Interview: Brent Cobb’s ‘Keep ‘Em on They Toes’ Is a Family Affair
Brent Cobb sees each album he makes a bit differently now, thanks to his children. Since his major-label debut, 2016's Shine on Rainy Day -- his first release following the birth of his now-6-year-old daughter Lyla -- he's tried to use his records to share himself with them.
"If I were to die the day after [one of my albums] came out and my children really didn't get to know me growing up," the singer-songwriter explains, "then they could put on my albums and know who their daddy was."
The newly released Keep 'Em on They Toes, then, would tell Cobb's baby girl and her younger brother Tuck, who is a year and a half old, "Daddy loved home and the country life," the artist explains, "but also, Daddy thought that maybe the world should try a little harder to get along sometimes."
It's a sweet lens through which to view Cobb's newest album, out Friday (Oct. 2), and his decision to co-write with family for the project. When he proclaims, "The best thing you can do is don't listen too close / Walk to your own beat / Keep 'em on they toes," in the chorus of the record-opening title track, it's a message from both Cobb and his wife Layne, a pharmacist.
"She would not consider herself a songwriter ... but she's way smarter than I am and has great taste in music," Cobb says of his wife, who introduced him to the deepest cuts of Bobs Dylan and Seger when they first started dating. He enlisted her as a co-writer after the family moved back to Georgia.
Together, the Cobbs also penned "Shut Up and Sing," which flips the favorite phrase of those who think artists shouldn't share their political opinions on its head: "Until somebody says somethin' that means something / I'll shut up and sing," Cobb promises.
"I'm terrible at articulating my thoughts unless I put it in song. I do better when I do just shut up and sing, because I can write it a lot better than I can talk about it," the artist reflects. "It's just the way it works for me. It works better that way."
Cobb's father, meanwhile, helped out with "Soapbox," which suggests -- with the harmonies of Nikki Lane, whom Cobb calls "the realest deal of our time" -- that, perhaps, it's time to "hop off the soapbox and get along."
"We're constantly hearing people's internal thoughts [on social media], which is great -- I'm glad that everybody can speak freely," Cobb reflects, "but sometimes, you know, maybe we ought to hop off our soapbox and go do something about it ... You can bitch and bitch about whatever it is, but actions speak louder than words."
Then there's "Good Times and Good Love," co-written with a fellow Georgia boy, country superstar Luke Bryan. The two Peach State natives used to play clubs together, with Cobb's band opening for Bryan, and first wrote together a decade ago.
"I was scared to death [during that first co-writing session]. I was super intimidated by the whole experience," recalls Cobb, whom Bryan invited to Nashville for the session, and to introduce him around town. "I couldn't be creative, and I didn't really know what I was doing."
Now a one-time Grammy nominee and a songwriter with cuts from Bryan and more mainstream stars, Cobb says he "redeem[ed] myself" during their 2019 writing session. He was feeling much more comfortable when he and Bryan wrote "Good Times and Good Love" and "Where Are We Goin'," from Bryan's 2020 release Born Here, Live Here, Die Here, in three hours.
"There are a lot of people who don't realize how wonderful of a musician he is," Cobb says of Bryan. "He can play the s--t out of a piano," which is why Cobb hoped Bryan would record "Good Times and Good Love." When Bryan selected "Where Are We Goin'" for his own album, Cobb took the other song for Keep 'Em on They Toes -- and enlisted Bryan to play piano on the track.
The family member missing from Keep 'Em on They Toes is perhaps the most prominent one: famed producer Dave Cobb, Brent's cousin. Dave produced both Shine on Rainy Day and 2018's Providence Canyon for Brent, but was replaced in the producer's chair this time around by Brad Cook.
"[Dave and I] just could not get our schedules together," Brent Cobb says with a chuckle, and Cook, a good friend known for a sparse production approach, proved the perfect candidate.
"There's [only] a little going on," Cobb says of Cook's style, "but he makes everything matter."
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