With an iced coffee in hand, Jake Coco is perched on the edge of his swivel chair critically analyzing his latest YouTube music video. Making comments about what needs to be changed more to himself than the rest of us, Jake’s 6-foot-2 body is at rest — a rare occurrence that only happens when he is playing, listening or working on music. But the second the last chord has dissipated, Jack’s 100-mile-an-hour speed has returned and is evident through his constant foot tapping and random guitar strumming.
And why should he slow down? With a debut album coming out August 1 and a successful record company to call his own, Jake’s success is only just beginning. Jake has been playing music his entire life, but after signing with an independent record company who threatened his career should he break his lifetime contract with them, Jake started making music videos on YouTube to avoid the red tape of the traditional music industry. He has since started his own record label, Keep Your Soul Records, and signed talented YouTube musicians such as Corey Gray, Madilyn Bailey and Savannah Outen.
Sitting amongst the racks of guitars in his beloved studio, Jake serenaded NMR with an exclusive performance of his original song “Arabella,” and later chatted about his upcoming debut album “Pretty Fine Dream” and how traditional media almost stole his soul.
Check out the full interview below or visit the last page for the partial video interview.
When did you first start playing music?
Jake Coco: I actually started playing violin when I was like 2 and a half. My mom put me in classes I think mostly because she just didn’t want to pay for daycare [laughs], so she just put me in music classes instead and I’m really grateful for that now. That was kind of like my first language I think; I was kind of playing music before I could really communicate in other ways.
Since you started so young, what is your first musical memory?
I remember like very briefly, like little snidbits of just playing violin around — my grandma had an art gallery, and I would just be around her art gallery just playing songs and kind of like doing the song and dance for her customers and stuff. That sounds like I was being exploited — I was doing it for fun, not like the song and dance — that sounds way more like I was working for her.
In case your grandma reads this.
[laughs] Yes, which she absolutely will because she’s very hip to new media.
Your family sounds pretty artsy.
Actually they’re not really. It’s odd. My grandma actually played piano and sang a little bit, but aside from her, not much. It’s kind of weird; I’m like a weird fluke or something.
So how did you get from 2 and a half year old violin player to here?
That’s a lot of years [laughs]. So I played violin up until I was about 7, and then I think I started playing baseball and stuff, so I got a little over the music thing and then my mom remarried my step-dad when I was 9; he had a drumset in his living room and I just started banging around on that. I thought it was really cool, and then I started playing drums through high school. I joined a band when we were 16 and we started touring, and up until then, I had wanted to be a jazz drummer — that was my goal. Then I discovered rock and touring and all that stuff, and that was my new path. And then after high school, my band toured a little bit more and we did like the Warped Tour and some kind of pop-punky kind of worlds of touring, and then after that, we broke up — as bands tend to do — so I tried to get a job in Ohio and I failed miserably at my only job interview. It was with a bank, and I just went in and bombed so badly, and then I was kind of like, “What do I do now?” And a buddy of mine had moved to California so I just talked to him about crashing on his couch for a couple weeks and I moved out here, and I was going to come back after like six months if things didn’t go well, and things did not go well but I did not come back after six months, and here I am now, how many years later.
What made you persevere through those challenging first six months?
I think there’s an overwhelming sense of belonging that comes from like when you finally figure out what you’re supposed to do, and like even though in the eyes of normalcy, or whatever, I wasn’t succeeding, even just the little steps that I was taking towards furthering my career and becoming myself and really getting to where I needed to be, those little steps were just so much more drastic than any steps I could have taken in any other direction, in any other place. So I think even when times were really rough, and we were living like five guys in a one-bedroom apartment [laughs] — it was really bad; lot of fun though — but I think even during those hard times it didn’t seem that hard just because the sense of accomplishment that I was getting from the little steps I was taking for my career, they kind of overpowered the bad parts.
So you’ve had lots of band experience — who do you think is the coolest member of the band, and who gets the most chicks?
Drummer for sure [laughs]. 100 percent.
And that was you.
Oh yeah, but I didn’t mean it because of that reason. I’m no longer the drummer — which is depressing — but I don’t know, I feel like there is a coolness that surrounds the drummer. I was never cool as a drummer but I feel like drummers in general are cool.
Are band groupies real things?
Yes, sure [laughs]. Minimal comment. Yeah, I mean there is a kind of perception of them from movies and stuff like that, but I think that’s all kind of a little whatever. But there is an amazing human being which exists which is someone that just really loves your music and stuff like that which is refreshing, and it’s the reason why you create new music in the first place is to really touch someone’s life and be a part of it.
How do you feel that working with a band really prepared you to go out on your own as a solo artist?
