Ayla Nereo Talks Life, Music, and Inspiration
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting the lovely Ayla Nereo and seeing her perform solo as well as alongside David Sugalski (aka The Polish Ambassador) as Wildlight. Her captivating voice is matched only by her passionate personality that she pours into her music, and gives to her fans every night. Ayla opened up the night to a small crowd at Neumos in Seattle, and within the first 15 minutes of her soaring vocals, the crowd had tripled in size. Ayla’s solo performances include her voice and a loop pedal.
Later in the evening, her mesmerizing vocals were paired with The Polish Ambassador’s funky beats and the whole crowd had a great time grooving along with Ayla and David. It was one of the most uplifting and intimate shows I’ve ever been to, and I think a large part of that feeling was due to the love Ayla and David have for their fans that they share every night. Not only do they love their fans, but they love each other very much, and if that doesn’t melt your heart, then we probably can’t be friends. To top it all off, Ayla and David looked absolutely fabulous in their jumpsuits, as always.
OTB: Is improvisation something that has always come naturally to you or is it something you’ve learned over the years?
Ayla Nereo: It’s a little bit of both I guess; improvisation has been primary to how I create music since I was a child making up songs on the piano – but it began as a more private creative process, no one else listening. Just me, listening closely for the notes that wanted to come through. The improvisation of songs and lyrics on stage – that is much newer, and has been a process of learning how to trust myself to do what I do in private, but in front of hundreds of people. Not so easy! It takes an incredible amount of inner listening, and that’s exactly what I love about it. And it’s happened in stages… I started by improvising little loop songs in moments of total comfort at more intimate house concerts, shows where the audience and I were just so connected that barriers of self-doubt didn’t exist. Then the same thing began happening at larger performances, and now it happens at big shows. Many steps, many stages, but all a growth of the same process of listening to what you want to come through.
OTB: What is your song writing process like? Do you find writing melodies and harmonies or writing lyrics more difficult?
Ayla: Melodies come most easily and quickly – that’s usually where a song begins itself, in my experience. Lyrics come shortly after – it’s like a game, to reach out into the massive fields of vocabulary and speech, and pluck sounds in a way that give form and shape to the image that the melody has begun to paint in my mind. It’s a practice of accuracy, to find words that can flow into some approximation of the truth that lies behind the thought.
OTB: I know that you and your brother used to make music together. Do you come from a musical family, and has it always been an encouraging journey?
Ayla: Yes! My family is so much of why I am doing this. My parents have always been nothing but encouraging in us pursuing our passions, whatever they may be. My older brother Falcon Christopher is a performer and musician as well, he definitely paved the road for us younger siblings. And my brother Davyd Nereo is my co-pilot to this musical journey. We began our band Beatbeat Whisper in 2006, and that was my whole entry into performing and touring and releasing albums. It gave me the confidence to stand on stage and sing. My family is the roots of my being a musician.
OTB: If you weren’t traveling the world performing and making music, what would you like to be doing?
Ayla: Probably making music in my room. And traveling the world. And performing modern dance 😉
OTB: What has been the most inspiring moment of this tour so far? What about the most entertaining moment?
Ayla: Most inspiring moment: the finale song during our first show of tour, realizing the entire audience was belting out the chorus with us in full force! It’s an epic singalong that has continued this while tour. Most entertaining moment: Luke crowd surfing in happy-baby pose after our Seattle show. Darling.
OTB: Speaking of inspiration, from where would you say you draw most of the inspiration for your songs? Is there an artist who has been particularly influential in your life?
Ayla: I’m constantly inspired by just about everything I hear — songs, poetry, vocals, sounds of nature, sounds of cities… It all trickles in and adds new vocabulary from which I can draw from. Lately though, I’ve been super inspired by Climbing Poetree (incredible truth-speakers), Aesop Rock, Imogen Heap, traditional Bulgarian songs, and Florence and the Machine.
OTB: How did you meet The Polish Ambassador, and how did Wildlight come to be?
Ayla: We met on a dance floor actually, a freestyle happening in Oakland called Ecstatic Dance. We started talking music collaboration, which turned to going on hikes in the hills, which turned to us falling crazy in love, which turned to a rather casual collaboration on a couple songs, which quickly led to more songs, which became Wildlight. We’ve both been amazed and happy about the way this project has unfolded so easily and organically, and been so lovingly received by everyone.
OTB: Let’s talk about that jumpsuit for a minute. I couldn’t stop staring at that white, majestic thing. Where did you find it? Do you have a collection of sexy jumpsuits or is that the one?
Ayla: I know it’s amazing right? I am being completely decked out this tour by an awesome local SF company called Warrior Within Designs – they are all about adorning women in ridiculously comfortable onesies. Jen, their fearless leader, is the mastermind behind that white sparkle beauty. We have some exciting jumpsuit collaborations in the works… Stay tuned!
OTB: I know asking a multi-talented musician which instrument is their favorite is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, but I’m going to ask you anyway. What is your favorite instrument to play and/or listen to?
Ayla: Definitely the voice. Favorite to play, and favorite to listen to. Especially hearing how vocal techniques change from one culture to the next – there are incredible differences, I love how much variation exists. Second favorite: Piano. Both for playing and listening.
OTB: You seem to have such a peaceful presence on stage. Do you still get nervous before performing and do you have any pre-show rituals?
Ayla: I used to get very nervous – but I think after enough shows the practice becomes familiar and the nervousness disappears. I got some jitters recently though, as I was about to perform for a crowd of 10,000 in Vail. First time singing to that many people! I have so much fun though, so that usually supersedes the nervousness. And I definitely have a few pre-show rituals, mainly to care for my voice, and to get grounded and centered amidst the constant movement of touring. I do yoga, throat steaming, drink throat coat and marshmallow teas, slurp honey before going onstage… I also have some borage tincture a friend made me, for heart courage. And David and I always have a moment before going onstage to get excited about what we get to share 🙂
OTB: What advice would you give to aspiring vocalists?
Ayla: Sing as often as possible. See how many ways your voice can make sound. Listen to songs from all around the world and try to sing like them. Learn about the voice, how to care for it, how to not strain it. And most of all, TRUST yourself. Trust that you can sing, that there is a unique kind of beauty wanting to pour out of you. It takes a lot of strength and surrender, but it is completely possible; trust the way it wants to come through you.
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