“No one would watch this film / Where redemption never comes / And the garden is lost to the darkness / And the lover dies unloved.

All the hatches were battened / I don’t know, I don’t know what happened / So I cried out to the captain / Forgetting I’d thrown him to the sea.”

So goes the song “Every Man for Himself” on Tara-Leigh Cobble’s latest record, Morning’s War. There, in a nutshell, is the heart of a record that is lyrically nothing less than brave. Tara-Leigh brings no protective shields to the battlefield with her, wears no Kevlar®, wields no weapons. Arms are brandished to be sure, and bullets fired, but Tara-Leigh is the album’s only victim – the bullets piercing her heart, but failing to kill her faith. Morning’s War is a Psalm for 2011, equal parts woe and wonder.

I recently caught up with Tara-Leigh – musician, author, and speaker – to ask her some questions about her brave new record. She was courteous enough to grant me permission offer a free MP3 to you, the faithful reader. Enjoy the bounty.

First things first. Your new record, Morning’s War, came out on Dec. 7th. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest level of excitability possible, how excited are you about your new album?

This is easily my favorite album so far. I’m definitely a 10 on the excitement scale, but because of the risks I’m taking sonically and lyrically, I’m also a bit nervous about how it will be received. That probably makes me more excited though, so let’s go with 11.

That’s very Spinal Tap of you, Tara-Leigh. Are you releasing the album independently or on a label?  I couldn’t find any information about this. But then again, my mom always said I never looked hard enough for things.

I’ve always been an independent artist, and I don’t really have any plans to change that. It brings me a lot of joy to be able to work hands-on with everything.

It seems to me that there is a certain duality about Morning’s War. From the opener, “Burn,” to the closer, “Copernicus,” the lyrics seem like they could either be addressed to God or a lover, or perhaps even both simultaneously. There seems to be a certain interchangeability there. Was this intentional?

I noticed that too. It wasn’t intentional at all. Some of the songs that were initially addressed to God came out sounding more like they were addressed to a lover, and vice-versa. When I sing the songs now, some of them even have an entirely different meaning to me than when I wrote them. One of the most beautiful things about art is its versatility, sometimes even to the artist who created it.

You have an album and a book titled Here’s to Hindsight. This record seems to be an observance of the past as well. Is it sort of a sequel to that book and album? Is this Here’s to More Hindsight?  Or Here’s to Hindsight II: I Wish I’d Hindseen This Coming?

Some of this album was written while I was in the midst of living it out. Portions of it were even written alongside the people who were involved in the story. On an emotional level, I didn’t know how this album would turn out until I finished it. God guided me through all the leaps of faith as we wrote and recorded it, and even that became part of the final story it tells. Although it’s not officially a sequel (Crowded Skies: Letters to Manhattan is the literary sequel to Here’s to Hindsight: Letters to My Former Self), it does document the phase of my life that occurred afterward, so in some ways, it is.

Speaking of the book Here’s to Hindsight, do you have any other books in the works at present?

I’m working on the third book in the Letters memoir series. I keep thinking I’ve figured out how to end it, but then God surprises me. I hope it will be out in 2012.

Morning’s War strikes me as a wound that’s still bleeding. It’s like someone has put your heart through the metaphorical woodchipper, Fargo-style, and you are trying to put it back together again in the aftermath.  On that note, I think this record could easily be called Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow, mirroring Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. On a lyrical level, the pain reminds me of Beck’s Sea Change or – in the history of unsung, underground Christian music – Undercover’s Branded or LSU’s Shaded Pain. Musically, however, the sound is often buoyant, acting as a counterpoint to the lyrics. There are radio-friendly anthems and more intimate acoustic ballads, but no dirges to be found despite the darkness of the lyrics. Was the tonal contrast between lyrics and music intentional?

I wrote this album with a broken heart. I recorded this album with a broken heart. If you read the lyrics of “Piñata”, you’ll find a totally different emotion than what the song presents. But it wasn’t a means of tricking the listener so much as providing a bit of reality. When you’re moving through life with a broken heart, you still laugh at jokes, you still do laundry, you meet your friends in the park … but the ache lies somewhere underneath all your actions. My ache is always in there, even when the tone of a particular song presents a different story.

My favorite of all the heartbleeders on the record is “You Spoke Too Soon.” I get it stuck in my head, and it’s like having someone who needs emergency heart surgery stuck inside my skull. I want to dial 911. That being said, I think it’s an excellent song. Is it cathartic for you to sing songs like this, or is it a challenge to sing something so personal and lyrically lacerating?

Can it be both? Haha! I suppose it’s a little bit like a surgeon who cuts you to remove the thing that’s hurting you. By the way, I’m really glad you like the song.

Talk to me about the album’s title. I find it cryptic. At the same time, you may want your listening audience to put the puzzle pieces together for themselves on this one, so if you want its meaning to remain cloaked in secrecy like a Klingon bird of prey, I completely understand.

Oh man, I think you just made a sci-fi reference. I don’t know anything about sci-fi.

I did. Dad’s a Trekkie. Sorry about that. They have wars in space, you know. Wars in the morning too, probably. But the thing is, they can’t really tell if it’s morning or not because all they can see are stars and blackness. So it helps them remember it’s morning if they, like, eat breakfast. Because otherwise, it might as well be night, right?

(Pronounced silence.)

The thing about Morning’s War is that it can be anything for anyone. Maybe you wake up to a phone call that brings your world crashing down, or you awake to sirens, or the spouse sleeping beside you doesn’t wake at all. Morning’s War is a nod to the reality that nothing is safe on earth, but that God keeps sustaining us and pouring grace over us, and you can move forward, even if you’re crawling.

