Brent Cobb can sure tell a story.
Whether recalling his musical origins, retelling old family tales, or speaking on the creative process, the rising country artist pulls you in with his unique combination of intrigue and authenticity. And that storytelling prowess is on full display in 2018 album “Providence Canyon,” explored here.
Discover all about how he crafted that record, one having “a shit-ton of soul” according to Rolling Stone, along with the surprising prompt behind “Ain’t A Road Too Long,” and the tragic tale leading to “King of Alabama.”
Interviews: Brent Cobb, Dave Cobb (Producer), Don VanCleave (Management), Mike Harris (Guitarist), Phil Towns (Keyboardist).
Jesse Cannon: Hi. My name is Jesse Cannon, and I’ve devoted my life to trying to go deep and figure out what goes into making great records. I’ve produced over 1000 albums, written two books and recorded hundreds of podcasts pursuing the hidden secrets of how great music gets to the worlds ears. Now I’m proud to present to you Atlantic Records’ Inside the Album podcast, where we get to go deeper on how some of Atlantic’s artists have made the amazing songs on their catalog. We will hear firsthand from the artists of the team behind them that helped craft this amazing music and get to know the little secrets that go into making an amazing album.
On this episode, we’re going to go deep on Brent Cobb’s new record “Providence Canyon.” Brent Cobb is one of country’s most honest storytellers. While it’s said often, he’s a one of a kind guy, you’ll hear everyone throughout this podcast reiterate that. When you enter the room with so many singers who’ve gotten as far as he has, you’re taken with the fact that they’ve developed a skill set to become really likable so that people take to them and want to help them. Brent is not that. He’s a person who seems only capable of being who he is and staying true to himself and thankfully that person is really likable, interesting and a hell of a nice guy. Throughout this episode you’re going to hear me laugh and be really engaged with the stories he tells.
To give you some background on him, Brent Burst onto the scene with his 2006 debut, “No Place Left to Leave.” Around that time he made his way over to Music Row in Nashville, writing songs for Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryant, Little Big Town and tons of others. He became a part of his cousin Dave Cobb’s Low Country sound label. Then released his sophomore record, “Shine On Rainy Day,” to much acclaim. This spring Atlantic Records released his newest record, “Providence Canyon,” which continues his masterful storytelling with a record full of strong grooves and country songs that are unique in their rocking character. Before we get too far let’s let some of the people closest to him tell the story. Starting with Brent himself.
Brent Cobb: Man, it’s a long story. It all started with my family always played music. Music was always considered a trade just as practical as going to school for heat and air or something, which my dad did do. But part of our income was him playing on the weekends. He’d open shows. There was this place called the Silver Moon in Buena Vista, Georgia. He’d open shows anytime they had George Jones come to town or Doug Stone or Chubby Checker. He’d open the shows. It’s just always kind of been a part of my life. I always knew that I may pursue it someday and it was always supported.
Then I had a great aunt that passed away. I had to be a pallbearer in her funeral, Aunt Christine which happened to be Dave’s grandmother. Dave and I didn’t know one another until her funeral. When he showed up we’re all skeptically going, “Oh, big old LA record producer.” Because we’re all musical and had never heard of this cousin that is a producer. I remember standing around, this is terrible, after the funeral and me being the youngest one out there just like, “You record producer huh? What you produced?”
Jesse Cannon: That’s always the best.
Brent Cobb: Dave was so kind and humble about it. It was just like, “Oh, The SCASH, Shooter Jennings, Put the O Back in Country.” I was floored when he said that. Was like, “Oh, well holy shit, I guess you are a real record producer.” I didn’t say that but that’s what I was thinking. Was shameless enough to give him a little six song acoustic demo that my momma’s brother, my Uncle Dave, another David in the family, had produced sort of. He lent me his studio. I gave Dave that and two days later I just got off work. I was working for a tree service crew and the phone rings. The house phone. I didn’t have a cell phone at the time. Matter of fact I had just gotten super stoned with my buddy, my coworker. Phone rings, I answer it and it’s Dave. He goes, “Hey Brent this is your cousin Dave. We met a couple days ago at Grandma’s funeral. I’m sitting here with Shooter Jennings and we’d listened to the demo and we want to fly you out to LA and make a record. My buddy’s sitting over at my folk’s kitchen table and I’m just like-
Jesse Cannon: That’s a hell of a call to get.
Brent Cobb: Oh man. That’s really where it all began. The professional journey began. That was at the end of ‘05. I started going to LA back and forth for about a year and a half. We recorded the first record, “No Place Left to Leave.” Then I moved to LA for about six months. It was a lot different in six months. There was an earthquake and a drive by shooting where I lived. A dude tried to carjack me and it only rained one time. I kind of decided that maybe LA wasn’t for me. In the meantime I had because of that record, I was playing with a local band, Mile Marker Five. We had opened some shows for Luke Bryan who happens to be from Leesburg, Georgia which is about 30 minutes south of where I’m from.
He got ahold of that old record and he really liked it and he was gracious enough and kind enough he invited me to come to Nashville. I went and wrote with him for a week. He took me around to a bunch of different people. Introduced me to a lot of people and kind of lead to me making the decision to move to Nashville in March of ‘08. I was there for a year working at Walgreens and had met some publishers. Called and old publisher, a plugger at publishing company, Carnival, and I was like, “Man, you know I can write songs. When are we going to do the deal?” He was like, “Well God I hadn’t heard from you in a year.” Then I went in and a few months after that I got a publishing deal and I started writing on Music Row which was sort of a dream of mine always. All my, like Willie Nelson and Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson and all those. Everybody’s normal usual suspects as heroes they all did that thing and I just thought it would be really neat to be a part of that history of Music Row song writing. I did that. I toured for a while. I made and EP in 2012. Toured on it the best I could for a few years.
