It’s been a treat to watch Brent Cobb’s success unfold. I’ve had a few brief interactions with the man, and the thing that has impressed me as much as his considerable songwriting is his natural style. He’s an easy cat, laid back. He moves with the confidence of a man who knows things can’t get any worse… Or can only get better. For Brent, things are lookin’ like better. After more than a decade on Nashville’s Music Row penning tunes for other artists, Brent teamed up with his cousin, Dave Cobb (you’ve heard o’ him, right?), and released 2016’s Shine On Rainy Day, an album that showcased the former’s lyrical ability, maintained the latter’s reputation as a producer and earned them both a Grammy nomination. Last spring, Brent released Providence Canyon. “Country Funk” is what the kids are callin’ it, and it’s a combination of excellent songwriting and dynamic guitars that has kept Brent Cobb on the road and in demand all over the world. After two years of near-constant performing, solo and as a part of Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show, Brent is home on Lake Blackshear for a brief holiday to rest up for the 2019 tour, the next chapter in his career– and the newest member of his family!
AI- I was going to say you had a busy year, but you really had a busy two years. Before you went out with Chris Stapleton back in 2017, I know you had put a premium on finally being able to afford to travel on a bus– for no other reason than you were going to be able to write while you own the road. How has that worked out for you?
BC- Exactly the way that I hoped it would. I was able to get back to my regularly scheduled program of writing from midnight to 4:00 in the morning, to be honest with you. That’s when my muse hits me. It always has, since I was a teenager. I always write at midnight for some reason. But when we had our daughter, I sort of had to try to change that around for a while– and, yeah, when we got back on the bus, it was just super easy to just write those normal writing hours of mine. I got a lot accomplished!
With Shine on Rainy Day, you came out swingin’ as a songwriter and an artist in your own right. On Providence Canyon, you maintain the introspection, but it’s heavily guitar-driven. It’s Southern Rock dueling guitars. Where did that funkier sound come from?
I’ve always felt like I wanted to achieve the country, funky, southern side of rock in the music, and it’s sort of something I’ve always been reaching for. I had been playin’ with a guitar player, Mike Harris, that’s been playin’ with me the last three years, and he knows every Skynyrd lick in the book (laughs)! So when we got in the studio, I knew I wanted him to be a part of the record. It was a lot of Mike, really, that made it more upbeat and more rock– and I’m going to continue, I think, to try to do that. Make it even a little funkier! I don’t know how much more rock it’ll get, but I just liked that sound. It sounds like Georgia to me, and it definitely gets me down the road a little easier. Hopefully, it’ll help someone else get down the road too!
And I think that’s been the most fun thing about the album. Everybody keeps talking about “country funk”. The last couple times we’ve spoken, I always throw out vintage references, but you really kind of got this early ‘70s Charlie Daniels thing going on…
Especially with the way that you collaborate with so many different people. Recently, we’ve been playin’, “She Don’t Love Me”. You feature on there with your pal Adam Hood. What other projects have you been able to get out and collaborate with recently?
You heard of a guy named Kyle Daniel?
I am not familiar with him.
Check his record out. It came out earlier last year. We worked on a song that we wrote together, [“Ain’t No Difference”]. His record’s great. Kyle Daniel, look his record up! I don’t know how recent this is, I guess 2017, The Steel Woods [Straw In The Wind] came out. They did a lot of songs that I had written. I was in the studio while they were recording, but I didn’t collaborate as far as me singing on anything. Whiskey Myers, I think also 2017. We recorded a song called “Good Ole Days” that I had written– and it was actually on my EP as a hidden track in 2012. They recorded it for their 2017 album, and then they had me come in and sing on it with them in the studio. It was similar to the way I recorded it. We all just kind of gathered around a couple mics, had a good time, and tried to bring that, I don’t know… That bluegrass funk! I don’t know what you call it, it was all string instruments! I love doin’ that though, man. That’s what all those guys, my heroes were doin’ back in the early ’70s. You think about Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker and Toy Caldwell… He was all over everything in the ‘70s as you know. He was all over all that early Charlie Daniels stuff, that Hank Jr stuff like with the New South. He’s all over that record!
And also, stylistically, he was very open to throwin’ different things into his music like you do.
It’s my favorite thing! I think that’s the only way I can keep it fresh. Nothing gets stale. We don’t go on autopilot doin’ it that way, and it just keeps it fun!
Over the holidays, I was watching Heartworn Highways, and there’s that great chapter on Larry John Wilson– an artist your name gets brought up in conjunction with geographically but also comparing you as a songwriter and a guitar player. However, what I appreciate is you’ve got this really alliterative cadence that’s all yours. Where did you develop that delivery style?
