ON HOME GROUND
PRODIGIOUS SINGER-SONGWRITER CODY SIMPSON IS FRESH FROM THE LIGHTS AND GREASEPAINT OF BROADWAY, BUT SAYS AUSTRALIA WILL ALWAYS BE HOME
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
Pop star Cody Simpson with his little brother Tim at All Saints College.