Yalies might know Cole Citrenbaum ’17 and Jacob Reske ’14 by their current names, but the current Spizzwink (Citrenbaum) and former member of A.Squared (Reske) are now channeling their acapella talents in a different fashion: the pair’s recent single, “Falling,” was released at the end of January. “Falling,” now a viral hit, has launched Opia — the duo’s stage name — into the spotlight. WKND spoke with Citrenbaum and Reske earlier this week, as they waited for a flight in New York.
Q: What are the two of you doing in an airport right now?
CC: It’s super secret, but we can give you the backstory first of how things got to be in a super secretive place.
JR: We are traveling to a destination unknown right now.
CC: The current reason we are in an airport is a little bit on the DL. We’re taking a bunch of meetings in LA to figure out what the future of Opia is going to look like.
JR: I think we can say we’re going to LA.
CC: Yeah, we’re going to LA.
Q: What can you say on the record?
CC: What happened is Jacob and I — we met during my Bulldog Days. And we became friends slowly. I discovered that Jacob’s an absolutely amazing producer. Last year, I was working on the Spizzwinks(?) album — the a cappella group that I’m in — and I was like, “Oh, we need to get someone to produce the record. We should call Jacob because he’s an amazing producer.” I was on the creative team for the album, so I ended up spending countless hours with Jacob in the studio, just hanging out recording “oohs” and “aahs” for a cappella.
JR: So many hours of Spizzwinks(?) shenanigans with the two of us in my apartment. Naturally we bonded over that.
CC: Jacob showed me a couple of projects he’s working on — we both produce and write songs and play instruments, stuff like that. I was like, “Oh, shit, you’re fucking amazing.” Oh, this shouldn’t be in the interview. “You’re absolutely amazing, we should do something together.” And we just happened to both be in LA serendipitously last summer, working our respective jobs. I would take the LA city bus across town, and Jacob and I would write songs together. We had fun recording music together, and then we released one of the songs we worked on last summer about a month ago. Basically what happened was, we sent an email to a blog that we read pretty regularly, it’s kind of like, “Oh, maybe they’ll read [the email] or whatever.” And the blog responded right away saying, “We love your track. We’re going to post it on our homepage right now.” Jacob and I were like, “Whoa, this is crazy!”
JR: We were kind of floored with the response we got from just a few people. I’ve put out music before under a couple different projects, and this, for whatever reason, just had a great response from the first day. I was about to fly back to LA because I’ve already graduated and I live in LA now, and I thought, you know what, I just had a hunch, like maybe I should stay in New Haven to see this through with Cole for a little bit. We were right. The next couple days, it surpassed our wildest expectations. We got on this blog called Hype Machine, which is this aggregator for hot music at the time, and then we got on this playlist called New Music Friday on Spotify, and a bunch of others, and it just went nuts from there.
CC: At our peak, we hit number two for most viral song on Spotify.
JR: We got used to our lives as answering the phone all the time with all these industry people. The Monday after, someone said, “You know, a lot of people are going to email you about this song,” and we said, “No way, you’re kidding us!” And then Monday morning came and we realized he was totally, totally right.
CC: We opened our inbox —
JR: Soooo many emails. It was crazy.
Q: What was the craziest thing you found in there?
JR: What hasn’t been crazy?
CC: My favorite email we’ve gotten so far was totally unrelated to the music industry. It was someone saying their future child was conceived to our song, which I thought was pretty hilarious.
JR: It was like, “Yo, bro, my wife is pregnant thanks to your song.” You’re kidding me. I [replied], “Are you serious?” He never responded.
CC: The most crazy thing too is we’ve heard from our friends from different places. One of Jacob’s friends was in the Copley mall in Boston the other day and was like, “Oh my God, I’m in the mall, and your song just came on.”
Q: You’ve talked about the crazy outreach that’s made its way to you after the song blew, but what about more legitimate offers?
JR: That’s something we’ve been learning on our feet — the music industry, how it works and the timeline of it. Cole and I have done music projects independently, and Cole has a lot more experience in the industry than I have. He lived in LA in high school, he pursued a career as a singer-songwriter, and he got to know a little bit of a taste. For me this is all new. It’s this constant battle to distinguish who really likes you as a person, who likes the music and you vibe well with, who’s bullshitting you. But that’s just the music industry.
CC: We can’t go into too much of the details about particulars. We’ve heard from a million different labels and we’re trying to find the right management team right now.
JR: Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t even really know what a manager did. Now we need one, and apparently we need a lawyer too. That’s news to me. Never thought I’d need a lawyer, but I’m happy to have a family that can protect you and have your back. I certainly don’t know anything about the legal stuff. I think it’s going to be great. We’re learning on the fly.
Q: If the lawyer and the manager are your family, is the album the baby?
CC: That’s a really good analogy, actually.
JR: On the creative side, Cole and I are both pretty equally and in various different ways contribute to the creative aspects of the album. When it comes down to it, I probably produce the music more than I songwrite, and Cole probably songwrites more, but the rules change a lot. We also have been working with a couple of our friends. Something we’ve been doing is getting some of our friends from Yale to play on the record. Expect to see that in the future.
CC: It’s really special because for the first time at Yale, ever, for either of us, we’re going to put out our next song, and a ton of people are going to listen to it. If you add up our different views across different platforms, we have over 1.5 million views in the last month … So it’s cool that we have this platform, but when we bring in friends at Yale and make the Yale music scene a part of this project, that’s taken us by surprise. It’s been a really fun collaborative process.
JR: I used to do production for 1701 Records [on campus] so at one time I was really in tune with the music talent at Yale and I’m a huge fan of it. If there’s anything I want more from anything else, especially overall in life, it’s to see music that our friends made, and we both made, at Yale, equally succeed.
CC: We’ve been really fortunate to have this great break, and it’s really important to both of us to involve the people we think are talented, our friends at Yale.
JR: I was reading a WKND article from a few years ago about a 1701 record, and the review says, “Who knows, maybe some of them will be the next big thing?” I looked at the names, and a lot of them are going to be the next big thing. They’re all popping up right now.
CC: Jacob just choked on a noodle.
JR: I’m eating airport udon noodles right now.
CC: Put that in the interview.
Q: Remind me which airport you’re in right now.
CC: We’re in JFK right now. We’re headed to LAX.
Q: Would you call this a work trip?
CC: I guess it’s a business trip. But it’s also a fun trip.
Q: Are you doing anything for fun in LA that isn’t making music or talking about music?
CC: I want to drag Jacob surfing, because I’m from Ventura and I love going surfing and I actually brought Jacob out for the first time over the summer. Maybe in the next couple of days we’ll get a little bit of time to get out into the water.