COBI // INTERVIEW
INTERVIEW BY: Emily May
LA-based multidimensional singer-songwriter Cobi has been creating a buzz within the industry since the release of his solo single "Don't Cry For Me" in May of 2016. Born Jacob Schmidt in Grand Marais, Minnesota, Cobi's interest in music began when a family friend taught him a few chords on the guitar at the age of 8. His interest grew from there, leading him to buy his first guitar with money he saved from mowing lawns. Fueled by a passion for blues, R&B and classic rock, he taught himself how to play guitar by ear and later formed a blues band with a friend, playing covers of songs in local bars across Minnesota and Wisconsin. He later attended Berklee School Of Music in Boston where he helped to form the indie-pop band Gentlemen Hall in 2008. The band, who was signed to Island Def Jam Records, enjoyed a great deal of success, winning an MTV Video Music Award in 2009 for Best Breakout Boston Artist and performing at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards. In 2014 the band split up due to artistic differences. Cobi yearned to change course with his music, thus launching his solo career that saw a return to the blues music of his youth rather than commercial-friendly indie pop. He signed with 300 entertainment in December of 2015 and released his breakout single "Don't You Cry For Me" the following year. In September of 2017 he released the EP Songs From The Ashes Pt. 1, with Pt. 2 being released this year, touching on his feelings of loneliness in America, violence and everlasting love. It is also an homage to the music he loves from the '60s -Rock, Reggae and Soul. With his full-length album set to be released next year, it's safe to say we can expect great things from Cobi going forward! You can stay up-to-date with Cobi and all upcoming tour dates, as well as stream and purchase his music via the following links. Check out the track "Church Of The Lonely" from his latest EP below.
You learned how to play a few basic chords on the guitar when you were 8 and bought your first guitar when you were 11 using money you had saved up from mowing lawns. How old were you when you knew you wanted to play music?
Oh, right around the time I first picked up a guitar so probably around 9 or 10 years old. The guitar was it, that was the moment.
I read that you taught yourself how play guitar by ear by listening to your Godfather's extensive and eclectic record collection. What were some of the albums you learned to play from? Who were some of the the artists that influenced your style the most?
Some of the albums I learned to play from were Led Zeppelin - Swan, the album, Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced, B.B. King records, Otis Rush records.. Stuff like that. What was the next part of the question?
Who were some of the artists that influenced your style the most?
Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Prince.. Those were the ones that kind of got me started, and then later, it turned into all different kinds of stuff.
You were singing blues music in bars in Northern Minnesota at the age of 12 and always had a vision of touring the world. What do you think sparked that passion at such a young age?
I think it was just the unique energy I felt from playing in front of a live audience and getting to experience that at a young age really just drove me to want to continue that and get out of my small town and move down to the city and try to find ways to expand that audience.
You attended Berklee School of Music in Boston. What did you study and what was your experience like there?
I was at Berklee for a short time. I was there for two years. I studied a lot of different things, but I was mainly there for guitar and I was mainly there to get out of my small town, to get out of Minneapolis and to get into a bigger pool of musicians and stuff like that. So, I think the biggest thing I took away from Berklee was just being able to meet so many new people.
While in school, you formed the indie-pop band Gentleman Hall. The band saw a great deal of success but split up in 2014, at which time you started your career as a solo artist, gradually moving back to your bluesy-folk roots. What drew you to experiment with indie-pop and what drew you back to your roots?
I have always been interested in experimented with different styles of music, so at the time, that was something really new to me and exciting, and it was really fun to explore different sounds and different styles and kind of actually put down the guitar and do some other things with production and just to explore different style musics that was really exciting for me at the time. I think that taking all that experience that I had has allowed me to make something more unique and bringing that back to my own roots here with bluesy-folk and singer-songwriter stuff. So taking those different production ideas and kind of blending it into something that now I feel fully, totally unique into my own style that I don’t think anybody really sounds like that, like the way I do.
