Brent Cobb is an artist on the cusp of many things. His fan base is expanding, his stage presence is immaculate and his songwriting craft is in a true creative ascent. He'll be at Saturn in Birmingham on Thursday at 8 p.m., and fans can expect an artist in true control of his career and artistry. His songs tell compelling stories that denote a proud Southern existence and the characters within that make us all genuinely whole as a region. A real treat is the tale behind each tune and the joy he exudes when he explains the back story behind it. If for no other reason, go watch this man perform so you can say, "I saw Brent Cobb back in 2019. What a night!"
Q: I saw you last year at Work Play and I was really struck by “King of Alabama.” The story behind it was so striking, and the delivery behind it was perfect. I’d be interested in hearing about Wayne; he sounds like a fantastic guy.
A: He was a giant fella, a big guy, and his heart was bigger than he was. The song celebrates the heart of the man. He could be rough around the edges, too, but playing decades in honky tonks can kind of make you that way. The song gives an idea as to what kind of character he was. A lot of folks hated to see him go, especially, like he did.
Q: I was sitting up in the rafters with my wife and my first impression while seeing you live was that you remind me of a young Merle Haggard. The thing I loved most about it was your connection to the audience.
A: Well, I appreciate that. My dad is a performer and he’s always done that and always preached it to me. He told me to just look people in the eye and just tell them a story, and I try my best to do that. The age I am, I can pull up all kinds of old videos of my heroes from the past. I’ve watched a lot of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard shows. It’s a strange feeling when you are looking at someone directly in their eye, like maybe I’m freaking them out a little bit, but really it’s just me being awkward. If you can look people in the eye and sing to them, I know that’s the way I’d like a show to happen.
Q: I loved the way you described the character in “Diggin’ Holes.” Is there a lot of you in that song?
A: It’s mostly me. I wrote that song with a guy named Casey Wood. The way that “Diggin’ Holes” kind of came about was that Casey and I were going through a rough patch with our significant others at the same time, and we had just met on this particular day. He was talking about what was going on with him and said his brother was also a songwriter. His brother was also a coal miner, and Casey said he was better at digging holes than writing music. We were talking about what was going on in our relationships and when he said that, I was like, “We need to write exactly everything we were talking about today, and at the end of all of it, we’ll just say I ought to be doing this because I’m pretty good at digging myself a hole.”
Q: I also wanted to say from watching that show, when I saw you in Birmingham, your guitar player is so talented but also so much fun to watch.
A: Yes sir, Mike Harris, he’s a star. We also got a new drummer, and I feel like I have the best band in the business right now. I can’t wait for everyone to see this show, it’s gonna be really neat.
Q: You mentioned once about being a songwriter, and you touched on one aspect I wanted to touch on, too -- storytelling. "Providence Canyon" is a songwriter’s album, but I also feel like it's a storyteller’s album. Are there any other members of your family that are like talented storytellers?
A: My dad has always been a great storyteller. When I was growing up, I’d get him to tell the same old stories over and over again when we’d be hanging around a campfire and I’d have all my buddies around. I could get him to tell the same stories to this day and still enjoy it because he still makes it so interesting. He kind of makes you feel like you’re there and enjoying it. I feel like most storyteller’s are like that; if you can tell a story well, you can tell it over and over again without getting tired of it.
Q: That being said about writing, could you see yourself writing a book, a movie script, or anything?
A: I haven’t sat down to do it, but I have had ideas that I want to do something with. One day if I ever have the chance to take some time off and just sit down and focus, I'll do just that, because I have a movie idea and also a book idea.
Q: Who do you consider to be your musical contemporaries?
A: That’s a good question. Over the course of my career I’ve had a lot of them, and I’ve also been in the unique situation of watching people become my contemporary and then just leave me in the dust. Adam Hood; I hate to even call him that because he’s kind of a legend. Charlie Worsham; he’s been a friend of mine for forever also. Tyler Childers; now I think everyone kind of knows who he is. Nikki Lane. Margo Price. We’ve all toured together. There is a bunch of them, but when you ask me, I can’t think of them all. I feel like there’s a whole crop of us that the people, the listeners, are just now discovering even though we’ve been around for a while. I put out my first album in 2006 and I’ve been touring since I graduated high school in 2004. Most people I consider contemporaries have been doing the exact same thing, but people are just now starting to hear them.
Q: Is there any element of music you’d like to explore that your current fans might find interesting or a little off the beaten path?
A: I try not to think too much about the style of music because I try to write the songs however they come out naturally. I think that keeps them all sort of on the same web. Musically, it just depends on the same deal. Whatever you’re feeling that day in the studio. I would never think that far in advance to decide which style each record is going to be. Now in the studio that day if for some reason we decided to do a reggae version of something, then you never know what might happen.
Q: You’re playing in Birmingham again, what plans do you have while you’re in town?
A: Actually, I’m going to be driving myself this weekend, and I’ll be gone from my family for about three weeks. So I’m staying around the house until the last minute I have to leave. The day of the show I will drive my daughter to school and then ease on to Birmingham and load down a bunch of gear. Nothing real cool after that than playing the show.
Q: Since you’ve got some days lined up, are you able to write on the road?
A: Sometimes, because it’s harder in a van or in a charter because there’s no time to just kind of be alone and write, unless you have a couple of days where you are off somewhere and got a hotel room. I write really well on the road when I have time to do it, and I prefer to write on the road.
Q: I interviewed Ben Kweller the other day and he told me that songs written in motel rooms have a tone and mood all their own.
A. I agree entirely. I wrote "Ain't a Road Too Long" in a hotel room. It would have turned out completely different had I not been holed up in that room for a couple of days.
Q. My favorite songs by you are "Shine On Rainy Day" and "Down In the Gully." Do you have a favorite song of yours?
A. I keep referring back to my dad, but he wrote "Country Down" on my first album, "Shine On Rainy Day." In 1992, he wrote that one with my mother's brother, and I was with them. We were in Cleveland, Ohio, for Christmas. I remember it so well because I was looking out the window of my uncle's apartment and I saw snow fall for the first time. They were writing that song the first time I saw snow, and that's why it's my favorite and the reason I had to have it on my first record. It’s also the reason I made my Grand Ole Opry debut two years ago that I had my dad come up and perform that song with me.
Q. That's almost perfect. Isn't it?
A. I feel like I'm living a dream. We talked about writing a movie, well, I feel like I'm living in one. It has been a wild few years.
Q. How would you like the rest of your year to play out?
A. The fans will continue to grow; the crowds are doubling in size from this time last year. We're going back out with Chris Stapleton this year; that should help with that. I have a baby on the way this year. That's a beautiful thing and also really scary. I'd like to think that the rest of this year will provide me with the things that I need to provide for my family and hopefully I won't have to look back. I intend to just keep looking forward. Those are the things that I hope to really have.
Larry May owns CD Cellar record store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston.