As the title of his upcoming debut album suggests, Jelani Aryeh has got some living to do. In fact, we all do right now. With I’ve Got Some Living To Do, set for release on July 30, Aryeh releases the perfect soundtrack to resume life as lockdown restrictions loosen. The album takes a buoyant but wide-eyed approach to starting a new chapter, and although it is full of hope, I’ve Got Some Living To Do is also a sober look at “normal” life after a year of death and isolation.
In the song “Marigold,” which was released in March as the lead single to the record, Aryeh sings of the sun god. It’s equal parts guitar-pop, psychedelia, and soul all in one, with lyrics that discuss miracles. “Getting a hold of you is like clutching a cloud,” Aryeh sings, joyous but with an understanding of how difficult holding onto joy can be. It’s with simple words like these that Aryeh articulates the current moment as we stand on the precipice of a new chapter. We all have some living to do now, but life will never be the same as before.
After he gained recognition with his 2019 EP Helvetica and breakout single “Stella Brown” in 2020, San Diego suburbanite Jelani Aryeh made a name for himself as an empathetic songwriter, able to speak plainly to human experience with the craftsmanship of a folk artist, but in a way that feels modern. Inspired by everyone from Childish Gambino to Velvet Underground, Aryeh’s I’ve Got Some Living To Do is a collage of genres, eras, and details, resulting in “songs you can live in,” as he describes.
To learn more about his record, Aryeh joins us over a Zoom call from his childhood bedroom. Painted in a fitting marigold yellow, the walls of his room feature a patchwork of unframed posters, including everything from surrealist art prints to psychedelic mantras. It’s one of his last weeks living at home before moving to Los Angeles full time. But he hasn’t packed his things yet, including one poster that reads prophetically in capital letters, “GUIDE TO THE BEYOND.” Aryeh seems ready to leave home. It’s time.
Again, the title I’ve Got Some Living To Do seems to echo in his own life. Faced with moving out of his childhood home and the release of his debut album, which he has worked on for over a year, Aryeh is ready for the impending changes.
Where are you living right now? Where are you Zooming from?
I’m still living outside San Diego, but I’m moving to LA in the next couple of weeks. I’m just waiting on my mattress to ship, honestly!
You’ve lived right outside of San Diego for most of your life. How did living in suburbia, away from any sort of music scene, influence your work?
I feel like I wasn’t tapped into any music scene. At least I’m not aware of any scene near me, so I just kind of go online to find what I like. And that informs my tastes and who I am. Growing up I always found music I loved from family and friends or listening to the radio.
What were some of those early artists that resonated with you?
I remember listening to a lot of Green Day on the radio. Sean Kingston. Whatever was around. My dad played a lot of Kanye West, like College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Not a lot of alternative or rock. I was always in the R&B, hip-hop space. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I got into Childish Gambino and Because the Internet and I realized that you could make a whole world with an album. I think that’s when I knew, like, ‘Okay, I could do this. I want to make music and worlds for people to live in.’
Though you grew up more into R&B and hip hop, you’ve recently developed a love for psych rock specifically. When did your love of that genre begin?
Oh, way, way later. I got into it in 2019, I think. I kinda got into it all at once: The Doors, The Beatles’ psychedelic stuff. Jefferson Airplane. I love all of them. They all evoke this feeling of a time I wish I could go back to. It seemed like such a big era and moment for music moving forward.
Back in 2019, you did an interview with us at Pigeons & Planes and you told us that you had a promising career in football back in high school, but you began to get bored with it. You said the victories didn’t even seem to matter at a certain point. Do you feel that your victories as a musician feel more important than those victories on the field?
Yeah, definitely. That’s such a great question. With music, I feel like I’m helping people. I feel like I’m serving a bigger purpose. I felt I wasn’t doing that in football. Just to be able to create a home for people to live in for three minutes or so is one of the coolest things. It feels like a blessing every day. I have to remind myself how awesome this is. This is a crazy thing to be doing with my life, and I love it.
