Cobi makes room for soulful blues rock in music's digital age
Born Jacob Schmidt, Cobi is the epitome of an old soul thriving in music's digital age. The Minnesotan taught himself to play guitar by ear and played the blues in local bars as a teen.
He went on to attend Boston's Berklee School of Music where he formed a band known as Gentleman Hall. The indie-pop outfit saw growing success in the local Boston music scene and beyond and eventually received an MTV Video Music Award for Best Breakout Boston Artist. Their music was even featured on teen drama 'Pretty Little Liars' and on national commercials for Samsung and Target.
In 2015, Gentleman Hall split because of artistic differences. As a solo artist, Cobi signed to 300 Entertainment, the lauded music label of music exec Lyor Cohen, soon later. Cobi's own music is a full departure from his band days, favoring the blue melodies of his youth over commercial-friendly pop rock. His track "Don't You Cry for Me" became the most viral song on Spotify when it was released in May 2016. On the song, Cobi belts church-like blues melodies over electronic backbeat.
Cobi continues to collaborate with other musicians, but has found immense artistic progression working on his own. He describes writing and recording music in his home studio, the effects of Spotify culture on his own success and the artistic process for making his upcoming album.
#OnOurRadar is a feature that showcases creative minds and up-and-coming talents. To see more of past interviews, click here. AOL.com had the chance to sit down with Cobi and chat about his music inspiration and more -- check out the full interview below!
When growing up, do you first remember falling in love with music?
There wasn't really one. My parents used to play a lot of music, my mom used to play guitar and sing for me when I was a kid. I always loved singing as a kid. Michael Jackson was huge at the time, so I was like obsessed with him. I think it was just all those things, [they're] really what grabbed me. I realized I definitely wanted to do music for my life when I was like 10 years old and I started playing guitar.
What music did you listen to growing up, besides Michael Jackson?
My first cassette tape was an Elton John record. That's like the first tape I remember having. Other than that, my Mom used to listen to Neil Young and Van Morrison, Robert Cray, she got really into blues artists, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So, those were my parents' influences that were played when I was growing up. I took to the guitar and took to Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, some of those guitar players and got really attached to them early on.
When did you start songwriting?
I guess pretty early, but I wasn't very good. I covered songs for a long time and learned other people's songs. But I was always writing my own stuff or coming up with my own riffs or vocal melodies and whatnot. I definitely did a ton of learning other artists' stuff. I didn't really get deep into song writing until I was around my teenage years, 14, 15. Then, I really started to dive in, dissect things and try to create my own songs.
Can you describe why you decided to go solo?
Well, I've always been a solo artist. I've been in a bands, but I've always done my own thing too. If you're referring to the Gentlemen Hall stuff, we had been going at it for six years. I just realized there were a lot of creative people in that band, and I realized I wasn't able really to do what I wanted to do with so many other people trying to get their visions in and stuff like that. So, it just made sense.
Your first song has gone viral. Talk about that momentum and what it felt like.
It was really exciting, just excitement. I've made a lot of music in the past, and all that's been taken down now. I guess that's kind of what happens with a new label, you start from scratch again, which I'm cool with. It's just been really exciting to have some attention on a song. Hopefully, I can just continue the momentum from there.
In the creative process, what goes into a song from start to finish?
Every song's different. Some songs just start and stop, right off the bat, the acoustic guitar and vocal. Other songs, there's a little bit more of a process. Sometimes, I'll record ideas and build a song just [by] recording, looping ideas and stuff like that, which is a bit different. Lately, I've just been writing on acoustic guitar. A lot of times, melodies will come right away. Other times, the lyrics come right away. Other times, I have to hash they lyrics out a bit, spend a week on then or whatever. Sometimes, songs take a month to finish. You just get stuck on a part, then you get back to it and you're like, "Oh, I know what to do now." That space sometimes helps. But every one's different.
What's your headspace when going into a studio? What's going through your mind?
It depends on what I'm doing at the studio. These days, if I'm going into a studio, I'm doing drums or something like that, some live drums or something I can't do at my house. With that in mind, it's let's just get this track. It's just different mindsets.
