I first met Jesse Cobb a number of years ago, when he was playing mandolin with The Infamous Stringdusters. I remember being struck by Jesse’s aggressive playing; his mandolin work was distinctive, his solo runs both melodic and furious. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “No More To Leave You Behind,” from the ‘Dusters’ first record. The timing, tone, and precision mystified me.
Jesse’s story is an intriguing one. A native of Wisconsin, he is one of four musical brothers. Brothers Matt and Shad are both mean fiddlers, with Shad being one of the most sought after players in Nashville, and brother Jed is one hell of a clawhammer banjo player. The three of them spent much time on the road during their formative years, picking bluegrass in The Cobb Brothers Family Band. Later, Jesse spent time logging timber, running sled dogs, doing construction, and working on the railroad.
A move to Nashville in 2000 brought Jesse back to music. Jesse was a founding member of The Infamous Stringdusters in 2006, spending five years recording and touring with the genre-bending ‘grassers before leaving the band in 2011. These days, Jesse calls the Ontario area home, where he lives with wife Nicole and their daughters Kayla and Mackenzie. I caught up with Jesse to chat about where his musical career has taken him recently.
BRO – How was recording this record – a solo project – different from your previous recording experiences?
JC – I went into my buddy Mark Lalama’s Sumbler House Studios with no intention of making an album. This started as an idea for teaching mandolin camps and workshops, just to show my style of improvisation that could be dissected with a class. It wasn’t until months later, when working on another project at Mark’s, that we came up with the idea to let this be a stand along project. In most recording situations, especially band sessions, there are very thought out arrangements and lots of opinions to consider. In this case, I wanted a raw, live, improvisational feel, so there was very little planning. I just went straight to playing.
BRO – We are featuring “Solitude,” the title track of your record, on Trail Mix this month. The song is an instrumental, but there still has to be a story behind it.
JC – I’ve been traveling pretty much my whole life, starting with moving back and forth between the West Coast and Midwest three or four times when I was a small child. I played with my family band when I was in my teens, worked on the railroad in my early twenties, and was a musician again after that. During all that time crisscrossing the country, I have always loved sitting in the back of a van or truck, late at night, playing my mandolin when most folks are asleep. This tune was written in one of those situations, somewhere in Wyoming, I believe. Everyone, no matter how busy, needs some solitude.
Finish this thought . . . “Playing the mandolin is better than logging work because…”
JC – …the mortal danger in playing mandolin is considerably lower, unless, of course, you get involved in the “what is bluegrass?” discussion.
BRO – You and your brother, Shad, have spent some time on the road doing some duo shows lately. Are you guys more like the brothers Everly or Robinson?
JC – I’d say the influence of both can likely be heard, although I am pretty sure Shad doesn’t know who The Black Crowes are! That’s one of the best things about playing with Shad. He has a very deep respect for the older sounds, and I’d say we are more influenced by the Louvin Brothers that either of those two. We are open to more modern influences from the jam and modern rock worlds I’ve been exposed to over the years, though our vocal styles are very much in the vein of the Everlys.
BRO – You recently spent some time on the road with a bad ass band. Tell me about that project.
JC – Bad ass indeed! I was on the road with Noam Pikelny, Bryan Sutton, Barry Bales, and Luke Bulla. I was fortunate to do 15 shows with these guys over about three weeks. We had an absolute blast. These guys are both amazing musicians and great friends on the road. Noam always finds the best food, Barry is the best late night bluegrass DJ I’ve ever heard, Bryan is a great influence, both musically and personally, and Luke is one of the best singers I know and his advice and encouragement were priceless. Things came together pretty quickly as far as getting our set list locked in. Everyone was given the opportunity to show off their various chops and it was so fun to play music we rarely get to play with our other projects. I also need to get a shout out to Dan Foldes, our road manager, sound guy, roommate, and all around good dude. He made us sound good every night. I hope we get to do some more of this next year.