Cody Jinks: master of country music doom

A decade ago Cody Jinx experienced trial by fire fronting a thrash metal band called Unchecked Aggression. He has the tattoos and the Wild West beard to prove it. But after the Dallas-Fort Worth area band broke up during a tour to Los Angeles, he decided to go into country music ... and then, nothing happened. 

He released a half-dozen recordings of his songs, but it was a struggle. For 15 years he played in empty bar rooms with his empty pockets. His CDs failed to reach any music chart. Even the 2015 release, "Adobe Sessions," which perfected his doom-struck sound fusing Johnny Cash style traditionalism with a kind of epic, tragic balladry, call it dark Garth, well that got attention with the critics but again, no chart action.

However, six months ago, everything changed for Cody Jinks. His second album recorded at the remote Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, released in August, suddenly took off, selling 11,000 albums. The new album, "I'm Not the Devil," dominated the Billboard charts. It went No. 4 on the Country Albums Chart, No. 3 on the Independent Albums chart. Cody Jinks was no longer, well, jinxed.

"I felt fortunate as much as anything else," he says during a telephone interview from his home in Denton, Texas. "We debuted at number four, and that was a good thing for us. I was surprised charting as high as we did. We are still hanging around (on the chart) pretty good. I felt gratified.

"But I don't worry as much about chart placement as much as just being on the chart for a while. I'd rather have some longevity, staying there at around eighteen or twenty."He says the longevity of the music was really dependent on the integrity of the effort, and he felt like "I'm Not the Devil" reflected that. The edge of his recent records, he says, came from the realization that there's not much difference between Metallica and Hank Williams Jr.

"What I found is there's a lot of similarity between traditional country, metal and punk," he says. "That's why you see so many punk bands covering Johnny Cash."He credits the spaciousness of the rootsy country sounds on "I'm Not the Devil" to the band, called the Tone Deaf Hippies, to the group getting more comfortable in working in the small studio outside of El Paso. The Sonic Ranch studio kind of has that romantic sensibility about it, as if they went way the hell out there to find the real thing to begin with.

"We were able to come out with a bigger sounding album and were able to manipulate the room a little better," he says. "It was basically just a little adobe room. The main complex out there is really quite large. But where we recorded was like a mile away and it's the only freestanding building around. It's probably a couple of thousand square feet  with everything, I mean everything in there, the recording area, the booth. We were out there for a couple of weeks."

Jinks learned a few licks of country music from his father at the age of 16, and learned from him a little about Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. But at that time he wanted to be the next James Hetfield of Metallica. Even so, he says he was often found in some back room before his metal band performances, strumming country songs on an acoustic guitar.

Unchecked Aggression played around the Dallas-Fort Worth "metro-plex" for the most part, covering such influences as Metallica. Megadeath, Anthrax and Pantera."Those guys are fantastic," he says.

When the band broke up he didn't know what to do. So a little over 10 years ago he was coming out of his last day job, working 30 hours a week, getting gigs three times a week. He started to do more acoustic guitar shows in Denton, and pretty soon was able to live, somewhat, playing shows in that style, perfecting his baritone country singing voice. Then started to do some recording, starting with his best first effort being "Cast No Stones" on his own label in 2010. After five years of relative futility, he he it big with "I'm Not the Devil," again made on his own label.

The album is about more than trucks, honky tonk life and cheatin' hearts, the standard fare of country. Take, for example, the song "Heavy Load," which was the last song recorded for the record. As he sings:
The train jumped track some time ago
You can't root that heavy load
It's all downhill from now
And be sure we paid the toll
The train jumped track some time ago

I heard the voice of the fourth beast say
Come and see
And I looked and behold a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was Death
And Hell followed with him

With a song like 'Heavy Load,' that sounds definitely apocalyptic," he says. "With all that about the rider and the pale horse, I draw back to something from metal and punk. I still like that intensity a lot, the social commentary. I'm always drawn the the heavy subjects. I do it without distortion now."

Now he's, along with Whitey Morgan, who he often tours with, one of the twin towers of the new dark bearded and tatooed dudes in alt-country. He's writing new songs with Morgan, as well as a host of other songwriters he's met with the newfound attention from the success of "I'm Not the Devil."

"I've been picking the brains of other writers, my contemporaries," he says. "I'm working on (a new album) right now. It's going to be drastically different because I'm learning how to hold back, getting more focused on the songwriting."