Cody Johnson finished his Ain't Nothin' to It album and waited. Record labels had come calling before, and he rightly thought this record would also draw attention — but he was happy living on mainstream's fringes as an independent artist.

Texas radio airplay and his reputation as a lively country cowboy allowed the Sebastopol native to sell out shows from Manhattan to Sacramento. It was a good life that provide more than comfort for himself, wife Brandi and their daughters. When three labels knocked,  his team found themselves with something very few "new" artists have: leverage.

"We had our lawyer draw up a contract that basically said, 'I do want those masters, I do want my publishing. I will not give up this, I will not give up that," the 31-year-old revealed to Taste of Country last fall. "He kinda laughed and said, 'Good luck getting that signed.'"

Spoiler alert: Johnson got it signed. The new album (released Jan. 18) is the first on a revolutionary agreement between a new artist and record label (Warner Music Nashville), but it speaks to the singer's devout authenticity and maybe stubbornness. You'll hear both as the "On My Way to You" singer talks about some of the album's signature songs, his fans and his time as a maximum security prison guard and bull rider, the latter of which inspired "Dear Rodeo."

His Path to Nashville:

"I think the quintessential thing is, kid moves to Nashville, does the bar scene, gets a record deal, gets a single out then gets the fans and then goes on tour. For me it's been the complete opposite. And I don't mean that to be condescending. It's always just timing has never allowed it be anything other than go out and play. Go play, go play, go play, and wherever they might play you on the radio, make sure you play there."

Watch Cody Johnson's' Live Version of "On My Way to You"

On Authenticity:

"I've been asked questions like, 'Have you put any thought into your image?' I don't believe in an image. This is just who I am. I said this to one of my friends not long ago, I said I love Florida Georgia Line because they do what they do so well that you can't fake it. If I tried to do that, it would look stupid. But I'd be willing to bet if they tried to do what I did, it'd probably look just as stupid. I can't be something I'm not."

A Message for His Fans:

"The single comes out ... and somebody says on socials, 'I can already hear the change. Nashville is already changing him.' There’s no reason to fight that one person. My message to everybody and anybody that thinks partnering with Warner is going to change me or my music in any way is, stick around and watch. Buy a ticket. Come to a show. Ask me in five years."

The Story of "Fenceposts":

"We went through like 500 or 600 songs just riding on the bus. 'Fenceposts' was a bluegrassy thing, and we were looking for something that had that bluegrass feel without going full-blown Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, you know. It happens to be, ironically enough, the story of me and my wife and our little 25-acre farm back in Texas. It was solid woods and it was a good price and we showed up and walked through the woods and said, 'Man, I can see a house right here. Baby, this is where we could do it.' It was just so crazy when we heard the lyrical content of the song. She's got tears in her eyes, I got them in my eyes, so it's like well, that's a no-brainer. If mama likes it, I do too."

"Dear Rodeo," a Different Kind of Love Song:

"I felt like it was a divorce. I felt like whenever I quit, it was like a divorce. I just never wanted to think about it again and Dan said, 'Well, let’s write to her.' Myself and Dan Couch sat down, per some prompting from Scott Gunnar my A&R and publishing. He said, 'I feel like there's a side of you you've never dealt with. You've never actually addressed the open wound that is you don't have that dream anymore.'

Dan said, let's write to her — but we wanted it to be in a way that if you've never rodeoed, you can still relate that to something in your life."

The Things You Learn as a Prison Guard:

"I think it's the kind of emotion that as a society, we try to block out and we try to navigate around manipulation and selfishness and evil. Those things are out there. There are bad parts of emotion and there are bad parts of this world and you do have to have your guard up as a father, as a husband, as a business owner. You have to keep your guard up. In order to have that, you have to live in a place where I live, where everything is good. You have to have that balance. Everything's not all frills and rainbows and you can't say the world is all bad. You have to have that balance. There are good memories I have working at the prison, which is a horrible place. So you find that balance and you also find a way to stick your chest out to the world a little bit too."

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