My wife and I, my wife got pregnant. I didn’t get pregnant but I had a little something to do with it. I had never been a dad before so I stopped touring and just focused on song writing again. In the meantime Dave had still been in LA and he had just moved to Nashville. I don’t know, probably a year or two before my wife became pregnant. We’d been trying to get back together ever since. He got ready to do That Southern Family album concept album, compilation of artists. He called me up and he said, “Man, I’m putting together this Southern Family concept album. Thought it’d only be appropriate for me to have my little bitch ass cousin be a part of it.”
Wrote a song for Southern Family and that was the first time Dave and I had worked on something of mine. We had done a little work with other artists. I had written with other artists. That he had been working with. But it was the first time we had worked together since the 05, 06 album. It just felt like coming home. When we were in the studio we both were just like man we got to do a whole record. It was before Dave had gotten extremely busy. He was not quite the super star that he is now. He’s just wore thin now. We had time to get in. We busted that “Shine On” album out in about a week. He was just working on this imprint, Low Country Sound. One thing lead to another and here’s we are today.
Jesse Cannon: Here’s Dave Cobb to tell his side of the story.
Dave Cobb: Yeah I’d actually met him maybe 10 years, well I guess it’s been more than that. About 12 years ago at my grandmother’s funeral. I was living in California. I flew back home to Georgia and all of my cousins write, all of them play. They came and gave me a demo. I kind of discarded it because everybody I know in my family plays and I didn’t think twice about it. My wife made me listen to it in the car on the way back to the airport and he floored me. At 17 he was just a monster, just unbelievable writer. I flew him out to LA and did a couple songs with him and Shooter Jennings and passed through all these years. He moved to Nashville and then I moved here. We talked about working together again and it took a damn long time to do it. We finally did and made the previous record that Brent put out. “Shine On Rainy Day” and loved that so much we went crazy back and did another one.
Jesse Cannon: I then turn to Brent’s manager. A veteran of the music business, Don Van Cleeve about how they hooked up.
Don Van Cleeve: I was at a dinner in Nashville hosted by Fender. We were at a big round table and there was various and sundry outlaws at the table and one of them was Dave Cobb the producer who is a good buddy of mine. You know, I don’t drink anymore so they all did. There was some conversation about getting home and Ubers and all this and I just said. “Dave just hop in the car man, you’re on the way to my house.” He hopped in the car and we got a mile away and he goes, “Would you manage anybody else?” I had just come out of four and a half years with Soundgarden and Chris Cornell. I was not exactly looking for another client. I just knew that if I was going to get another client I had to love them and I wanted them from ground zero. Artist development’s kind of my history the whole time I’ve been in the record business. Dave started playing this record for me and goes, “This is my cousin. He’s like the redneck Paul Simon.”
Jesse Cannon: That’s a great description.
Don Van Cleeve: I’m like, “Okay.” It was raining and we were driving to his house and I passed his house and I go, “You’re not getting out of the car until I hear the whole record. I just loved it. I said, “Yeah, I would do this.” He goes, “Well, I think you’re too late. I think he’s probably going to Red Light. He’s been talking to those guys for a month.” I go, “Okay, great.” Here I am a day late and a dollar short, yet again. It’s all timing in the record business about when you come across paths of somebody you might work with. Sure enough next day he picked Red Light. I’m like, “Okay whatever, damn it.”
Then Atlantic, Gregg Nadel, my buddy here shared the record with me. I’m like, “Dude, why are you giving me this record? He already picked somebody else. This is going to kill me.” I listened to it all weekend and I’m like, “Oh man, this is such a good record I’m just gonna…” Couple days more went by and driving home and I get a call from Coran Capshaw who runs Red Light. He goes, “Hey I hear you like Brent Cobb.” I go, “Yeah, I love it. I haven’t met him yet but I love it.” He goes, “How would you like to do it with me?” I’m like, “I would love that but let me meet him because I’m not going to do assholes.”
I’m like, “I’ll go do that. I’ll go meet with him.” The next day I met with Brent and we hit it off. Figured out we grew up 90 miles from each other and had a lot of the same passions about music and early music. For us Georgia boys it all roots, I grew up in the Capricorn era of any given day you’re going to see Gregg Allman or you’re going to see Marshall Tucker, or you’re going to see some of these great bands when I was in high school. Really got me in the music business. I started telling him that story of how far back my roots were in Georgia music. We just hit it off. By the end of that day I met back up and shook Coran’s hand and we agreed to do it. It was literally starting this from zero and figuring out how to go.
Jesse Cannon: The funny thing is everybody has a great story about how they came to work with Brent. Here’s Mike Harris, his guitarist, talking about how they came to work together.
Mike Harris: Dude, I had done my time touring in bands, making records. Band broke up and I took a job working for my buddy’s company and we were promoting concerts and kind of specializing in up and coming never heard of talent and it was March of ‘16 and a buddy of mine was like, “Yo, Dave Cobb’s cousin just put out this song called Down Home. It’s on this compilation record. It’s so up your alley.” I probably listened to that song six times that day. I immediately hit up his agent like, “Hey can I book Brent on a run of shows?” I put him on a run of shows from the south east up through the midwest and we met those first three shows.
