Continuing with our series of features on The Unsung Heroes of Americana, where we take a look at some of the people, places and things that help to bring this genre of music to life, Richard Phillips is back with a profile of a man who likes to keep things simple but always taps into the real sound of the musicians he works with; Nashville based producer, Dave Cobb.
Working as a producer for such artists as, Shooter Jennings, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Amanda Shires, to name but a few, Cobb places capturing the dynamics of having band and singer playing together in the studio as a high priority, opining that “If the singer gets quiet, the band gets quiet; there’s so much dynamic and emotion in tracking together. It’s nice to hear a finished record as you’re tracking it. Artists get excited when they hear it back and it already sounds like an album“. A musician himself, Cobb takes an informal, collaborative approach with the artists he works with, enabling the essence of their material to shine through; he wants to help the artists fulfil their potential, making the best of their particular magic.
Born in Savannah, Georgia, Cobb first learned to play guitar and drums from an early age. Something of the Southern Soul sound stays with him to this day, “There was always this sound in the air,” Cobb says, “I think it’s the sound of Georgia. Georgia always had that little-bit-country, little-bit-R&B thing compared to the other states, I think. Just hearing Otis Redding for the first time, he’s from Georgia. That’s super influential, even if I’m doing country. I think that is in the back of my head.”.
No stranger to the other side of the mixing desk, he has worked as a session musician and made three albums as a member of The Tender Idols, adding his guitar and bass playing to their sound. It was during this time as a musician that the development of an interest in producing began to emerge. After moving to LA in 2004, Cobb decided to move to Nashville in 2011 where he can now work in the historic RCA Studio A which has hosted such artists as Loretta Lynn, BB King, Ben Folds and Dolly Parton where she recorded ‘Jolene’. Early Nashville sessions were predicated on using analogue recording techniques which reflects Cobb’s similar philosophy; he likes to create a warm sound to support the vocalist, using analogue techniques whilst not totally shunning digital tools.
Here’s Cobb talking about working at one of Nashville’s most iconic studios, Studio A; it was built for musicians to work with each other; a special place to generate creativity.
Listening to the artists that Cobb has worked with, it is striking how they all have such distinctive, soulful voices. Here, Anderson East sings ‘All I’ll Ever Need’ and it’s easy to hear that Southern Soul influence that Cobb takes from his native state, Georgia; Otis Redding would have been proud of this one:
Equally distinctive are the likes of Jason Isbell, whose ‘SouthEastern’ was partially recorded in Cobb’s kitchen. For Cobb this album was about making Isbell’s lyrics and their fragility shine; to this end everyone is tracked live.
Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’ is given the Cobb treatment to create a soulful country album of the highest order. There is a spirit to this album which harks back to the sixties where the sound and feel was analogue; Cobb used tape machines to create various effects and ensured that Simpson was given the space to create his own individual sound.
Ultimately it is the human element to Cobb’s way of working as a producer that endure. He likes to create a community of musicians, amonst which he is one, often playing himself on recordings. He respects analogue recording techniques and equipment, realising they are far from perfect, rather that it is this imperfection that makes his production human; gives it that Georgia soul.