The latest full-length from Cordovas, Destiny Hotel is a work of wild poetry and wide-eyed abandon, set to a glorious collision of folk and country and groove-heavy rock-and-roll. In a major creative milestone for the Tennessee-based band—vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Joe Firstman, keyboardist Sevans Henderson, guitarist/vocalist Lucca Soria and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Toby Weaver—the album harnesses the freewheeling energy of their live show more fully than ever, all while lifting their songwriting to a whole new level of sophistication. The result is a batch of songs that ruminate and rhapsodize with equal intensity, inviting endless celebration on the way to transcendence.
Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Rick Parker (Lord Huron, Beck, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), Destiny Hotel expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. Before heading to L.A., Cordovas spent over three months in their second homebase of Todos Santos (an artist community in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula), sketching dozens of songs partly sparked from their voracious reading of authors like mythologist Joseph Campbell, poet/novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. And when it came time for the recording sessions—a frenetic seven-day stretch squeezed in just before stay-at-home orders took effect in response to the global pandemic—the band methodically eliminated any lyrics they deemed inconsequential.
“We wanted to strike the term ‘want’ from our music—to get rid of all the ‘Baby, baby, baby, I want this, I want that,’ and create something more useful,” says Firstman. “We needed to make sure these were songs we’d be proud to sing forever.”
But while Destiny Hotel unfolds in untold revelations on fear and ego and self-liberation, Cordovas offer up that insight without ever slipping into didacticism. In fact, much of the album radiates utter elation, each moment echoing Cordovas’ band-of-brothers kinship and extraordinary closeness: when they’re not touring the world, taking the stage at leading festivals like Stagecoach, Newport Folk and Pickathon, or hosting their own Tropic of Cancer Concert Series down in Todos Santos, Cordovas spend much of their time practicing in the barn at their communal farm home just outside Nashville. “I can’t imagine that many bands rehearse more than we do,” says Firstman, whose wife and young child also live on the farm. “We’re all here together in this wonderful space, and we’re pretty good about never taking it for granted.”
On the lead single to Destiny Hotel, Cordovas channel their unbridled joy into a soul-soothing call for radical openness. With its references to old country revivals and mid-’60s Dylan, “High Feeling” (which features additional production, guitars & mixing from the Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada and additional backing vocals from the Black Pumas’ touring members Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes) speaks to the pure euphoria to be found in shaking off whatever binds you (“Open up your heart, let love come through the door/Open up your mind, that’s what it’s for”). “That’s us telling you directly what to do, and hopefully in a way that’s more like Bob Marley than some New Age guy who thinks he’s saving the world because he’s so in tune,” Firstman points out.
That warmth of spirit endures through all of Destiny Hotel, and shines especially bright on songs like “Do More Good”—a sing-along-ready anthem overflowing with love for folk of all kinds (i.e., “The freaks and the prideful/The peaks and the eyefuls/The ones who just wait ’til their dreams are all stifled/Most too afraid to admit they been lied to”). Adorned with delicate piano work and softly rambling harmonies, “Afraid No More” presents a tender pledge to live free of fear. “In every single way, lack of awareness comes down to fear,” says Firstman. “All drugs are fear, and if we’re a worthwhile collective, then we should be helping each other instead of letting each other deteriorate. It’s a song that we sing to ourselves, because we’re all here to a grand party together.” As the sweetly scrappy counterpart to that statement, “Fine Life” extols the simple pleasures that light up our everyday existence. “It’s the same character as ‘Afraid No More,’ but this is his peace time,” Firstman notes. “He knows he’s that hippie and weed-smoker at heart, and this is his little prayer of gratitude for the good life he’s got.”
In many ways a full-circle moment for Firstman, Destiny Hotel delivers on the promise first glimpsed on his 2003 debut solo album The War of Women (an Atlantic Records-released effort also produced by Parker). “It almost felt like an achievement of sport to come from where I came from and get to Hollywood, write my name on a piece of paper and get this big record deal,” recalls Firstman, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The music that came out of that time didn’t really feel spiritual to me.” Though his solo album brought such triumphs as opening for Willie Nelson, Firstman soon drifted into a period of what he now describes as deliberate self-sabotage, eventually losing his record deal and landing a gig as music director on “Last Call with Carson Daly.” Along with enabling him to collaborate with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington—and to build his house in the then-sleepy beach town of Todos Santos—the “Last Call” job led to another life-changing phenomenon. “At the time I was throwing all these parties like Gatsby up in Hollywood, and this thing started happening where people kept leaving me books,” says Firstman. “I’d made it out to this maddening town with vultures around me everywhere, but these angels kept dropping books off—Letters to a Young Poet, Marcel Proust, Eckhart Tolle. All of that brought me to every thought I have now.”
Since forming in 2011, Cordovas have matched their richly layered reflection to a sound that goes straight to the soul. And on Destiny Hotel, the band made a point of intensifying the body-moving power of their music, with Firstman heading to L.A. several days before the start of the recording sessions and working closely with Parker to shape each track’s pulse and groove. In that process, he tapped into the instinctive sense of rhythm he largely attributes to growing up on hip-hop and R&B back in his hometown. “When I was a kid we used to make up rhymes in class, make up rhymes while walking the street,” Firstman says. “It wasn’t until I started hanging out at the parties in the suburbs with all the white kids drinking Bud Light that I heard the Allman Brothers and saw that there was deep poetry in there, too.”
