Fans know that Cody Johnson is truly as authentic as can be, and his new project, Leather, featuring “The Painter,” “Work Boots,” “Watching My Old Flame” and more, is no exception. Leather serves as the follow up to Johnson’s 2021 album, Human The Double Album, which includes the chart-topping hit “‘Til You Can’t,” as well as “Human,” “Stronger,” and “Buy Your Grace,” among others.

In an interview with Music Mayhem and other media outlets, the Texas native shared dozens of behind-the-scenes secrets surrounding Leather, diving into the stories behind some of the project’s most beloved tracks, sharing his experience collaborating with Jelly Roll and Brooks & Dunn and much more.

Cody Johnson 'Leather' Album Art
Cody Johnson ‘Leather’ Album Art

Ian Munsick sparked the Creation of Cody Johnson’s Leather

To kick off the conversation, Cody Johnson shared exactly how the album came to be, admitting that he didn’t decide to create Leather until his friend and “Long Live Cowgirls” collaborator, Ian Munsick, got involved.

“He had just started being on tour with us,” the country crooner prefaced, before diving into the details. “We were just getting to know each other, picking songs and this and that. He plays me this song called ‘Leather,’ and I said, ‘Buddy, what the hell was that?’ He’s like, ‘I wrote it. I wrote it about my brothers. They’re cowboys,’ and I said, ‘what are you going to do with it?’ He’s like, ‘Well, I’m not really a cowboy, you know?’ I was like, ‘Give it to me.’ I said, ‘I’ll cut it,’” and the rest is history.

“I said, ‘Not only will I cut it, I’ll name my album after it,’ and he said, ‘I didn’t know you were cutting a record,’ and I said, ‘Well, I didn’t either ’til right now,’ and so that’s literally what sparked Leather,” the talented singer/songwriter concluded with a laugh.

Ian Munsick and Cody Johnson; Photo Provided
Ian Munsick and Cody Johnson; Photo Provided

The cover art for Leather Embraces Authenticity

Described by his wife, Brandi, as the most autobiographical project by Johnson, the ACM Award-nominee shared insights into the genuine nature of Leather. He also highlighted a specific element of the record that emphasizes this authenticity.

“Being a cowboy is not easy,” he spilled, prior to diving into the trials and tribulations of his day-to-day life. Johnson continued, “If it was easy, everybody would do it… There’s a rough and tough, and there’s a grit, and there’s a line of morality that’s very hard to stand up for a lot of times in today’s society. Where I come from, yes still means yes, and no means no. It’s black and white — there’s no gray area, and that’s hard for a lot of people in this world to swallow nowadays.”

Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

The 36-year-old hitmaker captured the life of a cowboy beautifully through the cover art for Leather, featuring a close up shot of hands covered in dirt and hair.

“I wanted it to be pretty and I wanted it to be real, so I had Chris Douglas, my photographer, come down, and all we did was we worked cows,” he explained. “When you see those hands on that saddle horn in that picture, that’s literally because I just got through castrating 20 bulls, so I mean, it was real. We branded 40 cows, and that’s what my hands look like after a hard day’s work on the ranch.”

The country superstar concluded, “Leather is just not a saddle. It’s not the chaps. It’s not a cover seat on a car. Leather is part of the soul, and I think that picture of my hands had a real representation of that.”

Leather Track List

  1. “Work Boots” (Jason Afable, Brett Beavers, Canaan Smith)
  2. “Double Down” (Jeff Hyde, Adam James, Clint Daniels)
  3. “Watching My Old Flame” (Kat Higgins, Wynn Varble, Clint Daniels)
  4. “That’s Texas” (Andy Sheridan, Erik Dylan, Wyatt McCubbin)
  5. “Dirt Cheap” (Josh Phillips)
  6. “Jesus Loves You” (Mark Holman, Chase McGill, Michael HARDY)
  7. “Whiskey Bent” (feat. Jelly Roll) (Adam James, Mikey Reaves, Rocky Block)
  8. “Leather” (Ian Munsick, Rivers Rutherford, Jeremy Spillman)
  9. “People In The Back” (Devin Dawson, Austin Taylor Smith, Mark Trussell)
  10. “Long Live Country Music” (feat. Brooks & Dunn) (Phil O’Donnell, Wade Kirby, Trent Willmon)
  11. “The Painter” (Kat Higgins, Benjy Davis, Ryan Larkins)
  12. “Make Me A Mop”(Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Alan Shamblin)
Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

“That’s Texas” Is A Tribute To Johnson’s Home State

From “That’s Texas” to “Dirt Cheap” to “Whiskey Bent” and beyond, the twelve tracks featured on Leather are nothing short of spectacular. Staying on the authenticity train, having a track that is dedicated to his hometown is truly as real as it gets, and “That’s Texas” fits the bill in a beautiful way.

