INTERVIEW: Introducing 300's New Musical Gem, COBI
After recently signing with 300 Entertainment, LA-based ("multi-dimensional") singer/songwriter and instrumentalist Cobi has proven to be one voice that we want to pay attention to. His hit single, “Don’t You Cry For Me,” has landed the number one slot as the most viral song on Spotify, claiming over 5 million plays (and climbing.) He was recently on tour with Above & Beyond and will soon be on the road again with Brooklyn-based band Augustines. While he was here in New York City, Cobi came by the office to tell us a little more about the intricacies of himself, his inspiration and imagination and the foreseeable future.
What color do you feel like today?
Blue! Blue’s my color. Navy blue specifically.
Why did you choose music?
I didn’t, it was just there. There was no choice... had to do it. I started pretty young, humming and singing from the moment I could hum and sing. I didn’t even talk until later; I would just hum everything. I started taking piano lessons when I was 6 or 7 but I really got the bug when I started playing the guitar when I was 10. A friend brought an electric guitar over to the house and when I got my hands on that, I was like "it’s over." I knew that’s what I wanted to do at the very moment. I saved up money mowing lawns for my own electric guitar.
What is your first musical memory?
Aside from humming, I remember having a cassette tape of an Elton John record. I can’t remember what the name of the record was, I just remember the cover. It was a black & white photo of his face and I listened to it a lot. I also enjoyed MC Hammer. My mom would play Neil Young in the car and my dad was obsessed with Bob Marley, so I definitely grew up with love for both.
[photo by Doug Van Sant Photography]
Did those musicians roll over into your teen years?
Definitely. All of those were influences. Maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time but as I got older I realized that I really loved them all.
Do you have a vinyl collection?
I started doing the vinyl thing when I was back home in Minnesota. My grandfather left his turntable for me when he passed away and I started collecting records... Then when I went to college in Boston I couldn’t bring the turntable and so I had to leave it at home. I haven’t been collecting records since then.
What was happening in your life at the time of writing “Don’t You Cry For Me”?
I was just writing a lot of music at the time. I wrote that song for a good friend of mine, his name is Michael, and we had been writing together for about 6 years on and off.
I think we just both dug deep into our pain.
He was across the country at the time, living in Rhode Island. I was in LA and we would write together over the phone and send each other ideas. That track in particular was just one song to come out of those sessions.
Aside from other musical influences, what in your life inspires you to create?
Life, people, relationships, changes in life, cultural differences, political heat, traveling.
Do you partake in any other art forms? Painting? Video?
I used to paint and do more digital arts, but I pretty much dedicate my life to music now.
How do you feel like the relationship between audio art and visual art then?
It’s such a powerful medium when they come together, like music videos or like Beyonce's Lemonade... It’s a whole concept. I love that kind of stuff, it is really incredible when artists can take it all the way like that. Especially when you are developing yourself as an artist and as a team.
[photo by Rukes]
What was growing up in your hometown like?
It was quiet, really secluded in the woods in a small town called Lutsen, Minnesota. It’s right on Lake Superior, about an hour south of Canada. It’s really beautiful. Lake Superior looks like the ocean, you can’t really cross it at points and it’s a national forest reserve up there so there’s a whole bunch of land that you can’t go on. That is basically my backyard. The winters were long and cold but I grew up playing a lot of sports (like snowboarding and ice skating.)
By the time I was a teenager I was getting restless and bored, and I knew I wanted to do music at that point so I had a strong desire to get away. I moved to Minneapolis when I was 16 and finished high school down there and just tried to start getting out into the world. It gave me a lot of time to dig into my craft and helped to move down to the city because I got to surround myself with other people my age that were doing art like that. It definitely helps to be around other artists. I think that’s crucial.
Do you spend a lot of time out in nature?
Not as much as I’d like to these days. LA is such a crazy city. It is easy to get out into nature even though you’re still in the hustle and bustle... Maybe someday I’ll move back out to the country. Living in New York City is definitely on my bucket list though. I’d love to go back and forth and be bicoastal.
Favorite spot in LA?
My favorite to go is this place called Dirt Mulholland. It’s a hiking trail that’s not very popular, and it’s not far from where I live. You can really see everything. It’s up in the hills and you can hike it all the way over to Malibu or Hollywood. You can see a bit of the ocean, you can see the whole valley, you can see downtown, you can see Santa Monica... A really cool 360 degree view. But as far as restaurants go, I eat at Hugo’s a lot. They have something there for everybody, it’s a great staple spot.
What about venues out in LA?
I haven’t played here yet but I really like The Troubadour. It’s really cool, an intimate vibe and they have really cool balconies. There is old wood ceilings which makes for a cool sound. I’d really like to play there someday.
Three things you can’t go without?
I can’t go without family. Family is really important. Just, you know, having that core is super grounding and important. I can’t go without being next to water for long periods of time because I grew up next to water. And other than that, just love.
What’s your zodiac sign?
I'm a Leo.
If you could keep one memory in a jar, what would it be?
I have too many awesome memories to put in a jar... I like to live in the moment so I don’t think I would keep just one memory. I’m not like a hoarder or keeper of things, you know. I like to discard and keep my space clear. Be as present as possible.
Who are you listening to right now?
I was just listening to the live Miguel Spotify Sessions the other day. I’ve also been listening to Black Messiah, the new D’Angelo record. The new Radiohead album as well. I just saw Florence and The Machine perform live so I started getting into their new record again. I’ve been listening to Tom Waits lately too... Some Bob Dylan... I don’t know, I mix it up.
[photo by Luke Dyson]
How do you discover music?
It could really be anything! Friends telling me, other artists tweeting about stuff... Also Soundcloud or Hype Machine. Spotify also is cool to surf through other people’s playlists.
How do you escape?
I like to run. Running is my escape. I like to start my days off that way and it’s really good for me.
So! How do you want to be remembered?
I just wanna be remembered as an artists that put his all into it.
When people leave my show, I want them to feel what I’m feeling.