By Amy Sondova If you’ve been around the singer/songwriter end of the indie music scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Tara Leigh Cobble. The sassy singer is also an accomplished author and speaker, who grew up in Tennessee hunting and gutting. Between working on her third book, playing shows and touring (including a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea), and exploring Manhattan, Tara Leigh was sweet enough to answer a few questions via e-mail for Backseat Writer.
Clearly you love New York City, how’d a Tennessee girl end up on the East Coast?
The basic answer is that God made it clear to me that He wanted me in NYC, so I went. The details of the story were enough to fill a book, so I turned it into one (Crowded Skies: Letters to Manhattan). It’s about knowing and discerning the voice of God in regard to life decisions.
Do you really know how to use a gun and gut ducks? (Have you adapted to gutting pigeons being in the city?)
I do! And unfortunately, I’m not allowed to have a gun in the City! Sad.
Your faith seems to ooze out of your music and your writing—how did you and God meet?
I grew up in a home where Jesus was a daily thing—my parents lived out their relationship with Him in front of my eyes. When I was four years old, my brother Jason and I were playing a board game, and he asked me if I wanted to meet Jesus. I told him I did, so I prayed a short prayer asking Jesus to save me and be in my life. It might seem like I was too young for that to be real, but He was faithful to answer me.
Some of the songs on your latest project, Playing Favorites, like “Walking on Sunshine” and “Holding Out For a Hero” are covers of classic, but where did your unique slant on “Hallelujah” come from?
I heard the song covered by so many people, but I’d never heard a girl cover it, so I set out to learn it. When I was picking through it the first time, I realized that the chords and the feel worked perfectly with “Thy Word” so I knit them together. The things that I cling to in both songs fit seamlessly in my mind. It’s still one of my favorite songs to play live.
But what about songs I never heard before like “Everlasting Love” and “Please Forgive Me” and my personal favorite “I Wonder”?
“Everlasting Love” is one of those rare pop songs that has a message about love that isn’t far off from what God says. It’s pure and hopeful, and it reminds me that God’s best is worth waiting for. “Please Forgive Me” was a suggestion from Lee McDerment, who helped produce the record as well as sing and play on it. He and I sat down at the piano one day and he worked out that slower, softer version—I loved it. On that same day, he suggested that I do a piano version of “I Wonder.” I hesitated because I’d already put two versions of the song on two other albums. But on his first attempt at interpreting the song, he left me speechless, with tears in my eyes. I knew I had to do it again. Today, it is my favorite version of any song I’ve ever recorded.
This is almost like a girl power album. You have super powers, don’t you?
I can kick really high. I can drive long distances without much sleep. But I have yet to learn how to eradicate calories in ice cream. If you figure that one out, let me know!
How did you survive producer (and Sparrow Recording Artist) Josh Wilson’s hot recording closet? (Word on the street is that he makes people record vocals in the closet to make sure background noise is at a minimum).
True story! It was burning up in there. He tried to buy an air conditioner, but we recorded in January, and Home Depot didn’t have any in stock at that time. I took frequent breaks to run outside and roll around in the snow.
You emerged on the indie scene eight years ago; why have you remained an indie artist for so long?
Fame doesn’t motivate me at all. In fact, not only am I not interested in it, but I don’t want it. At all. And most labels are propelled by the mission of achieving a far-and-wide acceptance of their artists. Since their vision usually conflicts so drastically with what God has put in my heart, it’s been an easy answer up to this point.
I heard that you have signed with a major recording label, is there any truth to this rumor?
Nope. There have been talks, but at the end of the day, it always comes around to me staying independent. There could be a time when that changes, if the right things fall in place and our visions line up.
You are one busy lady—singing, speaking, writing—how do you manage it all?
I’m still trying to figure that out! God has always helped me fit the right things into my schedule. Summers are slow for touring, so I spend my summers writing and working on talks. Lately He’s been providing a lot more opportunities for me to speak, so I’m throwing myself into that more than into writing songs. Just trying to follow His lead.
What are some of your favorite topics to write about? (Basically, what’s your niche?)
Jesus shows up in everything. He cares about every detail. He speaks to me about work, rest, friends, charity, love, brokenness, nature, guys that I like—He covers all that ground in our conversations. So when I write, I tell those stories. I talk about the way He speaks to me, the way He works, the things He says. I call my style “spiritual memoir,” but the main truth that lies underneath all my writing is this: intimacy with God is possible, it’s vital, and He has gone to great lengths to achieve that with you. He wants to be involved in every part of your life.
I know you’re working on a book right now—what’s it about?
It’s kind of a secret. The plan is for it to be the third in the “Letters” trilogy. That’s all I’m prepared to publicly say right now. Hah! Sorry.
Perhaps one of my favorite Tara Leigh “things” is your Twitter updates, why do you Twitter?
Twitter serves many purposes to me—it’s a way to remind myself of things I need to remember, it keeps me updated on the lives of friends near and far, it serves as a journal, and it encourages me. Also, I once twittered that my iPod was broken and a guy who follows my feed gave me a new one! You can’t beat that!
If I was in Manhattan, where’s the best place to get a bagel?
H&H Bagel on the Upper West Side. It’s the best in the City! But if you want the best bagel in the entire world, you’ll have to go to Corner Bagel in Anderson, South Carolina. It cannot be beat.
How do you feel about being labeled “the female Donald Miller”?
It’s an honor, of course! The only drawback is that sometimes male readers think that means I don’t translate into dude-speak. They think I’m “the Donald Miller for females,” but I try to be relevant to both sexes.
How can I apply to be your temporary merch girl?
Next time I’m playing a show near you, shoot me an email! I’d love to have you behind my merch table! Whee!!
To learn more about Tara Leigh Cobble and her amazing work, visit her online at taraleighcobble.com. Head on over to iTunes or Amazon.com to buy or download her latest album, Playing Favorites. While you’re checking out TLC merch, you’ve got to order her books, Here’s to Hindsight: Letters to My Former Self and Crowded Skies: Letters to Manhattan.