This is an unpolished article, for which I apologise.
Cobby is a producer, musician and half of the critically acclaimed Fila Brazilia. Fila Brazilia? Sound familiar? Fila Brasileiro is an American bulldog that was at risk of being banned; animal rights aside, it was this misheard breed name that led to the creation of Fila Brazilia.
When he’s not making music, Cobby is a family man, with an understanding wife who has a love-hate relationship with her husband’s musical endeavours. Fila Brazilia royalties have paid the mortgage and Cobby is a contented man with a passion for baking.
Music and baking have a lot in common, reflects Steve Cobby. Putting together commonly available ingredients in interesting ways is Cobby’s love. Instinctual, improvisational and creative. He’s experimental when it comes to music. The ingredients, he feels, should be available to everyone, however it’s what you do with them that counts – very much like cooking, if you follow a recipe to the letter, you’ll end up with a dish that tastes good but is, ultimately, lacking in creativity and originality. At best, whether it’s music or cooking, you’ll produce the same thing over and over, unable to deviate, until you, and your audience, are sick of it.
Being “sick of it” seems to be a recurring theme of Cobby’s musical career. Whether it’s the machinations of the record industry, his on-off love of the varied instruments of which he is master, collaborators or sounds, Cobby doesn’t rest on the familiar, or easy, always out to try something new.
The first label that signed him, Big Life Records, was a production line – with an eye on the clock and the process of factory line music that, ultimately, strangled Cobby’s creative productivity. A throw away comment, slating the label, saw him dropped, back on the dole and absolutely gutted. His forthright approach has been a curse and a blessing, leading to international exposure and a recognised career, whilst robbing him of the financial security that a record deal inevitably brings.
Hearing Cobby speak, it’s clear in his machine gun delivery that he is a truly creative entity. One moment, he’s using cooking as an analogy for music, then it becomes art as he discusses his dislike of the blank canvas and how that can be a destructive presence for any artist. He does anything he can to break the malaise – a tune in a day, developing a beat, throwing tangents in like paint onto the canvas, seeing art burst forward in new and interesting ways. He doesn’t stick to the confines of genre, mixing, as a good chef would, the most diverse ingredients into and creatively nourishing dish, a tonic for the fast food, convenience meal pop has become.
Cobby and Sim Lister, after ten years, found that they were walking different paths, splitting, leaving Cobby shopping around for a label to publish his album. His last chance saloon within view, he placed his name on the album and released it in March 2013 to acclaim and missing the middle-man, self-publishing as a digital download, ensuring that he is in control and bringing him more money than the last five physical releases!
He’s definitely not a man obsessed with money, it’s a secondary concern for a man who exudes creativity. He creates music in the same way Banksy creates art -unexpected moments of springing up, seemingly from nowhere, and open to interpretation.
The true sign of an artist, Cobby is aware the listeners project their own meaning on what they hear. He describes himself as an iconoclast, eschewing the meat grinder of music production, preferring true love of music over the “pearls before swine” relationship artists have with the record companies. Music-by-numbers, songs-by-committee, he deplores the homogeneity of creativity, strangled of the breath of freedom. To him, this process turns the studio into a morgue and he has worked to ensure that his studio, and the artists he works with, are able to breathe, grow and, most importantly, live as artists.
Bribed into going back to school at 14 by his parents, he was bought a guitar in the hope he’d engage with authority. “You was that bored, you took music up,” Cobby reflects on his teenage years. He taught himself guitar, fearing he’d sound like everybody else. He’s added keyboard, drums, samplers and electronic instrumentation to his repertoire, describing himself as a “jack of all trades.” The studio is his writing tool and his first studio, bought with the advance from his first label, would unleash the creative freedom that he still embraces today. He deplores the attempt to mix art and commerce and doesn’t want to think of his music as work.
“You never hear of a plumber saying he’s got plumber’s block,” Cobby says of the bohemian approach to music writing that many artists suffer. By the same token, he doesn’t think musical creativity should ever be work. Unlike Kraftwerk, he doesn’t want to take a “clock on and off” approach to creativity. Even reflecting on the changes that vainly life have brought, he has never stopped producing music.
His last five releases, on Steel Tiger, saw the commercial side of music drain the money from the river, so moving to a digital model has meant he made more money in his last album than the previous five. He has to sell less to earn more, probably the only nod Cobby will make to commercial importance. He plans to release an album a year, using the digital model. Royalties from iTunes pay his mortgage, all this off the back of Fila and decade old music. He’s looking to the future, talking to the other Fila guys and looking to ensure that, through Blue Squared, his finances are looked after – he’s got a nest egg and he wants to see it grow.
With the possibility that, after a decade, Fila Brazilia could reform to create the closing ceremony for the Hull City of Culture closing ceremony, Cobby is driven and focused like never before.
Cobby is straight talking, no nonsense speaker with the tenacity of a bulldog, locking onto his belief with the strength of a Fila Brasilia.