For Chart Topping Indie Band Flatland Cavalry, Country Is as Country Does

Hitting Number One on iTunes, their Welcome to Countryland album celebrates the all-emcompassing scope of country music.

For Chart Topping Indie Band Flatland Cavalry, Country Is as Country Does
Flatland Cavalry; Photo credit: Fernando Garcia

With their just-released second album, Welcome to Countryland, indie band Flatland Cavalry have quite loudly hit Number One on the iTunes Country Albums chart. The news once again proves that country music (and country success) comes in all shapes and sizes — just like the people who inspire it. And with a holistic approach to that diversity-rocks ethos, the Texas-bred band of brothers don’t just talk their talk. They walk the walk.

Featuring a wide-ranging sound that samples each corner of country culture, from string-bending honky tonk to poetic cowboy ballads and pop-driven anthems, the band stitch together a tapestry of country music — as seen group of proud roots outsiders. Led by a latino lead singer and embracing the DIY outlaw spirit, Flatland Cavalry don’t always fit the mainstream-country mold. But molds all break eventually.

“I don’t look like I should be singing country music,” front man Cleto Cordero explains. “But country is more than that. It’s storytelling, and family, and a million other things. If your ears are open, it’s more than what it looks like.”

Formed in 2012, Flatland Cavalry is currently making a move to Nashville and has some big things in store, with upcoming tour dates scheduled with superstar Luke Combs and fellow Texan transplant Parker McCollum. Their second album, Welcome to Countryland, is out now and features a guest appearance by Hailey Whitters (plus a song co-written by Combs), and Cordero spoke with Sounds Like Nashville about what the record says … and how the pandemic made its primary message so much clearer.

SLN: You guys hit Number One on the iTunes Country Album chart with Welcome to Countryland, and that will definitely turned some heads, since you did it independently. It’s your second album, and most of the songs were written over Zoom during the pandemic, so how much of a creative shift does it represent?

Cordero: “It was kind of a leap of faith, like ‘Alright, I guess I’m gonna make another record — even though the world’s on fire.’ [Laughs] I’m just excited for people to have a whole album to listen to, like a celebration of ‘Hey, we made it through this thing together.’

“It sounds cliché, but I really think we are a better band after this whole thing, with us spending time apart and with our families. Everyone grew in their own instrument and beyond, so sonically, we have a few elements that we didn’t have in other records.”

How so?

“With this record in particular, us guys traveling across the country for years, I think we saw the country and then it showed up in the songs. The idea of Welcome to Countryland is that country is not just honky tonk from Texas, not just bluegrass. To me it’s everything. I’ve seen the whole country and to me it sounds different, so let’s try to show that.”

Listening to the album, it sounds like you looked at it like a patchwork — just like the U.S. itself. Is each track like a different region?

“Yeah, totally. I grew up listening to the radio, so there’s obviously a pop element to country and what we do – like Tom Petty: Don’t bore us, get to the chorus. But there’s also influence from Kris Kristofferson and John Prine on a song like ‘Fallen Star.’ … A song like ‘Round Here Again,’ to me that sounds like Alabama’s ‘Mountain Music.’ ‘Tip Your Chair Back’ is like Willie Nelson, ‘Daydreamer’ is like electric bluegrass or cosmic country. ‘Dance Around the Fire’ is very southern rock. ‘On Broadway’ is Americana, just all the different things we’ve seen if they were brought to life. …

“I always consider country to be just like the hook of our first song on the album — Country is what country means to you. Then you turn the corner with ‘Ace In the Hole,’ and it’s got fiddle and sounds like Mad Max driving music, but it’s still country.”

Right, with that first track, “Country Is,” the whole idea is that country is more like a state of mind than anything. But you guys sound like the archetypical country band anyway. Why did you feel moved to say that?

“Country music is not just what it sounds like, it’s what it means. It’s hard work and love, family and all this stuff. … I’m Hispanic, and I’m not making it about prejudice, but with my experience, I’ve learned that country isn’t what you dress like or how you look. Like, people actually told me at a rodeo that I wasn’t a real cowboy because my hat didn’t fit my head right, and my pants were too tight. And I was like ‘Man, do I have a song I’d love to play for you.’

“It’s because of stuff like that. It’s honestly to say ‘Hey, anybody who does think that their brand of country is better or cooler?’ This is about saying ‘No, it’s not.'”

You’ll be touring a bit with Luke Combs and Parker McCollum this summer. How have post-pandemic crowds been so far?

It’s been very positive. It’s kind of a recalibration, like people are coming to the show with different expectations and not taking it for granted. And that goes for us, too. We’re grateful we get to do it again, and we show up with more excitement. We’ve had some really good shows already as we get back into it, so I imagine at the bigger levels, if we’re the ring leaders of the good time up there, hopefully that oozes into the crowd all the way to the back row.

What do you hope listeners get from Welcome to Countryland?

Hope floats, they say. Last year was a different situation and people’s kindness really got us through. It made me realize that people really need music, and it made me want to create something beautiful to give to them on the other side of this. I hope people get the message as they listen that it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s an uplifting, feel-good album, but it has it’s corners of thoughtfulness where it makes you think. Whether they ever get the idea that we wanted every song to sound like a different thing, I don’t know. But I hope they enjoy it, like a remedy to a very odd year.