You have collaborated with other musicians from time to time but have found a great deal of artistic progression writing on your own. What do you enjoy about each avenue of making music and who have some of your favorite collaborations been with?
Lately, I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with Toulouse who’s an artist, he’s a really cool artist. He just recently moved out to L.A. here. I had to empty my publisher and he and I have been doing some really cool collaborations and hopefully we’ll put out a collab track soon. Another artist I really like collaborating with is Son Little. Again, emptying my publisher and we just really have a really cool time in the studio and throwing around ideas and stuff like that. So, it’s fun to be in different environments with different people because they bring things out of you that you might not have thought of or had on your own.
Are there any particular artists you would love to collaborate with in the future?
Yeah, tons. At the moment, I’d really like to collaborate with Little Dragon. I really love their stuff, specifically their singer. I love her voice. There’s probably more, I just have to think. I can’t think of things off the top of my head sometimes, I have to go look at my playlist. Oh, I’d love to collaborate with Labrinth or Diplo or Sia.
You have said that moments of self-doubt are the biggest challenges to overcome. How have you overcome those moments?
I don’t know if you ever really do overcome them. I think you just keep going, that’s it. That’s all there is to do.
What other challenges have you faced throughout your career?
I think a challenge is, in this kind of line of work, is really being able to collaborate and work effectively with a lot of different kinds of people throughout the process of getting music released, touring and just overall, getting from point A to point B through the business, and I think being able to do that is really kind of a defining factor on your success or not.
I read that you have a mantra- "Be yourself and express yourself, truly and fully". Do you ever find it hard to be authentic in the music industry?
No, I don’t find it hard for myself to be authentic, but I do find that along the way there’s other people that try to mold or shape what they think you should be. I never really crowded a part because I stayed in my own angry bee, but there’s definitely people and forces that, and maybe they have the best intentions and don’t even realize it, but try to sway you and turn you away from that, and I don’t know. I just stick to what feels right to me.
Have you ever felt the pressure to be an artist that you're not and to play music that is not true to the kind of musician you want to be?
Yes, many times.
You used to go by Cobi Mike but have since shortened it to Cobi. What prompted the change?
I just wanted to keep things simple.
In 2016, you were one of the 4 lead vocalists for the UK EDM band Above and Beyond's International Acoustic Tour, helping to present the band's songs in an acoustic setting with piano, orchestra and other traditional instruments. How did you become involved with the tour and what was the experience like for you?
Well, Above and Beyond, their tour managers met my manager at a party here in L.A. somewhere, some Grammy party or something, and they got to talking, and they said they were looking for a vocalist for the tour. My manager brought it over to me and was like ‘they were listening to you and how do you feel about doing it?’ and I was like ‘it might be cool.’ They wanted me to send a video in of me singing one of the songs so I just recorded that up really quick and sent it over to them and next thing I knew I was on a plane over to the UK.
You released Songs From The Ashes PT. 1 last year and Songs From The Ashes PT. 2 this year. I read that these are the first two EPs in a three part ongoing series designed as an introduction of sorts to your upcoming full-length album. What was the inspiration behind the first two EPs and what inspired the idea to do an EP trilogy leading up to your album?
Tough question to answer because I didn’t really originally want to do EPs. I wanted to do a full length record, but the record label was not ready to release a full length record on my behalf, so I was forced to turn it into EPs and release it sporadically like that. So, that wasn’t really something that I chose to do, that I wanted to do. My hand was forced in that way and I just ended up having to roll it out that way, and I don’t even know if it’s going to be three-part thing. I think the next step is just the album coming out in March.
What can people expect from PT. 3?
They can expect a full length record for PT. 3.
What's next for you? What are your goals going forward?
What’s next for me is ‘Church of the Lonely’ music video coming out and really excited about that, and then the album is dropping next year. More music is what’s next. More music, more visuals, more fun.