Samuel Cowden for IV Studio

The Right Message at the Right Time With Cody Fry

Cody Fry went viral on TikTok, got nominated for a Grammy, and, as of today, released an album. While this is all, in fact, true, it’s only three parts of the “whirlwind” series of events that has led one young composer to musical stardom… and online notoriety.

Someone who grew up around music and appreciated fine art for as long as they could remember, Cody Fry has truly always been a musician. There is something about the ebb and flow of harmony, melody, instrumentation, orchestration, and storytelling that causes his soul to light up in the most marvelous sense. The intricacies of mixing and mastering, producing and arranging, singing and songwriting, make up who Cody Fry is. The success he is having currently may be taking off in new ways because of a video sharing app on his smartphone, but the upward trajectory of his craft has been there since the start.

He has always been a little bit more creative and a tad more open-minded about what classical music could be. It was through a personal love of mainstream pop hits and his professional, formal training that has allowed his artistry to resonate with the most modern and generation spanning audience there is in the streaming era: the Internet.

As he combines orchestral takes on songs with silly dancing videos and immersive vlogging with follower interaction, Cody Fry is quickly becoming more than the musical underdog of the 2020s. But you can’t just take our word for it! The hundreds of thousands of followers and millions of likes can be trusted, surely. Then there’s the speed in which his songs rack up streams and monthly listeners, of course. This is data, though, and art is subjective. If you had to trust anyone (other than us), the Recording Academy might be one of the places to look, because they’re stingy when it comes to who they recommend, recognize, and regard as being a success worthy of national accolades.

According to them, us, and the world at large, Cody Fry is a Grammy-nominated musician, a first-class composer, and a cool, calm, and collected man to have a phone conversation with.

About two months ago someone commented on one of your TikTok videos: “Cody Fry has single handedly convinced me that all music needs to be accompanied by a 60 piece orchestra.” You agreed, naturally, but what really about orchestration elements do you think elevates a track?

Obviously I’m biased because it’s like my heart language, you know? And I don’t think it would work for every song 100% agree like that comment [says], but I think for me, I can put it on any song. [Laughs]

I think the reason it works is because of movies and because the orchestra is such an established part of movies, so it holds such a great place in people’s journeys. I can think of movies that changed my life, that type of thing, and when you take a piece of it’s sort of orchestral quality, that cinematic quality, and you put it into a song in the right way, it can kind of activate the same sort of neurons that fire when you’re watching a great movie. So instead of just listening to a great song, all of a sudden you’re visualizing an amazing thing in addition to watching or listening to the song. […] It can be really powerful.

I love that you used the word cinematic because when I listen to your work, original songs and covers, they feel almost tangible and three dimensional.

Yeah? I love storytelling and I love the way that the orchestra can sort of help tell the story of the song and paint what’s going on in the lyrics in a way that brings the whole thing to life for the listener.

Right; this idea of soundtracking brings in so many more aspects of what the emotion at hand could be and what the story being told is. It is very much like a film score.

I wish that if I could have a super power, I would have someone that was just scoring my life all the time, just to give me that extra bump. That’s why I want to try and create music that can become part of that everyday for people. It’s the kind of music you can go to when you’re needing to feel that sort of moment.

The art is in the intricate everyday that can be heard in the nuances of a symphonic song.

Yeah! The thing that kind of bothers me is that so many people view this kind of orchestral music as inaccessible, like you have to have some sort of specialized knowledge or tuned ear in order to really appreciate it. I just reject that completely. Part of my mission is to make the orchestra, and make orchestral music, feel like it’s accessible to anyone – that’s just something I really believe is needed.

You’re are surely crossing that line and taking those walls down, slowly but surely, with songs like “Underground” and “I Hear A Symphony.”

Trying to! [Laughs] Thanks.

I, personally, came across your cover of “Eleanor Rigby” a few months ago, in the early fall, but it is still rising and still resonating. Now the Recording Academy has caught wind, too, adding to the praise by putting it, and subsequently you, up for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals this year. Tell me, how, when, and where did you find out about your Grammy nomination?

It was pretty wild. We were listening to the livestream ceremony of where they announced the nominees, but we were driving to the airport because my wife and I were going home for the holidays – for Thanksgiving. There we are, driving along the interstate, listening to the nominee announcements, and all of a sudden I hear them say my name. [Laughs] I swear, I was doing everything I could do to keep that car from diving off the road. My wife was out the window, just screaming. It was one of those moments where I was just stunned. I was completely shocked. Then we get to the airport and I’m going through TSA, like totally out of my body having just been nominated for a Grammy. [Laughs] Then the TSA is like, “Uh, we need to check your bag.” It was a pretty wild moment, and, I mean, just to be nominated… that itself is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted that. I think any musician sees a Grammy as sort of like this token of – I don’t know – something incredible. I was just shocked then and there.

Containing yourself like that must have been so hard!

It was. You know, then we had to board the plane and shut our phones off, so just as mine was blowing up, it was powered down.

At least you got to sort of sit there with you wife and absorb it a bit?

Yeah, that’s true! It’s still surreal.

Cody, I would love to know a little bit about where you stand when it comes to posting videos and music online. How did you get into that? What about that space is intriguing to you? Because it is a little bit of an oversaturated market, but it’s also a lot of fun and can clearly pay off.

When I was starting out doing music, TikTok was not part of life [Laughs]. Oobviously that app alone has changed my life and the lives of lots of people, but I think I got a little bit lucky because my song, “I Hear A Symphony,” went viral before I even had a TikTok account of my own. I didn’t even have the app on my phone! By the time I rolled in, I was able to see and say, “Oh my gosh, look at all these videos of people using this song! My song!” I had to learn really quickly the conventions of the app and how people use it.

I got to see what mega success could look like firsthand from just looking on the back end of my account and people commenting on that sound and all the stuff that followed. I kind of had this weird look right away into what it could be, potentially, for a musician like me. When I released “Eleanor Rigby,” I tried to sort of create content that could help that song get visibility, as well, but naturally like “I Hear A Symphony” did. There was no real science to it. I actually think that sometimes I’ll make a video and go, “I think people really like this and then nobody cares.” [Laughs] However I’ll make a video of me just dancing like a complete idiot and people will really love that. You never know what’s gonna hit, but I like doing it. It’s fun and it feels very weird. I love how weird TikTok is. I think other social media networks feel very much like storefronts where everybody’s kind of putting their best brand forward, whereas TikTok feels like all the weird people just doing whatever they want. I love that because it feels like the consequence of it. It feels so freeing to not feel like I have to put anything ‘on’ for that audience. I can just roll out of bed and do a video in my pajamas and that’s totally normal.

You make a really fantastic point with that. There are so many social platforms these days, but none have that aspect of being laidback like TikTok does. Everywhere else is polished to some degree.

Right, exactly, and I’m still learning. I’m not like some social media guru, neither am I very lucky. I will say, though, that the velocity of TikTok is unlike any other social media platform.

That is for sure! Keeping with that theme, but now looking at the idea of your music and what you’re doing as a musician, why do you think that a song like “I Hear A Symphony” grabbed people’s attention right off the bat maybe more than others?

I don’t think there’s really any way to know if there was one thing that did it. There are probably a lot of elements and I think at this point I would just be guessing about why it went viral, but I do think that I always found that success in art comes when you find something that you can do, that’s unique, and that no one else can do. A song like “I Hear A Symphony” is that for me – it was something that nobody else was really doing. The way that I could put it together with my knowledge of orchestration and songwriting and pop conventions, I think it just was kind of like the right mixture of chemicals at the right time. I also think that the message of it is so hopeful and beautiful in a time that people are lonely and things are really hard. There is a hunger for that sort of optimism and that reminder of all the beauty that’s in the world.

Obviously “I Hear A Symphony” is a love song, but to me, it comes down to one of the lyrics in the second verse, which is that “perfection is so quick to bore.” I think that’s such a wonderful sentiment of just like, “No. The things that are weird about us, the flaws that we have that make peace with, that is what makes us so interesting.” That was the right message at the right time and with the right packaging, but I’m just guessing.

Well, I will say you are surely right about one thing: you are wholly in your own lane. Your music is rhythmic and immersive and fun and emotional – the perfect blend of pop and classical. How did you discover your ability to compose, produce, arrange, and write these songs that have such a balance of two (usually) different things?