Working in a band prepared me for going out on my own just because it made me really embrace my own work ethic, if that makes any sense? I’d always been surrounded by — this sounds kind of rude but I’m just going to go with it — been surrounded by other people so much that weren’t as driven or weren’t necessarily certain that music was for them, that they didn’t want to commit their entire life to this path, and I think being around those people really helped at least solidify my position that this is what I want to do, I want nothing else, and I think that’s really necessary in any career path really, to really give yourself 100 percent to it. And having worked with enough people that weren’t fully committed, it just reassured me that I was fully committed. That being said, my last bad experience before I completely went solo was great musically. I had a great time, I made some really cool music, but you know that was kind of like the final straw was just like I can’t give anymore of my life creating with people who aren’t fully into it. It’s just hard to have someone not give as much back.
You’ve since started your own record label. Did you start it at the same time you went on YouTube?
I did it almost as a joke [laughs] — still kind of a joke. It’s odd how that all worked out — I was crashing on a friend’s couch, and we saw this YouTube thing happening and I started making videos on my little Flip cam, and they started going over really well and getting views and stuff. And then I realized we could be putting these songs on iTunes, and when you submit a song to iTunes you have to submit a record company name, which was funny to me ‘cause I didn’t have one, so I just made one up and it was “Keep Your Soul Records.” So that was just nothing at first, and then we started doing really well and started being approached by other artists that were like, “How do we get on to Keep Your Soul Records,” and I was like, “Sit in my living room? I have no idea.” But as the company kind of evolved and we started doing really well and started actually working with artists and signing other YouTubers and kind of creating a place for ourselves in the world, it actually became a full-on company, so now it’s actually a thing, but at first it was just a joke [laughs].
What is the story behind the name “Keep Your Soul Records”?
I had been signed to an independent label before that was a really weird situation; they were an indie label but they had a lot of money behind them for whatever weird, illegal reasons. And they had employed some very aggressive lawyers for my contracts and stuff, and just upon looking through those and then learning more about the music industry and stuff and just learning about all sorts of what it is to actually become a major label musician and stuff like that, it just seemed like pretty much every label out there just steals your existence, like not just your music, but you know, everything about you. I remember when I parted ways with them, like I was in a meeting with my attorney, and he was like, “Well you can’t perform under your own name. You can’t release any records under your own name.” And I was like, “Well, I’ll just change my name.” They’re like, “Well, if you change your name, they still own it.” And all these things that were like — wasn’t just my music that was gone, it was actually my soul, and so with that I thought it would be fun to start something called “Keep Your Soul.”
How long did you have to wait before you started putting your music out again?
Forever actually. This is not sound legal advice, but this is what I did: I was told that I could never again for whatever reason — it was just my name and music was just over essentially, and I accepted that for a little while and I kind of wallowed in my own sadness for a bit about it, and then one day I finally just decided that I was no longer going to do that, and I just started creating again and I got a couple emails from a couple attorneys about it which I ignored, and that was the end of it. So real answer, I waited about a year, but technically I’m still under contract [laughs]. Come and get me.
What opportunities do you feel like YouTube has given you as an artist that you couldn’t have gotten from a traditional record deal?
I mean YouTube has opened so many doors not just for me but for all artists in general, and the fact that we can do anything, it’s essentially completely removed the gatekeeper aspect that was the music industry. It used to be a situation where you’d have to create your music and then have a team of yeses before you could get it allowed to be heard by the public, versus now where you can just create music and even if Johnny at the label doesn’t like it or whoever doesn’t like it, you can still put it out there and you can find your fans. And it’s weird, but at the end of the day, if you create music or create art and you as an artist like it, there is going to be someone else that likes it; whether it’s mainstream and 50 billion people like it is a different story, but as long as you are creating something that you believe in, someone else is going to believe in it, and I think YouTube has given us the opportunity to actually circumvent everyone that was essentially kind of controlling that industry and allows us just to go right to the fans and say like, “Hey, here’s what I sound like. Are you into it? Cool, awesome. Here is more. If not, hit the dislike button and leave me a comment about whatever nastiness.”
You started your YouTube channel two years ago, making your channel relatively young. How are you really establishing yourself on YouTube among the thousands of other musicians using the platform?
