Interview and video: Texas country band Flatland Cavalry’s Cleto Cordero talks new album ‘Homeland Insecurity,’ engagement to Oklahoma singer Kaitlin Butts and tonight’s OKC show with Casey Donahew and Jason Boland & the Stragglers

A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Calling in the Cavalry: Texas country band Flatland Cavalry touring into OKC with new album ‘Homeland Insecurity’

Frontman Cleto Cordero admits that even his bandmates weren’t initially sold on the idea of calling Flatland Cavalry’s sophomore album “Homeland Insecurity.”

“They didn’t like it. They thought it was political. … Anytime you voice your opinion — or put your heart or art out there — people are gonna say whatever they want. It doesn’t matter. You created something, and it’s what you thought, you wanted to say. And you stand by it. It is what it is,” said Cordero, 27, the bandleader and primary songwriter for the Lubbock, Texas-based country-folk band.

“All the songs I was writing had this insecure kind of feel to them. … ‘Living By Moonlight,’ is a song about ‘I’ve hung out at this bar for a long time,’ and then you start looking around you and the people around you never left the bar whenever they were my age and they’re still here. … And you realize, ‘I don’t want to be here 15 years from now.’ You have that song and you have ‘Pretty Women,’ which is about women feeling insecure of who they are because somebody hurt them a long time ago and kind of rocked their world.

“All the songs kind of had to do with this sense of ‘What is life all about? Why are we here? Why do I feel the way I do about things?’”

Flatland Cavalry – Cordero, lead vocals and guitar; Reid Dillion, electric guitar; Jonathan Saenz, bass; Jason Albers, percussion; and newest member Wesley Hall, fiddle;  – is circling back to Oklahoma to join the lineup of Texas country and Oklahoma red dirt bands performing Friday night at Oklahoma City’s Zoo Amphitheatre.

Texan Casey Donahew is headlining the show, stepping in for Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours, who announced in May they were going on indefinite hiatus. Along with Flatland Cavalry, the bill also includes Jason Boland & the Stragglers and Giovannie & the Hired Guns.

“I really adore Jason Boland. I think he’s a great writer and has an incredible band. Casey Donahew I grew up listening to in Texas. It will be a rowdy show,” Cordero said last week by phone from Tulsa, where Flatland Cavalry was headlining historic Cain’s Ballroom for the first time.

Making new music

Released in January, “Homeland Insecurity” follows Flatland Cavalry’s breakthrough 2016 debut LP “Humble Folks” and initial 2015 EP “Come May.” The intriguing title comes from a lyric in the new album’s anthemic closing track, “Years from Now.”

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“In the time from then to now, we’ve kind of grown a lot as people and musicians and storytellers. …So, the songs are a little bit of a different timbre and caliber. It has been an interesting because folks always talk about the sophomore slump and stuff, and you can let that get in your head. But I think we’ve kind of rolled with everything pretty good, and we have a nice fan base that appreciates the old stuff and this new record. And it’s been really fun to play live honestly,” Cordero said. “I know for sure that if someone looked me in the eye, I could tell them I poured my soul out again onto the paper.”

Still, he said the band learned firsthand with its second LP the challenges of writing and recording new music in the midst of relentless touring. For “Homeland Insecurity” Flatland Cavalry returned to its home base of Lubbock to reunite with “Humble Folks” producer Scott Faris at Amusement Park Studio.

“The first one … you had your whole life to write it, and so after that, you have 18 months, 24 months, people, however long their attention spans are. … I think really that’s when you kind of realize if you think you have it in you or not. And it’s not about meeting demands or making people happy. You’ve already proven that you can create songs and create art and stuff, and it’s just now, I think, cultivating the artist within you,” Cordero said.

“Thinking about it sometimes, I go back to the vortex of what it was to create it, and it was kind of just a madness, honestly,” he added, borrowing the term “vortex” from Faris. “You go out on the road on a run, you’re gone two or three weeks, you don’t even know what day it is, what month it is … while trying to create and then hopping back in the studio right when you’re off the road. You kind of just live day-to-day honestly. Moment to moment.”

Going the distance

For Cordero, one of the changes in his life is his recent engagement to Oklahoma red-dirt singer-songwriter Kaitlin Butts, the native Tulsan who sweetly sang with him on the Flatland Cavalry ballad “A Life Where We Work Out.” Although Butts initially moved to Texas to be closer to her fiancé, this month she relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, to work with a publisher and develop her own country music career.

“Everything that I have – I have a manager, a booking agent, merchandise, all that stuff that helps to keep you on road – she has to do it all by herself. She just needs a team, and I think that’s the best land of opportunity for her to make a record. … I think she’s talented enough to be a Nashville star, but that’s not what it’s about. I just think that’s what she needs to do, to go over there to see what’s in her and to put out beautiful music. I support her. I don’t care if she wants to move to Canada to make music if that’s what makes her happy,” Cordero said.

“That was the big kind of threshold we had to cross over in our relationship. She was like, ‘Could you move there?’ … and I was like, ‘No, my place is here in Texas for right now. I mean, my life is based here and everything.’ But we started off three years long distance, so the distance just is what it is. But it’s just another chapter in your life; it’s not forever.”

Both of them will be spending much of the fall on tour, including a road reunion in Oklahoma Sept. 19-21 during Tahlequah’s Medicine Stone music and camping festival. As Flatland Cavalry has trekked in support of “Homeland Insecurity,” Cordero said it has been gratifying to have fans sing along with the new music.

“I think our fans have grown kind of with us as well. The first EP is kind of young and about love, summertime love, and all the kind of youthful encounters you run into. From that to ‘Homeland Insecurity,’ there’s deeper songs like ‘Pretty Women’ and ‘Years from Now’ and ‘Living By Moonlight,’ stuff that you can tell they relate to that, too. It’s a different sound. It’s not as fun as ‘Tall City Blues’ or ‘One I Want’ or something. … At the shows, it doesn’t matter what song we’re playing, a lot of people are singing along to every word, which I think is really moving,” he said.

“You start playing music and then you get on the road and you’re touring all the time, you can forget what it’s even all about. But I think going out there each night, when people are singing the songs, it’s not about like, ‘Oh, they’re singing your songs; pat yourself on the back.’ It’s like, ‘No, we’re here together.’ People, they picked up that vibration and it’s not so much about you – it’s about them. And that to me is what makes it rewarding: We can provide a service every night, to offer up our talents and our voices and our songs. And hopefully, people leave a little bit happier than when they walked in.”


Casey Donahew

With: Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Flatland Cavalry and Giovannie & the Hired Guns.

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Zoo Amphitheatre, 2101 NE 50.

Tickets and information: