Photo by Saul Rascon Salazar ’19 | Jack Kolbe ’19 (right) practices his guitar while sitting alongside artist Jelani Aryeh (left) during a sound check before a performance at a SoFar Sounds event in San Diego, CA.
By Joey Bottini ’19
At the beginning of his sophomore year, Jack Kolbe ’19 began producing music as a way to productively fill a load of free time that had opened up after quitting soccer.
Kolbe said he had worked with a broad spectrum of instruments from as early on as he could remember such as piano, percussion in the middle school band, and guitar as something he would play in his room sporadically over the years.
“At the end of middle school I got heavily into listening to music and started to wonder how a lot of my favorite artists achieved the sounds that grew so important to me,” Kolbe said. “I think some music I grew up on resonated with me so much that I almost felt like I had to try it myself.”
Kolbe said the first music he created was on a ten-year-old computer that would constantly crash and lose everything he had been working on.
Soon after, Kolbe said he got a keyboard that hooked up to the computer and he began composing songs.
“This whole process taught me that you can do anything if you watch enough YouTube tutorials,” Kolbe said.
Eventually though, Kolbe said he became tired of making instrumentals, and he wanted to start working with real vocalists.
“One day I was browsing Reddit and saw a thread about starting a music group,” Kolbe said. “Usually I’d think that’s the dumbest thing ever, but for some crazy reason I clicked it and that’s how I met Jelani Aryeh, a 17-year-old high school student from a suburb of San Diego.”
Kolbe said they quickly found out that they both liked similar music and Jelani wrote songs to a number of beats.
“Around April of my sophomore year, we released “Delusions” on SoundCloud and a few thousand people heard it, nothing crazy,” Kolbe said.
Although the two both cringe at the song now, Kolbe said it was how they first broke into the music world.
Kolbe and Aryeh eventually got the track into the hands of Alex Gardner, the managing editor at a blog called Pigeons and Planes.
“By some miracle, he heard it, liked it, and agreed to run an interview and premiere Jelani’s EP called Suburban Destinesia, which I executive produced, mixed, and mastered,” Kolbe said.
Kolbe said Gardner then went silent for a solid month right when they dropped the project.
“We failed to hit our goal of 1,000 plays on every track,” Kolbe said. “A few weeks after the release, he responded saying he’d been on vacation and the interview ran soon after.”
Kolbe said that after the interview ran, his life was changed forever.
“Our songs together now have over two million streams on Spotify and music has become my high school job,” Kolbe said. “Jelani found himself on the Complex Snapchat Story on a list of the world’s 20 best artists under 20, sandwiched between people like Billie Eilish, Jaden Smith, Lil Pump, and Khalid.”
Kolbe said that later on they received an email from Brockhampton’s (now former) manager that ended up getting them in contact with Jelani’s current management team.
“I was a huge fan of Brockhampton at the time and remember very vividly freaking out in the car in the mall parking lot and setting a screenshot of the email as my background to keep me motivated,” Kolbe said.
Kolbe said that while all this was going on nobody in his life was aware.
“I didn’t want to tell people about it so as to not become the ‘kid who makes music,’” Kolbe said. “My friend Jake Flaherty was pretty much the only kid who was aware, big thanks to him for pushing me to keep going through all of this.”
Kolbe’s long time friend Jake Flaherty ’19 said Kolbe’s humbleness and self-effacing attitude towards fame was admirable, but annoying at times.
“Jack does not care about fame whatsoever and goes out of his way to be unnoticed,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty said that he has endless memories with Kolbe revolving around music.
“Jack has made me truly appreciate music,” Flaherty said. “Almost every concert I’ve gone too, he has come along with me, and almost all the music I listen to now is inspired by him.”
Flaherty said that Kolbe’s wide range of connections in the music world often surprise him.
“He still doesn’t tell me who he knows in the music world so I’ll find an artist I like and he’ll say he knows them and I forget how involved he is,” Flahertysaid.
Kolbe said it has been a blessing to have the opportunity to work with people from across the world.
“Almost every time I send an idea to someone they send back a piece of genius that I never would have been able to come up with on my own,” Kolbe said.
Kolbe said he has many artists that influence him when creating his own music.
“Frank Ocean has to be my primary influence, but Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers are the main influences on the guitar tracks I’ve done recently,” Kolbesaid. “Lorde writing Pure Heroine at 16 and Steve Lacy being nominated for a grammy at 17 made me believe I could succeed at this despite being a high school student.”
Kolbe said that the music he makes does not have a specific genre or style.
“I’ve done sound engineering work for really abrasive SoundCloud rappers that most adults would consider an abomination, and I’ve also written some of the softest and most non-threatening music known to man,” Kolbe said.
Kolbe’s music with Jelani Aryeh can be described as a mix of rap, pop, R&B, and indie rock.
Kolbe said that the most recent performance he has done was at a SoFar performance in San Diego with Jelani Aryeh.
Photographer Saul Rascon Salazar ’19 took photos at the concert and handed out stickers he designed for Jelani Aryeh and the music group “Raised by the Internet” that Kolbe is also apart of.
“I went as a designer and photographer for Jack and Jelani, and it was the first concert I had ever shot, but I figured it out and had a lot of fun,” Salazarsaid.
Kolbe said that he is lining up some more events and he currently has a few demos floating around, including one that he believes is a hit.
“At this point, the dream is just to work with more people for even greater inspiration and to go on tour someday,” Kolbe said. “Touring right now would probably mean I would be living out of a van for a month and losing money, but that’s what my dream is at the moment.”
Kolbe said that his simple dream he had going into all of this was to one day throw water onto a crowd that is going crazy.
“This is something I haven’t got to do yet and I’m pretty bummed, but I’m hopeful that this day will come soon,” Kolbe said.