Jelani Aryeh, a 21-year-old artist with R&B, pop, and alternative rock influences, has dropped his new album I’ve Got Some Living To Do, out now (July 30). On the album, Aryeh switches between addressing the difficulties of the past year and expressing sonically pleasing escapism. The craft behind Aryeh’s voice and lyrics show immense emotional depth, capturing the singer’s wisdom beyond his years. Additionally, the combination of his R&B background infused with the sounds of his indie-rock inspirations creates work unique to Aryeh’s evolution.
The San Diego-based singer sat down with American Songwriter for a Q&A to discuss everything from his past work to his favorite tracks on I’ve Got Some Living To Do.
American Songwriter: Let’s start with one of your hit singles from the album. What’s the story behind the song “Stella Brown?”
Jelani Aryeh: I fell for this older woman that was on my music set for a live music video. And I just didn’t know how to talk to her or approach her. I got back home to San Diego and I was already working on this… and we knew we wanted the song to have a girl’s name. I think the name Stella Brown just popped in my head out of nowhere. But it’s kind of an amalgamation of the brunettes that I’ve encountered that were cute! It’s just like a song about not being able to tell someone how you feel and just living inside your head.
AS: Tell us about the experiences and inspirations that you tried to capture in the rest of your new album.
JA: Yeah, I think a lot of it— or at least the latter half of the album because we made a lot of it in quarantine last year—was inspired by a lot of the drives that I would go on along the coast. And the music I would listen to on drives through La Jolla and Del Mar in San Diego. So I tried to have that ‘bring like the sunshine in’ feel to it because I knew that a lot of people were just going through it. And for myself, I just wanted some more light. And then I got obsessed with rock and The Beatles and MGMT so that phase kind of informed me, and some of the other ones like Radiohead, that I listened to during quarantine. It was super cool.
AS: Do you consider this album to be a form of escapism for yourself and for your listeners?
JA: No doubt. My intention… one of my goals before making anything was to make a world for someone to live in, or I guess, to escape when this real world is too much. And I feel like especially last year, escapism kind of made itself more apparent. I think it has always been that kind of music for sure.
AS: Do you have a favorite track from the album?
JA: I think the “Trunk Song” is one of my favorites just because it is super special to me. I feel like I’ve never made a song like that. But the first three tracks and the last few tracks on the album are my babies. I just love them so much.
AS: Why do you say you haven’t made a song like “Trunk Song” before?
JA: I think it goes to so many places that I wouldn’t expect myself to go to. It feels like a trailer to the album in a way, or almost like a montage of moments in the album. But at the same time, it also just feels just like a journal entry.
AS: In the same vein, do you think this album is different from your past work?
JA: Yeah, I feel I think it’s more cohesive. I think there’s a solid line of certain sounds running through the whole thing. With this one, I think I accomplished my goal. Like before I made any piece or any music, I had an urge to make guitar-driven music, like an alternative album one day. And I think it’s just a big deal to me and my producer, starting out in kind of a pop and R&B background and then being able to do this! It’s really cool.
AS: Are you an instrumentalist as well?
JA: Yeah, I don’t know how to play any instruments. I play by ear when I do have an instrument in front of me. But I really just grew up singing to the radio with my aunt in her car to songs by Green Day and Sean Kingston and James blonde. I think singing with my aunt in the car, kind of sparking something. I think I owe her so much of where my creativity comes from.
AS: It sounds like a lot of your experiences with music had some sort of musical epiphany occurring in the car, listening to music.
JA: Yeah, that really didn’t even hit until right now!
AS: Maybe your next album should be called Drive or Joyride, right?
JA: Yeah, it’s definitely going in that direction; I’m super inspired by Jack Antonoff and Bleachers, and that kind of bigger, anthemic music that fits so well in a driving setting. And you’re like, belting your heart out!