Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Brent Cobb talks about his new album, Providence Canyon.
Rooted in tradition, Grammy-nominated country artist Brent Cobb builds his music on a foundation family, friends, and the state of Georgia for his new album, Providence Canyon.
Released in May, the intimate record evokes Cobb’s home life and humble upbringing in the Peach State. The nostalgic fondness is evident everywhere, maybe especially in the title track that evokes youthful trips to “Georgia’s Grand Canyon” (that’s Providence Canyon in the painting on the cover), not far from his small hometown of Ellaville.
Cobb’s highly acclaimed major-label debut, Shine on a Rainy Day, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album. On Providence Canyon, he comes out grooving and flowing with stripped-down classic country accompanied by acoustic strumming, plaintive and sassy slide, and bluesy licks.
These are down-home melodic Southern tunes that equally invite thinking, swaying, and rocking-out. Album highlights include the pensive and homesick “Come Home Soon”; the title track, “Providence Canyon”; the easygoing “Loreen”; and the catchy “When the Dust Settles.”
Recently we talked with Cobb about Providence Canyon the album and Providence Canyon the place, playing with Chris Stapleton, and his move back to Georgia.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope fans will get from Providence Canyon?
Brent Cobb: Sort of every song that I ever write, especially this album, the main thing is that just because a song is fun doesn’t mean it has to be stupid, and just because a song might be serious doesn’t mean it has to be depressing.
C&I: What was the writing and recording process like for this one?
Cobb: It was different than other projects I’ve worked on. I was touring a lot during the recording process of this, so we had to go in a few days here and a few days there throughout the year. I think we went in the studio three separate times and recorded a few songs each time. Some of the songs were written a long time ago and just happened to be sitting in my catalog from years before. And then some songs I wrote right in the moment of us recording. But mainly, we just had to feel what was in the moment and we didn’t overthink it. We didn’t really do any preproduction, and once we got in the groove of that, I kind of knew what songs to pull from and what emotions to pull from.
C&I: Any fun memories along the way of getting it from concept to actual release?
Cobb: The whole last year was probably about the best professional year I’ve ever had in my life and maybe in my personal life, too. We were out with so many great artists last year, opening for them, like Nikki Lane and Margo Price and Jamey Johnson and Anderson East. And then, of course, we finished the year out with Chris and Morgan Stapleton, playing 20,000-capacity rooms, which was just crazy. Really, the whole thing, the whole year. I was just glad to make an album that had so much energy in it. It also reflected the energy that I was having in my personal life, too, with a 3-year-old running around and my wife and I making the move back to south Georgia. It was just a really fun year and a really fun album to make.
C&I: You incorporated so many different sounds into the album. What were some of your inspirations?
Cobb: Some of it was my contemporaries. A lot of Chris [Stapleton’s] stuff is great, and just being around that every night, it’s hard not to be influenced by it. Earlier in the year with Margo Price, she’s got a good funky country sound and so does Nikki Lane. She’s so good and their bands are so great. But then also older artists like Larry Jon Wilson. I don’t know if you’ve heard much of him, but in the ’70s he was this guy that was from Swainsboro, Georgia, and had a super-funky country sound, but he had like a spoken word, sort of like rural poetry about him. And then Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark put out these Delbert & Glen Sessions from ’71 to ’73 that I was able to get my hands on through a friend of mine and a co-writer of mine, Adam Hood, and that had a lot to do with it, too. Just really rural spacy sounds with a really thick backbeat on the drums. And Willie Nelson, always. Roger Miller. That’s all I was listening to last year.
C&I: This album is a follow-up to your super successful Grammy-nominated album, Shine on a Rainy Day. How do you think Providence Canyon differs from that album?
Cobb: Mainly just in instrumentation. I think it’s not really a whole lot different. If you were to take away some of the electric guitars and take away the organ and the keys and some of the big background singers, I think it’d be pretty similar to Shine on a Rainy Day. I know that the songs sort of came from a similar well on this album as they did on Shine on a Rainy Day.
C&I: How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist since the release of Shine on a Rainy Day?
Cobb: I don’t know. I was just watching the video that I did at Pickathon not too long ago, a few months ago, in Happy Valley, Oregon. I feel like I’ve grown just in the last few months. I feel like I’ve grown since last week, so it’s really hard to say. I don’t even feel like the same person, but the songs still come from the same spot, you know.
C&I: You’ve written for countless people in the industry, including Kellie Pickler and Kenny Chesney. What’s the difference between writing for others and writing for yourself?
Cobb: Really, the only time I’ve ever had any success as a songwriter for other people is when I was writing for myself anyway. It’s always been the most personal songs that I’ve had recorded by other people. So it doesn’t differ too much. I kind of stick with that program. Anytime something is personal to me, for some reason it’s what has always worked for me, and I try to stick to that.
C&I: Is it difficult for you to give up those songs because they’re so personal?
