ON HOME GROUND

PRODIGIOUS SINGER-SONG­WRITER CODY SIMP­SON IS FRESH FROM THE LIGHTS AND GREASEPAIN­T OF BROAD­WAY, BUT SAYS AUS­TRALIA WILL AL­WAYS BE HOME

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | BIG READ - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD

At 22, Cody Simp­son has al­ready been in “the busi­ness” for a decade. He was the cute blond Queensland kid dis­cov­ered at 12 by a US record pro­ducer who stum­bled on the songs Cody was up­load­ing to Youtube from his bed­room. Lit­tle won­der his par­ents Brad and Angie told him not to re­ply to the man who said he was from At­lantic Records in Amer­ica and was in­ter­ested in sign­ing him up. What hap­pened next is part of mod­ern pop folk­lore. At 13, the Simp­son fam­ily re­lo­cated to the US, where Cody went on to be­come a teenage sen­sa­tion. He recorded a steady stream of mu­sic un­der the At­lantic la­bel and em­barked on tours across the coun­try and in Europe. By 16, his Surfers Par­adise al­bum de­buted in the Top 10 of the Amer­i­can Bill­board 200. There were more tours, more ap­pear­ances, Danc­ing with the Stars, Good Morn­ing Amer­ica, even a Cody Simp­son doll. Through it all, the Simp­sons hud­dled to­gether in the crazy world they found them­selves in, Brad and Angie do­ing their best to raise nor­mal, Aussie kids. That none of them has picked up a whis­per of an Amer­i­can ac­cent says much

about the re­mark­able job they did. It’s telling too that with op­por­tu­nity knock­ing af­ter his re­cent five-month run on Broad­way, Cody po­litely ex­cused him­self to go home for his sis­ter Alli’s 21st birth­day and his 15-year-old brother Tom’s school mu­si­cal. “He came over to see me on Broad­way,” Cody says. “I wanted to make sure I was here for his show.” Not only did Cody stretch his de­par­ture one more day so he could stay for the of­fi­cial pre­view, he’d spent the day be­fore with the cast and crew of schoolkids, talk­ing about his own mu­si­cal the­atre stint and watch­ing the show’s fi­nal run-through. Not bad as big brothers go. Alli, who’s made her own name as a singer, model and ac­tor, also pitched in to help with make-up back­stage. It’s all very Simp­sons. That’s why it was such a big call last year, with Cody turn­ing 21, for Brad and Angie to come home, leav­ing Cody be­hind to forge on with his mu­sic ca­reer. He was al­ready find­ing his own way. Cody had parted with At­lantic three years ear­lier and was mak­ing his own mu­sic. His de­but in­de­pen­dent al­bum, aptly en­ti­tled Free, was re­leased un­der his own Coast House la­bel. Like any nor­mal kid with mu­si­cal lean­ings, he teamed up with a cou­ple of mates to form a band, Cody and the Tide, cre­at­ing their own brand of pop, rock, blues and surf rock. They toured South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the spir­i­tual home of their sound. He took act­ing lessons; he be­came an oceans ad­vo­cate for the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram; he set his own agenda. One Youtube com­men­ta­tor even dared to sug­gest Cody Simp­son’s ca­reer was over, but it seemed he called it way too early. Just months later, Cody was mak­ing his de­but in the big league – on Broad­way, no less – as a lead in the mu­si­cal Anas­ta­sia. “I’d said to my agent I was in­ter­ested in mu­si­cal the­atre,” Cody says. “I’d been study­ing act­ing for a lit­tle while and I’d au­di­tioned for an­other part, which I came close to get­ting but didn’t get. “Then I got the call, ‘They want you for this’.” It was the role of Dim­itri, the male lead in Anas­ta­sia, the mu­si­cal based on the Dis­ney film of the same name about the fa­bled Rus­sian princess ru­moured to have es­caped the ex­e­cu­tion of her fam­ily dur­ing the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion. “I had a week-and-a-half to pack up and move to New York and about a month of re­hearsals,” Cody says. Even for Cody, who grew up liv­ing the fairy­tale of fame and for­tune, step­ping out on a Broad­way stage for the first time was a pinch me mo­ment. “It was un­real. A whole new ex­pe­ri­ence, a chal­lenge and an oc­ca­sion to rise to. It was amaz­ing. It was re­ally a loved pro­duc­tion among peo­ple who see a lot of shows on Broad­way and I learned so much from it – even about Rus­sian his­tory. “It was also pretty cool to play a re­bel­lious, con­man-style char­ac­ter, much worse of a guy than I think I am.” Cody’s con­tract as Dim­itri was ex­tended un­til the show’s run on Broad­way ended five months later. Purists ini­tially raised eye­brows at the celebrity cast­ing. The switch from pop star to the hard graft of eight shows a week is no easy ask, af­ter all. But Cody proved he was made of sterner stuff than your av­er­age teen idol. “It re­quires a fair amount of dis­ci­pline,” he says. “You have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for be­ing in top form for ev­ery show. “I en­joyed the struc­ture and the dis­ci­pline. I put that down to the swim train­ing I used to do twice a day so it wasn’t re­ally a daunt­ing thought to me. I was happy to rise