Nicole Atkins was playing on those shows too. Nicole’s my old buddy. Nicole’s there and we’re all hanging and I happened to be playing Nicole’s guitar. Brent, he called me up the next day and was like, “Hey man can you come out and play?” We started playing together probably about four months before that record came out. We did a lot of duo stuff to being with before we started getting into the full band stuff. The full band stuff’s more fun.
Jesse Cannon: One of the things about Brent that becomes so obvious the second you start talking to him and you listen to his music is he’s a great story teller. While I was doing research for this podcast I watched an amazing story about a song on his last record about a moonshine house. I talked to him about where that story telling ability came from.
Brent Cobb: Man, my dad can tell the hell out of a story. I would get him growing up to tell the same stories every time we’d be hanging out around a fire and there’d be a new buddy of mine or something. I’d be like, “Man tell the one about cornbread breaking the sign in half.” Like, “Tell the damn story.” They’re at the creek one time, Slaughter Creek which is the name of my dad’s band which is the creek that we all grew up on. He and his buddy Cornbread, they called him, they’re hanging out and this car rides by and they wave at the car on Seminole road. When they wave at them these guys shoot them the bird.
They’re like, “What the hell man.” They throw their hands up. This car stops and turns around and comes down there and they think it’s only a couple of them in the car. Well it’s six guys get out of the car. My daddy’s going, “Oh shit, man, what we gonna do.” Is what he’s thinking. Cornbread just so happens to grab ahold of this sign that is rotted in the middle of the sign. This old wooden sign and it breaks off in his hand. He just starts patting it in his hand like he’s a bad ass. All these guys are like, “Oh, shit, we’re going to take off.” When they leave Daddy goes, “Man how the hell did you do that?” He said, “Man, I don’t know it just broke off and I went with it.”
Jesse Cannon: That’s good. That’s good.
Brent Cobb: I grew up around storytelling. A lot of southerners tell good stories. It’s something about the rhythm of the way they talk down there. The way we talk. That particular song, “Down in the Mulley,” my daddy had called me one day and he was telling me about my uncle Bubba being accused of having a moonshine still because of this old pump house on the back side of the property. It was just like, “Oh damn, what if it would have been a moonshine still.” Because it sure could have been.
Jesse Cannon: Mike Harris talks about Brent’s storytelling like this.
Mike Harris: Willie Nelson said you can’t make a record if you ain’t got something to say. That is so true and Brent makes great records because he has a lot to say. There’s a great, I think about intersecting lines of different qualities in people and having a paramount point of in an intersection between honesty and truth as well as just having a wellspring of things to draw from. Brent is off the charts with that as a writer. Yeah, it’s just cool to be around.
Jesse Cannon: Now that we’ve explored who Brent is and what makes him make the music he makes. What did he want to do with the record, “Providence Canyon.” Don’s going to tell us the story about how somehow Dodge trucks helped shape this record.
Don Van Cleeve: Brent had the first record, “Shine On Rainy Day,” the record deal, the agent, the management company, the publicist were all in place so I’m the last guy to walk in the room. Which is very refreshing because usually I’m the first guy there and I’m trying to beg everybody else into doing it. I went out with Brent a lot. We went to a lot of shows, because of money we would go out on tour as a duet. Not with me but I’d have him and his guitar player out opening for Anderson East and a bunch of cool friends and stuff. Then we slowly ramped up to having the band out there doing a lot of touring and just getting in front of other people’s audiences. One thing I noticed in the set was that the tempo of all the first record was on the down. It was pretty low energy but amazing. A fire place, candle, glass of wine kind of record.
I felt like, “Brent, you’ve got to kick this next record up a notch creatively because you’ve already got kind of a chill set.” He agreed and he felt like he had those songs and was writing those songs. So somewhere in there, I guess it was in May of 2017 we had been talking to Ram trucks about an association because Dave and Chris Stapleton and all buddies of Brent’s had deals with Ram so hey why not let’s go talk to them. They were just great and they’re like, “We need you to write us a song from scratch that we won’t own it. We won’t run commercials against it but here’s kind of the principles of what we’re trying to do. Here’s a brief.”
I said, “Brent, you’ve got to write a song for this and we’re going to get this, this, this, and this, right?” Kind of a business angle. A lot of artists are like oh my god. He said, “Okay.” Next day. Next day. “I wrote a song.” I didn’t really realize how unbelievably fast Brent Cobb can, fast he can write and get it right. He stayed up all night in a hotel room in Denver. He was out there with Margo Price and Jamie Johnson as the first of three and he wrote this song called “Ain’t a Road Too Long.” It’s all about family, job, loyalty. All the things that Ram had kind of wanted him to talk about but he took it and made it be just this amazing song. It was super up tempo. Very back again southern rock that we all loved, but not southern rock as a lot of people are doing it now. Kind of a Brent Cobb stamp on the southern rock thing, which was great.
It was swamp music and Tony Joe White-ish. It really represented south Georgia to me. It’s like, “Okay I hear this because this is what I grew up on.” That song was just amazing and everybody was floored by it. It really helped him get in the creative mind set for okay this is the first song in my new album cycle even though I haven’t recorded the new album yet. This is what I’m going for. Plus he wanted to fill his band out. He kept harping to me that he needed a keyboard player to have like organ and things like that and just couldn’t afford it on the way up.
