Jelani Aryeh is a young San Diego native with a keen eye for music pouring his heart and soul into the craft. Earlier this year, Jelani’s music video for “Union Station” caused a rippling wave through the music world. It was a song which represents a start of a journey “into the unknown,” he explained, “Leaving our place of security to chase our dreams and follow art.” Following that release came “The Garden” and “Patagonia” (produced by Phil NDL), both tracks are teasers for the upcoming Helvetica EP.
At first, while still in high school, Jelani dabbled rapping over YouTube instrumentals, back in 2016. He ended up getting a midi keyboard and trying to figure out how to make “something different, something with substance,” Jelani told Notion. The solo career is a rather new adventure for Jelani who started his career as a member of Raised By The Internet – a music collective of people who met on the BROCKHAMPTON page on Reddit.
In anticipation of the EP, we reached out to Jelani Aryeh for a chat.
Kateryna Topol: Hello Jelani, how has 2019 been treating you so far?
Jelani Aryeh: So far my year has been pretty good, I’ve definitely traveled more than I have in previous years. I’m still based in San Diego but during the summer I was in LA, Phoenix, Portland, Ohio, and Hawaii. Portland was definitely a highlight for me, it was my first time traveling to a new state alone. I honestly enjoyed it so much and personally feel like that’s the best way to travel, in solitude. You learn so much about yourself, especially when you have the freedom to do whatever you want and aren’t obligated to other people’s plans. Just being around the people in Portland and immersing myself in all the nature I could during my stay, you definitely see and feel this spontaneous, untethered creativity energy everywhere you go.
KT: That sounds fantastic! On the topic of creativity, can you please talk a bit about your production process?
JA: I mainly use Logic and Maschine; I still work out of my home studio and send files via Google Drive. That’s mainly my process working with my producer Jack Kolbe, another member of my collective Raised By The Internet. I actually did the same with “Patagonia” and track 2 off the EP, “Jetfuel” – the next upcoming single, and track 4 off the project was made with drama club and Heavy Mellow at Heavy Duty studios in Burbank. Oh yeah, I also just got an OP-1 synthesizer that I play around with from time to time. I want to make textures for the album on that thing, some Bon Iver-type shit.
KT: Looking forward to hearing those new sounds! When is the Helvetica EP dropping?
JA: October 25th. Same day as Twigs, smh.
KT: So soon! All right cool. Long question now: When talking about “Patagonia” you said it was the most you as a song so far, that it is healing “in its ability to ground [you] and remind [you] who [you are] and why [you] create when [you] sometimes lose sight of that.” – why do you create, what does music give you?
JA: I create to better understand myself. I create to make people feel something and give them a space to reside in with something that didn’t exist here before. I want to provide some sort of solace for people at a soul level or in ways I’m not all that conscious of yet. I always have to remind myself that this gift is beyond me though, the music really does speak for itself and has its own way of affecting the hearts and minds of others. Music gives me love and pain. It gives me so much insight, inspiration, and feeling. It gives me more than I ask for and sometimes it leaves me super unfulfilled. I definitely consume music in a very selective manner. At least lately.
KT: You are basically a self-taught musician, is that right? It is quite impressive. Can you please speak to that – are there any limitations to being self-taught?
JA: Well I’m not sure. I feel like that term is linked to an instrument and if that’s what you mean then not really. I mainly enjoyed singing my favorite songs and me discovering that I had a somewhat of a voice. I started writing songs only a few years ago. I guess you can call me a singer/songwriter if you want. I produce here and there but I don’t know theory and mainly play the keys by ear. There are some limitations for sure, one being the rate of progression without a teacher or mentor. I’d like to learn both guitar and bass, especially for the next project. If I can get one of those instruments down, you’ll definitely see me with one on stage in the future.
KT: For sure, makes sense. And you still work with Raised By The Internet?
JA: Oh yes of course. Those are my brothers. That is family. I just don’t live in the same house.
KT: How do you balance working with the group and your solo career?
JA: Well everyone’s been pretty focused on their own work at the moment so it hasn’t been hard to work on my stuff. We were planning another tape for the end of the year but figured that it wasn’t the right time being that we have three solo releases coming up. it
KT: What made you go solo? (and we’re happy you did!)
JA: Just felt like that’s where my energy needed to be at. Felt like I owe it to the people that have been rocking with me since SD. also everyone’s using this time to really just assess what their strengths are and what draws people to certain aspects of themselves, so come group time, dudes are on there shit and we’re in a flow.
KT: Do you have any specific goals for the next few months, other than the EP release.
JA: To feel more secure in this body. To be more open an always finding ways to be a better person. To finally be living in Los Angeles, having a healthy routine once I live there. Finding a romantic partner. Making the RBTI album. Doing more shows and touring for sure. Getting comfortable performing. Traveling outside of shows [and] soul searching. Starting the album [and] working on the album with different producers in different locations such as San Francisco, London, and Sweden.
KT: Those are great, I can definitely lean into some of those goals myself.
So the internet tells me you played a Sofar show in San Diego, what was that like?
JA: Really good! Really mellow! I’d love to do more intimate, coffee shop shows like that. We just did an acoustic set and I feel like the words really translate and stick that way. I remember just seeing a lot of people sitting on yoga mats in lotus [poses].
KT: Yeah that’s usually the scene, very peaceful. What are you listening to this week?
JA: Okay, well, of course, that new Lana [del Rey]. That “Venice Bitch” song is beautiful especially the second half of [it], it’s just hella sensual and makes you a want a woman like that singing in front of you. JPEGMAFIA project! “Grimy Waifu” – Wow.
KT: All great picks! All right thank you Jelani, looking forward to seeing you perform live in the near future!
cover photo by Daniel Lang