The Cordials embarked on one hell of a musical journey to land at the Whistle Stop Depot.
There was passing through the apocalyptic aftermath of a devastating tornado. There was falling in love with New York and then leaving the city behind. There would've been a stop in Denver, but that plane ticket was abandoned. Don't forget about the lemonade stand. And there was that cop out on Tangerine Road.
The songs on the Cordials' debut album, Not Like Yesterday, play out as vivid stories told through a blend of sounds—pop, rock and country—that reflect the band members' accumulated experience as well as a desire to strike out for somewhere new.
The band—Laura Kepner-Adney (Silver Thread Trio), Courtney Robbins (Seashell Radio), Cristina Williams (the Modeens) and Winston Watson (Greyhound Soul, Saint Maybe)—picked a new venue for unveiling the album. With an aesthetic that combines industrial and whimsical, the Whistle Stop Depot is a converted warehouse just north of downtown. Or, for the Cordials, a blank canvas.
"Whether it was intentional or not, there seems to be this coincidence," Kepner-Adney says. "The first few songs we did I wrote because I wanted to do something different. The title of the album is Not Like Yesterday. We're playing in this new place. It seems to be an over-arcing connection."
The Cordials sprang from a batch of songs Kepner-Adney started writing in early 2011, looking to branch out a bit from the folk music she'd been writing, playing and singing.
"Silver Thread Trio is a very specific type of music and it's really the only project that I have engaged in long-term at that level," she says. "I just wanted to try something different, so I started writing pop songs and not worrying about how complex the lyrics or the chords were, and just tried to write songs as fast as I could."
Kepner-Adney picked up her guitar and showed a song to Robbins, who started jamming along on drums. Something clicked and they played the song over and over. The Cordials then added Williams on bass and the band went to work practicing and learning songs.
"With the Modeens, it's pretty much rock, and as the only girl in that band, I always feel that it brings out a more testosterone-y side of me," Williams says. "Doing this band, I still like to bring that assertiveness to the rock parts, but the harmonies have such a feminine quality in my musical world and I love doing stacked harmonies like that. It's a dream to play with these two and these amazing arrangements."
The Cordials debuted at the Red Room in summer 2011. The band was using drummer Winston Watson's practice space and when Robbins was out of town for a show, they asked Watson to sit in. Robbins felt more comfortable playing guitar anyway and the band became a four-piece, adding a better drummer and lead guitarist with one move. Or, "Two birds, Win-ston," as they say.
"I thought it would be fun to record them because it's really clever pop and they're great guitar players and singers, the three of them. It's a strong band vocally, very strong, and I like that a lot," Watson says. "I've always liked Elastica, with three girls and one guy. With us, it's three beauties and one beast."
The shift happened just a couple of weeks before the Cordials were set to record at Wavelab Studio, not much time for Robbins to work out guitar parts. But the feet-to-the-fire method worked.
"What (Robbins) whipped out was this awesome stuff," Williams says. "Even though it wasn't the ideal amount of time to have, I think it might have ended up better that way."
Most of the songs from Kepner-Adney's early burst of writing stuck around and ended up on the album, along with two Williams compositions. The band has been adding new songs to the live set consistently since recording Not Like Yesterday.
Though the songs range from surf rock to 1970s-style jams to spiky punk and even an album-closing country weeper, the Cordials tie everything together with plenty of three-part harmonies. And though the harmonies are what Kepner-Adney's Silver Thread Trio is known for, she didn't want to shy away from that on the rock album.
"It's been fun to keep that since it's something I really like. It's my comfort zone and it can add a lot to songs," Kepner-Adney says.
The Cordials recorded with Chris Schultz and Craig Schumacher at Wavelab and turned to Fen Ikner for mastering. Ikner, an "honorary Cordial" who contributed guitar, percussion and melodica to the album, will sub for Watson (who is on tour with Saint Maybe) on drums at the release show. The band funded the album through a Kickstarter campaign.
The band settled on the Whistle Stop for its debut as a way to step out of the norm for downtown rock shows but remain accessible to the same crowd. Sun Bones (formerly Boreas, the 2012 TAMMIES Up-And-Coming Artists of the Year) and the Andrew Collberg Band will open the show, with slide guitarist Joe Novelli performing between sets. With its submarine doors, corrugated tin walls, salvaged this-and-that aesthetic and proximity to the train tracks, the Whistle Stop feels like the fitting place for this particular stop on the Cordials' journey.
"It is such an eclectic-looking place. It does kind of reflect the album in a lot of ways," Williams says.
Check out the Tucson Weekly's music blog We Got Cactus on Friday for a song-by-song rundown of the Cordials' Not Like Yesterday album.