Then we ended up getting 44 dates with Chris Stapleton. I’d go to a lot of those shows and all the sudden he’s gone from little clubs opening for people to arenas opening for this guy. We were very attuned to what was working for the crowd and what wasn’t and we noticed that “Ain’t A Road Too Long” was huge immediately. Every night people were really reacting to that song. We’re like, “Okay, not to say we’ve got to get 10 of those but we’ve got to have more of that.”
Jesse Cannon: Here Brent talks about what he was looking to do on this record.
Brent Cobb: The main difference was only that we had the opportunity to open for Chris and Morgan Stapleton last year for a half a year. Such generous people. We’re playing for venues 20,000 cap rooms. That “Shine On Rainy Day” album is such a quiet album. It’s more of a thoughtful kind of introverted. To take those songs and try to play them for a 20,000 seated venue it was a little intimidating although you wouldn’t think it but that record lends itself to kind of rock a little harder than the record itself did, anyway live. That had a lot to do with this record, “Providence Canyon.” Just that environment of, “Man I want to get these folks going.” It’s our job to get them ready for the headliner and so with this record I just want to make sure that. I will say I do think that if you took away some of the huge electric guitar. If you took away some of the keys. If you took away all the background singing it would probably be still very similar to “Shine On Rainy Day.”
Jesse Cannon: I then asked him what music was having an effect on him, since this record has such a rocking more groovy feel than the last one.
Brent Cobb: Larry John Wilson, that country funk dude from Swainsboro I’d never heard of until the last year but he had a lot to do with it. Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark I didn’t know was in Atlantic. They did these sessions from like ‘71 to ‘73. I remember the first time I met with Craig [inaudible] and Greg Nadel here. I was trying to be all hip and be like, “Man, y’all ever heard of this Delbert and Glen records from ‘71 to ‘73.” They’re like, “Yeah I’m sure we’ve heard of them.” It was Atlantic that put it out. It was just this funky country thing.
Brent Cobb: I think Dave and I’ve probably always been trying to make a country funk album. I don’t think we’ve accomplished it yet but it’s been fun as hell trying to make it happen. I mean the way I write I mean my dad obviously is from Georgia but my mom is from Cleveland, Ohio. My uncles on my dad’s side were all country, traditional country. My uncles on my momma’s side were rock and roll, they loved rock and roll. The home of rock of roll. They were into Zeppelin. They were into again the Beatles. I’ve always just kind of, I loved when my uncle Brian would come down and play Rocky Raccoon. I just, what I always tried to write like.
Jesse Cannon: I had Dave Cobb talk about where he sees that country funk thing coming from.
Dave Cobb: Well we’re both from south Georgia and there’s that swampiness to it all. Tennessee has country and Kentucky has bluegrass and I just think there’s a soul element to Georgia. We’re the birthplace of Otis Redding and James Brown and Little Richard and all this stuff has got so much soul influence. We hear the soul in church and everything too. I think it’s kind of incorporating the soul aspect into country music. We didn’t make a soul record but we made a funky country record. I think that’s very reflective of geographically where we’re from. I think that’s the one thing about his record that separates it from other country records I’ve worked on. It just sounds like that swampy laid back southern soul thing.
Jesse Cannon: Now that we know where Brent was coming from on this record I thought it would be interesting to learn how he writes his songs. It’s so much different the way a country song is written from your rock or hip hop songs these days. It really remains an anomaly. Hearing his process it really, really shed a light on why his songs sound the way they sound.
Brent Cobb: It’s always hard to say. To me the songs are still coming from the same well, the same internal well. I don’t think of it different when I sit down to write a song I try not to overthink it at all. If I think about it too damn much it won’t come out the way it’s just naturally supposed to come out. I tend to write just by being influenced by whatever environment. Nine times out of ten I’m probably in a recliner or something. A lot of times when I get off the road or I get through writing all day I’ll get home and pick up the guitar to relax.
A lot of times when I’m writing by myself that’s how it will begin. I tend to write in chronological order. It’ll be whatever the first line is will remain the first line then the second line. I don’t usually write a chorus first. I tend to go in blank, try to write whatever is in the atmosphere. I don’t know what. A lot of times subconsciously I mean we’re always thinking of something we don’t realize we’re thinking about and I try to let that write whatever is supposed to happen. Then when it happens a lot of times it will be surprising and I’ll go, man oh I need to go get a drink of coffee or I need to get a beer or oh I need to do a little tobacco. Whatever it is. You would think I’m an insane person if you were to be a fly on the wall and see me. I pace the room and I just get excited when I know that the subconscious is starting to write that whatever song it turns into.
I put it on my iPhone and then I’ll send it to my publisher so they can log it. I never write down lyrics. I don’t do a whole lot. I don’t know. I write it record it, send it in. When it comes time to do a record usually there’ll be, it seems like there will be a song that I write in the present that will influence the rest of the record. Like on “Providence Canyon” it started with “Ain’t A Road Too Long.” It was the first song of this record that I wrote for actually was for that Ram campaign.
Their campaign was it seemed like specifically for my life. Long live the story teller. They wanted being gone. They wanted to hear about home. They wanted to hear about, it was like, “Well shit I got that. I don’t have to lie about any of that. I just wrote what I would have wrote anyway. It just so happened that’s exactly what they were looking for. This song happened and I loved it. Then I was able to dig back into the old catalog and go, “Man this song would be cool with that song and oh that song would be cool with this song and this song will be, maybe I should write one like this to go with these three songs.”
Luke Bryan gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten before I moved to Nashville even. Or no, it was right when I moved to Nashville. It was like, “Man what the hell should I be doing?” And he goes, “You should write your ass off. Just write and write and write and write and write because someday you’re going to be at a point where you’re not going to have time to write. You’re going to be making these records and you’re going to need songs. Then you’re going to have this deep catalog of all these songs that you’ve written.” That’s what happens. It’s like a puzzle then. Then I still, like I said I’ll write, say I have four songs that I know are going to go on the record. Three of those songs are old catalog songs and I’m looking for this fifth one. I go, “I don’t have that song.” Well then I know what kind of song feel wise I should write.
Jesse Cannon: Now that we know how he crafts his songs and what it’s like when he crafts them for others, what’s it like when other people work with him on his music?
Brent Cobb: Co-writing for me though was sort of, I mean it was a little nine to five-ish because it was part of my job for, it still is. On Music Row that’s what you do. First of all there’s a place called Music Row in Nashville, folks who don’t know that. It’s where all the business happens. It’s where all of your favorite songs are wrote. It’s where all the musicians hang out, all the studios. But it looks like an old neighborhood because that’s what it is. It’s all these little old houses from the 40s that are still there but they’re all publishing houses.
They have rooms in them that used to be someone’s bedroom. You go in these rooms and they’re just like this room. They got a couch and chair and somebody’s got a computer and you hang out and you drink coffee. A lot of times it’s like walking in and taking your clothes off with a complete stranger. You have to try your best to be as personal as you can be with someone you’ve never met before. Only way that works for me, and it works different for everyone else is a lot of times I’ll have a half written song. I’ll have a verse and a chorus that I’ll bring in.
I don’t care if, I don’t get stingy with them. It can be somebody that I’ve never heard of or it doesn’t matter. I’m just better if I have a direction that I’m certain of. It tends to be the way you write from I don’t know, 11 to 6? However long it takes you to finish the song. Sometimes it’s only 45 minutes. One person sends it to their publisher and the other person sends it to their publisher and call it a day. Do it all again the next day.
When I first signed the deal in ‘08 or in ‘09 I wanted to do it as much as I could. I was writing Monday through Friday co-writing Monday through Friday. Usually double, I would write in the morning and I’d write in the evening and then I’d get home and try to come up with something else to bring in for the next day. It betters everybody’s odds too if you have two people that are writing and they have publishers, their publishers job is to get placement of that song. It betters everybody’s odds to get a cut.
Jesse Cannon: Then you’re saying you aren’t very choosy though about who you end up collaborating for your own music?
Brent Cobb: I am now. I have Neil Medley is one of the first people I ever co-wrote with. We wrote a song early on called “Tailgate Blues” that Luke Bryan wound up recording. It was one of the first cuts I ever had as a songwriter. Jason Saenz and I, and Bailey Cook who used to live in New York. I don’t know where she lives now. We wrote “Providence Canyon” together. I’ve written with Jason forever. We’ve had several cuts. Scotch Taylor who I wrote “Solving Problems” with on the last record is on .30-6 with me. My buddy Adam Fisher, Adam Hood. Yeah, Adam Fisher is one of my first friends I ever made in Nashville. Adam Hood you already heard about Adam. We’ve been writing together forever. He used to write at Carnival. That’s sort of my main core group of folks.
Jesse Cannon: I asked Brent about the qualities he needs to have in a co-writer though, so that he feels comfortable. He had a pretty enlightening thought on the subject.
Brent Cobb: Yeah I think you just have to know someone well enough to not be scared to tell them to fuck off or for them to tell you to fuck off. You know what I mean? The whole idea behind the song “When The Dust Settles” is probably that whole premise is F off. I was mad because I wasn’t getting any cuts at the time. Actually wrote that one with Neil Medley. We weren’t getting anything accomplished. We couldn’t get anybody to record our songs. I’d just had a baby. Nobody would work with me and help me out. I felt like I was on a sinking ship. I was trying to write and be honest I always am. So that song was just like, “Damn it. I wish y’all would get the hell out the way. Put me on the radio one time.” You know what I mean? Neil was one of my most trusted co writers because he can read the hell out of me when I come in the room and me him when he comes in. “It’s like oh you didn’t get any damn sleep last night did you old boy? I’ll take the reins on this one today.” That sort of deal.
Jesse Cannon: I then wanted to go into how the record’s recorded. The vibe on the record with these grooves just sounds like they’re having such a good time while they rock out. I was very curious if it was all done live or piece meal and how exactly they brought this record to life.
Brent Cobb: Probably took about the same amount of time. About a week to create the whole record. The way Dave and I did both of these records, “Shine On Rainy Day” and this one there was no pre-production involved with songs. I would have a list of 20 songs that I go, “I know these are all good.” I don’t know exactly, because I’m not a good producer. I tend to be too close to the songs to really go, these 10 are the ones. He doesn’t even know that. I’ll go in and we’ll all sit at a couch in the studio. The whole band, Dave, me. We’ll look at the list and then like I said I’ll sit in the studio the morning of and I’ll play as song. I might play two songs. I might play three and we’ll go, “Damn, that’s the one. We’re all feeling that one.”
We’ll go record it. Go sit back at the couch or we may go, “Man that second one that I played earlier, let’s try that one.” Go, “Well which one you feel like playing right now?” Then I’ll play it. It’s either in the room or it’s not in the room. If it is, Dave or the drummer will kind of start coming up with some sort of beat and it just, whatever’s in the room that day. Dave’s real good at that. I know he tends to produce the way that I write. Like I was saying earlier. I tend to write whatever, you know it’s impulsive writing. He’s that way in the studio. It’s not over thought. It’s not thought out beforehand. It’s “Ah man this has got to happen like this.” He likes a first impression of a song. He doesn’t like to, don’t send a whole demo that’s been produced pretty much. With Dave it’s all live.
I’m usually sitting in the room, which is just RCA studio A in Nashville. It’s a huge room, old javelinas. It’s where Elvis Presley used to practice karate. It’s usually me, Dave. We’re kind of in circle sort of. Dave will be sitting across from me on an acoustic guitar. I have my acoustic guitar. Mike, my guitar player who played on this record, will be on the other side of me across the room. Bass player be in the same room. We’re all in a little bit of a circle and then we’ll have the drummer in a booth, drum booth. Of course we have the ability to go back and overdub whatever we need to. I’m one take though. The first take you better be miking me because I’ll think too much about it after that. I can’t ever nail it again.
Yeah. I sing different when I play. If I’m trying to sing without a guitar in my hand I can’t, I don’t know I don’t land my words the way that I would if I’m actually playing it. A lot of the overdubbing on this record particularly tends to be Mike going back and putting a harmony guitar part over what he just played. The other stuff is putting a shaker on there or putting tambourine on there. The background harmonies are added later. That’s usually about it though. Well, this one was broken up because we were touring so much. I would say all in all it probably took about the same amount of time. About a week to create the whole record.
Jesse Cannon: This is Dave’s side to how the record was made and why he chooses to work this way.
Dave Cobb: I just think pre production’s evil. People work so hard in pre-production and they work out a base part or drum part or vocal background part and by the time you get in the studio you’ve forgotten half the stuff and you’ve got to go listen back to the rehearsal tapes and then you’ve missed the magic. You missed the first time you got something right or the first time you’ve written a riff. You’ve missed the magic. By not doing pre productions and having tape rolling the whole time you capture the first time it’s most inspired. Rather you develop it later or not you can take the best early parts, splice it into the developed part later so you never miss the part.
I feel like making recording a process is what I don’t like about record making. That’s why people go, “Oh my God you’ve got to see it live. It’s so much better live.” Let’s treat recording like live show in a lot of ways and capture all the parts in between and have it to work from, you know? The moment we start working that tape is rolling. It never stops rolling. The huge Beatles and Stones fans, I think the Beatles kind of did the same thing. They had tape rolling the whole time and you can see how a song develops from the anthology from take one to take 37 or whatever it is. I just treat it like that. It’s not a hard thing to do to press record.
By having record going all the time nobody has red light fever when it actually is recording. I think that loses that as well. I think people would laugh if they saw my recording process. It’s pretty basic. It’s so simple. As far as recording getting dorky on it a lot of records now people have 30 inputs going in. Multiple mics on drums. Multiple mics on vocals and guitars and keyboards and this and that. I think for each record most of it’s got 10 tracks. It may be even less. The drums are one track. There’s a lot of that kind of stuff going on and it’s only because it doesn’t have to be complicated when the player’s really good. The drummer and the bass player and Brent and his guitar player and myself and it’s got Charlie Worsham that played on it.
They’re all pretty knowledgeable players. It’s not hard to record them. You can pretty much put up anything. You can put a tin can and it would probably sound pretty good. I feel like in a lot of ways the way we do these records is cheating. It makes it really easy. Doesn’t make anything complicated. It makes the art more the forefront and the technical aspect kind of to the back. Usually there’s three mics predominantly on the drums overhead and the snare drum and the kick drum. A lot of times I’ll be tracking the three tracks and then I’ll just sum it down to one track. For some reason it’s easier mix wise, think about drums as opposed to multiple drums. I think I probably mix the whole record in about two days. Because when we’re tracking it we’re kind of mixing as we go along. All the reverb and effects and if we do any compression at all it’s committed. It’s really at mix time very, “You should probably turn that up or turn that down.” It’s not a complicated process, the mix. It’s very simple.
Jesse Cannon: I then asked Mike Harris about how he sees the process go down.
Mike Harris: I never got sent demos. Never like, “Here’s an idea of what we’re going to be working on tomorrow,” kind of thing. I’m pretty sure it’s an unspoken or maybe even spoken thing that Dave doesn’t want you to have any preconceived notions of what that tune is going to sound like by the time we lay it to tape. Dave’s going to sit down with you and kind of break your heart a little bit every now and then as a writer. Someone like Brent is great because Brent has great trust with Dave. Obviously they’re like mildly related. Third cousins once removed. They have a great working relationship. Brent has his own opinions but also really trusts Dave’s. Dave’s batting 1000. He can’t seem to make a record that I don’t want to listen to. Even as a player coming in I’m kind of like, “Yes, sir. I got it. I trust you.”
It’s definitely a hang a lot of the time. Dave likes to start after lunch because there’s no real sense to me, to anybody. Nobody should ever be making a record before lunch. Brent will get into an idea in one corner of the room. Your sitting there next to Dave and Bryan Allen who is one of the most tremendous base players to ever walk the face of the earth and Chris Powell who, Chris is playing with Brandi Carlile right now, but I think he does basically every session that Dave does at RCA. Just a marvelous musician. So much music to be around which is already intimidating but then Brent gets into a song and Dave’s like, “Okay that bridge is actually a chorus. You should write a new bridge really quick. Here’s the order guys. Let’s play through this twice and then go track it live.”
