Interview: Cody Votolato of J.R. SLAYER


Recently I was able to schedule a Zoom interview with Cody Votolato (The Blood Brothers) to discuss his latest musical offering called J.R. SLAYER. In this interview we discussed his new EP called Not Rotten as well as the new single of the same name. Additionally, we discussed what keeps him motivated as an artist, the bands he’s influenced by, as well as much more. You can purchase Not Rotten here.

Thank you so much for your time today, Cody. You just released a new EP and a new single called “Not Rotten.” Can you tell me what went into the writing for that EP as well as the single?

Yeah, I sort of accidentally came about doing this record. Will Yip produced it and released it on his record label, Memory Music. He and our bass player Jason were friends. Jason said let me send some of the J.R. SLAYER stuff to Will, I think he might like it. And out of nowhere he replied, “What is this? I really like this!” It took a long time of going back and forth about when we were going to actually get together and make the EP. During that time, I was writing a bunch of material. I basically came up with around 15-20 songs. Some were complete ideas, some were fragments, some had no lyrics, no vocals, and I put it in a folder. I sent it to Will and I was just like, “pick the songs you want to record.” It became a collaborative thing. The writing of the EP wasn’t entirely intentional in terms of this is what I’m gonna do and this is how I want it to sound. It was more like, this is all material, let’s try to make something that feels cohesive out of it. We went to the studio in December of 2020. Jason, Will, and I talked about it and we chose the songs we wanted to do and dove in. 

So what was that collaboration like, working with Will Yip?

I think everything that Will touches ends up having his mark left on it. That’s a sign of a really great producer. One really cool thing about this process that I had never done in any of my band’s previously was writing with the producer. On Back When, he was like, “Oh, this sounds cool. I came up with this bridge idea because it wasn’t a complete idea.” And he showed me and I said, that’s great. And then we were just suddenly collaborating. It’s like he’s in the band with you. You can really tell when something is a Will Yip recording, for sure. I don’t think he’s beholden one sound or style, because he definitely has a very diverse touch. But yeah, outside of him just being really insanely in tune with his studio and his technique, he just brings a lot to songwriting. He really paid close attention to the performance. I’ve never been a strong singer, and he really taught me a lot of techniques to sing and things to look for, that I just never thought about. So really, the reason it sounds so cohesive and strong has a lot to do with him.

That’s great. I’m glad you had a good partnership with him too. So you’ve played in bands for a while. What keeps you motivated as both an artist and a musician?

I kind of stepped away from music for a number of years and I didn’t intentionally put the guitar down, but I was just struggling to make ends meet for a long time and my relationship with it became toxic. Much before I started the J.R. SLAYER project. At one point I decided I was going to start writing again. I was just like, I need to reconnect with music in a way that I did, back when I was young. I had no motivation outside of just playing the songs and the music and getting together with friends to perform, so I started J.R. SLAYER. I started writing and recording and put a little band together with some friends here in LA. We played some shows and it was very, very much just a hobby. I was recording my own music, producing it in my bedroom and releasing it through TuneCore. I used that platform, just because I really needed to do it and I wanted to do it while I worked a job that made money. I was able to continue to write music and release it and be artistic. So that for me is basically it. I was trying to decide what to give this without expecting anything in return. And in a lot of ways I see this experience with Will, making this record as a return because I wasn’t necessarily fighting for a record label to put up my music or go into the studio. It happened very naturally and sort of out of the blue and I knew I had to do it. I wanted to listen to that and pay it respect. So, I’ve taken some time off work, and I’m doing some shows and just freed myself up to do things like this. The job that I’ve been working the last few years is pretty all encompassing and doesn’t leave much room for much outside of it. I was only able to fit things in between on breaks, but didn’t allow me to do much more than write and do some recording. 

What are you most proud of with this current project of J.R. SLAYER? And what do you see as the future of it?

Damn, that’s a great question…I think one thing that I tend to forget and need to remind myself that makes me really proud is that so far we’ve done everything that we’ve set out to do with it. The making of Not Rotten took about roughly two years. But basically, we were checking off a list on the box; what do we want to do? Okay, we want to go in the studio and make a recording. Cool. That’s done. Now, what’s next? Okay, we’re gonna make a music video. It was always a dream of mine to make a proper music video with this project, because that’s not something that is easy to do these days. When Memory told me they wanted to make a video it was huge for me. It was such an exciting thing. And so that got checked off. We knew we wanted to play a show around the release, we did that. We knew we wanted to do some support slots and we’ve now got some shows with supporting Saosin coming up in a few weeks. It’s really cool that I’m able to check off all the boxes. I’m trying to take it slow and keep a good head about it. Everything is a drop in a bucket. Moving forward, I would obviously love to do more shows.  I’ve been writing a ton, so I have a lot of material standing by. Right now we’re just working on the live show, making sure that’s solid and hoping to play some more. 

