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THE ECLECTIC WORLD
OF DAVE COBB

Brandi Carlile. Jason Isbell. Chris Stapleton. John Prine. The Oak Ridge Boys. Amanda Shires. Lady Gaga (on “Always Remember Us This Way,” from A Star Is Born). Having collaborated with all of the above over the last five years, Producer of the Year Grammy nominee Dave Cobb has been one ubiquitous guy in the worlds of roots, country and Americana music.

He’s won both the Country Music Association and Americana Music Association Producer of the Year awards, helmed essential albums for Sturgill Simpson (Metamodern Sounds in Country Music), Lori McKenna (The Bird and the Rifle), Shooter Jennings (Put the O Back in Country) and Dawes (Good Luck With Whatever) and saved Music Row’s historic RCA Studio A from developers. He’s also won six Grammys, for his work with Stapleton, Carlile and Isbell.

Nominated a second time for the Grammy for Producer of the Year, Cobb may have the longest and most eclectic body of work on the ballot. “Backbone” by Kaleo, The Balladeer by McKenna, “Boneshaker” by Airbourne, Down Home Christmas by The Oak Ridge Boys, The Highwomen’s eponymous debut, The Spark by William Prince, Reunions by Isbell, “You’re Still the One” by Teddy Swims and “I Remember Everything,” Prine’s final recording, are just the tip of the iceberg of the soft-spoken Georgian’s 2019–2020 work life.

You’ve had a busy year.
I’m not one who likes days off; I love work. I’ve never felt like, “I’m going to clock in.” Enjoying life to me is making music. I love the challenge of how it’s going to come together.

You don’t seem to have a single lane.
Yeah, this year for sure—country, rock & roll, gospel, Americana, modern rock, R&B… I missed EDM!

Is it weird shifting gears like that? Or does it keep you juicy?
It’s resetting a part of your brain, changing genres so much. You’re always fresh because it’s always something new. When you go into a country record after you’ve gotten all the rock out of your system, you sink right into the country. Then, when I do a rock record, I hear all the influences. Though you do sometimes bring things from different places.

Is there common ground?
I’m always looking for honesty, no matter what else. And I’m trying to produce everything to have a feeling and to mean something. At the end of the day, I’m a pop guy. The Beatles are my favorite band. I want the song to be catchy. Though I also want to leave the rough edges—I want it to feel dangerous, like the artist could fall off the edge at any point. Mostly I just want to do what the artist requires, create an extension of their music. And I try not to do the same trick twice.

You’ve worked with some crazy-great artists.
Jason Isbell is hugely responsible for me having a career; we did Southeastern as I was coming up. I got my footing making that record. He had a really strong vision for what he wanted. It’s not hard making great records when the artist shows up with songs like “Cover Me Up,” “Elephant” and “If We Were Vampires.”

You’re good at staying on the journey with these artists; Chris Stapleton’s new one, Jason’s Reunions show real growth.
We never try to outdo ourselves. We try to realize where the artist is at that moment and just be there. With Jason, for instance, he’s not where he was with Southeastern now.

Then there’s The Oaks.
I grew up in a Pentecostal family in Savannah. My grandmother was a minister who had the Oak Ridge Quartet gospel records. So they’ve been part of my life since I was very little. One of my proudest moments was getting one of their tour jackets with my name on it.

And Teddy Swims, who’s more straight-up R&B.
He blew up online with a cover of Shania Twain! She sent me a text saying, “Oh my God! This is incredible, a really great version of my song with a really good singer.” She came in, and she’s a mastermind. Just watching her work, watching her stack harmonies… She is that talented.

You seem to really understand women artists. The Highwomen come to mind.
Amanda Shires had the idea for an all-girl group. I said, “Brilliant!” I took her to Brandi Carlile’s show at the Ryman, went backstage after, and when Brandi heard the idea, she said, “Yes!” The Highwomen are four of my favorite people, and the talent in the room makes the walls vibrate. They’re all the greatest singers, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby too. Four people, but when they sing, it’s one voice. They decided, “We’re gonna get together and make art.” But it’s not only beautiful music; it’s beautiful for my daughter to see these incredible artists supporting each other. They wrote “Crowded Table” with Lori McKenna. “I want a house with a crowded table/ And a place by the fire for everyone.” That’s something we all want.

And John Prine’s last recording.
I had no idea it would be the last recording we’d make. We’d done The Tree of Forgiveness, and it was so much fun. He walked in, and we started recording. It was that easy.

“I Remember Everything” was...
…as intimate as you can get making a record. It was the absolute … the vision of him being at his house … He’d just bought the Prine Graceland.

In 2018, you produced the Grammys’ Best Country Album for Stapleton and Best Americana Album for Isbell. Then, in 2019, you produced the Grammys’ Best Americana Album and Song of the Year for Brandi Carlile. You’ve been nominated multiple times for your work with John, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson, your cousin Brent Cobb, and you were nominated for Producer of the Year in 2015. How does it feel to be up for Producer of the Year a second time?
It feels like the culmination of my whole career as much as this year of my life. It’s about all those records but everything else, too. When I moved to Nashville to give this a go, I was in the studio so much, away from family. I don’t want to make records that are just good. Maybe it’s a little bit selfish. So this Producer of the Year nomination is about all the sacrifices they made.

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