I’m not in there every day with Brian and Chris and Dave kind of trying to be like, “Hey I’m really happy to be here.” It’s just really fast paced. You don’t want to feel like you’re sandbagging those guys because they have a great groove going on. To get to come in, be a part of it feels very special. Then come and every day there was like, “All right, we’re going to hang for like 45 minutes, so just start making some joke and probably pour a couple drinks too.” Then there’s that circle thing happening. Bryan Allen’s got his little mini Taylor acoustic bass and a couple of acoustic guitars get passed around. Dave’s writing a hook or a riff and kind of tossing it back and forth with me. We’ll try and get the form right.
On one side of the live room there’s the couches and a record player and a bunch of great records. We might even spin a record to get a reference. Like, “Dude, listen to this vibe right here. What if we could get that kind of vibe going?” Then you just move over to the other side of the live room and everybody’s kind of in a circle. It’s a pretty great way to make a record. A popular line for a few days in studio was, “What would Skynyrd do?” Those guys dug country. They did a Jimmie Rodgers tune. They’re as southern as southern gets. There was this strap that Dave had in the studio. I think he was thinking about buying it and had grabbed it from Carter Vintage Guitars. So lucky to live in a town with a guitar shop like Carter.
Jesse Cannon: One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.
Mike Harris: Unreal, There was this 55 strap and I know I played it and I know Dave played it and Charlie Worsham played the same guitar. All three of the guys that did guitar on this record played this guitar at different times. It was a 55 over spray. It had this weird burgundy refinish on it but it was right. You know what I mean? It was an amazing guitar. Hitting the, you know when you do the middle and bridge pick up and you get that kind of quack sound? It’s like Steve Gaines and Ed King in Skynyrd. That strat sound. That was one of my favorite go-tos for just the way some of these groovier tunes like if I Don’t See you and .30-6. There’s a boogie thing happening there. That’s one of my favorite sounds to go to for that. I used to kind of hate that guitar sound and now maybe I’m getting closer to dad rock. I don’t know. I’m way into it.
Jesse Cannon: While we’re on the subject of the guitars I wanted to get into a little bit. One of the things that make this record so cool is the guitar tones are just totally outside the bounds of what you’re normally hearing in country music. I wanted to dig a little bit deeper on that with Brent. He had a great story to tell.
Brent Cobb: I have a 1942 Martin, what is it? Gosh I’ve been playing this Gibson now. 0-17 1942 Martin 0. It’s my favorite guitar to write with. It’s also, especially if we’re doing a softer like Lorene or something to play that it just kind of lends itself to the whole tone. I’ve been playing a, Gosh what is it? I can’t even remember. I don’t know gear like I should. I just pick up a guitar and go damn that one feels right. It’s actually Dave gave me that Martin that I was talking about. This was in like-
Jesse Cannon: That’s a hell of a guitar.
Brent Cobb: Oh man yeah. This was in probably 20… he had just moved to Nashville so it was probably like 2011 or 12 and he was recording Lucette. I went and wrote two or three songs that we wound up recording for her record. I had written that day on that guitar because Dave’s got a ton of guitars. I’d picked that one up and I loved the tone of that guitar that day. That’s what we recorded with and at the end of the session he knew how much I loved it and he was like, “I tell you what.” He played a bunch of old Loretta Lynn songs. He said, “If you’ll go home tonight and take that guitar with you and you write a song like one of these old songs for this record you can have that damn guitar. I went to the house and I wrote 25 songs.
Jesse Cannon: You earned that guitar.
Brent Cobb: Probably not that many. I could not write one that felt like the pure version of one of those songs so I called him the next day and was like, “Man, I wrote a bunch of songs. None of them are like that. I’ll be by with the guitar later and give it to you.” He was like, “Man, happy birthday.” He gave me that damn guitar. That was before Dave was rolling like Dave is rolling now. He’s just a generous dude.
Jesse Cannon: Since Mike’s more of a gear head, I had him talk a little bit about the guitars on the record. Particularly the phaser sound you hear throughout the record.
Mike Harris: Oh man, the phaser is, it’s a thing. Dude, a guy came up to me at the show last night. He teaches guitar at NYU. He was like, “Bro, I’ve got to tell you we saw you guys play in Sweden and we’re here tonight. I’m such a guitar nerd and I had to write a song with phaser in it after seeing you guys.” That rules so hard.
Jesse Cannon: That’s great.
Mike Harris: I think the phase 90 is the best 50 dollars any guitar player could ever spend. Dude when I got into playing, not on the record, but when I was touring with Brent right around the time the first record came out, I didn’t even know him when he had made that record. I called up Dave. I was like, “Man the phaser is such a big part of the sound and I’ve just got a basic off the rack not a script mod, not any cool one, just a basic phase 90 and I want to make sure I’m getting it right.” He’s like, “Dude that’s exactly what I use in the studio.” Not a vintage one. Not nothing. It’s Waylon in a box.
I brought in two of my own amps because when I look at my roster I’m like, “Okay Dave’s got most of this covered but let me see if I can impress Dave.” With one of the best curated amp and guitar collections. One of my amps ended up making it on a few of the tracks, A 65 non reverb Princeton. I basically brought in the Mike Campbell rig. I brought in the 65 non reverb Princeton and a 57 narrow panel deluxe. He didn’t like my deluxe. My Princtone’s got a Celestion 12 inch in it. It’s super clean but tremolo’s great on it. The deluxe has got the OG Jensen in it. Dave was like, “Oh you’ve got to have a Celestion in there. Try my tweet amp. It’s got a Celestion.” It does sound great. Probably my favorite amp to track over with Dave is he’s got a, I think it’s an old Tweed Vibrolux. Man, screaming with the Celestion blue in it. I would bring a couple guitars in. I brought in my gold top Les Paul but most of the time if I’m grabbing guitars he’s got a great Esquire that’s just a ruler. One of my favorite parts on the record is the solo stuff on “Ain’t A Road Too Long” and that’s an amazing 335 that he’s got with PAFs in it.