Like many things, it’s sort of a product of my upbringing and my interests. Growing up, my dad was an orchestra composer and an arranger, so I was just totally surrounded by that type of music. He’s also a great lover of film music and I also am. (I do lots of work for TV and film stuff, too.) Then on the other side of things, I live in Nashville, which is the songwriter’s town. The song is king here. Everything comes back to the song. The constant push of Nashville saying, “No, no, no, write a better song, write a better song,” is constantly forcing me to not just look at the orchestra side of things, but also find something unique to say, lyrically, and how can you better melodies within that.

I just love writing pop songs, too [Laughs]. It took me a long time to realize that I had been separating these two worlds of mine, the pop songwriting side and the more film-like orchestral side. Finally I came to the realization of, “Why am I separating those things? Why don’t I just try to combine them and see what happens?” Once I started doing that, that’s where all the excitement was for me. I couldn’t stop pursuing it. It was just so much fun because it just felt like I had opened up this brand new world with so many possibilities to write with and to play with and to kind of paint with the lyrics and these cinematic elements. It just really grabbed me and that’s how I knew I was onto something.

Very few people are a bigger Beatles fan than me, so when coming across your superb new version of “Eleanor Rigby,” I was floored. I didn’t think a song like that could get better or become such a refreshed, but elegant version of itself. Why did you choose that song to embark on rearranging orchestrally in the first place?

Well, obviously there’s a string quartet in the original, but that actually had nothing to do with my decision to use it. When I’m thinking about songs, I’m thinking about what I want to say or what I want the cover to say, really. It’s always about messages. “What is this song saying?” I ask. I remembered one day, back in the sixth grade, how I was assigned “Eleanor Rigby” as a project in my English class. We were doing lyric analyses and I had to analyze lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby,” and ever since then, I just thought, “Wow, this song is so brilliant.” And still I do with how he just packed so much narrative into these three teeny little verses! When the pandemic hit, I just kept coming back to that theme of loneliness and the way it’s addressed in “Eleanor Rigby” is so  heartbreaking and prescient and it’s amazing. I thought, “I wonder if there’s a way I can kind of lean into the song’s sort of cinematic qualities and tell the story of ‘Eleanor’ using sort of my techniques of orchestral producing. As soon as I got into it, I was having too much fun [Laughs] and that’s when I felt that it was going to do well. There is just so much narrative there for the orchestra to sort of enhance and that’s what makes it so effective, I think. This is a people song, and a people song always that starts with great lyrics, and adding a sort of film score to it… it just couldn’t go wrong. There are some fun techniques in it’s arrangement, too, like a music typewriter. I’ve also tried at the end to sort of design this weird melodic line that would keep rising in tension without ever resolving – and that is sort of a microcosm of the whole song, actually, but it is repurposed into music.

The song is so deep, there’s so much to draw on, and I had so many ideas that I had to scrap because it was going to be 20 minutes long if not, you know? [Laughs] It was fun, but important to drill down into the song and really find a way to express it in a unique, symphonic way. For me, nothing compares to the original track – you’re never gonna beat it – but at least I had a chance to put my own spin on it.

And now it’s nominated for a Grammy.

Yeah. Wow.

Symphony Sessions is out today – can you believe it? How did you piece together this record amid making videos, having viral songs, and exploring your career path? What was this experience like?

It’s been a whirlwind. Although, that was sort of how it was designed after the success of the “Symphony,” because I wanted to be able to put out something quickly to kind of deliver on this new genre that fans seemed to be connecting with. It’s been fast, but that was sort of by design. I’m so excited for it to be out. Album releases these days are different than they used to be, but I’m excited that the project will be done and available. I feel like it’s a nice kind of flag in the ground for me saying, “Hey, this genre is for real, here it is, and I intend to continue to create music like this.”

The six songs on here, no matter how long they’ve been out or were worked on, all have own story. Because of that, you can listen to them on their own, score your own life with it, but it also sounds really well as a whole package. I have to commend you on that.

Thanks. It’s always a weird part of the process to pick songs for an album – and I wish the album had more tracks. I wish it was longer. I wish there was more stuff to it, but I did as much as I could as quickly as I could. It worked out well, too, because now that this is here, I am already working on the next. This album was sort of like the quickest thing I could do, but for this next project I’m working on… I am ready to just blow the doors off.