So let’s talk about the live performance. And obviously, you mentioned that you’re going to be touring with Saosin coming up. What songs do you feel like translate really well live from this EP?

Because it’s more or less a rock record, “You Will Never Be Alone” is the closer ballad that would only really work in specific non rock settings. Depending on who we’re playing with. I don’t think that that song is a great song to play with a band like Saosin, for example. Because it’s a higher energy show. People are going to want you to keep their attention. So I put the first four songs on it, and we will play all of them. We play some older material that’s more upbeat as well. We actually have a new song that we’re going to be playing. It’s a pretty energetic live show. My sister sings in the band with me. It’s good to have the family vibe on stage.

Nice. So what was your guys’ musical upbringing like?

We had an uncle that played guitar when we were young. And that kind of introduced it to my brothers, who were both musicians. Rocky Votolato, my older brother, actually released a record the same day that I did this. Its called Wild Roots and each song is about a family member. My song is “Breakwater” if anyone wants to check it out. He really introduced me to playing music when I was in sixth or seventh grade. He was playing the guitar a lot and had gotten into punk rock. I followed suit, took my football pads off, and basically just never stopped there. I started The Blood Brothers when I was 15 years old.

Cool, and can you tell me what you feel is the ultimate legacy of the longtime band called The Blood Brothers? 

I think that something really cool about that band is that it never should have been what it was. It should have never had the opportunity to get in front of as many people as it did. Especially since social media was not a thing at that time. I think it’s amazing that we were given the opportunity to make as much music as we did, and to do all of the things that we did. I feel like we created something. We created a sound that I think was very unique to that group of people. And to me, I think if you can accomplish that, unintentionally, while still being able to reach a lot of people, is pretty cool. I still find out, there are young listeners all the time and that makes me really happy.

Nice! How do you ultimately measure success in your life? And your career? 

Damn, that’s a great question. And it’s one I have to think about a lot these days. Because it’s a lot different than it used to be. I spent many years struggling to rely on music to provide for my income. And that became a very toxic relationship and it ruined music for me. When I think about success for what we’re doing, currently, it’s a bit of a slippery slope, because I, while on the one hand, started this thing with no intention of ever doing anything as simple as having a Zoom interview with you. I mean, that was something that just wasn’t an aspiration, and now I’m dipping my toes in it. I’ve taken time off work and I’m putting energy into trying to create something that could potentially become something more full time and that’s scary. I think I have to be really careful about where my expectations lie, and how I manage my thinking and my emotions around the progress of the project. So to me if I can stay happy and continue to do this, regardless of what happens monetarily, then that will be the measure of true success. Obviously, I would love nothing more than to be in a situation where the band started making copious amounts of money, and everyone was getting paid and we just got to spend time doing art all the time. That’s clearly the dream, but it’s not guaranteed and should not be the final measure of success.

Cool. So the music industry has obviously changed a lot. The pandemic was a big thing that kind of shut the music industry down for a while with touring and things like that. But what are some artists you feel that have really taken advantage of the time period during the pandemic, and also artists you kind of watch with more of a keen eye?

I mean, it’s interesting, because a lot of rock and roll bands really got damaged throughout the whole thing. I feel like a lot of a lot of people who were just doing things in the box, and maybe electronic music became something that people have gotten careers off of just posting their music on Tik Tok. That seems to be kind of what is successful these days. It’s hard to say because it’s really hard for me to tell what’s real and what’s not real in terms of success for things. There’s a lot of bands who are going back out and trying to figure it out. The cool thing about it is that music is people’s lives, and they’re figuring out a way to do it. The pandemic definitely pulled the curtain back on a lot of the way this industry works, and the way that it has to work for people to do things in order to succeed and be happy. That’s probably a good thing long term, even though it’s also made things terribly hard in the short term, right?

Yeah, that’s a good answer. So what do you most hope people will take away from listening to J.R. SLAYER? 

I think the ultimate goal, as somebody who writes a song, is to have a listener who feels alone, listening to your music and not feeling alone. There’s somebody in Des Moines, Iowa right now that stumbled across an artist and something about the songs resonated with them. They’re no longer alone. They have something. So to me, that’s the ultimate goal. The music for me is very therapeutic. So I feel like it could potentially be therapy for people. But it’s also fun. I hope people can listen to it and dance and have a good time and sort of release the energy that is maybe stuck inside of them.

Any last words for your fans or anything that people should look out for for the rest of the year?

Yeah, so first of all, I’m very grateful to talk to you. So thank you for having me out. Thanks to anybody for checking us out. To the future fans of J.R. SLAYER, I say maybe somebody comes and sees us at the Saosin show and they don’t know anything about us, and they enjoy it and then they start checking it out. I appreciate people’s need for music and their support of music is great.

It was so nice talking with you today, and I wish you the best moving forward in your career. Stay safe on the road. 

Thanks, man. I appreciate you!