Cobi is getting back to the roots of music. Tapping on political turmoil in the form of r&b, blues, and classic rock, his tunes delve into a broader theme that touches on human vulnerability. His debut solo single, “Don’t You Cry For Me,” was released in May 2016 and hit No. 1 on Spotify’s Viral 50 chart a month later, landing him a spot on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Cobi’s lyrics come from a deep place of his own, managing to touch on the discrepancies of humanity that affect us all–hope, heartbreak, and loneliness.
Taking a plunge into the solo-artist world, Cobi left his unique musical collective “Gentleman’s Hall” to pursue his own musical ground. His new EP “Songs from the Ashes pt. 2” was released as an extension from “Songs from the Ashes pt. 1”; both EPs equally fervent in substance.
Editor-in-chief Indira Cesarine sat with the musician to discuss his sky-rocketing journey to success and what’s he’s learned from it all. His new video “Church of the lonely” premiered on November 16th. Check it out below.
Can you elaborate on how you first discovered your interest in music?
I started taking piano lessons when I was 6 years old, it was one of those things where my mom wanted us to start getting into music. My teacher wanted me to read music but I really forced her to let me learn by ear! She would play for me and I would play it back to her, that’s how I started learning. I gave up piano after two years, but I really started venturing deep into music when I picked up the guitar. That’s when I started teaching myself. When I was about 10, I started listening to CDs. My godfather had a huge CD collection; he introduced me to a lot of great guitar players. I would go through his collection and start teaching myself songs from the CDs and records.
Who would you consider to be your biggest musical influences? Obviously, you have an affiliation with the 70s but fill us in a little bit more on your inspiration.
As far as guitar playing goes, in the beginning, I was really inspired by Jimi Hendrix and a lot of those 60s and 70s bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles; stuff like that. Later, I started getting into different songwriters like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and I dove into songwriting myself. It’s hard to pick one, there are so many that have inspired me throughout my time in music, but it really started with those artists.
Before you launched your solo career you were in a band named Gentleman Hall and they won an MTV award. What exactly was your involvement with the band?
I was playing guitar as well as vocals and songwriting. There were 6 members and everybody gave a lot in the process of writing. We lived together in a house in Boston, and we turned every room into a studio. We literally went into the different rooms every day and just wrote and recorded music. That was a big step and learning experience for me. That’s where I learned how to do everything myself; how to produce my own work and write different styles of music.
Why did the band break up?
We all got pretty broke and started going separate ways. I wanted to be in LA and do something different, and I think more than anything, it was difficult being in a collaborative group when everybody has equal say. It was a really cool experience, but after a while, I decided that my voice was very important to me and I didn’t want to miss out on that, so I made my own way.
What do you think you learned the most from that experience?
The steps it takes to get things done, from point A to point B. How to do everything: record, produce, write, release music, how to get music videos done, how to tour. I learned a lot for sure.
You recently performed your track “Don’t You Cry For Me” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Were you nervous at all or how did you feel about the performance?
It felt amazing to be able to do that. I wasn’t too nervous, I felt ready. It was really time to put that out. I was excited to have the opportunity to play with awesome people on that stage, and I just wanna do it a million times over again.
The lyrics are insanely soulful and emotional. What is your inspiration for that song?
I wrote it three years ago with my friend Mike Rebel. I had just moved to LA and we were on opposite sides country at the time. He and I were sending ideas back and forth over email and text. We have written a lot of songs together and that one was super special.
It sounds very personal. Was it inspired by personal experience?
Yeah, it was but at the same time it’s totally a personal interpretation, everyone can get their own take on it.
Let’s talk about your new EP “Songs for the Ashes Part II.” what exactly inspired the title “Songs for the Ashes?”
There’s a poet named Robert Bly who wrote a book called “Iron John”. Chapter 3 of this book is titled ‘The Road of Ashes, Descent and Grief’. In order to be fully initiated as a man, Robert talks about grief and the necessity of experiencing it. It says that where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be. Wherever the wound appears in our psyche, is precisely the place for which we will give our major gift to the community. ‘Songs from the Ashes’ is my descent into grief and the uncovering of my own gifts.
You just released the second installment of your EP. I read that it touches on “feelings of loneliness in America, violence, and everlasting love…” Can you tell me more about the themes of the songs?
Yes, there are 3 songs on both. “Church of The Lonely” touches on loneliness in America and the divide we’ve been experiencing. Our perspectives on how things should be and where things should go. Being from Grand Marais, Minnesota, I know what it’s like to live in a small lonely town, and how that experience shapes your perspective of the world. “Burning One Down” talks about my feelings on gun violence. It’s a simple statement. The chorus goes: They put on their boots and load up their guns, You’re getting yours too better put your mask on, I’ll be right here singing my song, burning one down, ready when they come around. It’s saying that regardless of what other people decide to do, I’m not gonna let them stop me from spreading peace by being peaceful. I think that instead of telling people what they should or should not be doing, we should focus on finding our own sense of inner peace and having that be spread versus projecting your own ideals onto other people. Some of the lyrics in “Rising Phoenix” go: no matter how many times my heart will break, I will rise up again my love’s not fading away. That’s talking about relationships, but it also talks about how many times the world can break your heart. Holding on to everlasting love, god, or whatever your life force is.
The direction is very thoughtful. You’re touching on things that really matter to you. Your music has a message which is really cool.
It’s really important for me to have a message that I share with people because if it doesn’t mean anything to me, why should it mean anything to anybody else? I’m pretty meticulous about what I say to people through my music.
I just saw your Instagram post thanking everyone for the support you’ve been getting because you’ve been through some “crazy rough times.” Can you fill us in on those tough times you had to overcome?
The crazy rough times I guess are too personal for an interview. A little briefly, I was planning on releasing this EP earlier in the year, and a whole summer of touring that I chose to postpone due to a family emergency.
Has it been difficult being a musician and having the demanding schedule of being a new parent? How do you manage to balance that?
It’s a life-changing experience for sure. It has definitely been a challenge, at the same time its brought so much joy in my life that its worthwhile. This year I haven’t been gone as much as I normally am, and that’s probably meant to be because its given me an opportunity to spend time with my family. This next year I’ll be on the road a lot with the release of my new record, and as excited as I am, I know it will be hard to be away from my family.
You’ve done a ton of performing but you also mentioned you had to cut back on it.
This year I haven’t been gone as much as I normally would have been, so that’s probably meant to be because I like being around [my family]. I’ve only done a handful of shows. This next year I plan on being on the road a lot.
You’ve done a million awesome performances in amazing venues. Which one stands out as memorable?
I’ve done so many I can’t really say! Three years ago I went on tour with Above and Beyond as a guest vocalist. We did an acoustic tour of all their EDM songs. Performing with an orchestra at Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood Bowl, and the Sydney Opera House has inspired my vision for my own project.
What do we have coming up that people can look out for? Anything on the radar?
Yeah, I have a new music video coming out for “Church of The Lonely” and I’m really pumped about that. But the big new is my record is coming out in the spring of 2019!
Photography and Interview by Indira Cesarine
Styling by Ty-ron Mayes