With a new solo album in the can, Chris Shiflett — alt-country singer-songwriter, longtime member of the Foo Fighters, co-founder of Me First, the Gimme Gimmes and Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants — has been thinking a lot of recording studios. Fittingly, he sits down with producer Dave Cobb for the newest episode of his Walking the Floor podcast. Recorded the same week Cobb permanently moved into Nashville’s famous RCA Studio A, the episode finds the then-strangers bonding over a shared fascination with Gretsch guitars, Glynn Johns and the artists who’ve joined Cobb in the studio, including Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton.
The two have since become good friends, with Cobb producing Shiflett’s upcoming solo record. The podcast, which is streaming in its entirety below, captures their very first conversation, shining a light on a former road warrior who now prefers to work behind the scenes — “Being in the studio is like being in a different band every week,” Cobb explains. Hear their candid chat below, followed by our five takeaways from the interview.
1. Miranda Lambert wasn’t part of Southern Family‘s original tracklist.
Inspired by Glynn Johns’ late-Seventies concept record White Mansions, Southern Family pairs Cobb’s production with new songs by Jason Isbell, Morgane Stapleton, John Paul White and the Zac Brown Band. Isbell and Stapleton were among the first artists to sign up, while the album’s biggest commercial draw — Miranda Lambert — was added to the mix at the last minute. “I’d [already] made the record,” Cobb admits. “I’d never reached out to [Lambert], because she’s a superstar and I didn’t know her, and in my head there’s no way she’d ever do something like this, even though I was a big fan and I always thought she made really honest records. So I ran into her socially one time, and she was like, ‘I heard about your stupid record. What, am I not cool enough to be on it?’ And, of course, we got her on it after that. I felt like an idiot.”
2. Cobb spends most of his waking hours listening to music. . . unless he’s behind the wheel.
“I can’t drive and listen to records, still to this day,” he says adamantly. “I cannot listen to records and drive. I’ll wreck. I might go into this other world on it. [Music] always had this big hold on me.”
3. Before he could legally drive, Cobb was already a multi-instrumentalist, thanks to a combination of soft fingers, pre-teen hormones and a very patient mother.
“I started taking lessons at four,” he remembers. “I remember guitar hurting my fingers, but my mom had already paid for lessons, so I took drum lessons. I was serious about drums. I played drums all through school. When I got about 12, I started playing bass, because I wanted to write songs. I used to call girls on the phone and try to play songs for them, playing drums and singing.”
4. Cobb chalks up the classic sounds of his albums to a mix of good acoustics, good gear and plenty of research.
Pushed by Shiflett to divulge some of his studio secrets, Cobb admitted that good instruments — and good studios — do much of the work for him. “I think the sound is in the room,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time listening to records. You hear a snare drum in real life and you’re like, ‘Man, that doesn’t sound like a snare drum on a record.’ I kept listening to stuff and hanging around with people who were smarter than me until I figured out, ‘That’s the snare drum to get that sound,’ or, ‘That’s the guitar that gets that sound,’ or, ‘That’s the high hat that sounds like that record.’ I chased a lot of the instruments and a lot of the gear to make similar sounds to records that I love. To get the sound, you start researching.”
5. A longtime Beatles superfan, Cobb joined his first group as a teenager, playing bass in a Beatles tribute band.
“I was playing Paul,” he remembers. “My first year with the band was about 12. And it sucked. It was terrible. I remember making the t-shirts and it was a ripoff. You know how Led Zeppelin had the Zeppelin crashing, the Hindenburg? Ours was, like, a boat sinking. So bad.”