Bloomington's Cody Diekhoff, known professionally as Chicago Farmer, digs deeper into America's widening economic divide on his new album "Flyover Country."
Diekhoff spins stories about "Haves vs. Have Nots" and uses the Texas-based Band of Heathens as his backing band.
Ahead of the Valentine's night Chicago Farmer show at the Castle Theatre, Diekhoff outlined the genesis of some of the new songs, and why he wanted to record a full-band album this time around.
“My solo career was starting to take off so I decided to put a wrench in that and go this band route on this project,” Diekhoff said, only half-jokingly.
He has opened for the Austin's Band of Heathens a number of times, and the two camps had become quite friendly. On one of those dates, BOH guitarist Gordy Quist invited Diekhoff to record with them in their home studio when they learned he wanted to record a full-band album.
“And I thought, ‘Well there’s a sign,’” said Diekhoff. “I can’t really pass this up. I got some guys who know how to play with soul but also know how to revolve around the song and make records, which I really don’t. I know how to write songs and I’ve gotten lucky going into the studio with my friends and cranking out some stuff, but we’ve never really had a mission or plan on how to make a record and these guys kind of did.”
It’s not the first time Diekhoff has recorded full band, as his 2016 album “Midwest Side Stories” was also fleshed out with studio musicians. But this time the troubadour who has been touring solo for close to two decades said the motivation was to break out of his comfort zone.
“I kind of felt like I was going out playing the same songs and same sets every night, and the last thing I want to do is go through the motions. It just so happened the songs I was writing needed the power of a band. Even the slow songs needed that power and that groove,” explained Diekhoff, who will tour with his full band “The Field Notes.”
“Flyover Country” lyrically digs deeper into stories comparing the “haves vs. the have nots.” It’s not new territory for Diekhoff, but he ups the intensity on this album. He agreed and recalled his childhood in Delevan, where he said politicians of all stripes emphasized the importance of the middle class.
“At the time, there were the ‘have a lots, have some, and have nots’ and everybody talked about the importance of the ‘have some’s’ there. I feel now we’re getting into two groups; the ‘have nots’ and ‘have a lots.’ I definitely noticed that and put it into the title track,” said Diekhoff.
Flyover Country no one touches down
Pastures of plenty but not enough goes around
A red wheelbarrow so much depends
But a field full of sparrows lie broken again
It’s the same tragedy a different day
You don’t want to see but you can’t look away
Turning the pages turning the wheel
Learning to gauge us learning to feel
- “Flyover Country” by Chicago Farmer
Other songs on “Flyover Country” hammer the same theme. “Collars” contrasts white collar vs blue collar, including the notion that the white-collar people start wars the blue-collar kids fight. “Dirtiest Uniform” is a proud song about the working-class origins and work ethic Diekhoff brings to his profession. These are social issues that don’t necessarily fall along traditional party lines.
So how does he ensure he does not alienate fans of different political stripes?
“The Chicago Farmer name rings true more than ever," said Diekhoff, noting Interstate 80 literally and figuratively separates Chicagoland from what is often referred to as downstate.
“I have a lot of family members who are Republican and many Democrats, I never try to alienate one side or the other, I think I go issue by issue. And if there’s an issue I don’t really like, I don’t care what side came up with it or what side backs it or what side is against it. I don’t vote for someone because they’re Republican or Democrat, I vote for who I think is better.”
The album cover continues the blue-collar theme. It’s a wheelbarrow filled with dirt and dust, with a propeller attached to the front. He said the idea sprang from a poem whose title he couldn’t remember at the moment, though he remembered the gist of the poem itself.
“It’s a simplistic poem that basically says how much we depend on the farmers and blue-collar workers and those who are the backbone of the country, and how much that wheelbarrow means to them,” said Diekhoff. “I threw the propeller on there as a fun thing to do, as we’re kind of stuck here working in the grounds of the Midwest. But we eventually want to take off to explore better things and take flight and see what’s out there,” said Diekhoff.
“Flyover Country” is getting great reviews, even from one who wished Diekhoff would abandon the Chicago Farmer moniker. He laughed while saying not everybody understands what the name symbolizes.
“I came up with the name 20 years ago, I can’t get ride of it now,” said Diekhoff. “It’s who I am and what I’ve become and what I sing about. It really is my persona and who I am. I’m pretty proud of it.”
Chicago Farmer & the Fieldnotes play The Castle Theatre Friday night.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.