by Julian Rankin
A guy was yelling with his head out the passenger side window of the car as it sped by, screaming at one of the dozen people on the patio of Sneaky Beans, or maybe, like some shaggy haired dog, just catching the cool breeze on the rare mild summer night. I sat with Cody Cox and Garrad Lee. A friend of theirs walked out onto the patio from the coffee shop singing to himself in a twangy country western caricature: “Blame it all on my roots, I showed up in boots.”
The sounds of neighborhood activity reverberated from the sidewalk and nearby restaurants, the beat of Fondren. Cody Cox, lead singer of Furrows, is a perfect example of this music, fueled by the diversity of creative people here. “I could have left Jackson,” Cox admits. “I had nothing here but four shifts at a coffee shop, and had just called it quits with a band I’d been playing and touring with for years.”
This was around 2010. Cox looked around the city and saw growth and excitement, new venues and bands to see, and the possibility for a continued rising of the tide in the music community. “If I lived in a hub like New York, I could probably see a band that will never play in Jackson, but then again, if I stay, I can still listen to their records and be able to go catch three awesome local bands that might not ever play up there. So it felt more natural to stay and support the place that was nurturing the work I was doing.”
Those musical roots go back to childhood in the small town of Lexington, Miss., a notch of the Bible Belt. Cox was given a big brown cardboard box full of his mom’s 45s that he played on his Fisher Price record player. “And I sang in the choir of the Baptist church. I tried to take piano lessons because we had one in the house. They were trying to teach me how to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ in scales and I just wanted to play Bob Dylan songs.”
He moved to the Jackson area in 1999 for school at Mississippi College, where he taught himself to play the guitar, a loaner instrument from his roommate. That Christmas, his mother gave him a guitar of his own. “I booked a show six months after that at the local coffee shop. I just jumped out in front of people and played.”
That impulse to be self taught spawned his own record label, Elegant Trainwreck, formed around 2006 as a reliable vehicle to distribute his band’s music. “I played a bunch of solo shows on street corners and record stores for tips and saved it all up in an envelope to put a record out. I just stuck Elegant Trainwreck on there. And that’s when the whole thing started.”
It was also in 2010 that Cox met and connected with Garrad Lee, a Jackson native, whose ties are deeply fused within the local hip hop community. New collaborations have sprung up from that friendship. The interplay and exchange between Jackson’s musical traditions is happening all the time, especially on the streets of Fondren.
“There are all kinds of different people hanging out here,” Lee told me. He is talking about the neighborhood in a broad sense, but he could just as easily be referring to the planked deck of Sneaky Beans where we sat. “Some nights I’ll look at the people milling about and there are artists and chefs and musicians and business owners and white folks and black folks and women and gay people and people with dread locks… and white people with dread locks. They’ll all be out here listening to some acoustic guitar guy who gets to play music for a hundred different people on a Thursday night. A hundred different people who might not know who he is.”
Cox echoes Lee’s assessment, a call and response amen to Lee’s parable. “Fondren is a congregational spot.”
Cox has at least two or three projects at any given time, including his solo career and Liver Mousse, a duo with his wife Caitlin (they’re currently on hiatus). But it is Furrows, formed with friends and former band mates after his departure from the group Goodman County, which anchors Elegant Trainwreck and produces some of the most genuine and original performances around.
New sounds will continue to emerge from Jackson, some from musicians and bands you know and others yet to be discovered. Chances are Cody Cox will be there, whether he’s on stage performing, or in the background cheering it on and appreciating the local music scene that Jackson artists have created.
A year old this fall, the brotherhood of Elegant Trainwreck and Homework Town (conceived by Cody Cox and Garrad Lee, respectively) fosters collaboration between local artists in hip hop, rock, and everything in between.
The collaborative viewpoint is guided by the duo’s affinity for the 90s culture of their youth. “Go back and watch old Beavis and Butthead episodes,” Cox told me. “The videos on there will be a super heavy metal band- the nastiest, gnarliest- and then Wilco, and then after that will be hip hop. We’d see that as kids. And that kind of energy was happening in Jackson.”
Rapper James Crow, childhood friend of Lee, put out his second album, Religion Guns Money, on Homework Town, one of the young label’s recent highlights. Elegant Trainwreck, the older brother, produces Cox’s own projects like those of Liver Mousse and Furrows, but is also introducing younger acts like The Weekend Kids, who just released their first album.
For Lee, it made sense to join forces with Cox’s existing label, in true 90s fashion. “When you got a major deal in the 90s, it was usually a deal for the band and for the label,” said Lee. “You have to bring our label on board and it would be imprinted on yours. I liked that idea, and thought it’d be cooler for my label to be imprinted on his.”
Lee is often recognized as the white hip hop guy. His connections to the music and culture began in middle school and have shaped his career as an educator of, among other things, hip hop history. It also symbolizes one of the underlying realities of collaboration in Jackson.
“In some sense you’re doing something revolutionary,” Lee told me, “but in another sense, you’re just getting your friends together. Jackson is home to us, and we’ve never seen this kind of thing before, so on a historical level, it actually means something.”
Cox, always the storyteller, agrees. “It’s like that first house party where you only have ten guests. They come and shake hands at the beginning of the party, build a report during the night, and by the end they’re all hugging each other goodbye. Jump forward five years later, you’re having that same subsequent party and now it’s five hundred people.”
Making music is important work. It brings folks together. It makes an imprint.