It sounds like music is pretty transcendent and powerful for you. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Yeah, I mean, I haven’t been on my meditation much lately, but I think 2019, when I discovered psych rock, was a big spiritual year for me. I was doing psychedelics. I went to a yoga festival with my aunt in Joshua Tree. I was—well, I still am—obsessed with crystals. I have a whole bag.
Do you think that spirituality shines through in the music?
I’m not sure. I hope so. I think moving forward I’d like to be more conscious of putting that into my music. I was talking to someone the other day, and they said they think music is going to become a lot more spiritual in the coming years. People will add in those little frequencies and live drums and more natural elements. I think there’s a tinge of spirituality in my music.
Your upcoming album is called I’ve Got Some Living To Do. What does that title mean to you?
It means just that: I’ve got some living to do. I haven’t been out of the country before. I want to travel and experience different cultures and meet new people. That’s one. Another thing is that after the pandemic, I just want to get out and live. When I was in the process of making the album, I wasn’t super happy with the person I was, so I’ve got some living to do to become the person that I want to be. I want to inspire people to live their lives and become the person they want to be with my music.
When did you decide this should be the title for the record?
I’ve been working on the album for a while, but it actually came to me at the top of this year. January maybe. I was on the way back from LA to San Diego, and I was listening to Velvet Underground. I was wondering what I was going to say in these songs, and it hit me. Damn, I’ve got some living to do. It just felt right. I knew that was the album title. This album went through so many iterations, and I worked on it for so long without a name. For a while, these were just songs. Not a project. When that moment happened, everything was solidified. Everything made sense.
“When I was in the process of making the album, I wasn’t super happy with the person I was, so I’ve got some living to do to become the person that I want to be.”
I love this lyric you wrote: “Getting a hold of you is like clutching a cloud / That’s a miracle” from the song “Marigold.” It’s definitely a standout track. What does the song “Marigold” mean to you?
I feel like “Marigold” was my soul song in a way. My name means ‘Mighty Lion.’ Jelani is ‘mighty’ in Swahili and Aryeh is ‘lion’ in Hebrew. Once I found out that marigolds were like little lions, it just made sense to me. I wanted to weave all that imagery together. “Marigold” is about the sun god. In the song, I wanted to bring light to people because I released it in early March 2021 and we were still in the pandemic. I wanted to bring the outdoors in with as much power and emotion and light as I could.
Do you often go into writing sessions with a theme in mind, or do you prefer to go in blind and see what comes out of the session organically?
I go in blind a lot of the time. When I go in blind, there’s so much opportunity and so much potential. I’m so free to sing melodies and get out ideas. It can be hard to land on one thing though. I think with “Marigold” I got so lucky. The idea just popped into my head. I think I wrote part of the song on acid which gave me so much imagery and story to work with. I’m not into tarot cards or stuff like that, but I see a lot of the imagery from that in the song “Marigold.”
You mentioned in a past interview that your EP Helvetica feels very disjointed to you, and you don’t go back and listen to it. Is this project more enjoyable for you to listen back to? How do you think you’ve grown since Helvetica?
I think I got to make what I really wanted to make with this one. With Helvetica, I think I was just really lost at the time and not where I wanted to be sonically. I didn’t know the message I wanted to say. It was such a cloudy time for me, so I think that’s why I don’t want to go back and listen to it. I don’t hate all the songs. I actually like a lot of them. I don’t know, it’s just a weird time to go back to, I guess.
With I’ve Got Some Living To Do, the songs have more layers. I got to accomplish my dream that I’ve had going into making music. I always wanted a guitar-driven record. To see this get done feels so good.
Are there any songs on I’ve Got Some Living To Do that you hope people pay specific attention to?
I’m really excited for people to hear the last three tracks. Those last three capture my favorite genres. A lot of folk rock, indie rock. I was listening to a lot of Wilco, Joni Mitchell, and Beach House. I feel like we captured some of the essence of those artists in the last few tracks. I’m just excited for people to hear those because it’s not something I’ve ever done before.