Dave Cobb on the production of Jessica Chastain and the music “Eyes of Tammy Faye”
High-profile music producer Dave Cobb is currently nominated for multiple Grammys for his work with two longtime clients who have some of the biggest and best voices in the business: Brandi Carlile and Chris Stapleton. For a recent film project, he was commissioned to replicate the vintage song catalog of the 70s / 80s from another belt, albeit a little less famous: the late televangelist diva Tammy Faye Bakker.
As you might expect, after working on “Eyes of Tammy Faye” – the film that debuted in theaters in November and just bowed out to a wider audience on HBO Max – Cobb did that’s the highest praise for Jessica Chastain, who has inhabited Bakker as a vocal stylist for more than half a dozen musical performances. But you won’t find him giving Bakker herself much less enthusiastic praise than he would a Carlile or Stapleton. And the potential for campiness did not enter her mind more than that of the principal lady.
Bakker “had a pretty incredible range – I mean, she really did,” Cobb says. “She was a stylized singer, for sure. But she had the thing that I think was related to people, was the heart that she had. And when Tammy sang ‘Don’t Give Up on a Miracle’ she believed every word she sang, and I think it’s rare for any artist to be able to connect with audiences like that.
When the actress came into the studio to pre-record the voice for the film, admiring both Bakker and Chastain, she also had a lot of heart to her… with maybe a little booze. Chastain openly professed that she was nervous enough about singing for the movie that she needed a little bit of liquid backup to at least get through the first round. Cobb laughs and seems reluctant to offer too much confirmation of Chastain’s methodology: “Well, I’ll let her tell that story. But I think maybe she put some Maker’s Mark in her tea.
She was quickly successful, which is perhaps not surprising considering the 10 years she spent preparing for identity theft. Cobb’s immersion in Tammy Faye dates back much further than that, so he was equipped to be a good judge of the success of the leading lady’s spiked channeling.
“I’m from Georgia and my grandparents on both sides are Pentecostals,” Cobb says. “And one of my grandmothers always had ‘PTL’ on TV, non-stop, and she had all of Tammy Faye’s records. I mean, she even joined the membership where for a certain amount of money you could stay anytime you wanted at Heritage USA ”ie the pyramid scheme that ultimately led to the downfall. of her husband Jim Bakker, as well as a sex scandal. “So I was very, very familiar with the music and the Bakkers, and when I heard about the movie, I was fascinated because it’s something that I always had around me, growing up.”
Chastain and music supervisor John Houlihan – who Cobb said “did the heavy lifting” on the project – had already picked songs from Bakker’s catalog by the time Cobb got a boost from the CAA and came along. about the project. But he relished the chance to recreate records that represented a wall of sound greater than anything he had done before.
“It was really amazing to hear those songs again,” says Cobb. “I mean, I can’t imagine more decadent production never carried out. He means that in the most flattering way possible. “There’s a choir, strings, horns, a full orchestra, huge backing vocals accompaniments – that’s the kitchen sink. I’ve worked with all of these things to varying degrees on records, but never did it all on one song. Tammy Faye’s productions were all, all the time. It must have been a fun time when they originally recorded the stuff. I mean, I know when we recorded there were probably 30 or 40 people playing on each song, mostly. So it’s incredible that they were able to do it, from a budgetary point of view, at that time.
Just think of it as Cobb’s grandma’s contributions to work.
Cobb gives a lot of credit to the producer whose work he sometimes recreated – Gary S. Paxton, who left a career in secular music (as the screenplay notes, he was famous for “Monster Mash”) to go into pop music. Christian. in the mid-1970s, recording his own records and becoming Bakker’s confidante in and out of music. (Tammy Paxton’s lover is played in the film by Mark Wystrach, frontman of the much-loved country band Midland, whose singing voice is also briefly heard on the soundtrack.)
“Gary Paxton is an incredibly cerebral and masterful key change writer who writes these incredibly complex parts. When you’ve got brass sections doing all these crazy things and string sections doing all these crazy things, and the backgrounds doing things around that, and then the band itself, I mean, what a brain of a brain. I can’t imagine being so smart, composing like he did.
“Normally I play guitar on a lot of records, but some things were really beyond me, so I brought in people like Charlie (Worsham) who could handle the chart. I definitely had to send for bells to be able to climb that hill. He also used other A team players, like “Fred Mandel, one of my heroes, who played on” The Wall “and with Elton John and Queen. Cutting ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ “(for the movie’s climactic scene),” he walked in and played a few keys and we kind of responded to his voice about it and cut it in place. “
Chastain and Cobb made their first session sound almost like a thriller. She knew his job and said she was intimidated working with him, and for her part, “I was terrified of working with her, of being a fan and of how good she is. These are scary shoes to walk in, to be in a room with someone talented. But he says he had no idea that she was feeling so intimidated, and anyway, he felt that she was. was comfortable “once she realized how relaxed it was and that it wasn’t a huge production. Well, he has been a big production, musically ”- when the band and orchestra recorded separately – but“ in the environment we were recording the vocals in, it was just like buddies in a room together, hanging out. I immediately felt that she was really good people, and it was a great vibe.
As Chastain told the story, they finished recording the first day and felt great about it… and the next day in the studio Cobb told him to switch the vocals from 10 to 12, like Tammy Faye would have. do. Cobb says he didn’t force her where she didn’t want to go. “I just saw his confidence grow. I think at the end of the day she knew she was up for a new challenge, and I think that by really pushing her she was there and was able to improve on everything she had done first. day. We had three days to do the vocals, but the majority was recorded in a day and a half. The second night is when maybe we hit the stride and increased the keys and we’re gone Boom boom boom and broke everything. It was quite mind-blowing.
“Not only did she have to sing these kinds of opera pieces, but she also had to nail Tammy Faye’s accent and Tammy Faye’s manners. And I think she really shines in music a lot about it. What she does is a lot more difficult than what we had to do in the studio – not only was she in the movie as Tammy Faye, not only did she have to sing, but she has a production company “responsible for the movie”, so she had a lot of things to do. But she got extremely into a really positive headspace and as really just a hard worker who goes the extra mile to get the voice perfect. But not only did she have such a good temper, she really had immense respect for Tammy Faye – you could just tell she liked the person. And when she sang, not only did she try to nail the notes, but she really tried to nail Tammy’s heart, and that’s what made him special.
The end credits offer two appoggiatures, one comical and the other not. There is a “Puppet Medley” at the end of the film which Cobb said was a gas to do with Chastain. “Every character that Tammy Faye played, it was amazing to watch her come to life,” said Cobb, who said it was really “like you’re having conversations with multiple characters”.
But before that, there’s another song from the end credits, one that doesn’t play. It was “a thousand percent” Chastain’s idea to blackmail a cover by Tammy Faye’s daughter, Tammy Sue Baker. “We did all of this pretty much around that time during COVID, but the connection between Jessica and Tammy Sue was really special, seeing that moment and how much she really cared about Tammy Faye. It was a beautiful marriage to see these two working together.
But one of his favorites, like much of the audience, was the disco track: “; Jesus, Keep Take Me Higher ”- it was such a fun track to record. I feel like nothing can go wrong in this song. It’s just pure happiness.