How the new ‘A Star Is Born’ got its songs

Dave Cobb, in the historic RCA Studio A in Nashville.
Mark Zaleski/AP/file 2016
Dave Cobb, in the historic RCA Studio A in Nashville.

After Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, “A Star Is Born” played at film festivals in Venice and Toronto, critics buzzed about the new take on the old story and about the performances of Cooper, who plays a worn-out country singer, and Lady Gaga, who costars as a singer-songwriter on the rise.

Those critics also talked about the soundtrack — because it had stuck in their heads. A few writers tweeted their frustration that songs such as “Maybe It’s Time” and “Shallow” — both of which are in the trailer for the film — weren’t immediately available to download.

Listen to “Shallow” once, and it’s with you for the rest of the day.


The response to those tracks has been a win for the many musicians behind the songs in the film, which opens Oct. 5. Nashville music producer Dave Cobb, who helped create Cooper’s character and sound, talked about what went into the soundtrack and who was behind the catchiest singles. Cobb has worked with musicians such as Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, and Jason Isbell. Now he can add Gaga to his resume.

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Q. When did you sign on to help with the movie?

A. I think I came on the project, shoot, it was almost a year ago, and Bradley contacted me. He called, and I flew out to LA and sat down with him. First thing I played him was Jason Isbell and he was like, “Man this is it, this is amazing.” It was amazing to eventually put those two in contact, and Jason custom-wrote a song for the film [“Maybe It’s Time”], and the song kind of cycles through the film several times. . . . It was fun from the very first meeting [with Cooper] . . . we talked about country music and Neil Young and all kinds of records, and I think his character wound up being an amalgamation of a lot of that stuff.

Q. Did you know how he planned to update the “A Star is Born” story when you started working with him?

A. I had seen the script right when I met him, and Bradley, I give him so much credit . . . I mean, that guy works so hard and the script was continually changing. I think it changed until probably the very last edit of film, so it was fun to see. I don’t think he slept. I mean that guy is probably the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my life. But he was up for everything; and he really, really put his heart and soul into killing himself to make this film perfect.


Q. I know you produced the song “Always Remember Us This Way,” which was co-written by some huge names.

A. I mean that was such a high point. One thing I talked about with [Gaga] and Bradley was bringing my favorite Nashville writers out to LA. So we got Hillary Lindsey, Natalie Hemby, and Lori McKenna. They all flew out to LA, and we set up the studio and Gaga wrote with them on the spot. It was just amazing to see, song after song after song, just come out of nothing, and that particular song was cut the moment it was written, [with] the writers from the control rooms singing background as she was cutting it live, and we were all playing live together. And then just watching her sing — I mean the power of her voice. And I remember she was crying as she was cutting and she felt it so much. We all felt it. It was one of those magic moments where the kind of hair stands on your arms, and that’s what in the film. It was that. It was that day, you know?

Q. You probably know that Lori McKenna is a Massachusetts person, so we like talking about her. What made you think to call her for this project?

A. Well, Lori writes lyrics that cut to the bone. When she writes something, it seems to be a little bit deeper than everyone else. Obviously there’s a lot of other writers that have that skill as well, but she writes stuff and it just cuts, it hurts. She takes her life experiences and makes you feel every one of them. I don’t know, I felt like she had a lot of depth to lyrics, And so did the other writers too; I mean, I don’t think any of them were lacking in any way, but I think she just had something magical. She’s also one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met in my life, as well.

Q. Lady Gaga seems larger than life to so many of us. Can you talk about what it was like to work with her in a studio?


A. When she gets behind a microphone, she gives it a thousand percent, and it’s the truth when she sings. She’s got such a huge voice. And I think that was my big takeaway. You can be this or that, but when you get in the studio and you get on the microphone and there’s no effects to hide everything, that’s the truth. I think that any take she did on any song could be the take. She’s that caliber of singer.

Q. Can you talk about seeing the film from start to finish for the first time?

A. I wasn’t there for the shooting or anything like that, so seeing it I felt like I was kind of a new audience member. Seeing songs we worked on in the film and things like that, it felt like I wasn’t even part of it. It just felt like I was watching this classic film. I think it reminded me — you know, I’m 44 years old — so it reminded me of the films in the ’80s that I loved. Something about it kind of transcended time and felt very classic, and I think I left with that — just being in awe of how it felt. Like such a classic film from the first viewing.

Q. When you say “ ’80s movies,” do you mean the scope of it? That it’s big without being a CGI super-hero film?

A. Yeah. A hundred percent. . . . It just felt classic. It felt really classic and romantic. I don’t know, it just felt very timeless to me.

Interview has been edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at meredith.goldstein@