“Hey man, we just want to throw a party.” These words leave Cordovas creator Joe Firstman’s lips throughout the course of every day, but he says them with the deepest sincerity. Firstman explored his desire to play music at a young age and has never let that desire fall through his hands. Joe makes it his first priority to pursue music and throw a party through that music for anyone who will listen. In recent years, Firstman has claimed his stake in the musical world by cultivating a brilliant band that includes renowned musicians Lucca Soria, Graham Spillman, and Jon Loyd. These men have travelled together as a band of gypsies across and out of the country to forge their own timeless sound.
The moment listeners hear the haunting melodies this band produces, a faint hint of the sound the 1970’s Southern California brigade of bands initiated sweeps them up. However, what separates the Cordovas from another glorified tribute band is the pure modernization of their songs. Their marriage of that enduring, nostalgic sound to the quest of contriving a fresh resonance allows listeners to feel something exhilarating. Those listeners gain a sense of belonging and a desire to partake in Firstman’s party all before the Cordovas are halfway through their set. The Cordovas tribe exudes a profound harmony in their lyrics, composition and general lifestyle. In the words of Joe, “We eat together, we sleep together, we pray together and we f***ing write together. We ride together.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado I present The Cordovas…
Repertoire: How did this band come together and who are the members?
Joe: There is a romantic story behind the inclusion of each member. When I came to Nashville, I started a band. I asked this skinny guy named “Slim” to give me a list of the best musicians in town. Slim actually gave me a comprehensive list of ten musicians with descriptions of each person. Johnny was the first person on the piano list, so I called Johnny and invited him to play. After our first jam I walked up to Johnny and said, “Baby, you’re my musical brother.” Graham lived next to the drug dealer, and Lucca was the main guy in Des Moines, Iowa. Each time we went through Des Moines, the promoter would always set Lucca’s band up to open for us. All of the other bands in Des Moines were very similar to Slip Knot, but the promoter knew we were into more of a Grateful Dead sound, so he paired us with Lucca’s band. That’s how we met each other and the band came together.
R: Let’s talk about your 2011 self-titled album. What was the idea behind this album?
Cordovas: After a lot of work, we recorded that album in one take while we were in L.A. We rehearsed a lot here in Nashville, but there were some friends of Joe that lived in L.A. who could play on the album. Most of those guys had never heard the songs, but sat down and played them for the album as if they were putting on pants. It was that comfortable for them. Rick Parker recorded it, and we quickly laid the tracks down.
As for the live version of that record, we were on tour and realized that the lineup of band members we were playing with at the time were not going to be around for a long time. Johnny and I were the core members of the band, and the rest of the guys were just paid for the shows. We decided that we needed core members at some point in the near future. However, we did get really good at playing the songs on that album as we toured. Our last tour date was set to occur at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville, which is where we cut the live record with Matt Stager recording it. That night we decided to just go for it. We did not care if we broke up after the show; we just wanted to get it recorded.
R: Tell me about the transition for Los Angeles to Nashville between the first and second album?
Joe: The real truth is there was not a huge transition. This place is L.A. There are so many of my friends here now. You know what they say, “When your career goes south, you go south.” Honestly, I’ve been coming here since I was 23. It has become a second home, just one without an ocean.
R: Going into the studio, what is your vision for this next album?
Lucca: The songs really speak for themselves on this album, through their content, message and melodies. Our vision is to have blinding execution in producing the album. I honestly don’t think about a vision too much, because the songs are so straightforward. The vision takes care of itself through the songs.
Joe: Kenneth Pattengale of Milk Carton Kids is producing this album, and they cut their records straight through and live. They go find a church somewhere in the middle of nowhere, they get really good at playing their songs, and they end up capturing their best performance. When we cut our album with him we did forty takes on some songs, which is something I have never done. When we thought we had the best take for a song on this album, we would go ahead and record five more. Kenneth takes the files away with him, whereas I am used to taking the files with me and listening to them fifty times a night. I haven’t even heard the files Kenneth has, so it’s a brand new process for me. We trust him, and we picked him because he said the smartest things and spoke the truth to us. He has been so passionate about and devoted to the album. He understands what were are doing very intimately and is a Zen guru in helping us how to handle our respective aspects of playing the songs. He has a damn good ear and even more patience.
R: Tell us about the songs that will be on this new album.
C: We have been playing out with the songs that will be on this new album. The process of choosing these songs came about last summer when Lucca and I were doing a solo tour. By the fourth or fifth show of that tour I started asking Lucca about some of the songs he was playing. I thought maybe he was playing some obscure Dylan song, but it turned out they were his songs. He had a few songs that became cornerstones for this album, so we started building on them. We planned our writing process very methodically. Our plan was to go to my house in Mexico, write the rest of the songs and rehearse the songs every single day. In January travelled to Mexico, finished the rest of the songs and found our voices as harmony singers. We didn’t care who sang the leads, as long as it was the best guy for the lead part on that particular song. Lucca either doling out finished structures of songs or chunks of clay that we could help sculpt and form into a Mayan sculpture type of song. We even played three gigs a week in Mexico, which was a great place to try the songs out, because the audience in those Mexican bars just want to party. Every band thinks they have the best songs, so we just got really good at playing them and want the songs to speak for themselves.
