Dave Cobb: The Mayor of New Nashville

Producer Dave Cobb is the extraordinary genius behind some of the greatest country and Americana recordings over the last couple of years.

Modern day favorites like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Anderson East and Jamey Johnson are just a couple of artists benefiting from cooperating with the multiple Grammy nominee, as are more established stars like Waylon Jennings and Oak Ridge Boys.

Now [March, 2016], Dave Cobb has set out for his most ambitious project yet: The wonderful all-star compilation album Southern Family captures the full spirit of New Nashville, including Stapleton, Isbell, East, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, John Paul White, Brandy Clark and many more.

The album is inspired by White Mansions, a 1978 concept album documenting people’s lives during the Civil War, written and produced by Paul Kennerley and Glyn Johns, and featuring musicians like Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Eric Clapton. “I’ve been possessed with it and I try to convert everybody to it for years,” Cobb recently confessed to Rolling Stone. ‘I really steal half of my tricks from that one record.’

In essence, Southern Family is a gathering of Dave Cobb’s tight-knit friends and musical family.

Emblematic of the Nashville scene as a whole today, the project merges mainstream country with Americana and folk in the vein that has come to characterize so much of Cobb’s work over the years, which eschews genre boundaries in the pursuit of good, true music. In a 2015 interview with Music Row, Cobb said of the album:

‘This really encapsulates Nashville right now. There’s something to it. There’s something in the air. There’s a lot of great things about Nashville. There’s something here that doesn’t exist anywhere else in my lifetime. I’m sure this happened in London in the ‘60s and California in the ‘70s and maybe New York in the late ’50s or early ‘60s. But I think, right now, Nashville is the home of music.’

We hooked up with Dave Cobb to get to know more about new mayor of Nashville and his Southern Family.

*   *   *

What was your favorite music when growing up?

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC…

Are there any particular albums that you remember fondly?

The Beatles Revolver was really a lesson in production, experimentation and pure songwriting. It was an absolute textbook for me.

How did you land as a producer in the first place?

By accident, really. I was in a crap record deal and the band broke up because of it. I realized my favorite part about being in a band was the studio, so I produced a couple friends bands and they got record deals, so it seemed really natural.

What intrigued you about that part of music making?

The experimentation, and really figuring out how to milk every emotion in a song.

Did you have any role models when you first started up?

Yeah, [producers] Brendan O’Brien, Glyn Johns and Rick Hall.

How do you approach the various artists you work with? Is there something specific you’re looking for?

I’m always looking for a voice. If they move me I just go with my gut and don’t worry about anything else.

What is the role of a producer to you?

A 5th member, a friend, a co-writer when needed, and a facilitator.

Are you proactive in shaping the output, or do you work more towards capturing their sound?

Absolutely. Each time I walk into the studio it’s different. I’m always song- and performance-motivated, I help arrange, write, motivate… Whatever it takes.

What’s a perfect recording to you?

Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman

What is your favorite studio of all time and why?

RCA studio A in Nashville. A lot of my fave records were made there. It’s like a classic vintage guitar; it always has a song in it.

Do you think you have a ‘signature sound,’ and if so what characterizes a Dave Cobb album?

Honesty I would say, I’m always looking for raw emotion on albums.

What is your Southern Family project about in a nutshell?

Getting my heroes and fiends in Nashville to write honest songs about their families while capturing Nashville at this moment in time.

What were you trying to do by rounding up this talent cast of characters?

Really showing the strength, support and unity of Nashville.

Many of the artists you’ve worked with straddle the gap between commercial country and the folk/Americana segment. What’s your view on these two “sides” and do you look at yourself as one who builds bridges between the two?

I just wanna make honest records with the artist. We never really worry about titles.

You’ve worked on many of the best and most acclaimed albums in the last couple of years. Has the response in some way been surprising to you?

Absolutely! None of those records were made to be hits, they were all just made to be the most true to the artist they could be.

One of the most, shall we say, colorful artists you’ve worked with lately is Wheeler Walker Jr. What were those sessions like, and were you ever able to keep a straight face?

Sturgill Simpson introduced me to The Ben Show, Wheeler’s other alias [a.k.a. comedian Ben Hoffman]. Sturgill and I were both big fans. It was like being at a week long stand up comedy show.

Any other exciting future projects you’d like to share with us?

I’m excited about a few things, the new Lake Street Dive album, Lori McKenna, and my cousin Brent Cobbs’ record.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Originally published on read.tidal, March 2016.

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