Many musicians have succumbed to the self-deprecation trend, where their attempts to appear “woke” or “vulnerable” comes across as artificial.
That’s not the case with Cody Frost.
The 23-year-old is a riot during our Zoom interview, casually poking fun at herself as her clown-red hair bustles with every chuckle.
Chalk it up to England’s signature dark sense of humor (Frost hails from the country’s Midlands region) or her general self-awareness, but the queer British alt-pop artist’s unguarded nature bleeds into her debut EP It’s Not Real. Out on July 16, it addresses themes from coping with mental health (“Stomachaches) to giving a middle finger to higher authorities (“Verbal Warnings”) with production by Dan Weller (Enter Shikari, Young Guns, Babymetal). Frost’s music has a DIY approach, harkening back to her teen days of busking in Manchester, which is about 20 miles from her hometown. Then in 2016, she joined Team Boy George on The Voice UK.
“I started picking up writing my journals about five years ago, which is when I started writing. Before that, I’d done the odd song, but I threw it all away because I thought it was lame,” Frost tells SPIN with a laugh. Her wall background is just as bright as her David Bowie-meets-Keith Flint haircut, revealing her girlfriend painted the artwork. “I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation for people who write poetry and singers that put a lot into their lyrics. Lyrics are the most important thing in a song. So I’ve done a lot of analyzing and really taken into account what different musicians that I like do and trying to mimic that.”
Below, Cody Frost speaks with SPIN about growing up in a Gen Z world and how music helps with her ADHD.
SPIN: What was your reasoning for doing The Voice UK?
Cody Frost: So originally my ideal thing would have been to get a band together and do it completely DIY. But where I’m from, there’s not a lot of opportunities. Also, I didn’t grow up super-wealthy. I felt like it was one of the only ways that I could be seen and heard because I busked all the time and I was on YouTube, but it wasn’t giving me what I need.
I definitely needed The Voice to get to where I am in terms of having a following and building my music. That’s how I found my manager, and she put me on to meeting Dan. He totally pulls something out of me that I didn’t know I had. We really bounce off each other, which is really cool. So it was definitely useful, but it wasn’t my favorite way of getting into the music industry.
“(I Should Take) Better Care” immediately drew me in because it’s so raw. You presented feeling like a burden in such an honest way.
Even when I’d sit with a counselor, I still felt like they just didn’t understand the experience that I’ve been through, in terms of being on TV or having a following. But also the way I grew up, I don’t know how to even start to begin to explain what I feel like when I’m sad. I really struggled to articulate. I needed to take the time to properly write it down because when I’m sad, I would just have no words — my head’s empty. So it’s about admitting that you need help. That’s super embarrassing to me sometimes. But if I put in a song, I’ve said it now!
“High/Bye” is relatable because it discusses feeling left behind and comparing yourself to other people’s situations.
I know people always say, “You won’t be friends forever!” But it’s true. A lot of my friends went to university and I just had to get a job ‘cause I failed college multiple times and I just felt completely excluded in more ways than one. So it’s about growing up and just feeling like my whole life used to revolve around this friend group all the time. It’s about learning how to be comfortable on your own.
I’m curious if writing music helps your focus with ADHD.
One of the things with my ADHD is that I struggle to say what I’m thinking a lot. I talk a lot, but it’s not necessarily what I intended to say straight in. So when I sit down and write a song, it’s the only time that I really focused on saying things with intention. It can be frustrating because if I don’t feel like doing something, I find it immensely hard to do it. But at the same time, it makes me concentrate. It just sounds like the excuse machine, having ADHD. But we just have totally different ways of thinking and just for no reason sometimes.
[Writing music] can sometimes be an amazing help because it helps me think outside the box. I’m still learning how to come to terms with it and how to work with it every day. I’ve never been a full-time musician before, so I’ve always had different things to flip to. So it’s just about figuring out how to make sure that I’m doing everything that I need to keep me sane. [Laughs.]
Being part of Gen Z, you’re so self-aware. We millennials had to learn how to adjust to our true selves.
I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve never been really scared to be who I am and I’m really thankful to be able to just brush it off. But at the same time, when I walk through my town center, oh my goodness, nobody’s ever seen a person that looks like me before. [Laughs.] So there’s something a little bit empowering about it in the sense that they’ll never know what it’s like to be totally yourself or be able to have fun. There is something freeing about shaving all your hair off and dressing however the fuck you want. When I had long hair, I just didn’t feel like myself, I spent a long time pretending to be somebody that I wasn’t. Then I finally just stopped because there’s no point. We’re on the internet. We’re constantly being judged all the time. I think a big thing that separates Gen Z from millennials is the fact that we’ve been on the internet since day one and we’ve seen some shit!
Your style is like a punk mix of David Bowie and Boy George.
I’m heavily inspired by musicians. My Chemical Romance was my favorite band of all time. I love the drama of the emo scene and they were talking about things that I felt like nobody else felt. Then I got into Enter Shikari and they write about political things. I also really like ska and reggae. I’m just a big culmination of so many different things. I feel like the alternative community has come back. I was bored by fashion for a long time, but recently things have been getting exciting again, in terms of people going back to doing DIY things like tie-dye, cutting all their shirts up and adding studs to things. I like to pull from different subcultures because I’ve been through every phase possible. So now I just don’t even say what I am. [Laughs.] I’m into fairies at the minute, so I’ve been doing my eyeliner with butterflies.
You’re also a tattoo artist, which is an unexpected side hustle.
I started in 2018 and I’m still learning. For me, art and music have always been completely intertwined. I couldn’t see one without the other. I grew up watching TV shows with tattoo artists and completely idolized them. I just thought that was so cool. Being part of the alternative culture as well, everyone’s covered in tattoos and got their hair done weirdly. So I was just so completely taken by it that I set my sights on it just as much as music. I wanted to be a tattoo artist since I was 13, same with being a singer.
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What are your favorite tattoo styles? That Joker one you did was awesome.
Thank you. I do dot work and creepy, surreal illustrations. I like drawing people, but not a lot of people ask for tattoos on people. So I do a lot of botanical illustrations, like Victorian sketchbook-y stuff. That’s my favorite, but I also like really punk tattoos. The ones that I’ve got myself are all really simple. They’re all done by tattoo artists, but they look like bedroom tats.
This EP is your introduction to listeners outside of the UK, but it doesn’t seem like you want to appeal to a mass market.
I guess as humans, we all care about what people think. If you like it and want to make it your own, that’s the coolest thing ever. But if you don’t want to understand it, I don’t really care. I didn’t even know that some people didn’t write their own songs. That still fucks me up. [Laughs.] I just try to be as honest as I can, because what’s the point if I’m not talking about my own experiences? I could not write about anything else other than what’s in my mind. I’m not going to write something to appeal to anybody. If people relate to that, then they can be part of my group. But if not, that’s also okay. Just go and listen to somebody else.