Interview: Flatland Cavalry’s ‘Welcome to Countryland’ Celebrates the Genre’s Variety
Flatland Cavalry vocalist and co-founder Cleto Cordero knows he and his bandmates have seen more than most people.
Now approaching a decade together as a band, Cordero, drummer and fellow co-founder Jason Albers, guitarist Reid Dillon, multi-instrumentalist Adam Gallegos and bassist Jonathan Saenz first hit the road together as fresh college graduates (fiddler and Wesley Hall replaced original member Laura Jane in 2018). "We saw all these different, beautiful things and met so many people," Cordero reflects, "and it really opened my eyes that ... like, we're all the same critter, if you will, but everyone sees things different because they grew up in different places."
Cordero himself is the son of a dual-citizen mother born in Mexico and a father who lived in the border town of Redford, Texas. He grew up listening to country radio, but also with his uncle ("My tio, if you will") teaching him Spanish songs.
"That is country music, but just a different shade of country music, and a different place," Cordero notes, and as Flatland Cavalry have toured, they've familiarized themselves with the "different shades" of country music that exist around the United States.
So when Cordero shared a first draft of "Country Is ..." — the first of 14 songs on Flatland Cavalry's new album, Welcome to Countryland — that largely focused on what country music is to him sonically, producer Jake Gear offered a reminder that it isn't only about what something sounds like, but "about what you write about."
"It's about family and love and hard work and relationships and storytelling," Cordero remembers Gear telling him.
It's appropriate, then, that Welcome to Countryland, released on Friday (July 2), offers a little bit of everything, sonically speaking: "Tilt Your Chair Back" is a little bit sparse Willie Nelson storytelling. "Off Broadway" leans into Americana. " "No Ace in the Hole" rocks out a bit. Cordero's wife, Oklahoma-bred singer-songwriter Kaitlin Butts, sings on the record — but so, too, does Nashville darling Hailey Whitters, on a song co-written by "Things a Man Ought to Know" singer Lainey Wilson.
There's also "A Cowboy Knows How," a song co-written by none other than Luke Combs. Flatland Cavalry opened for Combs in late 2019 — a role they'll reprise later this year — because he likes their music, but that gig landed them a spot on Combs' manager's roster and, later, this Combs-Dan Isbell-Jonathan Singleton cut. Cordero says Combs knew the song wasn't right for him, but thought it might be right for them.
"The first time I heard it, it reminded me of kind of Eagles-y sounding — like "Take It Easy" or something. It kind of had that vibe to me," Cordero says. It's the band's first-ever outside cut.
"The fact that ... the biggest act in country music is like, 'Hey, I wrote this song, but I think you guys should cut it,' and it seemed genuine and authentic and organic ... That's just a crazy, cool opportunity," Cordero continues, clarifying that the song earned a spot on Welcome to Countryland because it fit with the rest of the album, not just because Combs wrote it.
"I still think it's crazy, right here, right now, that it was written by Luke," Cordero adds. "I just think that's so — like, what are the chances of that? If you'd asked me that a year before, two years ..."
As they prepare to enter their second decade together, Flatland Cavalry are, one by one, making their way to Nashville. Albers, Cordero, Dillon and Saenz are all in town now, and Hall and Gallegos "will follow eventually," Cordero says. It's the first time in a while that they'll all be living in the same city.
"Yeah, there is a — I don't know if 'stigma' is the right word, but people are kind of weary of Texas artists moving to Nashville and 'selling out' or changing," Cordero acknowledges, "... but also, that's kind of fear based, and I don't want to live my life in fear.
"We're in control of the music we make and the people that we choose to be, and so if we're moving to a new place for opportunity and to learn and grow as artists and songwriters and musicians, then it's a pretty great place to be, you know?" he adds. "It wasn't like a thing like, 'Oh, let's just move to Nashville and, like, sign a deal' and just echo how everyone thinks it works ... We're just kind of taking a leap of faith."
In a way, Cordero sees this new chapter as reminiscent of the band's early days. "We still have the youthful spirit and everything ... whatever that feeling of discovery was," he says.
"I think," he concludes, "it's going to be a lot the beginning of something really new and great again."
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