I brought in a buddy’s guitar that had the palm benders on it because there’s a lot of pedal steel on the record but it’s not pedal steel. I play guitar tuned in open E. E, B, E, G sharp, B, E. That’s a common tune. Duane Allman, I think he would play in open D but it’s the same spacing, 1, 5, 1, 3, 5, 1. Derek Trucks plays an open E. Blake Mills plays an open C sharp but it’s the same spacing. The pedal steel sound is a lot of fun. I used to do that in an old band I was in. I totally stole this from Scotty Murray. Scotty Murray’s a guitar hero for me. Scotty plays with Anderson East. I saw Scotty, it was the first show I ever played in New York. He was playing with Jesse Baylin at the time, at Pianos and he had this SG with a Bigsby palm bender on it. It’s like levers and it’s on the G and B string or G sharp and B string and open E so the G sharp bends up a half step and B bends up a whole step but when you put a slide on your left hand and you kind of work those benders you get all the classic pedal steel. I know I’m doing my job right if somebody comes up and is like, “Hey, where was the pedal steel at.” You know what I mean? Like, “Yes, I got you.” It’s kind of like a bear. It’s so hard to keep it in tune. Our keyboard player was like, “Well that’s probably like the trait that makes it most like a pedal steel.”
Jesse Cannon: That’s good. Speaking of that keyboard player. He’s talking about Phil Towns there. I wanted to hear from him about his contribution to the record.
Phil Towns: Yeah I thought I was going to play on maybe two or three songs. Then Dave just kept playing the record. He was like, “You want to play on this? You want to play on this? You want to play on this?” I think he ended up playing on six or seven songs on their record or something. I just happened to come in. The record was kind of done. I just happened to run into Dave and then ended up putting all my keyboard parts on it at the latter half of it. I kind of came in on the, kind of did it backwards this time. Usually I’m in with everybody else.
Jesse Cannon: I couldn’t let this podcast finish up without one last great story from Brent. Here he tells the story of the song “King of Alabama.”
Brent Cobb: Man, all right. Here is the King of Alabama. I think there are many people worthy of the crown. Been a lot of great people come out of that state, great artists, but in my humble opinion, my time it was a guy, Wayne Mills. Wayne Mills this is why. Wayne Mills, he played for Crimson Tide, I mean he played for Alabama football. He was a honky tonk hero man. This dude, Jamie Johnston used to open shows for Wayne Mills. Blake Shelton opened shows for Wayne Mills. His last record he ever put out before he died was called “The Last Honkey Tonk,” which is amazing. It’s a great record. My buddy Rowdy produced it who Dave introduced us to. You should research Rowdy too.
Anyway, so Wayne Mills one night the night of the George Jones tribute show he and a few folks are hanging out they all go to this bar afterwards. This is in 2013, 14 or somewhere around there. They all go to hang out at these bars. This one bar, the Pit and Barrel down on Broadway. They’re all hanging out and smoking cigarettes. Everybody decides to leave except Wayne because Wayne is going to be the house band in residency at this bar when it opens the next day. It was the grand opening. He lights a cigarette up. The owner who was all one of our mutual acquaintances. We all knew the guy. He gets mad at Wayne for smoking in the bar and knowing Wayne, Wayne was about a 6’4″ fellow. He probably stands up and he’s like, “All your famous friends are gone now. I can’t smoke in the bar?”
The guy goes no man. Wayne probably was like, “Well how about I kick your ass then.” This guy goes and gets a damn pistol and shoots Wayne twice in the head and it kills him. Wayne was on his way out of the door. The police report shows that he was drug back in. He was probably going to fucking leave and this guy kills him. Well Wayne introduced me to a lot of people in town. I wouldn’t know a quarter of the people that I know now had it not been for Wayne Mills. He left behind a seven year old son, his wife. Two days after it happened my wife was pregnant with our first child and so I’m thinking about his son. I just couldn’t imagine his son growing up without a father. It just floors me.
I could barely write it but I started it that night. Then I have this other buddy of mind who’s from Alabama. His name’s Adam Hood. He’s also a great writer, a great artist. He’s about to put out a record. He’s one of my best friends. Adam knew Wayne for a long time. They had the same circuits that they traveled both being from Alabama. Adam Hood would go, when he would imitate Wayne he’d go, “I’m Wayne Mills. I’m the king of Alabama by God. Roll Tide.” That’s where the title king of Alabama came from. There had to be a song written about this guy and from my reasoning for his son to grow up and know that this is who your daddy was. You know what I mean? Not that you didn’t know but just to make sure you’re well aware of who the man your dad was. This is him. We were able to actually add his son as a co-writer to the “King of Alabama” so any little bit that the song makes, a portion of it will go into Wayne’s old publishing company.
Jesse Cannon: That’s so rad.
Brent Cobb: It’s bad ass man. The song would have never been wrote. We finished it this year. Me and Adam Hood did together. It would have never been written without his son.
Jesse Cannon: Thank you for listening to this podcast. If you enjoyed it please share it on social media. To hear other episodes and more of Atlantic’s podcasts head to atlanticpodcasts.com. Brent Cobb’s “Providence Canyon” is out now. Thanks and tune in next time.