Cobb: No. [Back] in the day — anywhere from the ’50s all the way up into the ’80s even — it seems like there would be five different versions of the same song. One that comes to the top of my mind is like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” you know? There was a ton of versions of that. Johnny Cash did one. Waylon did one. Obviously, Chris had one. I think Willie Nelson might’ve did a version. There was so many different versions of that song and they were all different. I’ve always been a fan of that, and I don’t know where the imaginary rule came from or the invisible rule, but for some reason that doesn’t happen anymore. I love for someone to interpret a song of mine and I wish more people would do it.
C&I: What’s your writing process like? Do you start with lyrics or the music first?
Cobb: I tend to start with picking around on the guitar. And then I’ll come up with a lyrical melody and I’ll sort of scat a little bit, the lyrics. I don’t actually have actual words, but I’ll know how the words should land and the syllables maybe even, and then that’ll inspire a story or an emotion that will, in turn, inspire words where I’ll try to fit to that melody like a puzzle.
C&I: What other artists have inspired you?
Cobb: I always have to go with my daddy first. My dad is a wonderful songwriter. He never went hugely pro. He stayed pretty regional. My uncles — everybody was all musical in my family. But then after that, Willie Nelson. Roger Miller is my favorite writer, artist, musician of all time. I don’t know. I listen to a lot of the classics, you know, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and The Byrds. It’s hard to name them. It’s usually whatever I’m listening to at the moment but a lot of the classics.
C&I: You talked earlier about having a toddler running around. How do you balance family life with your career?
Cobb: It’s the hardest part of all of it — I’ll say that. It’s the only part that’s tough on my heart. I try to be home as often as I can. Last year was a little easier than this year. Last year, especially when we got on the Chris tour, we were literally out Wednesday through — we’d be home Sunday morning. And so I love to take my daughter to preschool or daycare from Monday through Wednesday. It was a little easier. She didn’t take it as hard.
This year’s been a little different because when I go out, I got to kind of be gone for a couple weeks at a time. Luckily, we live in 2018 and we have FaceTime and stuff like that. I couldn’t imagine doing it when my dad was doing it or even any of my heroes because when you were gone, you were sure enough gone. My daughter is doing really good with it. Her whole life, she’s been traveling, and we’ve been apart here and there her whole life, so she takes it pretty good. Recently, she’s kind of started getting a little sad when I got to go. I just try to be present when I’m present, you know, and even when I’m not there. That’s the only way I know how to do it. Hopefully, we’re working to a spot, to a place in our life where eventually they can just kind of be out with me more than they are now.
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring this year?
Cobb: Well, we just got finished with our headline 60-show tour. We just picked back up with Chris and Morgan again this year. They were kind enough to have us back out, and Marty Stuart, and we’re just going to be with them until Thanksgiving. And I don’t know — we’re just going to try to play to the best of our abilities, hope for the best.
C&I: Any place you’re most excited to perform at?
Cobb: Well, we’re doing a lot of West Coast stuff with them this year. A lot of it was the Midwest and the East Coast last year, so I just love being out there to that part of the country. It’s beautiful and it’s always nice to run into folks that we might’ve seen before.
C&I: You draw a lot of inspiration from your home state. What are some places in Georgia that have shaped you as an artist?
Cobb: Obviously, Providence Canyon. As an artist, there was this place called the Silver Moon in Buena Vista, Georgia, which was about 20 minutes or so from where we lived, and it was a pretty big venue. It was an old mobile-home manufacturing plant they converted into a music venue. It can hold probably about 3,000 people. They have big artists come down, like George Jones. They had Chubby Checker, Doug Stone, Marty Stuart as I was growing up. My daddy and his band, with his brother, Slaughter Creek Band, they would open shows for all the big acts that would come to town. As a kid, I’d be running around all over this place, soaking it all up. I got to meet all those guys as a kid and that had a lot to do with it. On a more regular and life scale, just little places, like little gas station where the old-timers are drinking a 69-cent cup of coffee and talking about whatever, you know? I just like going up there and talking to them, or if I stop by Bass Tire Shop and talk to those guys. I just enjoy the day in the life, a lot of the way we all talk down there has a lot of influence on my songwriting.
C&I: You said you were moving back to Georgia. What are your favorite places to visit when you go home?.
Cobb: Yeah, we’re back there now and it’s all those places. It’s just those little spots. I like going to the Chevron. I know this doesn’t sound very interesting, but I like stopping by little shops and seeing old buddies and just your normal day in the life. Those are my favorite places to visit. I don’t really get out. I don’t get too far off of the beaten path between our house — we live at a little lake down there called Lake Blackshear off the Flint River – and I’ll stop by little places in between there and taking my daughter to school.
C&I: Last question, what’s something your fans might not know about you?
Cobb: I don’t know. That’s always a tough question because I know everything about me, so I don’t know what people may not know. I don’t want to take the easy way out, but I really never know how to answer that question. I try to be as open as I can, so maybe there’s nothing.
For more information on Brent Cobb and his upcoming tour dates, visit his website.