An Interview with Songwriter Caroline Cobb
Interview by Théa Rosenburg // Photos by Megan Luckie
Caroline Cobb writes songs that take the veil off things. They spring from her own wrestling with sin and suffering and with God’s Word; her songs are personal and revealing. But on her newest album, A Home & A Hunger: Songs of Kingdom Hope, we never see her—the songwriter—directly. She never once sings of herself in the first person.
Cobb appears instead as a narrator who traces, in eleven songs, the peaks and valleys of Scripture, telling a story that is intimately hers and intimately ours. On A Home & A Hunger, Cobb doesn’t keep to the comfortable waters of well-thumbed psalms but plunges into the icy depths of Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Hebrews. She grieves over the Fall without lingering long on the assurance of the Savior to come, so when she sings of his birth, five songs later, we ache for having waited for that good news.
Her songs lean hard on hope, but they also acknowledge that it hurts to wait too long for relief. They are sung, she says, to the tune of the “already, but not yet.”
Please tell us a bit about yourself. When did you come to know the Lord? How did you start writing songs?
My songwriting story and my walk with God really began about the same time, about 20 years ago. Just after I became a Christian, my mom taught me a few chords on the guitar and I started writing lots of (probably not-so-good) songs. At the same time, through some women who discipled me in high school and college, God began to grow my heart for his Word. But those two passions—songwriting and studying the Bible—weren’t really woven together until 2011, when I gave myself a goal to write a song for every book of the Bible by the time I turned thirty. That year was a turning point for me, and I’ve been trying to share God’s Story through music ever since.
On a personal note, I’ve been married to my husband Nick (a family pastor at a neighborhood church) for 12 years and we have three kids: Ellie (7), Harrison (5), and Libby (3). We’ve moved around quite a bit, but we now call Dallas home. I love chips and queso, young adult fiction like Harry Potter, adventures outside, deep conversations with friends, and a good cup of coffee.
When did you realize that sharing your songs was something that God was calling you to?
Making that crazy goal in 2011 really shifted the trajectory of my life. I absolutely loved that year of writing songs from the Bible: delving into a passage, putting myself in the character’s shoes, trying to understand how that little story connected with the Big Story, and then trying to communicate it using lyrics and melody and chords. Before then, music was important to me, but I was never quite sure what God wanted me to do with it. But, as I started to play shows and share these songs, I realized—slowly but surely—that writing songs that told God’s Story was a calling on my life, something I needed to walk forward in and steward faithfully. Although I feel inadequate for the task much of the time, I believe the Bible contains very, very good news, and it’s become increasingly good news to me the more I walk with him! I am so thankful that I can use music to tell it over and over.
Your new album, A Home & A Hunger, follows the story of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. What was it like writing songs all along the storyline of the Bible? What do you hope listeners will hear in this album?
This album was written over a period of four years, when my everyday context of being a mom to three young kids and lots of transition exposed some sin patterns and caused me to run to the cross. I realized again what good news the Gospel really is! I was also seeing some suffering up close with friends and family, simultaneously feeling the ache of the “not yet” of God’s kingdom and clinging to the hope of the “already.” I kept being drawn to write from passages that explored these themes: the beauty of God’s “upside-down” Gospel, the tension we feel as Christians between ache and hope. Each song parachutes into a different moment in Scripture, with every song tracing this overarching theme of kingdom hope.
My prayer is that these songs would help people remember and rehearse God’s Story, and that his truth would get into their hearts and minds in the middle of their everyday: when they’re stuck in traffic, cooking dinner, changing a diaper, working from their desk. I’m also praying it will remind those that are walking through hard things of the secure hope we have in Christ and help us all remember the good news of Jesus. I know I need to remember and savor the Gospel again and again, and I’m praying this album will help others do that too.
How is this album different from your earlier album The Blood + the Breath?
The two albums are similar in that they both tell stories from Scripture, but they trace different themes. While the last album looked back on the cross and explored what we are redeemed from, this new album focuses on the kingdom that we are redeemed to. But, at the end of the day, they are complementary pieces. They’re telling the same Big Story, just from different angles.
What other musicians inspire your songwriting? When you feel stuck while writing a song, where do you look for inspiration?
When I get stuck creatively, my favorite place to look for inspiration is honestly the Bible, or someone teaching me the Bible via a sermon, Bible study, book, or podcast. God’s Word is such a deep well! There is plenty of beauty there to get my creative juices flowing, if I’ll just be still enough to listen and look. Musically, I’m really inspired by Andrew Peterson and Sandra McCracken; they’ve been favorites since college. Both of them write songs that are full of truth and faithful to Scripture while also being incredibly creative lyrically, melodically, etc. Their songs also seem to come from a pure place: the things they’re singing about are not abstract concepts; they have actually walked through them and found them to be true. They’re artists, they’re truth-tellers, and they’re real people with real faith. I want to emulate those things!
What does it look like for you to serve the Lord with your music while still loving your family well? Are there any limitations you have had to accept or boundaries you have put in place?
That’s a great question, and something my family and I continue to pray through and figure out as we go. I think comparison is a huge temptation for writers, musicians, and other independent creative-types, especially in the age of social media where we can see how everyone else is using their creativity. We are tempted to think, “If I am not creating or making a career out of this in the same way another person is, then I am not doing enough, or I’m not doing ‘it’ at all.” But that’s a lie! I want to pursue music and songwriting in a faithful way, walking forward in the things God puts right in front of me to do, without glancing sideways at everyone else. I also have to acknowledge my limits. As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, I won’t be able to tour, write, or record as much as some other musicians. I also have to acknowledge that because I spend so much time on music, I won’t be able to have a Pinterest-perfect home, and I might miss a few of my kids’ events when I leave them to play shows, which is hard. Again, I am constantly asking the Lord for wisdom, and thankfully his grace is sufficient. Practically, I try to limit my concerts and events to 1–2 a month and my longer trips to 4–5 a year, or one per season. I do most of my writing and computer work when my kids are in school or asleep, and Nick and I try not to do any admin work at night after around 8:30 so that we can connect, rest, or read together. We try to to put things like family trips on the calendar way ahead of time, in order to make sure they happen. We are committed to being together as a family, being involved at our church, in our neighborhood, and at our school, and I weigh opportunities with all of that in mind. It’s a messy, decision-by-decision process, but my prayer is to be faithful.
What are you reading right now?
My hope for this new year is to read through some time-tested books rather than the newest ones, even if they are making a big splash. Right now I’m reading A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. My hope is to read some Dallas Willard, D.A. Carson, A.W. Tozer, and a few others. These kinds of books feed my soul, get me thinking, and help me write richer songs.
I also love to read fiction, especially young adult fiction! I just finished up The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers and it was amazing! I’m re-reading The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson with my second grader and enjoying it all over again. These kinds of books are just a joy to me, and I think there is incredible power in a good story. They move you in a way that’s hard to put your finger on.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I pray the music will encourage you and remind you of the Big Story of hope and redemption God is writing, and help you live—radically, faithfully—in light of that Story every day.