Jelani Aryeh

The young San Diego singer-songwriter Jelani Aryeh caught my attention with his awesome tune “Stella Brown” a couple years back, and I really enjoyed his debut full-length, I’ve Got Some Living To Do, from 2021. But I especially loved the brief interview I got to do with Jelani last year for XMU, and was left with so many more questions for him about these early days in his career as an artist. So here we are, at an episode of the LSQ podcast where Jelani and I dig in further, to talk about influences such as Toro Y Moi, Childish Gambino and The Doors, as well as where his next album is headed. He’s currently in the studio, and plans to tour again in the fall and winter. 

Jelani Aryeh LSQ

Jenny Eliscu::  Hi. 

Jelani Aryeh::  Hi, how you doing? 

Jenny Eliscu:: I’m good. How are you doing?

Jelani Aryeh:  Good. In San Diego right now. It’s weird being back home. Yeah,

Jenny Eliscu:  It’s good to see you. I’m checking out — what is that a Radiohead t-shirt?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, it’s like, I think Pablo Honey, Bends era.

Jenny Eliscu:  Nice.

Jelani Aryeh:  Found it from a friend. I was like, ‘yes. I need to have it.’

Jenny Eliscu:  Have you listened to The Smile, the new Radiohead side-project thing?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, “Skirting Along..” something.

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah, yeah.

Jelani Aryeh:  It’s great.

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah, I feel like it’s, like, the stripped down version of what I like about Radiohead, you know? Yeah. Welcome, Jelani to the LSQ podcast. It’s so good to see you again.

Jelani Aryeh:  Thank you for having me.

Jenny Eliscu:  I know it’s been an interesting week or so for you, because you were on tour for a minute with Hippo Campus and you’re new to touring your project kind of in general, relatively, especially in this COVID era. And then, for listeners, Jelani has just not only recently completed that and come back home, but then also, this past weekend, played at Smoking Grooves here in LA, which, I mean, I saw your Instagram post about Toro Y Moi. But I’m assuming in general, there was some just mind blowing shit happening for you at Smoking Grooves.

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, yeah. Amazing. And I know I was intrigued, though, that you posted specifically about meeting Chaz from Toro Y Moi. Tell me a little bit just kind of about, like, he’s been a big influence on you, you were saying?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, it was just a trip. Being in the kind of back artists area and just seeing everyone that I kind of grew up on, or just people that my parents admire a lot. Just all back there walking and just being humans. Yeah, I was like, ‘Oh, this is it. This is like, we’re in it now.’ Yeah, it was crazy to see like Steve Lacey and The Roots, and Erykah Badu, Jhené Aiko.  Like walking past there, Jhené was walking with her camp. And I felt like I had to like, run and move out of the way because she looks like royalty, and she carries herself like a queen. But it was just a bunch of that. And meeting some of them was really cool.

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, ever since I kind of started making music, which was around 2017. He had released I think his single “Girl Like You” and rolling out Boo Boo. But for some reason, his music just spoke to me deeper than whatever he was saying or whatever was going on in the music. And I didn’t know why. Until I found out that he was like black and Filipino. Like, I feel this strong connection to another person that looks like me, who’s doing this at such a high level. And so ever since then, I went back into his discography, fell in love with everything. But he is like, my number one kind of guiding light or artists that I look to for a lot. And meeting him the other day was super surreal. He’s just a very laid back guy felt like an uncle kind of energy. Yeah, it’s very surreal. I’m still trying to like, process that that even happened. But it’s just like confirmation that this is where I’m supposed to be right now.

Jenny Eliscu:  So let’s rewind for the people listening to the LSQ podcast because I like to go back to the beginning. And when we spoke for your XMU session, you know, we got to talk a little bit about some of the like, before you were making the songs that we’ve heard the past few years kind of stuff. But yeah, I want to talk about more of that kind of stuff. So like, what do you remember about the first kind of instances that you just felt creativity or you felt an urge to be creative?