As one of the most potent tracks on Destiny Hotel, the resolute yet rollicking “Destiny” embodies an essential message that Cordovas carefully threaded all throughout the album: the urgency of living with clarity of purpose and, as Firstman puts it, “breaking free from the false shell.” “It’s something we’re always asking ourselves: what are you doing and why are you doing it? If you can break it down exactly and really get to that why, then you’ll never have to fake anything,” says Firstman. “This is an incredibly important time for artists and mystics and people of all kinds to challenge themselves like that, to gather strength and kill any stagnancy—that way, if someone asks if you can defend what you’re doing, the answer will be a resounding yes.”
About Great Peacock:
Spitting stories of love, loss and pain, Nashville's Great Peacock⎯⎯ comprised of lead singer and guitarist Andrew Nelson, guitarist Blount Floyd, drummer Nick Recio and bass player Frank Keith IV ⎯⎯ challenge the very notion of genre, dismantling tradition and blurring the lines between rock 'n roll, conventional folk music and true Americana. Having earned praise from Paste, the Nashville Scene, American Songwriter, No Depression, Relix and PopMatters, the band ignites a kind of unapologetic spark. As fixtures on the Southern festival circuit including Shakey Knees, they've shared stages with an abundance of equally-minded noise-makers, including Susto, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Cage the Elephant, American Aquarium, Margo Price and Jonathan Tyler.
"I'm a rolling stone / Yeah, I can't sit still," Nelson wails on "One Way Ticket," a prime cut from their upcoming second album, Gran Pavo Real (out Mar. 30 via Ropeadope Records), which is Spanish for Great Peacock. Their craft is instinctual, enlivened by their electric and nimble playing, gripping lyrical insight and Nelson's eviscerating vocals. Their grooves run thick, like on standouts like "Rattlesnake" (a swampy, mid-tempo song that relates addiction to a slithering serpent) and "Heartbreak Comin' Down." They also manage to cut right to the bone, particularly when they deal in restraint. "Take a little time to make things right / Make a little love in the middle of the night," Nelson ruminates on the languid and smokey "Oh Deep Water."
The tension and sweltering unease comes in waves across 10 tracks, often brittle and heartbreaking, other times ferocious and sharp. "A peacock has so many colors, and that's what we want our sound to be like. It's clearly rock 'n roll. It's clearly country. It's clearly folk. There's definitely blues and elements of R&B in there, too," says Nelson.
Recorded at Nashville's Sound Emporium, the album was helmed by industry stalwart Dexter Green (Jason Isbell, Elizabeth Cooke, Derek Hoke). "He brought a strange cosmic energy," says Nelson about Green. "He's sort of indescribable. You have to meet him to know who he is."
The scope of Gran Pavo Real is most remarkable, shifting between the slow-rolling "Hideaway" to the downcast "Let's Get Drunk Tonight" and the yearning of "All I Really Want is You." Spending very little time with overdubs or more than a few takes, the music came together within two days. My Morning Jacket's Tom Blankenship lends his smart musicianship to the entire lineup. Initially, his contribution was on only one song, but he fell in love with the work being made and asked to stay for the whole ride. Accomplished key player Ralph Lofton (Yolanda Adams, Jennifer Holliday) is likewise a prevalent musical force throughout the collection. "Ralph brought some soul to the project," notes Nelson. "It's really great, considering we recorded it live. This record has a real human interaction type soul."
Having grown up in a rather sheltered Pentecostal household in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, Nelson tuned into the only secular music he was allowed to listen to: the local oldies station. "What really got me into music is the blues. When I was a teenager I really liked John Lee Hooker, Freddy King, BB King, and Buddy Guy. I think you can hear these influences in the new songs in some ways. At an early age, I learned how hitting the right chords at the right times could really mess with somebody's emotions."
It wasn't until he was 14 years old that he heard Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" for the first time, and it changed everything. "When I heard the guitar solo, I freaked out. I went downstairs and started playing my brother's guitars when he wasn't home. I taught myself how to play because I loved that song so much. I would get my ass kicked for breaking his strings, though. I had to learn fast, and I knew I wouldn't get a guitar from my parents if I didn't already show some interest or effort."
Later, when he was 18, the next piece of the puzzle fell into place. His father had just passed away, and on the ride home from the funeral, his sister, "who always had really good taste in music," as Nelson remembers it, put on Ryan Adams' "When the Stars Go Blue." The performance crushed him. "I started hearing all the little country influences. I thought it was awesome. I didn't know I liked country music. Then, I went from Ryan straight to George Jones. From that moment on, I became way more obsessed with country music than rock 'n roll."
After college, he moved to Nashville to pursue his musical career and that's where he met bandmate Blount, who "grew up on '90s country." The pair hit it off almost immediately. "We instantly went out and got a case of beer and shotgunned them. We started playing and writing songs together. We found out we sang together pretty well."
Late one night, when they were drunk on Bushwackers, Great Peacock was born. "We jokingly said we were going to start a folk band, and we wrote a song called 'Desert Lark,'" recalls Nelson. Close friends and family raved about what they had nonchalantly created. The band soon became a reality in early 2013, and their debut album Making Ghosts arrived two years later.
On Gran Pavo Real, the band spread their wings and easily glide into bolder territory ⎯⎯ without sacrificing their genre-bending artist stamp, of course. Americana music is a state of mind, a way of living fraught with stories of heartache, lonesomeness, and desperation. That is certainly the case for Great Peacock, whose style is an amalgam of American design bred of southern tradition.
Doors: 7:00 pm | Show: 8:00 pm
Tickets on sale now HERE
$25 Seated Reserved Tickets plus applicable service fees