up and do it.” In­deed, in an al­ter­na­tive life, Cody may well have been the Olympic swim­mer he had set his sights on. As a 12-year-old, he was a state cham­pion but­ter­fly and med­ley swim­mer. On the fi­nal day of his visit home, he did some laps for old times’ sake at Mi­ami pool with up-and-com­ing swim star Eli­jah Win­ning­ton, who holds 26 na­tional age ti­tles. “I was try­ing to keep in touch with him,” Cody grins. “I surfed twice (that day) and swam laps. That’s pretty much an ideal day for me.” So what’s next on his agenda? “I’ll be look­ing out for more op­por­tu­ni­ties for more shows,” Cody says. “Put it this way, if Anas­ta­sia ever comes to Aus­tralia, I’ll be the first to call. I’d love to do some work here. “I’ve also got some new stuff (mu­sic) com­ing out, ca­sual re­leases of some new ma­te­rial.” It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how five months of mu­si­cal the­atre might play out cre­atively in Cody’s mu­sic, but he says it will re­main gui­tar-based rock‘n roll/pop, the style his fans will be fa­mil­iar with. “I think the show has been good for my vo­cal stamina and abil­i­ties,” Cody says. “I feel very vo­cally fit at the mo­ment. It builds the mus­cle up.” Cody sees him­self liv­ing in LA for the fore­see­able fu­ture – it’s where the op­por­tu­ni­ties are – but he says Aus­tralia will al­ways be home. Dur­ing their eight years in Amer­ica, the Simp­sons made a point of keep­ing close with old friends. Cer­tainly, the fam­ily has slipped back into lo­cal life as if they’d never been away. And de­spite rub­bing shoul­ders with mu­sic idols, su­per­mod­els and the kids of the Hol­ly­wood set, it’s a model Cody has in­stinc­tively adopted. “I’ve al­ways tried to keep close with ev­ery­one I’ve known since I was lit­tle,” he says. “I miss them very much al­ways. “I’d hate to be dis­liked by peo­ple that I grew up with. I try to keep things close as they were be­fore in my re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple. “I’ve re­ally tried to avoid los­ing my head. It’s dis­ap­point­ing when you see that hap­pen. I’ve al­ways tried to re­main as calm as I can. “It’s OK if I can come home of­ten – do what I’ve got to do and come home to re­set.” Far from his ca­reer be­ing “over”, an as­sess­ment that per­haps says more about mod­ern Amer­ica than about Cody, he is look­ing for­ward to it evolv­ing. Af­ter all, when fame and for­tune find you at 13, it’s a healthy sign that other paths are call­ing. As well as mu­sic, Cody’s In­sta­gram ac­count, with its 3.2 mil­lion fol­low­ers, lists ecology, filmmaking and po­etry as pas­sions. Per­haps a pas­sage from the prose he pub­lishes un­der his al­ter ego, Prince Nep­tune (@princenep­tunepoet) says it best of all: you must take life for your­self you must write the books you must com­pose the songs you must paint the pic­tures you must take life and make life yours

PHOTO: JA­SON O'BRIEN

Pop star Cody Simp­son with his lit­tle brother Tim at All Saints Col­lege.

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