Psalms 34:18 says the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, but you seem to be asking where God is in “What Do I Know?” What do you want your listeners to know or understand about God or matters of faith when they hear this record?  And what lessons, if any, has heartbreak taught you about God?

“What Do I Know?” is loosely based around the book of Job. Throughout Morning’s War, I openly come to terms with how ugly my heart truly is. Many of the songs address my pride or entitlement because I feel like God owes me something or is withholding something. But the point of knowing God is not that He gives me things, but that in the end, regardless of what I’ve gotten in this life, I get Christ. That’s what I hope will shine through all the ugliness of this record: those of us who know Him already have the only thing we’ll always have, which is the only things we’ll ever need.

I love the background vocals beneath the chorus on “Piñata,” and the gospel singers as well.  It’s my favorite song on the album, actually. The vocal parts underlying the chorus recall the vocal experimentation of the Cocteau Twins or even – dare I say – Enya. Can you talk about how you built this song from the ground up?

I wrote this song with my friend Daniel Harper, who studies music at Berklee. We finished the song so quickly that I hardly recall the writing process at all. In the studio, though, we did a few rough takes from about 8-10pm one night. Then I wrapped up and went home. At 2am, I got a text message from my producer (J Land) saying, “I have an idea. It’s either brilliant or ridiculous. There’s no in-between.” He had recorded all the BGVs himself and wanted us to overdub the parts where he was singing falsetto. I loved his idea but insisted that we leave his vocals in there too. So the most surprising part of it all is that some of those really high parts are actually a man.

Tara-Leigh Cobble “Piñata” (from “Morning’s War”)

I always misunderstand lyrics.  On “The Grand Experiment,” I thought you were singing, “Go ahead / Fill your pockets / Grab your lunches / While you can.” What song lyrics, if any, have you heard wrong over the years?

That’s awesome! Someone else heard “grab your oceans” for that line. My favorite misunderstood lyric (and the only one I can always recall) is from Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” When he sings, “Take my hand / We’ll make it I swear,” I thought he was saying, “Take my hand / We’re naked I swear.” Terribly inappropriate.

Of course, when Bon Jovi performs live, that probably is what he’s singing. I loved that song as a kid. I actually mention it in the first chapter in my book, The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope.

But back to the album itself. I would describe “Faithful Still” as a minimalist composition.  It’s very simple, very stripped down.  There is also a certain auditory spaciousness about it.  Lyrically, you quote Job here, which is one of my favorite Biblical books: “I will trust You though You slay me.”  How do you explain this sort of seemingly paradoxical faith to someone outside of the Christian fold?  How do you explain putting your trust in a God whose plan may include slaying you?

Josh Wilson and I wrote this song in the span of about an hour. We’ve both been significantly moved by the teachings of Matt Chandler, a pastor at The Village Church in Denton, TX. Neither of us attend there, but we podcast his sermons. When he developed brain cancer late in 2009, my world was shaken. And since then, I’ve watched Matt live out what he has always spoken about: God doesn’t work on karma, so you have to choose to serve Him based not on what He offers you in this life. It’s difficult to fully integrate into our religious thought processes, but it’s absolutely true. We see the most valiant heroes of our faith dying by the sword, being boiled in oil, being beaten and imprisoned. And we see wicked men flourish and gain wealth and notoriety. Ultimately, I just have to ask myself what matters eternally. What do I want my legacy to be? One of grasping to build a temporary kingdom? Or one of working to build His unending Kingdom, regardless of what I lose in the process?

Who are some of your musical influences?

Patty Griffin writes some of my favorite melodies. Gabe Dixon weaves a perfect lyric. David Bazan sets the standard for boldness. Florence + the Machine makes me feel like I’m flying. Incredible guitar tones from unexpected bands? I go to Counting Crows for that.

In the tradition of Nick Hornby’s book/film High Fidelity, are there any “desert island” albums for you?  That is, if you have to be stranded with only 10 albums on a desert island, what would those albums be?

I’d take 10 copies of Coldplay, X&Y. All the sand on those desert islands can really mess up a CD, so I’d need extra copies. No artist has ever been able to capture all of my emotions the way that Coldplay has, both lyrically and sonically.

The song “Copernicus” wraps up the album and seems to be a declaration of faith in things hoped for but not seen … yet. You don’t want to be the center of your own universe, but in the end that’s pretty hard to swing here on Earth while we’re in the flesh. You sing “Come Lord Jesus / I’m at the center of my universe,” and elsewhere (in “What Do I Know?”) you sing of the solution to your problems being “a lowercase i.”  How do we learn to orbit God and let Him be at the center of our lives in a world such as this? Any tips for those of us who, like you, find that the world most often revolves around ourselves?

All that has rung true in my life is what I know from Scripture. When I try to build my own life, things always eventually fall apart, and I get angry. Then I have to come to terms with what Job realized: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). It’s clear that He is in control. “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Those words are unbearable if you don’t know Him or trust Him. They’re terrifying and infuriating. But when I see Him for who He really is, they’re the most comforting things in the world. The best I can do in this life is to get to know Him, to learn His character, to build my life around who He is. Everything else is shakeable and temporary. I can’t truly diminish my position in my own life without filling it with Him. And in that fullness, I’m able to revel in this truth: “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

Thanks for that, Tara-Leigh. Good luck to you in all of your endeavors. I fully expect you to embrace film next.

Visit Tara-Leigh’s Web site: http://taraleighcobble.com/ and/or follow her on Twitter @taraleighcobble.