CMT producer and host Cody Alan is used to being behind the mic, interviewing the country genre’s top artists about their shared passion—country music. But next week, the South Carolina native will be turning the focus on himself, using his words in a new way and telling his own story in his music-infused memoir, Hear’s The Thing.
“I can’t help but think how much better the world would be if we were to listen to each other, listen to ourselves, and listen to our hearts and our intuition,” he explained. “That has guided my life. One of the main points of the book is that this can guide yours too.”
Ahead of Hear’s The Thing’s release on November 9, For the Record heard from the soon-to-be author about the book, his life’s journey, and the passion for country music that threads the two together.
How did you get inspired to write your memoir, Hear’s The Thing?
I’ve been able to interview, I think, almost every country music artist simply because of the work I have done for CMT for so long on television and radio. I get to do the kind of interviews that still blow my mind with people like Dolly Parton and some of the greats like Loretta Lynn and George Strait, Garth Brooks—and then with the new crop of country artists, from Luke Bryan to Carrie Underwood, to Keith Urban, Luke Combs, and beyond. So having these stories over the years with so many of these people made me think, oh, maybe I could share these stories. They might be fun for people to read about.
And then I came out [as gay] in 2017 and I realized that I had sort of an interesting spot in country music, being different than most everybody else. And that perspective could also be helpful for people to hear or read about or learn from.
You’ve hosted so many interviews and conversations with people from across country music. How did that experience translate into writing?
Writing is a lot more difficult for me. I’m much better on air. If I have bullet points rather than sentences, I don’t have to read word for word. On the radio, you learn to think on your feet and everything happens spontaneously. So that has helped me as a conversationalist. But when it comes to writing a book, of course, we all know it’s words and punctuation marks and paragraphs and getting all of that right.
And so that was challenging because it just wasn’t my usual way of doing things. But over time I got a little better at it. And like I said, it took years and years and years to turn the book into what it is now. And with all those challenges came a lot of learning and growth to create a book that I’m so thrilled with. It has not only been a labor of love for me, but it’s made up of words that I’m really proud of that I think are gonna help a lot of people.
How did music come into your creative process? Was there anything in particular you played while planning or writing the book?
Country music is a soundtrack to so much of my life. I can relate back to my earliest memories of hearing country music played at my house in South Carolina growing up. My mom made breakfast every single morning—every single morning!—while country music was coming out of the speakers on the radio in the kitchen. And so I completely relate the smells of breakfast being made to the sounds of country music. And then throughout my life, it’s always been one of those things I fell back on.
When I divided up the chapters for the book, I wanted each to have the lyric of a song that related to that chapter. So for one chapter you have Carrie Underwood’s “Love Wins,” and it says that “through anything that love can conquer.” And another chapter where I talk about coming out a little more poignantly, I quote from a Luke Bryan song, which says that we should all “love who we love.” And throughout the book there are moments like that where I’ve got songs leading the way as you’re diving into the chapter.
I’m a pure music person; I love music. It drives everything that I do and certainly was a driving factor in the book.
In our recent Spotify: Discover This episode on Country music, BRELAND and Lily Rose spoke about being minorities within the genre. How have you noticed the country scene change in recent years to open to more types of individuals?
I love Lily Rose. What a great musician and artist. I’ve had a couple conversations with her myself and I dig her stuff so much. There has been, over the past couple of years, just a new openness and inclusivity that didn’t exist before. I came out in 2017. There’s been tremendous change since then. When I came out there just weren’t a lot of people who were gay and making country music. And so it was a bit scary to speak up, to be completely honest. But since then, there’s been this flurry of people, including chart-topping artist TJ Osborne of Brothers Osborne finding his way and speaking his truth. And how powerful is it when you have someone with his success represent?
And I’ve seen more of that happening—and not just among the LGBTQ individuals but also with African Americans. There’s BRELAND, there’s Mickey Guyton, Jimmie Allen. You see this flurry of activity where diversity is being celebrated in country music, and I think it’s an awesome thing. There’s a real outcry now among many people to show that country music is not what you think it is. It is open. It is free. And it’s more diverse than it ever has been. And it’s I think opening doors for a lot of people who are different; I think that’s a beautiful thing and I invite it and I love it.
Tell us about the playlist you made to support your book launch. There’s country music—but also Madonna, Panic! At The Disco, Lizzo, and other surprises.
Every song means something to my life. For example, Keith Urban wrote the forward for my book, which was a big freaking deal for me because, like, it’s Keith Urban! I could make you a playlist complete of Keith Urban songs and each one would have meaning to me—that’s the type of impact he’s had on my life. So I knew I needed to include a few songs from him, including “Somebody Like You.”
“High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco—no one can not smile when they hear that song. It’s a jam. It’s probably one of my most-played songs on Spotify. Anytime I need a lift up, I play that song and feel better. And it reminds me where I came from and that if you believe in something, it can come to pass. I talk about that in the book. I believed a kernel of truth that I could be on TV, and that somehow blossomed into reality. That song reminds me of that.
I grew up in the ’80s so Madonna was the ’80s to me. I can’t not have Madonna on a playlist of my life. The video for “Express Yourself” . . . there were men hammering, like in a factory or something. As a questioning gay boy trying to understand myself, that helped me understand that I wasn’t like the other boys. There’s something groundbreaking about that video.
I wanted to include The Chicks and “The Long Way Around” because they had so much to do with my Texas time. I feel like so much of my life has been taking the long way around and making the choice that other people would not. When I left South Carolina, I was the first in my family to leave the zip code. I decided to go my way differently and take the long way around, and it certainly led to lots of great things. But at first it was a little scary.
But making those different choices led me to lots of happiness and led my family to eventually see that taking a long way around is not a bad thing. It’s actually often the way you have to go in order to find yourself and your dreams.
Dive into the songs that have meant the most to Cody’s life in his “Hear’s The Thing” playlist.