Once the Cordovas’ second release That Santa Fe Channel, a narrative reflecting of the Nashville band’s writing sessions in Mexico, was complete in 2018, the band immediately got to work on the next album.
“Writing is in real time,” vocalist Joe Firstman said of the Cordovas’ methodical workings. “The moment I know that an album is going to print and it’s going to happen, I get to work. It took a minute from the time Santa Fe was finished, but the moment that record was done, Destiny Hotel began, and we’ve all been hammering away on that for two years.”
Continuing on the road of Santa Fe‘s lush arrangements through Americana, Destiny Hotel wraps around pages of storytelling adapted from devouring various poets and authors—everyone from spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, mythologist Joseph Campbell, and poet Rainer Maria Rilke—by the band, consisting of Firstman, guitarist and vocalist Lucca Soria, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Toby Weaver, and keyboardist Sevans Henderson.
“It’s everything that any man who’s reading any damn books at all is encountering,” says Firstman. “Once you put all these books and poems and these insights together, they’re all saying the same thing, and that’s what this record is. It’s about a man growing up and trying to serve instead of take.”
Messages of finding redemption, overcoming fears, leaving pettiness behind, and appreciating nature are some of the overriding themes extracted from Destiny Hotel. Opening on the more elated, old country motions of “High Feeling,” through the lighter balladry of “Afraid No More” and more soulful “Man in My Head,” Destiny Hotel keeps an anthemic motion through “Warm Farewells” and “The Game” and closes the narrative on “Do More Good.”
On Destiny Hotel, Cordovas segue into a collection of songs that are less about “wants” and more about fact, what is happening and what has happened already. “The leaves fell down right now, before my eyes,” says Firstman. “They were falling from several different trees all at once, and they were swirling in the wind. It is simply what happened, and that’s what Destiny Hotel is all about.”
In its conscious conception, Firstman says the band wanted to remove all the “wants” from the tracks on the album. “I want this and I want that, and I really fucked it up this time,” says Firstman reflecting on the looser lyrical links he intentionally avoided on Destiny. “It’s just like, ‘oh buddy, nobody cares about that.’ We’re talking about mobilization. Can we at least have themes about opening our minds and our hearts and also trying to figure out how to not be didactic, and tell people what to do in a moral way.”
Once the album was finished, the band passed it round to literary friends and poet friends to work out the album’s title, eventually landing on Destiny Hotel, a balance of conscience and action.
“Your destiny is how you’re going to live,” says Firstman. “There’s something about that conscience once you understand what good is, and I don’t mean like the polarity of good and bad. It’s not that simple black and white. I mean help, equality. Once you understand that and then you ignore it, that’s your conscience. If you don’t know it, then you can’t really blame a man.”
Produced by Rick Parker (Beck, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), who Firstman has been working with since his solo debut, 2002’s Wives Tales, and recorded in Los Angeles prior to the pandemic, Destiny Hotel is a natural continuation of That Santa Fe Channel, deeply textured in fluidly overlapped instrumentation and contemplative stories.
“We put a lot of attention on the arrangements, for sure,” says Firstman. “You won’t find two guys with the guitar position, the same place bar coding, or the same word at the same time. We try to compose super carefully when it comes to stacking things.”
Cordovas is the apex of Firstman’s musical journey, unfolding from the tumultuousness of his earlier solo career to forming the band and releasing their self-titled debut in 2012. Firstman, who worked as bandleader of “Last Call with Carson Daly” from 2005 through 2009, admits that he’s still reflecting on the rocky ride of being signed to Atlantic in 2000 while he was still in his 20s and making some wrong moves.
“I went through quite a rise and fall,” says Joe Firstman. “I went to LA, and so I know about catastrophic failure. The very fact that I put a major label record out and my face was in Times Square and no one ever heard about it is a testament to that failing. So when the first Cordova record come out, the dust of all that Atlantic stuff had just settled, and I’m sitting there like, ‘what the hell just happened?.’ It took a long time to recover.”
Since his earlier days, Firstman says he’s reached a place where the false shell has broken, personally and creatively.
“It’s clean and clear ideas now,” says Firstman. “Picasso was wealthy his whole life and had his eye on the ball. Poorness has been a blessing for me. I lost the ball so much when I got that Atlantic deal, and I had all that money. I lost the ball, but before I got the deal, I was right on the ball with my eye on it. So these last 20 years have forced to say ‘you gotta figure what’s real or you gotta quit, big boy.'”
Still, Firstman says he hasn’t abandoned his solo material—something he’s open to revisiting again one day when the time it right. “I’ve been so hyper focused on Cordovas for a decade that I turned my back on that guy,” says Firstman of his solo career. “I feel bad for him, but that false shell is tough, that fall from Atlantic and some lyric writing that didn’t quite stand the test of time… it’s hard to live down. And I think I’m still trying to live that down.”
Firstman hopes Cordovas can leave Nashville this winter for their annual pilgrimage to Todos Santos, an artist community in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, and play a few shows in the Tropic of Cancer concert series. Right now, he’s content that the doors of Destiny Hotel are finally open.
“We weren’t against putting it out [Destiny Hotel] during all of this,” says Firstman. “Just get it out there. If it’s good, it’ll stay around for long enough.”
Destiny Hotel has an element of timelessness, says Firstman, something that will always be a priority in the Cordovas story now that he has a better eye on the ball.
“We talked about this all the time long before any pandemic,” says Firstman. “It needs to be built to resist any calamity, and any flood, and the songs should still be floating.”