If it seems like 21-year-old Cody Karey has been preparing his entire life for his self-titled Verve Records debut album, that’s just because it’s true. From the moment the then-18-month-old rose from his high chair to warble along with “Achy Breaky Heart” at a Pizza Hut somewhere in north British Columbia, and received a standing ovation, Karey’s destiny was sealed.
The latest world-class tenor pop vocalist discovered by label Chairman David Foster—who has a track record for that sort of thing—Karey’s bow has attracted some impressive talent, including Grammy-winning producer Walter Afanasieff (Mariah Carey, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion, Lionel Richie), ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Bernie Herms (Brad Paisley, The Tenors, CeCe Winans, Casting Crowns, Jackie Evancho). Greg Wells (Adele), Josh Kear (Lady Antebellum) and Ryan Tedder (One Republic, Leona Lewis and Beyonce).
“This is the culmination of many years of work and a lifetime’s worth of focus,” says Karey. “It’s very exciting to be on the cusp of getting it out there to people, and being able to take one more step in the direction of my ultimate dream.”
Cody makes each of the album’s 11 selections his own, letting the music do the talking on numbers like “You Are the Song,” a Bernie Herms/Josh Kear-penned track that introduces a distinctive new voice, bringing into focus Cody’s unique blend of both classical and mainstream pop worlds.
“Working with Bernie gave me the opportunity to really learn what I was capable of doing in a studio setting,” says Karey. “He coaxed a level of performance from me I didn’t even realize was there. I’ve been working at this so long and hard, just having the opportunity to make my own record was enough to draw me in and help me express the material.”
Cody shows his more pop side on “I’m Coming Home,” finding new interpretations to such classics as “All I Know,” famously covered by Art Garfunkel plus his soaring gospel take on “I Believe I Can Fly,” which Karey remembers from the animated feature Space Jam, where it received prominent placement.
“We wanted to create a signature sound with the themes of the songs,” says Cody. “All the material was carefully chosen to that end. I had an incredible team, working with Verve’s A&R executives Jaymes Foster and Jay Landers. They stood behind my input, and left a lot of the decision-making up to me. They really embraced my involvement, which I found remarkable for someone recording just his first album.”
There are also songs in different languages, including Spanish (the Latin-flavored “Sentir”) and Italian (the operatic “Tu Sei”). Not just a nod to an international audience, according to Karey, but a way of expressing emotion through music and melody, rather than lyrics. “People love the romance of relying on the performance to tell them what an artist is trying to say without necessarily understanding all the words. I’ve always been someone who connects with chords and rhythm more than lyrics. It’s the part of the music that really speaks to me.”
Not surprising considering Cody was singing before he even learned to talk. By six, he was performing country songs before audiences in and around his rural small town Fort St. James in a black hat, black shirt with silver collar tips, jeans, belt buckle and cowboy boots he bought for $25 from his grandmother, citing Alan Jackson as his favorite to a local journalist. By the time he was a teenager, Cody was taking the stage in big cities and had already appeared on television. It was around this time he discovered a love for the music of Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli. “I was pretty much certain that was the kind of music I wanted to do,” he says, “which was certainly weird for a kid from hockey-loving BC.”
Cody entered a David Foster talent competition, where he reached the finals, and first began the seven-year journey which ended up with the Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/record exec signing him to Verve Records. He went on to share the stage with the likes of Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, The Tenors, Pia Toscano, Katharine McPhee, Delta Goodrem, Jackie Evancho and Ruben Studdard. In 2010, he toured North America with David Foster, playing in N.Y.’s Madison Square Garden and L.A.’s Gibson Amphitheatre, while also guesting as a featured artist on his David Foster and Friends: Hitman concerts at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The following year, he received a standing ovation at the BMI Pop Awards in L.A. when he sang “The Prayer” with Delta Goodrum to celebrate David Foster being honored as an Icon.
As to what took so long, Cody admits Foster told him had had to “become a better singer.”
“I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that at first,” says Karey about the advice. “So I really worked on extending my range and making my voice more powerful, but he was talking about interpretation. That time afforded me the opportunity to become a better artist and performer. As a result, I think we have a more complete album. I’m more ready now.”
The new album, given its pedigree, is certain to draw comparisons to Josh Groban, and it’s one that the confident Cody doesn’t shy away from.
“He and Andrea Bocelli are the artists I was inspired by, who influenced me, who I learned from,” he explains. “I never had the opportunity to get a world-class education in how to sing this kind of music. But I did have their recordings. I immersed myself in those albums, and I learned what worked and why it resonated. And now I want to take those lessons and make something of my own. With any luck, I’ll be able to carve my own path and add to the legacy of this type of music in the pop world.”
On Cody Karey, we meet someone who comes alive in front of a microphone or an audience.
“I might be a nerdy guy who likes to cook, golf and watch hockey, but when I’m singing, I’m a totally different person,” he says. “This is so deeply satisfying and such a passionate pursuit.
With his debut album finished, Cody Karey can now turn his attention to his other great love—performing live.
“I want it to be different from any other concert, a truly individual experience,” he says of touring plans. “The last twelve months, I’ve been focused on the music and the recording. The next step is to bring that to life.”
Cody Karey is more than prepared to do just that. With his debut album, he’s finally ready to seize the opportunity and run with it.