Flatland Cavalry press photo
Fernando Garcia

Flatland Cavalry Find A Silver Lining in Life’s Hard Times on ‘Songs To Keep You Warm’

The world is a wicked and unforgiving place. Regardless of how it's often glamorized, life on the road as a touring musician can often be one of the most physically and mentally draining places to be. Such was the case for Flatland Cavalry's Cleto Cordero, who came up with the concept of the band's forthcoming Songs To Keep You Warm EP, out Oct. 28, while laying in bed at his Nashville home in disarray after finishing up a strenuous weeks-long tour. Having never released music in the fall before, he sees these new songs as a way to lift listeners' spirits and keep them warm—as the title suggests — as colder weather approaches.

"Summer is gone and festival season is wrapping up. People aren't fist bumping and slinging beers, they're making chili, watching Netflix and having a little fire outside," Cordero tells Wide Open Country. "All of these songs fit well into the seasonal changes by touching on the change in weather and emotions that accompany it."

A trademark example of this comes on the project's lead track "Mountain Song," a picturesque ballad about a mountain town that the band found comfort in while passing through on tour in 2017. Having drown up in the desolate flatlands of West Texas, Cordero's wonder of the natural beauty surrounding him can be heard throughout the heartwarming song as he sings of "stars a burnin," "pine street campfires" and a river that serves to "wash me clean, keep my sins at bay."

However, while "Mountain Song" finds comfort in nearby natural beauty, most of the record's compositions channel warmth through struggle and self-reflection. Take "Damaged Goods," for example, a song that combines both into a story about feeling broken down but not knowing why.

On the song Cordero documents the fallout from his first love, laying out how how it left him lacking self worth in its aftermath while also reminiscing on the good memories he has from it, singing:

"If you were still around you might make me feel
Like I used to way back when
If you were still around I'd feel just like I should
And not so much like damaged goods"

"Sometimes our lens gets dirty and we can't see our reflection for what it really is," says Cordero. "That song is about an old love from back when I was 17 and had never loved anyone before. I felt f*****g alive back then, but things eventually took a 180 when the relationship went sour. That being said, there's still a sweetness that I look back on those times with despite how low down and dejected I felt in the end."

Similarly, "How Long" — a co-write with Southerland exploring the difficulties of getting over a broken heart featuring Cordero's wife, Kaitlin Butts — and "If We Said Goodbye." According to Cordero, the latter is another tale of young love turned cold that he looks back on in a positive, warming light. 

The product of a writing session with Dan Isbell (Luke Combs, Callista Clark), the song leans heavily into Cordero's college-aged escapades in New Braunfels, Texas that saw him turning to river floats and truck rides with a beer in hand to numb the sorrows stemming from a girl who left him standing in the driveway dust as she drove off without saying goodbye. The songs serves as a reminder that some things aren't enough for some and that the best of intentions don't always yield the brightest outcomes, which Cordero touches on in the opening as he sings:

"The beer is hot, the folks are cold
The night is young and I feel old
I tried and tried to no avail
You gave me your heart and it went to hell"

"I didn't have a girlfriend back then," says Cordero. "I was going through a heartache phase in search of love in a lot of iffy relationships. Similar to 'Damaged Goods,' it comes from bad relationships that left me feeling sorry for myself in the back of a truck."

Now wed to the aforementioned Butts, Cordero speaks of the couple's unbreakable bond despite the countless miles often between them on "Parallel." The last cut written for the EP, "Parallels" features vocalist Ashley Monroe and explores how the two's parallel mindsets of being working musicians with big aspirations that often have them touring separate from one another actually bring them closer together rather than further apart.

"She literally has the same dream that I have," says Cordero. "She knows that I'm out here working and not messing around because we're both doing the same thing. It's given us a lot of empathy toward one another and makes it that much sweeter when we are able to be together in the same place."

In addition to channeling warmth on the EP through his own experiences and troubles, Cordero also heavily leans into literary influences in his writing. He says that Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft has been instrumental in shaping his preparation and work ethic going into co-writing sessions in Nashville, a circumstance that ended up producing most of the material on Songs To Keep You Warm. In regards to songs like EP closer "Show Me Now Which Way To Go," he says the thesaurus and its "whistling in the dark" idiom for courage played heavily into the song's direction.

"Most great writers read a bunch themselves, but I hadn't opened up a book since high school until I texted Evan Felker [of Turnpike Troubadours], who also reads a lot, about what to read that'll help inspire my own writing. He told me to check out Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man And The Sea and from then on I was hooked. Not only is reading peaceful, but it helps to prime my subconscious with images that I'm able to unlock like a word puzzle when sitting down to write my own songs."

In the end, Cordero's goal for Songs To Keep You Warm is to show people that they aren't alone in their struggles and insecurities. It also illustrates how we all can benefit from an open and honest dialogue where people empathize with one another and don't stigmatize things like mental health. 

At a time where much of the mainstream country world wants to shy away from the sad songs that made it what it is today in favor of happy-go-lucky tunes about chugging beers, hunting and watching the big game, Flatland Cavalry shows that sad songs still cut deep for a lot of fans of the genre while also serving as a rallying cry for reflection and better times ahead.

"I hope people realize through these songs that they're not alone in feeling sad and that it's possible to channel the sadness you feel into something beautiful," says Cordero. "This time of the year is always a season of reflection, and I think the warmth contained in these six songs exemplify the growth that comes with that."

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