To hear frontman Cleto Cordero tell it, the inspiration behind Flatland Cavalry‘s new EP, Songs to Keep You Warm, seems a little bit divine.
It was the end of a long touring weekend earlier in 2022, and when Cordero finally got back home to his own bed, he was immediately struck by a near-fully-formed vision for what he wanted the group’s next project to be. “It was like — fall EP — Songs to Keep You Warm — you have that song with Bruce Robinson already, just keep at it,” Cordero recounts to The Boot.
That was “Mountain Song,” a co-write of Cordero’s that dates back to a 2017 tour jaunt through the Pacific Northwest, which he liked at the time, but didn’t immediately plan to record. “I didn’t think anything of it until we got into the studio one day with Bruce, and the recording came out magic,” Cordero explains. So much so that it wound up being one of the first and most essential pieces of the Songs to Keep You Warm puzzle — “Mountain Song” is one of the EP’s leading tracks, but maybe even more importantly, recording it with Robinson at the helm established a sound that Cordero and the band would continue to chase throughout the record-making process.
“I freaking love the way that studio sounds. It’s so pure and warm,” he explains. So when he got the idea to create a collection, he started assembling tracks — some he’d written earlier, some outtakes of other projects, some new — and sent them over to Robinson.
“I remember learning long division in elementary school, and it’s like, you have remainders sometimes. I don’t think they should be cast away, you know?” Cordero notes, speaking about his decision to salvage songs that he’d written for other projects, but never wound up putting out. Once he came up with the vision, the songs that would be right for the project immediately floated to the top of his mind. “And I sent Bruce more than [what ended up on the final track list of Songs to Keep You Warm], there were maybe two extras. It was pretty close.”
Culled from a variety of different writes, project outtakes and life phases over the past few years, the tracks on Songs to Keep You Warm all represent different aspects of the chill of winter, from the visual-driven “Mountain Song” to songs like “If We Said Goodbye,” which Cordero says contains more personal memories of weariness and melancholy.
“I wrote that back when we were quarantining in 2020, and I had just caught COVID,” he remembers. Cordero came honestly by the exhaustion and dreariness that radiates from the song: He was feeling sick when he wrote it, so sick in fact that he started off the write with just fragments of a verse. But the experience taught him the important lesson that even tiny musical snippets can be fleshed out into something more substantial. “That one taught me not to give up on any little fragment of a song, not to be afraid to bring anything to the table. Because that song could have been never written,” he notes.
Not that weariness and exhaustion are the only characteristics of a winter-themed track. Songs to Keep You Warm has coziness and community to share, too underscored by two guest singer-songwriters — Ashley Monroe and Kaitlin Butts (who is Cordero’s wife) — providing backing vocals to “Parallel” and “How Long,” respectively. Cordero got to know Monroe through co-writing, he explains, and took a chance on asking her to sing on “Parallel” after he realized what a great match they made in the writers room. Meanwhile, Butts is a frequent guest star in Flatland Cavalry’s work, and Cordero says she’s “kind of a piece of the DNA” of the band, adding that his producer, Robinson, described her as a “secret weapon” the first time he heard her singing on a Flatland Cavalry track.
And while the songs in this collection might be themed around the hunkered-down winter months, they’ll still have a life live onstage, even once winter passes and the weather warms up again. Flatland Cavalry have a robust touring calendar on the books for 2023, including dates supporting Parker McCollum and Luke Combs, and Cordero says he could see several of these songs finding a place in their live set.
“‘Parallel’ is kind of universal to anything we’ve played forever. It just seems like an upbeat, catchy song,” he relates. “And I wanna start off with ‘Damaged Goods.’ I’m trying to continue to grow as an artist…people come to the show, and they wanna hear their favorite songs, but the artist in me also wants to play what’s current as well.”
He also says he thinks of Songs to Keep You Warm as a kind of halfway point between Flatland Cavalry’s last album, Welcome to Countryland (which came out in the summer of 2021) and their next full-length project.
“We have plans to get into the studio in March,” Cordero hints, “start working on record No. 4.”
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