R: What would you do professionally had you not gone into music?
Graham: I would have been a drug dealer.
Jon: If anything else other than music, I work as a piano tuner. I learned how to tune a piano to support myself financially so that I could continue playing music. It has never occurred to me to stop playing music.
Joe: Maybe I would have been a painter or something. It’s very simple, just do it and never give up. It does not matter what rewards you get along the way, just live your life according to your art. That’s it. Everything else takes second place to that art. It doesn’t matter if you are living under a bridge, did you wake up and do you art that day? The world will take care of you if you do your art. I have never truly thought of doing anything else other than music and I haven’t had any other job since I got a record deal in 2002.
I have a bunch of admiration for this group because of how everyone has put this thing first at all costs. If you divert your time, it is very hard to do it the way that we are doing it, which is 24/7. We eat together, we sleep together, we pray together and we f***ing write together. We ride together. You’re going to see a whole bunch of each other and that is what’s required.
R: What’s the craziest/most potentially illegal thing you’ve done on tour?
C: One night after a New York show we went to the after party at our apartment that we were subleasing, and Graham decided to have relations with a young woman in the hallway. He could have stepped inside the apartment, but he just couldn’t wait. He wanted to seize the day. The neighbors came to see what was going on, and it was bad. Graham had to buy some beer and leave it on the neighbors’ doorsteps as an apology.
Joe: I got arrested a couple of times. One time I got arrested while I was in Texas with a couple of fellow musicians. We pulled up to one of the checkpoints that had just been installed on I-10 on the way from New Mexico. We had an ounce of mushrooms and an ounce of weed in the same bag, but there is a zero tolerance policy in Texas. My one buddy told me he had gotten arrested in Texas for the possession of a pipe, but the other buddy that was with us said he has always driven right through. I decided to listen to the buddy who had not been arrested, and chose to move onward toward the checkpoint. We slowed down and I had my California I.D. hanging out the window ready to drive right on through the checkpoint. However, when we pulled up the security dogs started going crazy and jumping up on the van. We didn’t realize that we had more than that one bag of drugs, which meant that we did not have our weed consolidated. They end up taking us out of the van and handcuffing us to the wall.
The main captain comes in and says, “There’s more weed in the car! Tell me where the weed is, or I am tearing the doors off of that thing!” I told the captain that we were just touring musicians who did not have the mother lode of drugs, and all we wanted to do was to make it to Austin. The captain and other officers start to joke with us, asking us what the effects of mushrooms were and such. We were laughing with those guys. Meanwhile the sheriff ends up having to come down. He was dressed in blue jeans, boots, and a cowboy hat with gun on his side. He shows up and says that he is going to have to call it in to the judge. At this point it is 4am. While the sheriff starts making the call to the judge, the captain walks up to the sheriff and says, “These guys have been very cooperative.” The sheriff continues to relay the weight of the drugs and the other info over the phone, but the captain says again, “These guys have been very cooperative.” The sheriff has the phone in his hand and says, “Okay, less paperwork for me.” He then hangs up the phone while the captain takes our handcuffs off and walks us out. The captain had been saying how his son wanted to learn guitar, so I handed him my backup guitar. We ended up hugging these guys, jumping into the dually and driving away after four hours of apprehension in a zero tolerance state. As we drove away I look into the review mirror and see seven border patrolmen behind us waving. My buddies and I were shocked. When we got to Austin I found the existing joint the dogs kept sniffing out that was hidden in my toothpaste container. That was the greatest joint I’ve ever smoked.
R: What is your go-to movie soundtrack?
Lucca: John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack is great.
Graham: The only soundtrack I have ever bought is the I Heart Huckabees soundtrack.
Jon: I don’t know I have a favorite, but I definitely owned the Dances With Wolves soundtrack in the 90’s.
Joe: I don’t want really watch movies, but The Big Lebowski maybe? Leaving Las Vegas had a great soundtrack with obscure jazz songs on it. Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary has some pretty good music on them.
R: Where is your favorite local spot to hang out when you are not touring?
Joe: I have a spot in every city. I love La Poubelle in L.A. Here in town I like Foobar, or The Family Wash. You can walk into The Family Wash on any given night and see the resident rock stars here. I have also just been introduced to Mickeys, which is fun. We long for a place to call home and have a regular bar.
R: What album could you play on repeat without getting tired of it?
C: I would say Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty is a great one as well. The new record that we have been wearing out is Father John Misty’s new record. After you memorize what you think are all of the lyrics, I invite you to go and look at the lyrics while you are listening. What a total genius.
R: What’s your go-to word in the English dictionary, profane or otherwise?
Lucca: I’ll speak on this. The word I hear the most is the word “crush.” I was introduced to the word upon meeting and spending time with these guys. They use it as a verb, but it can be used in any vocation or situation. It’s a very versatile word.
Joe: I like to say, “We just want to throw a party.” That’s a t-shirt right there.
Catch the Cordovas 5/30 at The Family Wash. See familywash.com for details.