jelani aryeh debut album
[Photo credit: Daniel Lang]

If you’re yearning for a soundtrack to discovering the unknown, traveling to distant, sunny lands, reinventing your perceptions or embracing new experiences, look no further than rising artist Jelani Aryeh. The 21-year-old SoCal native is the genre-bender who will satisfy your desires. 

His personality is perfectly encapsulated in his bright, optimistic and mature discography. By drawing inspiration from indie megastars Bon Iver and Phoebe Bridgers to the fiery Feist and Radiohead, Aryeh creates an immersive and authentic sound.

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The project first began as a result of fighting back against his high school status quo. “It was also at the height of SoundCloud rap, like Lil Uzi [Vert] and Lil Yachty,” he says. “I wanted to talk about something different. I wanted to make something that would enrich people’s souls, speak to them [and] make them feel good.”

In 2017, Aryeh highlighted the constraints of growing up in the suburbs and wanting to find purpose outside of white picket fences, two-car garages and distant nods to neighbors from across the street through his debut EP, Suburban Destinesia

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Longtime listeners have grown up alongside Aryeh and watched him blossom into a vocalist who’s unapologetically himself. From his 2019 EP, Helvetica, to his recent album singles “From These Heights,” “Stella Brown” and “Marigold,” Aryeh puts out timeless music that’s sure to mystify you into a dreamy state of mind. 

With just a taste of what’s to come, there’s no denying Aryeh’s debut full-length, I’ve Got Some Living To Do, arriving mid-summer, will connect with souls near and far.

Have you felt any differences between your earlier releases vs. what you’re getting ready to put out this summer?

I feel super different. I feel like Helvetica was very disjointed, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to say with that record. So when I put it out, I never listened back to it. But I feel like with this one, I could always listen to it. And I’m fully 100% proud of it and would like the world to see it. 

You’ve done all the work to get to this point, and it’s incredible how your album single “Stella Brown” blew up. Were you surprised about that? 

Yeah, you don’t expect those things at all. I wrote this song about this older woman in Portland that was on my music video set. I don’t know if I fell in love, but I was super attracted. I didn’t know how to approach her. I just put that into a guitar, [and] I sang that over a guitar loop. I never thought that it would connect with as many people as it did. Yeah, it’s so bizarre. [Laughs.] 

Your recent live rendition of “Stella Brown” with a harpist was gorgeous. Additionally, “Marigold” recently had its music video released. It’s quite colorful, detail-oriented and eye-catching. How did you come up with the idea for that video, and where did your influences for the earthy and floral visuals come from?

My friends in Highland Park, they’re young film directors, so we wrote a treatment together. I don’t know if you know Kelsey Lu, her “Shades Of Blue” video, that was one big inspiration. And I feel like maybe the dress and the ethereal nature of it was from that. I wanted a balance between my normal self and this sun god called “Marigold” that I’m referring to, who I want to embody. That’s me at a soul level. So, I was teetering between normal Jelani and that. It’s the battle between those guys in the video—masculine and feminine. I wanted it to be in your face and sunny and make it hard for you not to be happy or move or feel something. 

A lot of your themes and energies are very eclectic and put you into a cool headspace. On this new album, what themes did you really try to incorporate?

I feel like one thing was just love and then also the lack thereof at times. There are moments where I feel love so deeply, and then there are moments where it feels like it’s completely stripped away. And then another loneliness, especially writing half of it in the pandemic and sitting with myself for such a long time and being able to reflect on past events and feeling lonely. Just desire—desire to travel, desire to live. I feel like that’s a strong one because the album is called I’ve Got Some Living To Do. So just desire to live a different life from my life here in the suburbs and hopefully go to London one day or something like that. I feel like seeking innocence again or just looking back toward childhood and missing that innocence but also trying to find that now… How I can stay a child and see the world with wonder. 

Jelani Aryeh
[Photo credit: Daniel Lang]
Are there specific artists you’re really inspired by or musical eras? 

For this album, era-wise, it was like ’60s and ’90s. I had a big psychedelic-rock thing around the time “Marigold” was made. And then at the beginning of the pandemic, I fell into this ’90s rabbit hole, so I was listening to Sonic Youth [and] Radiohead.

Overall, what do you hope people take away from your album? 

I want it to make them feel something. I think everyone’s going to feel something different and have their own takeaways, but I want it to inspire them to reflect on their lives and how they can go about moving forward. And I want it to just encourage them to live life and get out and do what they want to do.

FOR FANS OF: Phoebe Bridgers, Sonic Youth, Radiohead
SONG RECOMMENDATION: “Stella Brown”

You can read the AP RECS interview with Jelani Aryeh in issue 394 featuring cover stars Waterparks. The issue is available here.