Stephen Flatt’s ‘El Camino’ Tells a Larger-Than-Life, Danger-Filled Tale [Exclusive Premiere]
Stephen Flatt's debut solo album, Cumberland Bones, collects distinctly southern stories, largely pulled from singer-songwriter's own life and the lives of those around him. "I try to keep it close to the vest and keep it within stories I can relate to," he tells The Boot.
That is not the case, however -- or rather, not entirely the case -- with "El Camino," premiering exclusively on The Boot. The artist calls the sixth of 10 songs on his forthcoming record "a stretch," but also one of the songs that made him want to put this record together.
"I was listening to a lot of Robert Earl Keen when I wrote that song," Flatt explains, "but the genesis of the song is deeper than that."
When he was in high school, Flatt worked at a warehouse, breaking down store fixtures and bringing them back for storage. He had a co-worker whose name Flatt thinks was Gary ("but I can't remember," he admits), who was "probably in his early 40s," and the two worked their assignments together.
"During these drives [to and from the stores], he would always tell me crazy stories about when he was younger, likely just to entertain me, or maybe for me to think he was cool," Flatt recounts. "Nevertheless, they were always crazy and entertaining stories, and they were likely true based on his checkered past and his collection of 'homemade' tattoos."
"El Camino" is, in part, Gary's story -- at least, as he told it to Flatt -- about being a drug runner in his early 20s. "Apparently, he had a fire-engine red Camaro that was really fast," Flatt recalls, "and he would run drugs from Oklahoma down to the south Texas border and back with his buddies. He claimed he was in a number of shootouts and other strange adventures."
Flatt notes that the story in "El Camino" became its own beast as he wrote the song. For example, he shares, "When I started writing the song, I tried to use the words 'red Camaro 1985,' but I couldn't get the phrasing right, so I went with 'red El Camino 1965.' It made it seem more historic and interesting."
"El Camino" is, without doubt, a bluegrass song in both its storytelling and its melody, but Cumberland Bones isn't only a bluegrass album, just as Flatt -- yes, a relative of bluegrass great Lester Flatt on his father's side -- isn't only a bluegrass artist. He's been making music for two decades now: as Americana duo Flatt & Alvis with Shane Alvis in the early-to-mid-2000s and as part of the Tolleson Experiment, a blues-rock band, in the 2010s. When things started winding down with that group in 2019, Flatt finally felt ready to make the solo album he'd been dreaming of for a decade.
"I didn't want to reinvent the wheel ... I didn't want to do a Lester Flatt tribute band. I wanted to do me," Flatt says. "I didn't want to stick to one genre ... but I wanted it to be a purely southern album ... and I wanted to tell a story [about] individuals, personalities, that you deal with in southern society ... You're dealing with a lot of personalities on this album."
Flatt wrote nine of Cumberland Bones' tracks solo ("Satellite" was a co-write with Dustin Headrick) and enlisted talented musicians including Kenny Vaughn, Charlie Cushman, Pete Abbott and Steve Hinson -- Flatt's first guitar teacher -- for sessions that took place in the spring of 2020 at Goodlettsville, Tenn.'s Seven Deadly Sins Studios.
"When you can hire creative pros to play on your stuff -- just the energy and authenticity they bring to an album ... that's pretty magical when it happens," Flatt says.
Flatt co-produced the album with Dave Roe, who also plays and sings on the record.
"I told Dave, 'I don't wanna have just this [one] type of sound," Flatt shares, explaining that he told the band to play in whatever style best suited each song. "If one thing sounds like Tom Petty and one thing sounds like bluegrass or country," he adds, "then I'm gonna do that."
Cumberland Bones is due out on April 16. Get more information at StephenFlatt.com.
LISTEN: 50 Country Albums Everyone Must Hear Before They Die