Jelani Aryeh:  Oh, I think I felt an urge to be creative around, what I remember like five or six being with my auntie Elma, my mom’s sister on the Filipino side. And she brought me like this Crayola art case, like this red Crayola art case. And ever since I got that, I would just like draw whatever — I think I used to draw a lot of like, superheroes and football players. But she just taught me how to be creative or just how to like express myself. She was like the first spark and then, around that time, my uncle used to rap, and his studio was next to my bedroom in my childhood home. And so hearing that, I think kind of led me to this. And I had no idea that I wanted to do music or be creative in like a professional way. And I wanted to be like a football player or just, yeah. But I think those were like the first times that I was around it or in it.

Jenny Eliscu:  What style of rap did your uncle do?

Jelani Aryeh:  I dunno, it was very, like, story-driven. He would always tell stories, which I don’t know if that was really the thing at the time. But I can tell that he grew up on a lot of A Tribe Called Quest and people like Mos Def, and Jay-Z — that’s kind of what my dad would play a lot, Jay Z and Common, Kanye a lot.

Jenny Eliscu: Did you feel personally connected to that music at all as a kid, or just was sort of like what your dad and uncle liked?

Jelani Aryeh:  I felt a connection to Kanye. But when I listened to Jay-Z, or some of those other things, they sounded a little too grown, or I couldn’t really understand what they were talking about. But Kanye made it, like, easy to connect with or just exciting for me. My dad used to play a lot of College Dropout — that was kind of like the first album that I remember listening to in my childhood.

Jenny Eliscu:  And what was the first stuff that felt like it was your music and you were gonna get kind of obsessed with it?

Jelani Aryeh:  Oh, sheesh. I felt like I like didn’t claim like an artist until middle school. And it was like, Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet. Just like, ‘Oh, he’s speaking to me. And like this internet age of things.’ Yeah, I just liked and appreciated the idea of building a whole world with an album, and doing a screenplay, doing a film around it. And I think that just catapulted me into music or just the arts.

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah. So what did you do from there? Like, how did you actually begin to see yourself as an artist and as a creator yourself? And what were the early things you did with that?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, I feel like, early on, I came more at media or entertainment, or just being creative, by making films. That was like, what I really wanted to do at first. Like eighth grade, freshman year, just going into those classes and doing whatever like rubric they’d give us. But ‘Bino was the initial spark for that. And then I think I just wanted to make music that would inform those videos. And I kind of got lost in the music and didn’t really go back. But I’ve always been obsessed with like, YouTube and videos. And I have so many old channels of myself, like, making duct tape wallets, like doing like little Lego movies. What else? Like, making my own little manga anime things. But yeah, I just would always have my hand in something, I just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah, like media kind of seems like it interested you, in general, or like, you have the visual, the kind of combination of things. And then to make music to go with whatever you were doing, where did you start? Did you like teach yourself guitar? Or how did you kind of begin?

Jelani Aryeh:  I began with writing to — really not to discredit anyone that was making beats on YouTube — but writing to like Frank Ocean type beats or just like whoever was kind of popular at the time, Childish Gambino type beats. And I was like, ‘I can’t do this for much longer.’ So I tried to learn on Logic and GarageBand, and would just make my own things without knowing any theory. And I was just like, I don’t know if I can do this, either. So I formed a group, I went to Reddit to just ask if there was like, like-minded people, or whoever was kind of in the same space as me if they wanted to make a group, or just like this collective that has no set genre, but we just make things that we like. And I found my main producer, Jack Kolbe. He’s from Arizona. We make everything together. He made my first EP from this last album. But yeah, he’s kind of my guy. Like I don’t I still don’t know how to produce or play. I’ll do like little licks here and there, but just by what I like hearing.

Jenny Eliscu:  And was that that was that initially, was that the Raised By The Internet project? Or that was? Yeah, so there was mainly the two of you, and then you found other people just online?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah. So we were on Reddit — this was like back in spring 2017. And he was one of the guys that responded to me. But I think through all that, through having everyone else, we had the closest bond, I’d say we just could understand each other. Yeah, that was Raised By The Internet.

Jenny Eliscu:  As far as songwriting went, though, because you’re saying you kind of had to collaborate remotely? Yeah. What would you do? Would you just like, you know, kind of sing to yourself, like, how does writing a song work for you? How did it start? And how has it changed? You know, just the how you do it part?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah. So I guess it started off with Jack sending a loop of guitar or keys, or guitar and drums. And then I’d take it back. And we’d send this over Google Drive and Discord, which is like a gaming thing. But yeah, he’d send files over, then I’d go into like my DAW and record, like, a melody idea. And then he’d build that, and we just go back and forth and build the song. But now, I’ll usually just go into the studio with him or someone else or the band and kind of just jam out. And I’ll just sing melodies forever until we kind of find something. And then either in that session, or another day, me and Jack will sit down and have like a little therapy session and kind of talk lyrics like that. But a lot of the time before, it would just be me in my room. And I’d just write and write. And I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure out my process. It’s kind of all over the place.

Jenny Eliscu:  Did you though, when you were doing that early stuff, like did you feel like ‘Holy shit like we’re doing… this is really cool…’ Like, I just wonder when you let yourself give in to ‘I’m doing this, I’m not going to worry about whether it’s football…’ or whatever else you might have thought like was going to be a path where you’re just like, ‘You know what? No, I am doing it. This is me. I’m the artist. We’re doing it dude.’

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, I guess looking back, I threw myself into it kind of when we made our song “Where We Go.” And I didn’t know that I dedicated myself to it like that. But looking back, like, yeah, that was kind of the moment where this became everything. That was a song where I told my dad, I no longer wanted to play football. I’m like, wanting to kind of live my own life and figure it out by myself. And it’s kind of just like, one moment fused together of — I don’t know, that was the moment, I guess. It was like ‘Yeah, we’re doing it. We’re kind of living our dreams.’ And I had another moment like that just after Smoking Grooves. I was like, ‘Oh my god, we just like, came back from tour. We’re playing with these freaking people right now.’ Yeah, I think we’re gonna have a lot more of those moments together. But yeah, shit is crazy.

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah, yeah. I mean, I was gonna I was about to ask, like, if you’ve observed so far, what kinds of things tend to be inspiring to you — you know, what kinds of situations tend to be inspiring to you, lyrically, or musically? And then it occurs to me like, well, there’s a whole new inspiration than the songs from your debut album. Versus whatever you make next, it’s going to be a different inspiration because you are having these like, experiences that you wouldn’t have sort of imagined.

Jelani Aryeh:  Yep, I think just making bigger songs was one of my biggest takeaways from tour. Because I just want to make music for people to have fun and like lose themselves completely in. And performing “Stella Brown” at the end of the set, and hearing just like the love and feeling the love from that was life-changing. I was like, ‘I want more of this for myself and for everyone else.’ But yeah, just making more — what’s the word? — kind of like anthemic records and just pulling a lot from like what my parents grew up on, a lot of like a these like new wave and then dad rock, which is weird and kind of just like playing those.

Jenny Eliscu:  Wait, what do you consider dad rock?

Jelani Aryeh:  Like, fuckin Roxy Music — a lot of like, Brian Eno. I don’t know if that…

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah, well, no, that’s cool. That’s very cool dads. That’s the cooler side of dad rock. Right? Because I feel like some people would say like, is like the Dave Matthews Band dad rock or something? I don’t know.  Both sound like chill dads.

Jelani Aryeh:  For real! And like Wilco, I don’t even know what that’s considered but Wilco has a special place in my heart that kind of Chaz does, which I don’t understand why but he does.

Jenny Eliscu:  Did you go through a phase where you — because I know we’ve talked before about some of the like, big indie like legendary indie artists that you’ve been a fan of for a long time, and hearing that music, but like, did you ever go in and nerd out on like truly super vintage stuff like Beatles and Bob Dylan and all that kind of stuff?

Jelani Aryeh:  I think early 2019 — it’s felt like such a long time since then — but I had a weird psychedelic rock phase that kind of took me back into all of those bands. But I was obsessed with The Doors for a really long time. And Jim Morrison.  And I still haven’t really like went down my Hendrix rabbit-hole yet, but a lot of that stuff. I feel like I’m just now getting into Led Zeppelin, but that’s through like listening to the Chili Peppers. I just finished reading Flea’s memoir, which is incredible. One of the best books I’ve ever read. What a beautiful soul. But he just made me want to listen to Led Zeppelin and dive into that. Yeah, I feel like I don’t know if I answered the question.

