By: Kaia Femenías
Sitting down with Ayla Nereo turned out to be the most delightful part of my weekend. Sitting with her in a sunny field, we began to discuss everything from the underlying meaning of her music to her inspiring motivation through altruistic action. We met at her debut event, an Herbalism Action Day intended to promote the integration of natural medicines and herbs into modern society, a mission with coincides closely with the lyrics of Nereo’s music which frequently paint a picture of human harmony with the land. Initially emerging as a solo songwriter, Nereo has recently collaborated with electronic producer The Polish Ambassador in their project “Wildlight”. Her new solo album, “The Code of the Flowers,” speaks deeply of Ayla’s connection to the Earth, love, and human growth.
After listening to your music, I have noticed several different themes. What would you say is the general theme/mood of you music?
Well, like you said there are many themes, but I’d say one of the biggest is listening; really wanting to understand how to be a better listener as a human, how to listen better to the Earth and all the creatures of the Earth, the plants, the trees, the sky, humans, myself, and my heart. So in that journey of my own longing to be a better listener, that theme goes into a lot of songs, of wondering, exploring, and listening more deeply.
So listening, as a singer, there seems to be a paradox there. Could you elaborate?
Yes — the way that I use the word listening is not so much a literal ‘ear listening,’ but more of a tuning-in and paying attention. Getting really receptive is a better way of putting it. When I’m listening for a song, I’m getting really open and clearing my mind, and trying to let something come through.
From where do you derive your inspiration?
I would say most of my inspiration comes from this planet, from the way the planet moves, and the cycles of time and nature. But there’s this other piece, in which a lot of my inspiration comes from my very human experience of wanting to be more in connection with the Earth, and that disconnect that can sometimes happen— getting caught in my mind, then getting back to being connected, or getting caught with human busy-ness and agendas, and then remembering what’s really important.
How do you feel when you know you’re coming onto an idea for a song?
Well oftentimes songs arrive in little pieces. I’ll be walking along, and then this melody with words will pop in. It’s usually just a tiny phrase, so then the bigger part of the songmaking process is that phrase becoming a whole composition. Usually it’s all about repeating, for me. I sing what has already come over and over again, and then go to an instrument and play and sing it, over and over again, just letting it develop naturally. It is a very mysterious process, how those pieces become a whole, and a lot of it for me is just feeling. I keep trying lots of different ways, and then suddenly I feel a specific body sensation when it’s the right melody or chord. It’s a somatic experience. When I get that experience, that’s what tells me “this is it.”
You and The Polish Ambassador both organize and participate in Action days, service projects intended to benefit the community. This is a noble thing. How does your music coincide with this intention of bettering humanity?
I think we have a deep longing for connection, a longing for our planet to be in balance and healthy, and for us to remember that we are caretakers of all life on our planet. I really think that part of our purpose is to be good stewards of this garden. We’re the gardeners, the caretakers, and we could be doing a better job. So the action days are sort of “walking our talk,” not for the sole purpose of walking our talk, but more as a natural progression of the music we make, and our own intentions for wanting to do our part to help connect with communities and the Earth. It feeds us so much. I am so fed by today and every Action Day, it really is amazing. And to feel like we get to give something back is really powerful. It’s born out of a realization that we have really unique roles, being musicians — everyone has a community, or platform, so to speak, but because we’re musicians with a certain fan base, we might have a bigger platform to share ideas with people. So when all this energy comes to a show, the inquiry was, how much good could we accomplish with all that energy? What else could we do to give back to the community? And so Action Days were born.
How has your collaboration with the Polish Ambassador, Wildlight, evolved the way you create music?
It’s the first time I’ve co-written songs with someone. It’s just been so organic for David and I. We both have our own expertise in different areas. He doesn’t try to write words and I don’t try to do beats. Well… sometimes I try, but they don’t come out the same way as when David makes them. (Laughs) We both do melody, chord progressions, bass lines and such, but there are certain areas where we really acknowledge each other’s expertise, so it becomes really easy to take each other’s ideas and be like, yeah that sounds good. It’s made me a better collaborator because it’s been such a flowing process. I’m now working on another album with my brother, we had a project way back in the day called Beatbeat Whisper, and we’re now working on an album again after eight years of not making songs together. It’s been so fun and we’ve collaborated so easily. I feel like some of the reason it’s been so easy to write songs with my brother is because of the Wildlight project.
What has it been like to make music with your partner?
It’s been really wonderful. It’s mostly really exciting to be able to birth these songs together. What we’ve noticed is that the way Wildlight shows up, in terms of how we’re creating music together or how we are on stage, is directly related to how much love is actually flowing between us. If we need to work stuff out, then we’re not making music. Our collaboration also has a lot to do with how centered we are in ourselves. Right now there’s a lot of growth happening in terms of individuation. We’ve been together for almost five years now, and we’re in totally new territory because neither of us have been in a relationship that long! In being together for so long, co-dependency can easily happen, so we’ve been tending our own soul paths a bit more lately. So right now we’re working on our own music and then when we get centered and solid within ourselves then we’ll come back and the next Wildlight album will be born really fast.
As you move forward with your music, what intentions do you have both creatively and personally?
My biggest intention is to ground down a lot more, to find that balance of movement and stillness. The music is really wanting to expand right now, and that might mean more travel and more time in the studio and creating. Even the business-y sides of things get increased as the music wants to go out further, but then I get to learn how to balance that with just as much time with the Earth. That’s where the songs really want to come through, and it’s what grounds me. In some ways I haven’t been learning that relationship as deeply as I’d like — it’s so easy for someone to feel like “all of this needs to be responded to,” and “I need to be over here,” being pulled by the exterior human agendas and to-do lists. So my biggest intention is to always, always keep my first commitment, which is to be really connected with the Earth and all life, and to learn how to be more and more connected each day.
If there was one message of encouragement you could deliver to your fans, what would you say?
I would say… don’t be afraid. Don’t hold anything back because these are times for really showing up. The world needs your offering, your passion, your light. If there’s something that you long for and are simultaneously terrified of, that is your signal. Those two qualities together, that’s gold. In my experience, that has always been the direction I need to go, to lean into the fear. So I would say jump, and maybe jumping will be the way to learn how to fly.
Ayla Nereo continues to work on music both individually and through collaborations, all while keeping her roots dug sturdily into the Earth. To listen to Ayla’s newest album, click here.