Producer Dave Cobb on Spending Over 225 Weeks on Billboard 200

ISSUE 1 2020 - OUT ON JAN. 14, 2020
David McClister
Dave Cobb photographed in 2015.

One of Nashville’s top producers, Dave Cobb has collaborated with Jason Isbell, Bruce Springsteen, Sturgill Simpson, Zac Brown Band, Elle King, Shooter Jennings, John Prine, Jamey Johnson, and many others. The six-time Grammy winner’s most recent credits include co-producing Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You, which won three Grammys in 2019, including best Americana album; and a music consultant role on 2018’s A Star Is Born soundtrack, which has sold over 2 million equivalent units in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music.

But it was his work on Chris Stapleton’s breakthrough LP, Traveller, that changed his career forever. With an initial bow at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 in May 2015, the album reentered the chart that November, shifting 177,000 equivalent album units to surge all the way to No. 1, earning the pair their first-ever chart-topping record. The gains followed Stapleton’s unexpected sweep of the 2015 CMA Awards, which included a surprise duet alongside pop star Justin Timberlake (“Tennessee Whiskey”/“Drink You Away”) and wins for male vocalist of the year, best new artist, and album of the year. 

The record’s further achievements include consecutive Billboard Music Award wins for top country album in 2015 and 2016; and album of the year prize at the 2016 Academy of Country Music Awards. “I hunted Dave down. I loved the sonic quality he got on Sturgill [Simpson]’s records, and wasn’t sure you could still make records that sounded like that, the older records I had in my head,” Stapleton told Billboard at the time. “We sold 27,000 records the first week and played David Letterman, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, but [after the CMA’s] the album went back into the chart at No. 1. Doesn't suck! The lesson is, make music that you love.”

The surprise hit also led Cobb to launch his own label and publishing company, Low Country Sound, in partnership with Warner Music Group subsidiary Elektra and publisher Warner Chappell Music. The imprint’s releases to date have included titles for Shooter Jennings, Anderson East, The Highwomen, Rival Sons, and his cousin, Brent Cobb. Below, he recalls the triumph.

 


 

I first heard Chris’ old band The SteelDrivers. His voice was just out of this world. Then I ran into him casually in a guitar shop and was like ‘Are you Chris Stapleton?’ He was like ‘yeah…’ (laughs). It felt like a long time coming before we actually got to make music, but when we did I was already a big fan. You just don’t hear voices like that every day. 

Traveller was made for the right reasons. We wanted to make the most pure and honest album that we could, one that represented the best version of his sound. There was no competitive nature or talk of making it to the top of the Billboard charts because it seemed impossible at the time. It was like riding a train that wasn’t stopping. 

I’ll never forget playing the CMAs with Justin Timberlake. When we started, all the nerves just went away, and there was magic in the air. It felt all-encompassing. At the Grammys, too, I remember getting up on stage with Chris and just feeling extremely emotional about all of the years both of us had worked just to have a career in music, which isn’t the easiest field, and just thinking ‘man we’ll be okay for a little bit, at least a year.’

When the record took off, I was literally a continent away, in Berlin, Germany, working on a record, so I wasn’t really able to feel it happening. It all felt like a dream. But we got together about a month later to do a track for his wife Morgane called “You Are My Sunshine.” We got in the studio and just detoxed from it all, like ‘can you believe what just happened?’ We were all kind of numb. 

To be on the Billboard 200 alone was beyond any dream I ever had in my life, but to be on the chart for over 200 weeks was insane. As a kid, the ranking was always the litmus test of success. It’s something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life, and I’m sure Chris and Morgane will be too.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of Billboard.

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