Jenny Eliscu:  But also, when I asked about, like, what you find inspires you, I mean, like, in terms of topics, or, or themes, or whatever, like, are you finding lately yourself, lyrically, or as you think about new songs and stuff, like what’s interesting to you to write about at this point in your life?

Jelani Aryeh:  I think talking about everything, except myself, which is really hard. But I feel like my music in the past, in this last record has been a lot of me on my own. And I think I’m going to name the record Let Us Have Our Time. And I just want that to be a thing that makes me think about other people, or just puts myself in their situation, or writing to a younger version of myself or an older version of myself. But yeah, kind of just themes of being together. Themes of being young, like truly young and innocent. And just finding like, wonder in all things still, because it’s hard. It’s really hard right now.

Jenny Eliscu:  It sounds like though you’re saying you if you already have an idea what you’re gonna name the record, ie the next record. 

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, yeah. 

Jenny Eliscu:  Yay. That’s awesome. But what’s the deal there? Because I’ve Got Some Living To Do came out — well, we’re talking right now in March of 2022. It came out August of last year. Am I remembering that correctly?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah. Like July 30. Yeah,

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah, she can remember stuff!

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, I mean, I’ve been in a lot of sessions since then, which is kind of not me. And we’re still in the phase where we’re just like, throwing paint at the board and just getting stuff out. But I think being in all those sessions, and going on tour made me realize that I want to create with like my base, which is Jack or the band, and see what comes out of that, because I’ve never made songs with a whole band at first, like, genesis. And I think a lot of the music that I enjoy is a lot of that, and jamming and finding those magical moments. Yeah, I’m just I’m excited for everything, really.

Jenny Eliscu:  Yeah. So you’re gonna be yeah, absolutely, like just playing in a room and just seeing what comes out. And so you’re still at the phase where you’re planning to get studio time and situations like that in the coming months. Is that the…?

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, and just sitting down with Jack, because he goes to USC, in their little house and having our sessions, but then my drummer has a setup in his garage, where it’s all soundproof. He has drums. And so we’ll probably make a lot of it in there as well. 

Jenny Eliscu:  Amazing. Well, I can’t wait to hear whatever you come up with next. And then what else? Is there going to be some more touring in the coming months?

Jelani Aryeh:  I hope so. I mean, I want to finish the majority of this record, so we can go back like fall, winter. That’s like a really big thing. I kind of just want to get into album mode and like to travel and work in like studios in the woods, or just like go around, because that’s when I feel the most inspired. 

Jenny Eliscu:  I’ve heard amazing things about this — I mean, lots of studios — but there’s a studio you may have heard about in El Paso called Sonic Ranch.

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah. Oh my god. I feel like Bon Iver talked about that. Yeah, that’s awesome.

Jenny Eliscu:  Sonic Ranch and I think it’s maybe Tornillo, Texas, technically.

Jelani Aryeh:  Okay. It’s probably really expensive.

Jenny Eliscu: I don’t know, I mean, I feel like, Beach House recorded there and Bright Eyes have recorded there. It’s like indie people record there. It can’t be like — true indie people record there, it can’t be crazy expensive.

Jelani Aryeh:  Yeah, okay. I’ll have to check that out. We had an Air BnB in Joshua Tree and there were like, horses just right out door. I was like ‘This is crazy.’ I just want that. I’m trying to go to the UK. I’m trying to go to different countries to record. I feel like that’d be really inspiring or just something new to feel different things. But yeah, the UK and Stockholm have been like the list.

Jenny Eliscu:  There is, I feel like, you know, if you just decide where you want to go and then you just say ‘That’s where I’m recording,’ it’s happening. I see that. 

Jelani Aryeh:  I gotta put my foot down and be more assertive. Everyone tells me to be more assertive, they’re like, ‘You’re too shy.’

Jenny Eliscu:  I’m not saying you’re too anything. I’m just saying I want it for you. Thank you so much for connecting to do this. It’s great to see you again and to get to talk to you some more.

Jelani Aryeh:  Thank you for having me. This is crazy.

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