It’s hard. The whole thing has kind of just been — it’s weird — I joined like actually six and a half years ago on the second day that YouTube existed, but I didn’t do anything. I did some videos at the beginning and we did really well with those, but then we just kind of stopped for a while. And so then getting back into it, it was cool ‘cause I had the benefit of being able to access what other people were doing first and like just see some kind of holes in their situations and just see where I could maybe bring something new to the table, which is what lead us to actually partnering with the studio, but you know as far as finding your niche or whatever, for me it’s always been about creating the best content and stuff like that. For us as a label, we at the beginning were focused on numbers and signing artists that had millions of hits and all this stuff, and we did that and it just didn’t work because we didn’t actually believe in them necessarily, versus now I can legitimately go into any meeting that I’m in and speak 100 percent to the fact that I fully believe in every artist that we’re working with, and when you work with artists that are actual true artists and that have actually found themselves, it makes everything so much easier to define your space and to kind of make a stand or whatever, because when you look at a sea of artists, there is really only one Corey Gray or one Madilyn Bailey or one Caitlin Hart, and these people have really defined themselves. You know even if they don’t have a billion hits — or if they do have a billion hits that’s awesome too — but if they’re really honed into being themselves that’s really the only thing you can do in the music industry to prevent from just washing out to sea.
How many artists do you have signed?
I don’t know many; it always changes [laughs]. I believe we have nine right now.
Can you believe that it has grown to this level?
No it’s awesome. Everyday I’m like, oh my god, it’s really awesome. I’m really excited about it [laughs]. It’s really funny that it grew from just a joke idea to an actual thing.
And you tattooed it on your arm I see.
I did, yes; I did get it tattooed recently.
What spurred you to make that decision?
Boredom [laughs]? Corey and I were just sitting around and he had zero tattoos and had been wanting to get a tattoo for a while, and I was like, “If you go get one, I’ll get one,” whatever, just to be that awesome friend that persuades your friends into getting tattoos — always a good thing to be. And so we went over to get a tattoo, and I was trying to pick out what I wanted, and my last one, my love tattoo, kind of came on a whim also and I didn’t have much time to think about it, and I was just trying to think of what will I never regret getting, so I put “love” — just feel like if there is ever a point in my life that I regret having “love” on me, that is probably a dark point, so this one I was just like kind of the same thing. I’ll probably never — hopefully never — regret getting our company on myself.
Is it a requirement for every artist who signs with you to get that same tattoo?
Starting next year all artists are going to have to get tattoos of my face on their face.
Will they be branded almost?
Yes, yes. And we’re really trying to create just a sense of conformity across YouTube [laughs]. I think everyone does have tattoos. Oh, Maddie [Bailey] doesn’t have a tattoo yet. Savannah [Outen] just got hers.
She is going to be here in August, so you could take her then.
Yes at Vidcon. Live at Vidcon: Madilyn Bailey gets tattooed [laughs]. She’s going to be like, what is happening?
As amazing as YouTube is for artists, what are some of the drawbacks to using it?
There is a certain stigma that comes with saying like, “Oh I’m a musician on YouTube” that luckily has been going away. It kind of hit its high point as we all kind of came into the commercial scene where it was just people like– it was a different thing. I don’t know why for some reason being a YouTube musician was different than being a musician; it’s the same thing, we just have a place to be musicians at, I don’t know. But it kind of got a weird stigma for a little while, but I feel like now as artists are starting to really kind of conform into the mainstream and a lot of the YouTube musicians are becoming significantly more successful than a lot of the major label artists and stuff, so as we kind of interceed paths, I feel like there is not as many drawbacks. There definitely was there for a little bit, but like I said, hopefully that’s all on its way out now.
What are you currently working towards? Would you like to be able to tour and move past YouTube, or is YouTube something you’d like to always keep as a foundation?
Well it’s weird. I mean for me it’s odd, but I have two kinds of sides that I like to play. For me as an artist I am looking — I have a new album coming out August 1 which with that I want to start touring and going out and actually meeting the faces behind the screens and doing the high fives and all that stuff [laughs], but I also just love the production side of things and the label side so I really love finding new artists and being able to help them find themselves and stuff like that, so yeah I want to get out and tour. My ideal situation would be to get like a giant bus that had a studio in it and just get out there and start touring with a recording studio with us so I could be kind of still making videos and still doing YouTube full-time while also going around and seeing people. I really love like Stageit; it’s an online concert platform we just started using, so we can actually do live concerts from the studio to fans’ computers, which is really cool, so at least it gets some of the itch filled for playing live, but I definitely want to get out and tour soon. I’m going to go crazy in this room after much longer.
What do you think fans wouldn’t guess about you from watching your videos?
I’m actually 7-foot-4 … just kidding. But no they always think that I’m short, but I’m 6-foot-2, which is odd. What else wouldn’t they guess? I walk really goofy; you may have seen it already. I kind of walk like a baby giraffe, my mom says. It’s kind of funny. What else? I think that’s about it.
What is something you would never do?
I want to say skydiving, but I’ve been getting persuaded to do it more and more everyday, so up until today it’s skydiving, but stick with me because maybe by the next year I might do it.
What is a typical day for you?