It’s all about the way people talk around here and Macon, this side of the country, really. Everybody has a certain rhythm. You can go in an old mom & pop greasy spoon restaurant and some old fella’s going to be cookin’ some barbecue and he’ll come out and talk to you for a minute– and just the way he talks, you know? It’s just the way these old-timers around here, my daddy and all his buddies… If we’re havin’ a Texas Hold’em game at the Kinchafoonee Wildlife Club, they’re all givin’ one another a hard time, but it’s just the emotion and the character and the way that they say things. I just grew up around it my whole life, and of course, Larry John Wilson and Tony Joe White and all those kind of guys had that same deal– and I think it just came naturally. I try to let it come naturally to me too, and of course, be influenced by those things as well. I want everything to be honest– and that’s maybe the most character-defining quality that I have in my music. I’m not really a powerful singer, I’m not an amazing guitar player on the side. So I try to have something that sets me apart from everybody else. Maybe that’s what it is.
One of the most profound things I think I had heard you mention one time in an interview was that when you first got to Nashville, they expected you to be one or the other, the writer or the performer. Initially, you went on the writing end of things. How do you feel like you fit in now? Do you feel like the songwriter or the performer– or are you at a point where that doesn’t even matter anymore?
Yeah, I don’t think that matters so much anymore. I’ll tell you what was really neat. During the off-time, I scheduled a couple of weeks here and there to go up to Nashville and co-write a little bit because that’s part of my deal as a songwriter who’s published with a publisher in Nashville. I would walk into the room– and this is something that has never happened to me before– and the moment I’d walk in the room, whoever I was writin’ with most of the time would go, “Man, I wanna do what you do. I don’t ever get to do what you do, and I want to do what you do!” And that never happened to me in my career, and in 12 years, I’ve been the one going, “Man, I got this idea for a song,” and trying to steer it in a direction– and I’d always get a little bit of feedback. Nothing crazy, you know? But I couldn’t… Funny thing to me is I’ll tell those same folks, “Well, man, what I’m doing ain’t really paying the bills that well! I sure would like to do what you do!” (Laughs) But I ’bout can only do what I do! It’s been nice for it to be accepted. So I feel like it’s one and the same now. Maybe. I don’t know how long that’ll last, but it’s nice while it lasts.
What do you tell younger would-be artists who want to go to Nashville? If they’re going to be faced with that choice, what advice would you give them?
You know, it’s so weird because everybody has their own path and for some people, it works best for them and their outcome to go about it the way of, “Hey, this is a business and I’m going to write hit songs, and I’m going to learn the craft of that.” But for some people… Like I was this way, and I did try to do that for a year or two. It didn’t work for me. I guess I would tell a young songwriter/artist just do whatever you feel in your heart is what you’re meant to do creatively– and if that’s “follow the business”, follow the business. But if you’ve got more, something else other than writin’ something to a formula, then do that. Because whatever you feel most comfortable with, I think, is how you’re going to succeed.
Was it easy for you to make that transition from writer into full-on, full time touring performer?
Not really because I’ve said this before, I always wrote for myself so… It was easy creatively, logistically not easy. But they’re one and the same too. I say that, but if I’m not touring, and I’m not being the singer of the songs, then I have a hard time writin’ those songs. I have to be performing in order to continue to write, I’m afraid– which probably drives my whole family crazy. (Laughs) I think that’s the only way it’s gonna work for me.
The last time we corresponded I asked you to name an artist that you thought folks should check out, and you said Savannah Conley, who’s going to be with you in Macon on January 19th. What do you look for in other artists when you’re looking for somebody to listen to or potentially work with? And are you able to enjoy new music and not be critical?
I’m usually not critical. I’m usually… I don’t know if this is gonna make sense… I’m a purist, I’m “purely” critical, but I’m not being critical to critique. So what appeals to me in an artist is their natural ability. If it sounds natural then I’m usually drawn to it. You can tell if somebody cares enough to try to craft a song that’s a decent song, you know?
Tell me what’s coming up in 2019. You’re about to jump back on the road and you’re booked up solid through March and I’m sure you’ll set up more dates going forward. It’s still fresh off of Providence Canyon, but when do you plan to go back into the studio?
We’re workin’ on time right now. It’s really hard for everybody. We’re touring so much, and we’ll pick back up after this, but I have a new baby coming into the world.
Thank you, man! I got a baby boy coming in April, so I’m going to take a month, maybe a month or more, off of the road and just be home with my wife and family. And sometime at the end of that break, we’re gonna try to get back in the studio and record. I got a bunch of songs ready. After that, we got a couple big things coming up that I don’t know that I can talk about right yet. We got a lot o’ road doggin’ to do! I’ve said since 2016 that I felt like– if this all was going to work out– that 2019 was going to be the grindiest, grinding year that I’ve ever had. But if we can get through to the other side, I think 2020 might be the year that I’ll be able to go, “Man, I think I’m going to be able to do this forever!” So wish me luck. Keep your fingers crossed for your ol’ boy!