“That’s my roots. That’s where I cut my teeth. When I was growing up, I loved country music, but there was a sea in Texas of guys like Robert Earl Keen and Cory Morrow and Roger Creager and Kevin Fowler and Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers and all those guys that, you know, they did play outside the state of Texas, but they were very prideful of the fact that that’s where they came from. That’s where I set my goals to,” Johnson shared, before diving into the struggles he faced trying to become a country superstar as a Texas native.

The CMA Male Vocalist of the Year nominee continued, “Whenever I came to Nashville early on, I really couldn’t get a record deal because I was just Texas country… It’s been so many years of, as an artist, trying to prove to people that you could go from being a Texas country artist and get labeled in Nashville and not have to change your stamp, change your hair, change your producer.”

Concluding with a grin, Johnson spilled, “One of the first times I ever came to Nashville, they asked me to take my hat off, and I’m like, ‘That’s not me,’ and so I think the independent spirit that comes from that, I will always carry, and I’m finally at a place in my career where nobody’s saying ‘You’re just the guy from Texas’ anymore, so I thought ‘What better time to record a song called ‘That’s Texas?””

“Dirt Cheap” Is One Of His Favorite Songs On The Album

While “That’s Texas” pays homage to the father of two’s home state, “Dirt Cheap” references his life as a cowboy, with Johnson himself referring to the track as one of his favorites on the record.

“The first time I heard it, I cried,” the chart-topping hitmaker gushed. “Being a cattle rancher, you know, I breathe rope and horses, and we work on a ranch. We live on a ranch in Texas, and it means a lot, and I made the joke ever since we bought this ranch, I told my wife, ‘I hope you love this house, because I’m never moving.’ I said, ‘I’ve already got the oak tree picked out where I’m going to be buried.’”

He continued, “Being on that cattle ranch and having those places, you know, that you hold dearly, that we have the memories of your kids and your horses and your dogs and your wife, that’s a big deal. I’m really relating with that song, and I took that song to the first five toughest guys I knew and played for them and all of them cried, so I was like, ‘Well, we got a winner here.’”

“Whiskey Bent” featuring Jelly Roll

Leather also features two collaborations: “Whiskey Bent” featuring Jelly Roll and “Long Live Country Music” featuring Brooks & Dunn.

Describing Jelly Roll’s face tattoos as authentic as Cody Johnson’s cowboy hat, the old-school troubadour discussed what it was like working with someone seemingly the opposite of him, yet so similar.

“I think that when we met, we just hit it off,” he disclosed. “He told me one of the very first times that I met him, he said, ‘I modeled my career after you,’ and I said, ‘How so?’ and he said, ‘Man, I wanted to stay independent, because I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want anybody to change me.’ He said, ‘I wanted to go through the ups and the downs and the hardships of trying to do it on your own the way you did it.’”

“Whiskey Bent” Brought Jelly Roll To Tears After First Listen

To follow this heartwarming conversation, Johnson shared his complicated upbringing as an artist, as well as his experience working at a prison, which Jelly Roll can relate to. He went on to explain, “I didn’t come off of TikTok and get a record deal and go straight to stadiums and play. Like, I know what it’s like to starve and so does he… When you do a lot of time working for the prison, it can be the same thing as being locked in. The only thing is you get to go home, so we understand a lot of those facets, and overall, he is just a good person. I want to be surrounded by positive, good people, not negativity, so we gravitated to each other.”

Despite coming into the studio to sing on “Jesus Loves You,” things took a different turn when Jelly Roll heard “Whiskey Bent” for the first time. “Whenever he heard the song ‘Whiskey Bent,’ it put him in tears, and he’s like, ‘Man, if I had a choice, I would rather be on this song,’ because he and I both have the kind of past of, you know, whether it’s whiskey, whether it’s a different substance, whatever it is, I think that he and I really related to the fact that we had something in our lives that at the time made us hurt other people that we regret,” Johnson detailed.

He concluded with a grin, “When you hear that on the track, that’s real passion. That’s a real emotion,” and this authenticity is evident throughout “Whiskey Bent,” as well as Leather as a whole.

Cody Johnson, Jelly Roll; Photos By Andrew Wendowski
Cody Johnson, Jelly Roll; Photos By Andrew Wendowski

“Long Live Country Music” featuring Brooks & Dunn

While the collaboration between Cody Johnson and Jelly Roll happened very naturally, likely due to their similar upbringings, the country superstar’s duet with Brooks & Dunn was equally as easy to formulate.

According to Johnson himself, “I think it was the CMT Awards. I accepted an award on stage. I said, ‘Long live country music,’ and the rest is history.”

