Jack Riley ’23 has explored many musical realms in his lifetime.
He began learning the drums at age five and picked up bass and guitar in high school. He has played in bands and arranged live shows. And most recently, he has become one of Brown’s most prolific student producers.
Riley first dove into music production as a sophomore at the University. After the COVID-19 pandemic scattered Brown community members across the globe, Riley found himself at home in Los Angeles with “a bunch of downtime,” he said.
“I just made music all day.”
During Riley’s time in lockdown, he began to collaborate with Luc Espinosa ’23 under the stage name aloe.401. The two artists combined their musical expertise and wrote and produced songs for artists both at Brown and beyond.
Coming to the job virtually, the duo had to get creative with how they worked together. “I would send (Riley) beat ideas and mostly lay down the drums and the structure of the song, and Jack would really help formalize the baseline and the chords,” Espinosa explained. aloe.401 released its first album “FLORA” June 2022.
According to Espinosa, Riley has an exceptional talent for translating ideas into music.
“I can hum a melody, and he can just get on the bass and play that,” Espinosa said. “I can tell him, ‘Okay, this is what the chord should sound like,’ and he can just go straight to the keyboard and lay it all out.”
Since returning to campus, Riley has kept himself busy. Last fall, he joined Chance Emerson ’23.5 on his tour opening for rock band Blues Traveler. The two met for the first time three years ago when Emerson appeared unexpectedly at Riley’s door one night with a problem: His band needed a drummer.
“I probably would have found my way into the (music) scene somewhere,” Riley said, but Emerson accelerated the process.
Riley joined Emerson’s band and eventually became the group’s bassist. As a first-year pursuing a double concentration in computer science and music, he quickly had to learn how to balance schoolwork with his performing career, Emerson said. After some shows, Emerson would find Riley working on computer science assignments due the same night.
Riley said he approaches computer science and music in a similar manner, thinking about adding and subtracting interacting elements — whether musical or code — to create a complete product.
Beyond touring together, Riley and Emerson have also collaborated on several songs. One of Riley’s favorites is “Game Theory,” which Emerson released last November. The song takes listeners on an unexpected yet captivating journey, Riley said.
When collaborating with other artists, Riley sticks solely to the role of producer. He helped mix and produce the latest single from student artist Julien Deculus ’25, “A Few More Days,” released Jan. 27. Deculus said that working with Riley is like working with a friend, mentor and professional all at once.
“I know what a professional looks like, and that’s what I see when I look at him,” Deculus said. “You can tell how many hours he has put into it (and) how much he loves the craft.”
Riley said that his process for creating music varies depending on the artist. “Some people come to me with more of a sonic idea of what they want … Some of them are just like, ‘I want the feeling. Make that for me.’”
Working with so many different artists means Riley constantly dips into a variety of styles — ranging from hip-hop to folk. Riley explained that this is unusual for individuals in the music industry, who are often expected to stick to one niche if they want to be a lasting presence.
But Riley has gone beyond this narrative. He is “a jack of all trades” and a master of them, too, Deculus said. “He’s got playing, performing, writing, producing, engineering and mixing. … That’s what you need to make it in the industry.”
For Riley, staying open-minded while creating music is an essential part of his process. “There are so many times when I literally just drag things to the wrong place, open the wrong thing, and I'm like, ‘Wow, I never would have tried that. I'm gonna use it now,’” he said.
Riley’s fluency with merging genres and taking musical risks helps him “shape a song into something that's unique but authentic to the artist,” according to Emerson.
After graduating in the spring, Riley is considering continuing his career in music through freelance production. Though he is only just beginning to make a splash in the music industry, both Emerson and Espinosa noted that his talent will not go unnoticed.
“If I had to make a bet on the person I’ve met at Brown most likely to win a Grammy,” Emerson wrote in a message to The Herald, “I would without a doubt put my money on Jack.”
Daphne is an Arts & Culture writer from Austin, Texas. She is planning on studying International and Public Affairs. Her passions include cats, running and Phoebe Bridgers.