As the full scope of the coronavirus pandemic was becoming evident in the early weeks of March, the Cordovas were in the studio putting the final touches on their new album, Destiny Hotel.
”Getting it all recorded in the week before the lockdown was just luck or whatever you want to call it,” says Cordovas’ frontman and multi-instrumentalist, Joe Firstman. “We were pretty much thinking about songs that could withstand a calamity anyway. We wanted them to be durable, to withstand a flood. When I was listening to the final mixes just as the lockdown was beginning, I was feeling we had accomplished that.”
Destiny Hotel is a free-wheeling celebration of the truly important things in life — love, friendship, and the refusal to allow fear to overwhelm our better natures. It’s a timely and timeless release for a world that seems poised on the precipice. While the consequences of a global pandemic may have been below the horizon when the songs were written, they play well with our current moment as a background.
“You have a lot of musicians who are fighting their way through [challenging times] right now, so I can see how it would be a common theme,” Firstman says. “Party songs seem stupid right now.”
Firstman understands challenging times all too well. His musical career has been a story of high and lows. “Once upon a time I took a Greyhound to Hollywood,” he says. “Got a record deal and had a huge rise and an even faster, longer fall.”
After two critically acclaimed records for Atlantic records in 2003, Firstman landed what seemed like a dream job as the bandleader for the NBC late-night talk show, Last Call with Carson Daly, but as he would learn, dreams have a finite duration.
“When I got into television I thought it was going to go on forever but somewhere in the middle it started to dawn on me that it was going to go away,” Firstman says. “So I built a tiny little beach house with some of that TV money just in case I was homeless. And I was. After the TV show gig [which ended in 2009], when I would tour in the states I was living in my truck. But I felt like a king when I could return to Mexico and go to my little surf shack. It kept me alive.”
Every record is a little bit more of that false shell crumbling off and a little bit more of the true person. That’s the goal. We’re more into taking a snapshot of life. Who you were, how you looked, what you were thinking at that time.
While Firstman’s seaside hacienda provided a place of relief and solace, he would eventually find a second home in Nashville. Moving here in 2011, he formed the first version of the Cordovas and released the group’s debut, self-titled album. Influenced by both the music and communal everything-for-the-music lifestyles of classic groups like The Band, the Grateful Dead, and The Allman Brothers Band, the line-up of the Cordovas eventually solidified into Firstman, keyboardist Sevans Henderson, guitarist/vocalist Lucca Soria, and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Toby Weaver — who share living quarters and practice space on a small farm outside of Madison, Tennessee.
“It was never an option for me to rehearse at a place across town where I’m renting by the hour and have to drive through Nashville traffic to get there,” Firstman says. “I’m not doing that. I’d rather be on the beach in Baja. What you have to do is forgo all, sleep in the nooks and crannies of life, and rehearse your damn band.”
That dedication to making music as a way … no, scratch that, THE way of life … has led to an impressive run of recordings by the Cordovas. The songs on Destiny Hotel roll out of the Cordovas in a natural, organic way like flowing water in a shady country creek. From the front porch, cosmic cowboy swing of opener “High Feeling” to the closing anthem of universal brotherhood on “Do More Good,” Destiny Hotel doesn’t capture crafted performances; rather, it’s a series of natural, musical moments shared across time — an approach to creation that rejects the idea of creating a singular “masterpiece.” Instead, it embraces the idea that each piece of art is another step in the journey.
“Every record is a little bit more of that false shell crumbling off and a little bit more of the true person,” Firstman says. “That’s the goal. We’re more into taking a snapshot of life. Who you were, how you looked, what you were thinking at that time.”
As for marketing a record during a global pandemic, the Cordovas’ communal-style of living and creating has led to some unique opportunities, even in a time when live venues are closed and conventional touring is definitely off the schedule.
“We all live here so getting together is not an event,” Firstman says. “We put up a back curtain, made a studio, and we’ve made 87 live streams this year. At the end of the week, we’re walking home with close to the same amount of money [as if we were on tour].”
For the Cordovas, the music comes first, before any other considerations. As Firstman points out, music, like flowing water, will always find its way.
“Artists will find somewhere to play,” he says. “You don’t need a club owner and a tattooed guy with his arms crossed. We don’t need anything. We’re gonna find a way to play. Bluegrass dudes are gonna set up on the front porch and play. There’s gonna be jazz in Inglewood, California. It’s gonna happen.”
Cordovas’ Destiny Hotel is available now on ATO Records
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