In 2008, Cobi was one of the founding members of Gentleman Hall, a unique musical collective from Boston that quickly catapulted to success, winning the “Best Breakout Boston Artist” award from MTV, being named “Best New Local Act” by the Boston Phoenix, and performing in front of a national television audience on the Billboard Music Awards in 2011. In 2013, their music appeared in commercials for Target and Samsung as well as on the CW’s 90210 and ABC’s Pretty Little Liars.
At the conclusion of Gentleman Hall’s 2014 tour, during which they played alongside acclaimed musicians such as Young the Giant, Cee Lo Green, All American Rejects, One Republic and Beyonce, Cobi decided to leave the group to record his first EP with the help of Grammy Award-winning engineer Tom Weir (Blondie, Willie Nelson) and an all-star cast of musicians including keyboardist Mia Fitz and drummer Matt Lang.
Released in March of 2015, the self-titled EP is a collection of heartfelt and authentic songs such as the debut single, “Walking Through the Fire,” which combines acoustic and electronic elements and feature lyrics about hope, love and passion.
What was your childhood like, and when did you first develop a passion for music?
When I was about eight years old, a friend of my mother named John Allen stopped by our house with an electric guitar. At that point, I had always fantasized about being able to play guitar, but I never had the opportunity to actually pick one up. I was so excited when he brought his beautiful sparkly blue guitar into the house with a tiny amplifier. He started teaching my brother and I a couple chords. He really encouraged us to start jamming right there on the spot as if we knew what we were doing. I remember thinking, “I can actually play guitar!” something I had always dreamed about. Once I was able to play a couple chords I was totally hooked. Playing music was suddenly the only thing I wanted to do.
That summer I started working for $3 an hour mowing lawns around my small town so I could start saving money to buy my own guitar. About three months and many lawns later, I bought my first electric Squire Stratocaster. From there I learned by ear, teaching myself how to play by listening to a song over and over again until I could play through the whole thing. My mom’s boyfriend Wayne is a total music junky and has the biggest CD and vinyl collection out of anybody I know. He would always bring over new music for me to listen to and learn. Everything from Rock, Punk, Grunge, Blues, Jazz, Funk, Folk, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s… you name it, he had it.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences?
A lot of the great blues and rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Fleedwood Mac, and Albert King were some of my favorites at an early age.
Do you remember the first song you learned to play on guitar? If so, what was it?
The first song I learned on guitar was Billy Corgan’s cover of the Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide.” I remember I could only play a couple notes of the song. I played those two notes over and over and over again until my brother got sick of hearing it and told me to learn something else.
How did you first meet the other members of Gentleman Hall?
I attended school in Boston for two years, and that is how I met the guys that became Gentlemen Hall. We started out playing basement parties and clubs. We worked really hard on our songwriting, promoting our music, and playing tons of live shows around Boston which eventually led to some nice breaks. Boston has a very supportive music scene and was a great place for us to branch out.
How were you affected by the early success of Gentleman Hall?
I’ve very been fortunate in my short time on this earth to have had the opportunity to share my passion with many people. Gentlemen Hall was a unique and cherished experience of my life. In just a few short years we managed to get some national attention, travel the country playing venues I dreamed about as a kid, and signing with a major label. I don’t know, I just love music so anything that allows me to do that as much as possible is a blessing. I guess “success” is cool for that reason.
What made you decide to part ways with the band? Was there a particular moment when you realized that you’d rather be recording your own music?
Ultimately, the politics became more important than the art itself and that’s when it was time for me to move on. It became really hard for me to honestly express myself musically with the limitations that were put on me by other band members. Without self-expression, you don’t have art. You have a hollow product. I couldn’t continue on knowing I was doing a disservice to my own art. I put my whole life into that project and I don’t have any regrets. I did learn some hard lessons and found out how important it is to surround yourself with the right people that believe in what you’re doing and allow you to express yourself freely.
What is your songwriting process?
The writing process begins as a stream of consciousness. I’ll start with anything from guitar, to keyboard, to making a beat, to just a vocal line. Once an idea starts to stick, I continue to explore and refine it. Melodies develop, words start to roll off the tongue, and an overall groove is felt. Once I have those elements I immediately record what I’m doing so I don’t lose the idea. Those first few moments of inspiration are really important to capture because they are the most honest. Once I have the idea recorded I start to refine it even further by coming up with more sections, writing lyrics, adding other instruments etc. I continue this process until the song feels right from top to bottom. I also like collaborating in this way with like minded writers and musicians that share a vision. Its fun to have other people come in and record ideas while the creation process is happening. The song starts to take on a life of its own and thats when it gets really exciting.
How did the experience of recording your own EP differ from that of recording with Gentleman Hall?
There are more acoustic elements and organic sounds in my current style compared to what I was doing with GH. GH was much more synthesized with lots of vocal layerings. With this project, I wanted to blend my whole musical past together and incorporate more live elements.
What contemporary musicians do you think will be most fondly remembered in fifty years?
Kendrick Lamar, Little Dragon, Miike Snow, Jai Pual, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Flying Lotus, Here We Go Magic, Sufjan Stevens, Kanye, James Blake, Gary Clark Jr., Dam Funk, D’Angelo, Snarky Puppy, Young The Giant, Future Islands, Toro Y Moi, St. Vincent, My Morning Jacket, Thundercat.
Numerous artists have taken issue with the payment practices of music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. Where do you stand on the issue? Do you feel that artists are being adequately compensated by these services?
The music industry is always changing, and the great thing about being an artist is there are no rules. I think online streaming services are great for independent artists to get their music out to the world. But I think artists often forget that being in the music industry means you have to find your own audience and build everything yourself. Which means having ingenuity and finding new ways of reaching people. So I guess my answer would be, if an artist doesn’t think it’s a fair royalty rate to have their music streamed, then they shouldn’t use those types of services for their distribution. Find another way to make a living off your music. The possibilities are endless. Get creative.
Aside from music, what are you most passionate about?
Family for sure. Its the most important thing in the world to me.
What are you working on next?
More music, more videos, more touring. I’m not even sure what’s coming next but I’m very excited about the new music I’ve been writing.