What's the process been like developing your sound?
It's been a journey because I've been a part of and tried so many different sounds. I think lately it's just been getting back to my roots, like what I was originally inspired by when I was younger, like playing guitar and those types of songs. Folky, singer-songwriter kind of stuff, that's lately what I've been getting back into.
What's the biggest takeaway you've had working with band and have applied as a solo artist?
I learned a lot about songwriting from collaborating with my bandmates and other people. Being in a band my whole life, I learned a lot about all the other instruments, like drums, bass and keyboards. Just being able to hear different parts and arrange music for a band, I think that's, if you're going to have a band, really important. A lot of bands I see kind of have a big washed sound. The drums overpower stuff. Guitars have no space, stuff like that. If you're going to have multiple instruments or larger sound, it's important to incorporate space.
Do you ever revisit old lyric or revisit songs you've done in the past?
Sometimes. I'll go through my vault, my Dropbox. Whenever I finish a song I write or have an idea, I'll just throw it in the Dropbox. Then, I'll just let that go. Then, sometimes I look at them. What was this idea or that idea? Then, sometimes I'll be inspired to take it back up and do something with it. Sometimes, I won't.
What to you is the most special part about performing live?
The connection with the audience, people. Sharing. You're able to just share the magic of music with people.
What is it like meeting fans in person?
That's my favorite part. The pressure is off. That's when you get to hear how people feel about it. You get a sense of what they were feeling when they saw the show. So that's my favorite part.
When it comes to streaming culture, a lot of musicians love it and others hate it. How do you feel about Spotify?
For me, at this point, it's been huge. It's a big help being in a lot of playlists, having the visibility. I think a really difficult thing these days is to get some of that visibility with so many other artists and so many different things coming out so fast. Just to have that opportunity is huge. With that being said, I'm kind of one of those millennial. I've experienced all the changes in the music industry. Not all, but a lot. Like I said, when I was growing up, we had cassette tapes. That's what it was. Then, CDs came out. Then, it was iPods. Then, it was your iTunes library, trying to get all your CD collections into your iTunes library. Then, it's downloading iTunes mp3s. Then, all of a sudden, now it's all streaming. Everything's trying to be up online. So, it just is a progression. It makes sense. With that being said, there's always something that gets lost when you move forward in that progression. In this case, I think the albums have gotten lost a bit. Then, artwork, being able to hold it and touch it, a vinyl. People are into vinyl still these days which is cool.
How has technology influenced the way that you operate as a musician?
It's allowed me to create a lot more and easily. Now, you can just have a laptop and record pretty much anything you can think of. Not so long ago, you had to have a lot of money to go into a studio just to demo out ideas. I think it's been really great for an artist to have those types of things at their fingertips.
What do you hope that listeners will take away from your newest music from your new album?
I just hope they feel what I'm feeling when I was performing it or singing it or when I was I recording it. I just hope they can take some kind of inspiration of their own.
Where do you see the progression of your music going from this point?
No idea. I just hope I get to continue to play and expand on my ideas. Hopefully, I'll have the resources to expand all my ideas especially for live show stuff.
Do you think you're going to continue to go back to your roots, as you said, with acoustic music?
I think that's always going to be a piece of me, but it's not going to be the only thing I do. I do a lot of other things too, but that's always going to be something I touch on.
What is the one piece of advice you wish you would have received before being a musician?
I had a lot of great mentors, and I think I got all the advice that I needed. It really just comes down to trusting yourself, and you've got to do it because you love it. If you're doing it for any other reason, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. Just do music because it makes you feel good. Then, hopefully you can share that with other people.
What's the biggest misconception people have about musicians?
Lazy, maybe? That they're lazy, perhaps. Some of my friends are really hardworking people, and they're literally globetrotting just to go out there and play. We go through crazy stuff just to play for 20, 30 minutes for people sometimes, just to get in front of a couple hundred people. We go through some pretty stupid shit. It's not really glamorous, it's really challenging. I think that's another misconception people have, that it's always fun or that it's always easy or whatever. But it's actually really challenging.
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