So usually there is an artist in town — a couple artists actually live here in California, and then a couple people are from other states and countries and stuff — so usually depending on who’s here, I wake up, we usually upload a video everyday so I get up and do our uploads, which takes about a half hour, and then come to the studio, stop on Starbucks on the way — that is essential — get here, and we usually record two or three songs a day on the audio side and then like every three or four days we break and just do the videos for that, so if an artist comes to town it’s like the first couple days are audio, last day is video. At nights I usually try and focus on rehearsing with my band or trying to go back and like work on new original stuff or just fun stuff for myself versus whatever I did during the day.
So pretty much all music-filled?
Yeah [laughs]. I pretty much don’t like anything else. I like movies; I see a lot of movies, but that’s about it.
If you weren’t involved in music, what do you think you would be doing as a profession?
Before I did music I was a cook, and I kind of enjoyed that. It was fun. I did not do so well with the banking thing though.
What happened during this god-awful interview?
So I can’t say the name of the bank, I don’t think. So I went into “bank A,” we’ll call it, and I had gotten hooked up — my aunt worked there so she was like, “You’re set. Like just go in. Don’t be an idiot and you got the job.” So I was like, “Alright, sweet.” So I went in and they were like, “So what do you know about ‘bank A’?” and I was like, “Well ‘bank A’ owned by,” and then I listed “bank B,” which was actually their competitor not their owner. It was just like saying Coke owned by Pepsi. Then the woman immediately was just like, “Did you even do any research regarding the bank?” And I was like, “No.” And then there was maybe two or three more questions and she just gave me the “well, we’ll be in touch,” and they were not in touch.
I don’t doubt any day now.
[laughs] Yeah still waiting on that call.
If you had a completely free day, what would you fill it with?
I really like animals, so like swimming with dolphins or even just hanging out at the zoo. I like hiking, like outdoorsy kind of stuff, long walks on the beach [winks at camera]. I want to say horseback riding but I don’t want to go horseback riding because it kind of scares me, but that type of thing.
Maybe those miniature horses?
Yes, like pony rides! Jake Coco and the Pony Rides: it’s my new band coming soon to a YouTube channel near you [laughs].
And the question I’ve always wanted to ask, but it was never appropriate timing: If you could be an animal, which one would you choose?
Penguin. Immediately. My favorite animal ever. I like that I got the question that was never appropriate before; that makes me really happy.
I always wanted to ask it but could never fit it in.
Got it [laughs].
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m just doing a lot of promotion for my new CD coming out; it’s called “Pretty Fine Dream,” and I’m really excited. It’s like three years in the making, and it finally comes out August 1 worldwide. I’m just really excited to get the material out there and start playing, so I’m shooting videos for that, and we just finished the first music video yesterday. I’m shooting another one next week, and then we’re going to try and have three done before it even comes out so we can just have it ready to go, and I’m just looking forget to getting out and playing those songs for people and just sharing the music with people. I’ve just been sitting on the record for so long waiting for the right time to release it.
Have you been adding to it over three years?
No, I mean I’ve been writing over the three years. I got my next record ready to go, and it was ready like before I got onto YouTube. I was ready to release it already, and then we started gaining traction on YouTube, and I was like, “Oh wait, we might be able to have fans.” And then we waited, and as fans started gaining notice of the music we were making and stuff, I was like, “Oh maybe we should wait for a little while so we have a bunch of fans to release it too,” because I was just going to release it with no one buying it, out of my bedroom, which was fine with me also, but I think it will be cooler now that we’ve waited to actually have some fans to share it with and stuff like that. So that being said, yeah, I recorded new music and a lot of demos and stuff while I was waiting, but nothing actually added to the record.
What would be your one piece of advice for a musician looking to start a YouTube channel?
My one piece of advice for a musician looking to get onto YouTube, I would say just to embrace the fact that everything you create in this new, fun day and age, or whatever, is permanent. So just before you even make your first video, even if no one is watching, if you think you’re going to put it up and your grandma and your aunt are going to watch it and that’s it, just make it the best that you can even if it’s just color correcting it in iMovie off of your webcam. Whatever the best quality you can come up with at that time is, do it, because you know if you’re planning on going down this path and you actually go down that path, you know hopefully 10 years from now you’re still making videos and they’re great, but people are going to be able to find those first ones and you’re going to want them to at least be decent. Obviously you’re not going to get a giant, huge Sony Red camera and studio and stuff for your first video, but just you know– ‘cause I look back at my first videos and they’re just god-awful [laughs]. I’m happy with them; like I did my best at that time with actually trying to set up a tripod, and they’re terrible but they’re the best terrible they can be. So yeah, just embrace the fact that everything is permanent.
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Photography By Robin Roemer