“That night, they wrote that song after what I’d said,” the singer shared, prior to explaining that it was a great deal of back and forth between Johnson and Brooks & Dunn to decide who was going to cut the track, before coming to the conclusion that they should do it together.

Johnson has a great deal of respect and admiration for Brooks & Dunn, likely due to the fact that they are fellow cowboys, so this duet was truly a match made in heaven.

“I do believe that it’s a great opportunity to stand up with a bunch of guys that did it the way I did it,” he explained. “They grew up, you know, they’re playing honky tonks, playing bars. They’ve got that deep country heritage of hard work — go get it, nobody’s going to hand it to you… The 80s and 90s and early 2000s, the sound of Brooks and Dunn, that’s emphatic, and really that’s one of the biggest things about having them on there, because I feel like the three of us, me and Ronnie and Kix, we still stand for country music. We don’t want to water it down. We want it straight up.”

If you could not tell already, “Long Live Country Music” is seriously as country as can be.

Deluxe version of Leather on the horizon

While all twelve tracks featured on Leather are absolutely phenomenal, there are plenty more on the way.

When creating the record itself, Johnson ended up with 24 tracks that he was extremely passionate about, making it almost impossible to exclude songs from Leather altogether. Because of this, the classic country artist promised his fans a deluxe edition of Leather with twelve extra tunes, and they already cannot contain their excitement.

“I would like to release twelve to give people a chance to digest, to really go through these twelve songs and figure out what their favorites are, what their least favorites are, and live with it for a little while, then they can have the next twelve,” he revealed, describing the release as “kind of an appetizer-entree situation.”

Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

Confirms Duet With Carrie Underwood To Appear On Deluxe Version Of Leather

While all of the songs on the deluxe edition of Leather are sure to be fan-favorites, one is sure to blow the rest of them out of the water — a highly-anticipated collaboration with Carrie Underwood.

When asked about the forthcoming duet, “I can go ahead and just tell you it’s on the deluxe edition,” Johnson shared with a beaming smile.

“When you’re dealing with an artist of that caliber, you have to be very respectful of their timeline. You have to be respectful of their tour, when they’re releasing an album, when they’re releasing a single, and Carrie was so gracious to work with that,” the AMA Award-nominee continued. “I respect her so much as a vocalist and as an artist… I’m very, I’m very thankful she did it.”

While the duo is yet to determine a release date, “I know that when the timing is right, it will be beautiful, and I think it’s going to be something that’s going to be, I mean, I would say trajectory-altering as a single,” Johnson concluded.

Cody Johnson, Photo Courtesy of Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Cody Johnson; Carrie Underwood, Photo Courtesy of Jeff Johnson
Cody Johnson, Photo Courtesy of Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Cody Johnson; Carrie Underwood, Photo Courtesy of Jeff Johnson

Who Is Cody Johnson’s Dream Collaboration?

While we are on the edge of our seats waiting for the highly-anticipated Cody Johnson and Carrie Underwood collaboration, the country crooner also shared his dream collab partner. “I was lucky enough to do a collab with Willie Nelson on my last record, so cross that off the bucket list, but you know, a lot of my heroes are already gone,” he prefaced, before name-dropping who said heroes are.

“If I had one person in the world, anyone that I can do a duet with, it would be Merle Haggard, and you know, he’s gone… It sucks for an old soul like myself, as far as country music, to know that someone as wonderful as him is not here anymore, because I’d love to do a song with him,” Johnson revealed. “I’d really like to do something with Loretta Lynn, but I can’t do that either.”

George Strait, Cody Johnson; Photo Courtesy of Facebook
George Strait, Cody Johnson; Photo Courtesy of Facebook

After weighing out his options, the Texas native deemed George Strait as the number one artist he would love to collaborate with someday, regardless of how far fetched it may be.

“George Strait is one of those guys that he doesn’t really do collabs. Like, he does what he wants when he wants, because he’s freaking George Strait,” Johnson joked. “If I could ever get to do a cowboy song with George Strait though, that might cap it off for me.”

While country music fans cross their fingers for a Cody Johnson and George Straight collaboration, they can listen Leather from start to finish everywhere now.

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Originally from Southern California and currently residing in Music City, Melanie graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a BA in Journalism before beginning her career as a music and entertainment journalist. Beginning to write for Music Mayhem in August of 2023, she has also contributed to Holler, Country Now, Country Chord, Celeb Secrets, Celeb Secrets Country, We Got This Covered and Decider throughout her career thus far. When she is not writing, Melanie enjoys going to concerts and music festivals, binging her favorite television shows, spending time with her friends and family and cheering on the Oklahoma Sooners (of course).

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