Interview: Brent Cobb on Spirituality, Songwriting and the Inspiration Behind ‘Providence Canyon’
When Brent Cobb was 17, his grandmother died. During her funeral proceedings, while waiting for friends and family to arrive at his parents' house for visitation hours, Cobb laid down on the couch to take a nap and had a dream that shaped his outlook on songwriting and spirituality, which features prominently into his latest album, Providence Canyon.
"I dreamt that I woke up, and I was at my folks' house -- everything was the same -- except people had started showing up, so I walked through the kitchen and into the living room, and my nana was sitting there on a stool," he recalls. "She had this big white book, so I said, 'Nana, what are you reading?' She looked up and said, 'A songbook.' And right then I woke up."
Cobb's grandmother had always been his biggest fan, and he interpreted the dream "to mean that, maybe, as long as I'm doing right in life, maybe she'll send me a [song] down every now and again. I can't speak for everybody, but for me at least, all good songs come down from a higher power."
For Cobb, music and spirituality are deeply connected. He continued to see his grandmother's influence on his music as he moved to Nashville and began working as a practicing songwriter.
"I can't speak for everybody, but for me at least, all good songs come down from a higher power."
"What's crazy is that two days before she passed away, I had written this song called "Hold Me Closely," and at the time, I didn't know why I had written the song. Then, of course, she died, and I had that dream. Flash forward two years later, once I had made the move to Nashville, "Hold Me Closely" was the first song I wrote to ever be cut by an artist. It was cut by the Oak Ridge Boys, which happen to be a very spiritual group," Cobb adds. "So, that's why I believe in songwriting as that whole higher-power, spiritual thing."
Providence Canyon takes its name from one of its tracks; however, Cobb has been saving the title for a studio album for years, even before he wrote its eponymous song. He initially wanted to name his last record, Shine on Rainy Day, after the canyon, which is located about an hour west of his hometown of Ellaville, Ga.
"It's the 'little Grand Canyon'; it looks exactly like the Grand Canyon, except much, much smaller," Cobb explains of Providence Canyon. "It's this red clay-walled canyon that developed because of erosion, because of decades of bad farming practices. When I was a kid, we'd go down there and explore it, and, later on, when I was in my teens and early adulthood, we'd go there and party and get into trouble.
"What occurred to me when I was writing the song "Providence Canyon" is that I didn't actually know what the definition of 'providence' was. Which sounds ridiculous! Being a songwriter, you'd think I would know something like that," he continues. "I looked up the definition, and it defined 'providence' as 'the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power or being.'"
A fitting title, as Cobb's new album explores themes of geography, with track titles including "King of Alabama" and "High in the Country;" other songs, such as "Come Home Soon," are meditations on the way in which returning to a familiar landscape can restore a sense of self.
"I write a lot about home," Cobb notes, "but being [home] in this album is also about being in the protective care of God or nature."
Cobb is a prolific songwriter, who has written for artists such as Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan; however, with his move to a major label in 2016 and his subsequent tour with Chris Stapleton (along with his own headlining Ain't a Road Too Long Tour), the country singer admits it isn't always easy to write as much as he used to.
"I just don't have the time to go in and co-write like I used to," Cobb says. "I don't write as often now, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. I believe everything has a season, and I'm sure that season will come back again someday. I'm enjoying the changes of scenery right now."
With the expansion of his fan base, though, Cobb has been able to enjoy giving younger artists a leg up as they break into the industry. In 2017, he appeared at the Bluebird in Nashville with up-and-comer Jade Bird.
"When I see somebody like Jade, who's so talented, I remember being in a similar boat when I was around her age," he explains. "I want to help her, because that's the way it was done for me. I had some really generous people open those doors for me in Nashville: Luke Bryan invited me to stay at his house for a week in 2007, and that was really kind of him to do -- more kind than I realized at the time, I think. So it's nice to be able to pay that forward."