you first pick up the guitar & start pursuing a career in music?

I didn’t pick up a guitar until kind of late, compared to most people I know. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college. I started off playing bluegrass and finger-style blues, which is what I was really into at the time. But I didn’t start singing or writing songs until even later, after I had graduated and was living on my own in Philadelphia. Living alone for the first time… well, that was the first time I wasn’t afraid to try singing, to experiment with songwriting… because nobody was listening! At that time I was getting into Lucinda Williams and Rickie Lee Jones, so I had some great songwriting influences coming into play, in addition to all the older stuff I was listening to.

As for pursuing a career in music, well, that kind of happened to me. I got hired to play as a sideman with Greg Garing, a country-bluegrass virtuoso who was living in New York at the time. I played mandolin and guitar with him, and he taught me how to sing harmonies. After that, I landed a gig playing with Dan Zanes. So my first professional ventures into music were as a sideman. It was only after I stopped working as a sideman that I really began to develop my own career as an artist. I moved to Austin in 2007 with the intention creating a career for myself as an artist, and I haven’t looked back since.

Charlie the last time we spoke you were working on a compilation album, Travels with Charlie, released August 2011, where you traveled to 10 different cities in the US, found band mates, and collaborated on a new songs. How did you come up with the concept?

Well, I had just put out my last record, Wilson St., and I was talking to a friend about how I would tour to support the record’s release. He started talking about some friends of ours, a band called Poi Dog Pondering, who, in their early days, would go to a college town and hang out for a week before they played a show there. In that week they would hang out with the college kids, make friends, have jam sessions, and by the time the gig rolled around, everyone was excited to go see the show. Then, the next time they came back through those towns, they had friends to hang out with, places to crash, and an audience for the gigs. It sounded pretty genius to me, so I decided to do my own version of that — and spend a month in each of 10 different cities (Tucson, L.A., Portland, Boulder, Shreveport, Burlington, Milwaukee, Nashville, Asheville, New York). I was traveling by myself, so I just ended up putting together a group of local musicians in each place to play live shows with.

The plan at the beginning was to just tour to support Wilson St. To live in each of these 10 towns for a month, to play a residency, to meet and play with local musicians, and to build a fan base in each city. It definitely morphed along the way. For example, recording wasn’t a part of the original plan. But when I was living in Tucson, my first month of the tour, I wrote this new song called Broken Heart Maker. I played it for one of the guys in my band, Sergio Mendoza, and he suggested that we record it with some of the guys he was playing with in the band Calexico. It was such a cool experience that I decided I would do that in every town on the tour. And that’s how the record, Travels With Charlie, came into being.

This experience was also about getting to know the 10 towns you visited a little better, did you feel like you got a better understanding of the places you stayed?

Definitely. Normally, when you’re touring, you don’t get to see much at all. Maybe you have dinner someplace, but that’s about it. You see the hotel, or whoever’s couch you’re staying on, and then you’re out the next morning. So, yeah, I had a whole month to get to soak up the feeling of each town. I had enough time to realize what everyday life would be like if I lived there.  Some of them I chose because I thought they would be musically inspiring. Others I chose because I got offered a great gig. And a few of these cities I’d just always been curious about. And remember, I started the tour in January… so I wanted to go somewhere warm first!

Was it easy finding people to participate, and where did you find the musicians you worked with? 

It wasn’t as hard as you might think. I have a great musical network, so I had a lot of friends suggesting people I should play with. And then I would just go out, too, and look for musicians. I would go see bands play and think to myself, that drummer is awesome! And then I’d go up and tell them about the tour and what I was doing, and most of the time, people were totally on board. It was just fun.

What were some of your most memorable experiences from making the album?

The recording I did in Vashon Island with Ian Moore was pretty memorable. It was raining, we were setting up to record in his house, and everyone else had gone out to go fishing, in the rain. When we finally got everything set up and were about to do the first take, all the kids, dogs, and everyone burst through the front door. So we tried to record with them all there, but it was almost impossible. There kept being weird noises, like a kid’s whisper, or a dog’s clip-clopping on the floor. There is still a faint sound of dog toenails on a wooden floor in the background of the recording. If you listen hard, you can hear it.

The other recording experience that was really memorable was in Lafayette, LA. I was such a huge fan of the Lil’ Band O Gold, I was floored to play with Warren Storm and David Egan… and I had a blast recording with those guys.  Warren Storm is a trip! He’s got a crazy mustache, and even crazier stories. He’s not only one of my favorite drummers, but also one of my favorite singers! We tried to get him to sing a part on the song, but it was just too weird in contrast with my voice, so we cut it. The studio, La Louisianne, has been around since the 50’s, and it had all kinds of vibe. And great old microphones.

With so many new people working with you on Travels with Charlie do you think the album still reflects a majority of your style & influence? Did it bring out a new side of Charlie?

Yes. And Yes. Even though I allowed the musicians who played on the album to put their spin on my songs, the songs are still very much my writing and my voice. Playing with these various musicians all across the country, I was able to experiment with some different flavors, and let myself lean a little more toward pop here, a little more toward country there, a little more toward a vibey indie thing over there.

Obviously this adventure brought you some new opportunities, tell us about some.

Well, it allowed me to connect with people in a different way than a regular tour does. I would say the coolest opportunity it’s given me is to form real relationships with people, and then have the chance to connect those people from all over the country with each other.  Sticking around for a month allowed that to happen. Someone would see me play a gig at the beginning of the month, and ask me to do something later in the month — and unlike on a normal tour, I could do it, because I was still around!

Would you do it differently if you did it all over again? 

Nope. I would not.

Any intentions of experimenting with another concept like this?

If I could, I would love to do it internationally.  I would start with Dublin, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Toronto. But that would take a larger budget. Let me know if you meet an adventurous investor.

What are you working on now, and what can we expect? 

Songs for the next record! I’m not sure yet. Remember, when I go for something, I go big, so it’s better for me to wait and make sure I’ve got a really good idea brewing before I push the “go” button.

Where are you touring now & what do you want to share with new & old fans the most? 

I’ve got a Midwest tour and a Northeast tour coming up this summer, as well as some dates around Texas. I would love to share a live show with you guys, so check my website and see if I’m going to be where you are this summer. It not, and you’ve got a venue or a house concert you want to suggest to me to play, send me a note! I’m easiest to follow on Facebook, so find me there.

As a touring musician that has seen some success, what advice do have for singer songwriters that would like to go on tour? 

I would say, eat healthy, rest when you can, be open to everyone you meet, and try to take the time to really experience the whole thing… otherwise, what’s the point?

Thank you Charlie for taking time out of touring to chat with Songwriters Marketplace.

Charlies Links: