Sunday, August 30, 2009

CLOCKWORK SHINOBI - BLISS Talks with Alternative Model/Photographer, CALEB SHINOBI

When we think of models there is a certain physical look and type that comes to mind, and this is indeed true for many facets of the industry. But fashion or advertising campaigns are not the only forms of modeling that exist, and this is not a reference to the erotic or pornographic industry. While these are definitely valid avenues for a person to pursue if they do not fall into the standard requirements of the fashion industry, they are not the only alternatives.

Our world is populated by photographers with varied skill levels, and each of them brings their own vision to the art form, even if they borrow from their influences. One of the things that diversify their portfolios is the inclusion of subjects who fall outside of the expected norm. In many cases, it is these images of the very individuals who do not fit into the accepted mold that receive the most attention, because they fall outside of the box and allow the viewer to explore a new perspective. Some photographers choose to focus solely on non industry subjects, which creates a special demand.

There is a certain type of modeling that spotlights the alternative individual, allowing the tattooed and pierced an opportunity to express themselves in front of a camera regardless of what the industry is looking for. Some of them become famous in their own right, such as the Suicide Girls, while others have built up a quiet, but slowing burning intensity, like Tattoo 23, that produces a different kind of fame, on a smaller, but no less exciting scale. Another one of these models is Caleb Shinobi.

There are many visual qualities that set Caleb apart from his contemporaries, with the first being that he is Asian. This particular ethnic group is finally receiving the attention they deserve, but even amongst his own, Caleb tends to stand out. Standing at 5'11", he is taller than what we would expect from an Asian model, and his body has become it's own canvas for artists, as he is covered in tattoos, most notably that of a gun pointing down on his abdomen, which - when in jeans - gives the impression of resting just inside the waistband area.

One of the first impressions after looking through Caleb's portfolio would center on his creativity. His images are expressive, almost surreal, bursting with color and interesting props. There is also a blatant use of sexuality, with nudity figuring prominently, but never appearing gratuitous. The style may invite comparisons to David LaChappelle or Justin Monroe, but the look is completely his own. No matter what elements you reference for comparison, the truth is that no one else, that I've seen, is doing what Caleb is doing.

Finding his place as a model, and discovering that there is in fact a market for his look, was liberating, and Caleb could have rested on that accomplishment, but instead he chose to step behind the camera and proved himself to be a talented photographer as well. And his look will soon be more familiar after the publication of a photo book he is featured in by the incredible Henning Von Berg.

Caleb and I have been familiar with each other's work since I first joined Model Mayhem, and I can attest to his humility. In spite of all the attention he is now getting, he remains humble, and somewhat surprised that he has been able to find an audience with interests beyond the standard muscular frat boy. I have always found beauty in those that stepped outside the box, and it is for this reason that I wanted to feature him.

BLISS: How did you get your start in modeling and what initially attracted you to it?
CALEB SHINOBI: At first I never imagined that I would even be considered decent enough to even be anything more than average, but when I first realized that "hey I like this" is when I was on a show called 20/20 with Barbara Walters a long time ago and when I was a flight attendant and people recognized me on the plane. I just loved the attention! But I thought I could never be a model. I still cant believe I shot with so many amazing photographers and models that I never would have imagined in my life I would have, or done anything with those kind of talented, beautiful people when most guys are better looking than me. lol Then I discovered that some people actually like skinny tattooed guys like me. I still can’t believe it.
B: What was your first shoot like?
CS: I was very nervous and I felt like what the hell am I doing here, could this be a mistake on their part and what could anyone see in me? I still can’t believe that someone like me that’s scrawny with lots of tattoos in an industry where the majority of mostly (beautiful) white guys dominate.
B: Do you have a favorite photographer that you've worked with? If so, why?
CS: I know this is going to sound like I’m full of it, but every photographer is my favorite because they have all given me a chance when there are so many far better looking male models out there, and most of the ones I’ve worked with would let me try my ideas out and never held me back, even when they’ve never done anything as risky. What I try to do usually is not the same old mainstream that I’m so tired of seeing all the time. So thank you for taking a chance on me.

B: Are there any particular photographers that you would like to work with in the future?
CS: I would like to work with as many different photographers, professional and amateurs alike because I learn from every experience how to be a better person and to accept the good with the bad because you win some and lose some and sometimes when you least expect it, good things come from bad things.
B: Did you start as a model or photographer? Was it difficult to make the transition from being in front of the lens to behind it?
CS: I began as a model, mostly because I love to coordinate things, as all my shoots except for one or two, was all planned out and all the wardrobe/locations were provided by me. But I wanted to be a photographer so I can feel what they feel and to be a better model from that too.
B: In comparing modeling to being a photographer, is there a preference? If so, why?
CS: I love to be the photographer because I can see exactly how I want it to be and have more control over the situation, but I’m so sad that I’m not in the photo sometimes when its such an awesome concept or location.

B: You photograph both males and females. Do you find that you have more of an affinity for one sex over the other?
CS: I could lie, but like most photographers we tend to shoot more of the sex that we are attracted to anyways, but I hated being rejected by someone that’s really cool but only shoots women so I promised myself that I will try my best not to do that.
B: What would you consider to be your best feature?
CS: OMG I don’t even know, I guess my tattoos because without them, I don’t really have any good features really. Ha-ha
B: Your range is impressive. Some of your images are simple in theme, while others could be viewed as erotica. Do you collaborate on any of the ideas for these shoots?
CS: I don’t want to take all the credit but as mentioned before that besides only about 2 shoots out of all my shoots (I lost count how many I've done now) but I learned that if I don’t get props and wardrobes myself, I cant rely on anyone else to get it exactly the way I want it to be so I get everything together and ask the girls sometimes if they can provide just the shoes and tights if not, I just go and get them.

B: There is another model whom I think is just incredible (tattoo23), and like you, there is a level of humor that runs through some of the images, no matter how outrageous. Is the injection of humor something that appeals to you or a way to calm the overall perception of the final image?
CS: I totally believe so, I mean I really want it to have substance to be taken seriously like some of the incredibly dark/edgy art shots out there but just like all my shoots if your ask anyone I’ve shot with, I find it more important to have a good time and that they laughed a lot rather than getting good shots sometimes because its just a fun time that we will remember forever regardless how it comes out. And I would rather have people say nice things and how fun it was than have good photos and have had a miserable time and not ever wanting to see me again anywhere, because I think word of mouth is just as helpful to working with others, just as it could be hurtful.
xB: You appear naked in many of your photos. What is your general attitude about nudity?
CS: To all the religious conservative people out there, I don’t understand how nudity is wrong and offensive sometimes when nudity is the most natural human form and where we are nude, labels, stereotypes, social classes disappear (well most of it anyways) and this is how we are made by god/nature/whatever, and we should embrace it, not be ashamed.

B: No matter whose port you explore on Model Mayhem, the fact remains that if there is nudity in any of their shots, those photos will generate the highest number of views. You obviously do not have a problem with nudity or eroticism. Does this generate more interest from photographers (and models) to seek out working with you?
CS: Actually my nudity has made many very talented photographers turn me down but I say hate all they want because I’m doing what I want and not what society or those kinds of restrictive photographers want, so I try not to let it affect me that much. And I try not to take this too seriously because I’m not much to look at anyways lol and I just like to have fun and get a few good shots while doing so and meeting and making so many wonderful new friends that can accept me for who I am and not what society wants or tells me how I should be.

B: I'm sure you've had many offers. Have you ever, or would you ever consider working in porn?
CS: OMG I wish I had as many offers as many people believe but my penis isn’t very big and my body is not anything to get excited over, so no real offers. I have done photos that are a little too much for Model Mayhem but nothing officially.

B: How would you define the difference between erotic art and pornography?
CS: I feel that even if someone has an erection and it is done tastefully that it is a form of art, because its a very natural state of being and its not fair and very sad that many sites and society immediately casts if off as pornography when if anything, it should be considered humorous because, well it can be sometimes.

B: What advice would you give a new model starting out in the business?
CS: That no matter how many people you feel are better looking out there, that someone and many people will like your look because different is good, and even if you are gorgeous and you didn’t get chosen for something, it doesn’t mean that you’re not beautiful, its just that they were looking for someone that would match the idea they have in mind. I worked with so many people who are a billions times more beautiful than me and they’re always sad because they didn’t get chosen from a casting call of so many people and I tell them, well at least you were even considered for it because I’ve never even been to a real casting call. Lol

B: When I look at your images, I am most impressed by you lack of limitation. You seem to be able to fit into a multitude of roles. How would you describe your style?
CS: I know that most people think I just try to do outrageous things for attention or shock value but mostly I do what I do because I think it will be fun and I want to capture that moment. I’m actually trying to do some shoots where it’s not so out there, so I can be better rounded and not a hypocrite of people doing the same things over and over again lol

B: Your look is definitely not what would be considered the standard in our society. I, however, think you have tremendous appeal and an undeniable sexiness. What is sexy to you?
CS: Aw thank you! I really don’t get that as much as people keep thinking I do, especially from the gay community or people that I would love to be more acquainted with sexually... I get more love and compliments from women and LOTS of open minded straight guys and sometimes older gay gentlemen all the time. They can look beyond just the surface of what I portray myself to be I suppose. I believe sexiness is anyone that can portray themselves as who they want to be and not care what anyone thinks and to just do the best they can, and it really shows when someone is passionate about something they love.
B: On a lighter note, tell me 5 fun facts about Caleb
1. I speak Japanese and little French
2. I was a flight attendant (stewardess lol)
3. I lived in Japan, Scotland, London, Egypt, Amsterdam, NY, Detroit, Seattle, San Fran, Chicago, I think I will stop there cause threes too many to list.
4. I was in the Navy as a combat medic with the Marines stationed all over overseas again and I loved the military! The straight guys were all so nice to me even when many of them found out I was gay.
5. I am in nursing school in Honolulu, Hawaii
And one more - my hair is sky blue right now. I change my hair color often and I'm loving it!

B: What is your ultimate goal in this industry?

CS: Just to continue to have fun and get in a few more magazines because that makes me happy that someone unconventionally not beautiful can make it in this industry too sometimes!

©2009 Sean Dibble
For more Caleb

For Shinobi Photography

For Clockwork Shinobi (Photoshop Wizard)

Photo Credits:

1,2,4-Marlowe Holt

James Anshutz
Makeup Artists:
Dominique Apostol

5-Buckaloose Photography

6,11-Justin Thai

Ajani Snelling
Photoshop Wizard:
Makeup Artist:
Princess May Santiago

Daniel Bendjy
Cybil S


Justin Thai

Shinobi Photography

21-Zakka Photography
Models: Kyler

23-Maxx Shots

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Beauty of Maturity part 1

In a society that celebrates youth culture, and emphasizes the obsession of holding on to a younger appearance, it may be easy to overlook that special kind of beauty that only comes with maturity. The irony is that many of the roles played on the small and big screen that depict teenagers are often portrayed by actors who have passed their teens. It would seem that as long as we are to believe that the character is 17 or 18, the reality of the actor being in his twenties is irrelevant. But underneath that lies a deeper and unspoken truth: it is the men, not the boys that actually fuel our fantasies.

The rules of fame, however, do not necessarily translate to the real world, and far too often the images of men over thirty are pushed into a type of genre alongside fetishes. In the world of pornography, the faces and bodies are practically interchangeable, and when faces are not shown, it can be difficult to figure out who is doing what to whom. That is until and older actor enters the scene. The moment a more mature actor is featured, the role playing shifts to that of student and teacher, in a variety of manifestations. And the description of older could represent less than five years difference in the age of the performers, but the number is less important than the appearance.

The attraction of youth is youth itself, and it is hard to discount the allure of freshness that only the young possess, but there is an element of splendor in the self assured pose and confident carriage of a man who has passed the 3-0. Boys are cute; men are handsome, sexy, rugged and virile.

This issue of BLISS spotlights male models that embody the strength, sensuality and beauty of men over thirty, with the spotlight on two of my favorites; Vic Rocco and Nova.

©2009 Sean Dibble

Photo Credits:
model: NMMNoVa


2-model: Oocelot

photo: GLIMPSe visual
3-model: Gennaro Brigante

photo: Greg Weiner for Playgirl Magazine (April 2007 issue)
4-model: Leonardo Columbo

5-model: Rock Walker

photo: YogaBear Studio

6-model: J K Farrell
photo: DFA Photo

7-model: ClayeD

photo LLMT- Imagez

8-model: Ed Ryan

photo: Ron Reyes Photography


A G E D to P E R F E C T I O N - V I C x R O C C O

I have always loved looking at photos of beautiful people. My definition of beauty is not always main stream, and there are many models that possess certain qualities that make them attractive in my eyes, but I’m not immune to the more conventional standard, and appreciate various types equally. It was only natural that I would aspire to be a photographer one day, in order to get closer to the subjects of my admiration, as well as attempt to create my own artistic expressions of beauty. It has been a long, gradual process, and in doing so, I discovered that I had an affinity for the types of individuals we see on a daily basis, while going about our normal routines. These were the guys, and girls, that pass us on the street, stand in line with us at the supermarket, eat adjacent to us in restaurants, or sit nearby on the subway. They are not models, nor are they considered exceptional in the looks department, but I saw something that was not immediately apparent that I sought to bring out in my photos. My images were a way of showing them that this was how I saw them.

One of the first things I noticed on the model networking sites was that people of a certain age were often underrepresented. I have shot a fair number of young models, which would make me a part of the very problem I was concerned with, but most of my sessions were about opportunity, rather than preference. I began to wonder where the older models were and developed a strong desire to work with one.

It was during this time that I came across a photo by one of my favorite photographers, Mark Henderson. The image depicted a beautifully sculpted male, dressed in football gear, with his shirt pulled up over his head, a football in his right hand, while his left was situated inside his waistband. Here was the model I had been looking for. He was rugged, masculine and very handsome, but in that manly way. This was no pretty boy. I immediately linked to the models page on Model Mayhem to find out who he was. His name is Vic Rocco.

I would soon learn that I knew that face. He was familiar to me from his work with Joe Oppedisano for his book Uncensored, and was also featured in Edendale Studios book, Household Idols. My appreciation for him grew as he had already worked with two photographers whose work I had deep respect and admiration for. It was at this same time that I met another model who fell into the same age category as Vic. His name is Nova, and I would have the pleasure of working with him and producing some of the images in my port that I am most proud of. Both of these men are in their forties, and each of them has bodies that attest to long hours in the gym, hard work and discipline. I admired them for what they had achieved physically, inwardly thinking that I didn’t look as good as they do now when I was just out of my teens. Working with Nova proved so relaxed and rewarding that I decided to contact Vic and give feedback on the photo that had initially caught my attention. His responses were warm and appreciative, which led to a mutual appreciation for each other’s work.

All it takes is a glance at his portfolio to realize that Vic is an avid weightlifter, and I soon learned that he had also competed, placing 2nd in the Great Lakes Masters division, 3rd in the heavyweights and 4th in the Ohio State Masters division. I also discovered that he was a man on an endless quest for self improvement, who was open to almost all photo opportunities, a tireless subject, and a person who seeks to learn from every artist and each session he is involved with. These are qualities that can unfairly be associated with self absorption, or the inability to loosen up and have a good time. This assessment could not be further from the truth in his case. Vic is down to earth, supportive of others within the industry, and has a great sense of humor. The process of getting to know him online and our communications has been one of the highlights of my joining Model Mayhem, and I wanted give others a chance to both see and listen to this man, who has become one of my favorite models.
BLISS: I’m curious by nature, or nosy depending on who you ask, and every time I communicate with or meet a model for a potential shoot, I can’t help but wonder what it was that brought them to this point. How did you get your start in modeling and what initially attracted you to it?

VIC ROCCO: Just my what-the-hell attitude. A friend met a guy on a plane heading to Seattle for a photo shoot. They got talking, and my friend referred me to this guy and his photographer. One thing lead to another and the next thing I knew, I was throwing caution and my tighty whities to the wind. I love showing off my body.

B: Without a doubt, there is definitely an exhibitionist aspect to posing, but even the biggest show offs can be taken a bit off guard when it’s still unfamiliar. What was your first shoot like?

VR: I must admit I was nervous. Since there were going to be lots of nude shots with arousal expected, you always wonder if the battery will be charged or depleted. I am proud to say I continue to be an Ever Ready. Once I got going I quickly loved the feeling of drafts and breezes on previously unexposed areas.

B: That certainly takes a great deal of confidence, and you appear naked in many of your photos. What is your general attitude about nudity?

VR: Love it. Nude modeling is a great yin to my day to day yang of a job. I feel like Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hides-Nothing. I truly love the idea that a housewife in Topeka and a dentist in Omaha might be enjoying--in whatever form that could entail--a photo of me right now.

B: And you definitely have that special quality that appeals to both men and women. You also have an amazing physique. Do you think this has this created more modeling offers?

VR: Yep--the more work I do, the more work I am offered. I realize I am a little unique, since I am 41 and doing male nude modeling. I'm not average or just off the milk wagon, and I like that.
B: And the viewers like it too! What would you consider to be your best feature?

VR: My attitude. I love being the raw material for a photographer's expression. As for body part…my chest. It has a great heft and shape. I love it when friends say, "Nice rack."

B: It’s funny that I always ask that question because I think it illuminates the subjects self assessment, and yet no one ever chooses what others would consider the obvious choice. Every answer reveals a bit of humility. So in that vein, is there any one thing that you wish you could change about your self, in terms of physicality?

VR: I sometimes still see that skinny-kid-from-West Viriginia-by-way-of-Pasadena when I look at shots. I guess I will always stay hungry when it comes to putting on good bulk. I probably won’t be happy until my arms are 21 inches. Then I will shoot for 22.

B: That’s interesting to me, because it’s such a common feeling. I have friends who were considerably overweight when they were young, but slimmed down and just continued to become more attractive as they got older, but in their minds, they still see the little fat kid. Their words, not mine. In your case, the change is visually apparent and has attracted the attention of some incredible photographers. Do you have a favorite that you've worked with, and if so, why?

VR: Mark Henderson. I worked with him on my second assignment and it just felt right. We have worked together three times, and each time he makes me look better and better. He has an amazing eye that is a result of his art background. I love his style: sexy and saturated. He is a great friend and I appreciate all of his advice. I am honored to appear in his book, "Household Idols."
B: It’s a gorgeous book and you look amazing in it. Who are some other photographers that you've worked with that you admire and why?

VR: I love working with Louis LaSalle. On our first venture, he created some pretty awesome images. He works in both a controlled studio environment and improvised outdoor setting. His black and white images have a classical bent that is fluid and striking.

I loved working with Andre Deloach and Joe Oppedisano. Andre works very fast and he produces these incredible, jaw-dropping images. Joe created these sex-charged images that put me in a completely different world--I love that Joe included me in his book, "Uncensored."

William at Atlas Studios in Cincinnati is a phenomenal physique photographer. His work reminds me of those classic beefcake shots from the early 60s.

I consider myself very lucky to have worked with such talented men, each with a strong, original vision.
B: Are there any particular photographers that you would like to work with in the future?

VR: Justin Monroe is on the top of my list. I would love to be part of that Wonderland-world. And I admire the dark sensuality of Hotsnapz of London.

B: I have great respect for both of them, and would be excited to see them explore the more sensual aspect of your personality. I could also see you with Dave Lewis, who does beautiful physique images in black and white, along with Ed Freeman. I also think that Carlos Arias and Luis Rafael could create some astounding images for you. They are just a few of my favorites, but what was the best photo shoot you've been involved with and why?

VR: The second and third shoots with Mark Henderson were a blast. The familiarity and friendship made for a fun day. If any person gets an opportunity to work with him, they should jump.
B: I’ve communicated with him on a number of occasions and we talked about featuring him here. Not only is he incredibly talented as an artist, he is a warm and genuine person. Definitely one of the tops on my list. Your sessions with him appear so relaxed, probably due to the level of familiarity, but I know from experience that not all shoots are so easy going. What was the most challenging shoot for you and why?

VR: I scheduled a shoot after a bodybuilding competition. I followed my extreme, water depletion diet. After the contest, I ate like a pig. Even though I felt exhausted, the photographer captured some amazing images. I am always in awe of the artistry and perspective of photographers.
B: Do you have a particular favorite of all the images you've done?

VR: This image probably speaks to some long-lost high school fantasy, but there is a shot that Mark did of me in football gear. It is full arousal and I am holding a football near my head. There is something about that shot that I love. I think it was the first one where I really loved the way my abs looked, too. Not too many people have seen it.
B: I’m proud to say that I am one of the few who have and I thank you for allowing me to feature it here. It is definitely a stunning image, and very erotic. The fact that you are pictured with an erection would lead some to classify this as pornographic, though I disagree with that notion. How would you define the difference between erotic art and pornography?

VR: Wow, talk about a fine line that is completely subjective. For me, erotic art inspires many sensors, with complex connotations. Pornography is all about the friction. I am sure some people might judge some of my photos as pornographic. Either way, I hope the photographs inspire a reaction.
B: Do you have any other artistic leanings besides modeling?

VR: I am learning to play the piano, in addition to the bodybuilding.
B: I studied piano from 3rd grade until I was 18. I regret not continuing, but it was my mother’s dream, not mine, so I quit when I was old enough to make that decision, even though I enjoyed it. Keep at it! But back to modeling…
Is there any particular image that you have wanted to create, but have yet to do?

VR: I have a thing for big muscle-bound superheroes. I would like to be in a project like that, so if anyone has an opportunity for me....

B: What about concepts? Is there any idea that you have wanted to try but have yet to incorporate into your portfolio?

VR: Photos while wearing clothes? I would love to do a Don Draper clothing layout. I’ve got the 5 o’clock shadow ready.

B: You have clothes on in some of your images, but I have to admit that I am one of the many that enjoys you in the buff. And speaking of your various photos, when I look at your port on Model Mayhem, I am most impressed by the confidence that shines through your images. You are very bold and uninhibited. How would you describe your style?

VR: I am told that I am a sweet nerdling trapped in a porn star's body. I take that as a huge compliment, because I still see that shy beanpole from junior high. I can be very reserved. A lot of that confidence can be credited to the talented photographers. It is funny that you say that.

B: Speaking of porn…well not really, but on the subject of erotica. You've taken some very sexy solo shots. Would you ever consider taking similar shots with another male model?

VR: Sure, if the shots were with a photographer that I trusted.

B: I think that is an area that is often overlooked by individuals trying to get into this business and it is so important to be able to trust the person who is photographing you. To that point, what advice would you give a new model starting out in the business?

VR: Definitely talk with some models and photographers. You do not have to work with everyone that asks you. Don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable or that you would regret later. Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.

B: Absolutely. It’s not just about looks. You have to use your head to move forward and stay protected. But looks definitely play their part. What is your definition of beauty? Is it purely physical, in terms of looks, or does attitude, carriage and personality play a role?

VR: Without a doubt, inner beauty trumps all. If you meet an attractive person with an ugly attitude, that surface shine just falls away. And besides, the bloom will leave every rose, so you better cultivate something that will last forever. Abs are temporary; piano lessons are forever.

B: What is your ultimate goal in this industry?

VR: To be the go-to model for muscle-bound 40-year-olds. When it stops being fun, I will stop.
B: On a lighter note, tell me 5 fun facts about Vic.

1. In times of stress, I am a compulsive baker. If you work with me, I will bring a gift of cookies, usually oatmeal chocolate chip, to break the ice. That’s my way of showing my artistry.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Wire are my all-time favorite TV shows.
3. I love to travel and eat my way across countries. My all-time favorite meal was at a vegetarian restaurant in Nice owned by the brother of Luciano Pavarotti.
4. I can eat egg whites, chicken and broccoli on a daily basis for months.
5. I collect Disney Christmas ornaments.

B: Are there any last words or thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

VR: Thank you so much for asking me to do this. I enjoyed answering the questions. You are one of the highlights of joining Model Mayhem. I would love the opportunity to be photographed by you. If your thoughtfulness is any indication of your creativity, then I would be in great hands.

B: You are very welcome, and I honestly appreciate you wanting to take part. The feelings are mutual.

©2009 Sean Dibble

Want more Vic?

Photo Credits:
Mark Henderson - Edendale Studios

Louis LaSalle -

Empyrean Photography -

Joe Oppedisano -

James Franklin -

Studio 1010 -

Friday, August 21, 2009

C o b y K o e h l - Born To Sing



I have known Coby for half my life. He is beyond my best friend...he is my brother.
I met him on the street one day when he was with a mutual friend, and we later decided to collaborate on music, as I was a songwriter and he was a singer. At the time, he attended the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts and I was working in the medical field. Our evenings were spent, cramped on the floor in the dining room of my apartment in Silver Spring, with Coby singing into a Radio Shack mic and me trying to figure out how to work my new 4-track recorder.

The first song I actually heard Coby sing was God Bless The Child, which he did in the bathroom because it had "great accoustics". He would later sing this acapella because I had yet to figure out how to imput music into the 4-track. I did not have any instruments, even though I could play the piano, so I would sample beats for him to sing to. The first original song we recorded was one that I wrote about him called "Blue Eyed Soul", with a backing beat courtesy of a sample from a remix of "Don't Take My Mind On A Trip" by Boy George.
As time passed and my skills improved (though marginally), our songs would become more complex, with harmonies and overdubs. We would create themed demos in the format of albums, and use each one to explore new styles, both lyrically and vocally, as well as trying our hand at new sounds. Over a period of 5 years, we would experiment with pop, light rock, dance, jazz, house, blues, R and B, and standards. The songs ranged from standard radio love songs, to socially conscious commentary, with topics as diverse as drug addiction, racism, alcoholism, depression, homelessness, sexual identity and the norms of society. Our next project would lift the heaviness in an all dance collection about club life, New York City, and humor laden grooves.


We look back on much of what we did and often criticize ourselves unfairly. At the time, we thought we were crafting great songs, in spite of the fact that it wasn't our music, but we have both grown and improved in our individual crafts. Coby's voice and my songwriting are much better than in the old days, but we can not discount what we created or how those experiences shaped the artists we are today. Coby is a much better singer now, but this doesn't take away some of the great work he did in those early years. I became a better writer, but there are songs from that period that will always rank as some of our favorites.

Life would take us to California to pursue our dream, and back to DC. Coby ultimately ended up in New York City, where his name is known in certain circles and he has developed a small fan base, as well as constant support from people like Stu Hamstra from Cabaret Hotline, who describes Coby as "disturbingly talented".


Coby has performed at Rose's Turn, Don't Tell Mama's, Save The Robots, Lucky Chengs, and The Cutting Room, among many other venues. He also wrote a play about his life called "Survival of the Fetus" which was featured as a workshop at La Mama, Etc., where he played himself and which featured many of those songs from our early 4-track years.

photo: & flyer design: rSEANd PHOTOGRAPHY

These days, when you see him perform, it is no longer with just a piano and prerecorded music. He now has a full scale band, all of whom are incredible musicians, and the chemistry between the musicians and the man fronting them is infectious. Many of these performances can be seen on YouTube. I wanted to feature Coby, who beyond being a friend, is one of my favorite singers, and ask him questions that we have discussed in passing, that would allow others to get a glimpse of the man behind the voice.

flyer design: rSEANd PHOTOGRAPHY

When did you first realize that you had a great voice?
I actually sang before I spoke. I've always known that I could sing, but I don't think I've reached that place where I feel I have a great voice. I always think that it could be better.

In this photo: Coby being handed a microphone to sing by his father.

Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you?
Nina Simone, whose voice has such raw emotion and is so distinctive. When you hear Nina Simone you immediately know it's her. It's like she is her own instrument, that no one else can play or recreate. She was a child prodigy, she went to Julliard, and she used her music as part of the Civil Rights movement, writing protest songs, before women of color were even granted a voice.

photo & flyer design: rSEANd PHOTOGRAPHY

Other artists that inspired me were Shirely Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Teena Marie, Jill Scott, Prince, Eryka Badu, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Bee Gees, and Madonna.
When I was kid, I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, who was the entire package for me. He was magical. When you looked at him, it was like complete awe. It was fantasy, reality, the unattainable... it was perfection. But to him, it was never good enough. And that's a true artist, in my opinion. True artists are never satisfied or rest on their laurels. They are always aiming to be better.
Boy George, who've I've often been compared to, since the beginning of Culture Club. Not only is he a great singer and a phenominal songwriter, but even at a young age he had the courage and integrity to stand up and be who he is. He is a pioneer and I have tremendous respect and admiration for him. I aspire to be as good as he is and to leave a fraction of the mark he's left.
What do you enjoy about live performing?
Interacting with the audience and actually having someone to sing for, besides just myself. Singing has been my therepy - it's like my free prozac since I don't have health insurance.


What was your favorite live performance?
The Cutting Room in New York City with my band.
(You can see these performances on YouTube. Search for Coby Koehl Cutting Room)

photo of Coby and flyer design: rSEANd PHOTOGRAPHY

How would you describe your sound?
Dyslextic, Eclectic and Fierce. (laughs). I would say it's neo-soul, jazz, house, r n b, gospel and easy listening all mixed together.


What other artistic talents do you have, besides singing?
I'm a songwriter. I'm a playwrite, a fashion stylist and a make-up artist. I'm also a visual artist, who likes to create mixed media collages.

What are mixed media collages?
Mixed media means images that you find in newspapers and magazines, images you find on the street, using slide shows and projections, video installations. I take images and pay homage to our media gods and whores.

I've seen your collages and you seem to be telling stories in them.
Absolutely. I've collected images of Madonna from the last 30 years of her career and my collages are like a timeline of her different looks, styles, personas and sounds.

What other singers are you most interested in at the moment?
I think Lady Gaga is an incredible talent. I call her the albino, electronic Nina Simone.
I also think Maxwell is amazing.

What is important to you as a person, rather than a performer?
It's important to me to be a good person, and I strive to be that everyday.


Boy George has described you as one of the greatest singers he's heard since Amy Winehouse on his Facebook and Twitter. How did that come about?
I actually sent him some of my songs on Facebook, after he accepted my friendship. Since I'd always been compared to him, I felt a kinship. He responded so beautifully and favorably. What a blessing to have an idol of mine love my music. It's unfathomable. And please pinch me right now.

How do you feel about the music industry?
I think it's all about the plastic packaging and once you tear away the layers, there's nothing in there. Not enough talent. Now it's about the quick fix and not longevity. Very few perfomers actually have long range careers.

What keeps you motivated?
I have the ability to do something that so many people are not able to do. I feel so blessed for the gift of being able to sing. There's nothing I love to do more.

What is your favorite original song?
This Time by Sean Dibble.
You actually wrote that song about me and for me.

© 2009 Sean Dibble
Do not repost without permission

All photos are self-portraits taken by Coby Koehl, except where indicated.

Find Coby Koehl on Facebook.
For more Coby Koehl:

David Costa