With the Aug. 10 release Cordovas' new album, That Santa Fe Channel — which premieres exclusively below — Joe Firstman is achieving the realization a long-held musical dream.
The North Carolina native, who now resides in a house his girlfriend bought the band in Nashville, started as a solo artist during 2002, then formed Cordovas after his tenure as bandleader on Last Call with Carson Daly. He released a self-titled album with the first incarnation Cordovas during 2011, but That Santa Fe Channel, with a quintet that's been together for the past five years, is, in Firstman's mind, the real thing.
"That first album was just me and our first guitar player and a bunch studio musicians," Firstman tells Billboard. "For this one we had the idea to make it a band and go forward to do it. This one was a more concentrated effort. I saw the weaknesses in that first (solo) process and I recognized that I felt like I was much stronger in the band, with guys that I really trust and are like-minded individuals. I wanted to build something that would last."
While Firstman played a lot jazz or jazz-influenced message during his time with Daly, Cordovas and That Santa Fe Channel are Americana through and through, with a clear-cut influence from traditional country and the Grateful Dead along with rich melodies and tight harmonies. Ironically it's a sound Firstman initially had little interest in pursuing.
"I came out to California when I was 20 to get away from that accent," Firstman recalls. "Then I went to the Hotel Cafe and realized everybody was trying to do Southern music. I was like, 'Wait a minute; That's MY music!' I realized that this IS American music, and now with the touring I've done in Europe and other places I understand I wouldn't be standing here if I weren't from North Carolina. I learned so much, all the natural stuff I didn't have to go and hone — the songs, the way we say our words, all that. That's what's true to me."
Firstman and his Cordovas mates — guitarists Lucca Soria and Toby Weaver, keyboardist Sevans Henderson and drummer Graham Spillman — have been a prolific bunch leading up to That Santa Fe Channel. (The title reflects annual winter writing sessions in Mexico.) The album's nine songs come from a batch 19 that were worked on in East Nashville with producer Kenneth Pattengale the Milk Carton Kids. "We have poets in this band," Firstman says. "We really push ourselves to keep writing." But Firstman did have to learn to step back when it came time to turn on the red light and start recording, letting Pattengale, who was working for free, run the show.
"I pushed him hard and challenged him before that, but ultimately when we pushed 'record' it was his show," Firstman says. "It was about him capturing the vibe. He did a lot simplifications the harmony parts and other ideas. He was the boss and I shut my mouth — the first time I've ever done anything like that in a music studio. And it worked."
Cordovas is a non-stop touring concern and has plenty dates lined up to support the album — including a high-prile support slot the group isn't able to announce yet. Meanwhile the creative process goes on, and having everybody in the same house, which also has a studio, insures that Cordovas is a 24/7 concern for Firstman and company.
"It's all six us and my new baby at one big house, a bit like (The Band's) Big Pink," Firstman says. "I just got home, and everyone’s in the studio practicing. It's all day — everybody eats together, we cook out every night and someone's playing music all the time. It's our spot, and it's all about the work and writing great songs. It's just an ideal situation."
Cordovas – 2018 Summer Tour Dates Aug 8 – Nashville, TN – Grimey’s in-store (5pm CT) Aug 14 – Rockford, IL – Anderson Japanese Gardens Aug 16 – Chicago, IL – Haymarket Americana Concert Series Aug 19 – Chattanooga, TN – The Signal* Aug 23 – Washington, DC – Pearl Street Warehouse Aug 24 – Harrisonburg, VA – Clementine Café Aug 25 – Wise, VA – RTE 23 Music Festival Aug 30 – Ft. Worth, TX – Magnolia Motor Lounge Aug 31 – Helotes, TX – Floore’s Country Store^ Sept 1 – Fredricksburg, TX – Backyard at Fritztown^ Sept 2 – Lewisville, TX – Coyote Drive-In Sept 5 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Tavern Sept 6 – Lexington, KY – The Burl Sept 7 – Chicago, IL – Fitzgerald's Sept 8 – Bowling Green, OH – Black Swamp Arts Festival Sept 9 – St Louis, MO – Off Broadway% Sept 14 – Oak Park, IL – Downtown Oak Park Sept 15 – Nashville, TN – AMERICANAFEST Sept 21-22 – Bristol, TN – Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Sept 28 – Iowa City, IA – Big Grove Brewery Sept 29 – Baileys Harbor, WI – Door Country Brewing Music Hall Oct 4 – Mobile, AL – Saenger Theatre# * w/ JJ Grey and Mro # w/ Blackberry Smoke ^ w/ Charley Crockett % w/ Shinyribs