Today I'm excited to share an interview with the singer/songwriter Ayla Nereo. She’s another one of those courageous women I see out there sharing her gifts and inspiring those around her.
I first discovered Ayla’s music on a mixed CD my friend gave me when I lived in a little one room cabin in Berkeley. I would listen to the songs on repeat as I decorated my room and imagined what would happen in my life.
It was a magical time. I had just taught my very first yoga class and was just opening up to the idea of what was possible when I faced my fears, and I was about to reconnect with a boy I had once met a year and a half earlier. (a boy who later became my current boyfriend).
As I listened to the music, I imagined Ayla as a famous musician traveling the world, someone I would probably never meet in person. Then one day, my friend who gave me the CD said, “Ayla is playing a show at my house. Do you want to come?”
I replied, “What? Really? She’s coming to Berkeley? To your house? Of course I want to come!”
I was so excited to see her sing in person.
The same day as the concert, I had my very first date with that whimsical boy, Michael. When I told him I was going to Ayla’s show that night he said, “Oh, me too! She’s a good friend of mine, we went to college together and I went on tour with her last summer. You’re going to love it, I’m so glad we can be there together.”
That night, not only did I get to sit next to Michael, but Ayla invited him to play a song before her set. I watched as the man I was starting to fall in love with stood up to sing in front of the crowd.
It was beautiful, and I thought of how brave he was. Then Ayla took the stage, turned on her projector, and literal fireworks started going off on the screen behind her as she sang, “It’s Okay,” ~ my favorite song of hers at the time.
Michael came back to sit down next to me, put his hand on mine, and smiled.
“What magic!” I thought.
It has been so beautiful to watch Ayla’s career unfold over the last three years since that house concert in Berkeley 2011. I have watched her consistently show up again and again to her craft and her calling.
I remember hearing her stories of how sometimes only one or two people would show up to hear her play when she first started touring. Now, she travels to festivals across the country, singing to crowds of hundreds, even thousands of loyal fans.
Watching her consistently stand up and share her gifts has been an inspiration for me to stand up and share my own.
The music was with me as I taught my first yoga class, as I fell in love and as I started to believe in myself.
I’m so grateful to know her, and to share with you her insights on the courage, trust, and action it takes to consistently show up and live your dreams.
How would you describe your latest music?
Each album is an evolution of my evolution. My latest music is an expression of that evolution, another phase, just another way the music is showing up. It’s a little feistier, a little more fire and also more direct. It feels like that’s what is needed in the world right now, and I am becoming more direct in how I communicate because of that.
Where does your music take you now?
It’s taking me to festivals, bigger venues, new groups of people, more diverse groups of people, and people I would say represent the masses. At the same time, the music is asking more of me. It’s asking me to become a clearer vehicle, especially when I perform. The more I listen, then the farther the music takes me.
It asks for a strong integrity in me, and lets me know if my ego gets in the way. I have to continuously check what my relationship to the music and the world is - if I am feeling self-important about the music and wanting it to serve me or if I’m remembering that I am serving it. It’s that difference.
When you think back to the first songs you wrote, what first prompted you to share them?
It was definitely called out of me. The songs trickled in and I was so incredibly shy about sharing them. At first I shared timidly around campfires at the house I lived in. Someone would ask me to play another song and I would write another song and timidly have two friends come hear it and they would tell other people and then they would ask me to play it.
Even the first few years of making music, it was never something I would volunteer. I was not the person in the room to say, “I have a song to share!” And that was part of what made me choose to make music as my career, it always felt like it was wanted. People were asking for it, and I felt it was my responsibility to respond. Maybe this all would have happened anyway, but I really give a lot of credit to those people in that first house where the first songs came in, because they were the ones asking me to share. I’m grateful for that.
What fears have you encountered and how have you faced them?
I think the biggest fear I have experienced is self-doubt. I also encountered the fear of being seen, the fear of being a powerful woman, and the fear of not being liked, or the fear of people not liking the music, or not liking me, or the way I am giving it.
To a big degree, with so many years of creating and sharing the music, those fears are not there anymore, but there are times they creep in, so it really takes practice. A really simple way of undoing the fear is with prayer.
“May I step out of the way, May I receive what wants to come through, May I stand in gratitude that I get to do this.”
So much of working through the fear is just showing up on stage and being with it, show after show after show after show. And then being humbled by it and learning something from it and applying it at the next show. Then doing that over and over for years... Like anything else, practice.
What was it like playing your first concert?
My first concert was thrilling and terrifying.
I definitely stepped up to it in stages. I started around a campfire, then a few songs to friends at dinner parties, then my first official show was at Stanford, where I went to college. I just remember being kind of awkward and super nervous, and yet all my friends were there, cheering me on and supporting me so much and calling in people’s attention because I didn’t have the presence of holding attention yet as an artist. And so, they really helped do that, hollering and clapping and getting the whole crowd into it, and it ended up being really fun. Support was a key piece.
What is performing like for you now?
It’s so different. I’d say I used to get nervous with butterflies, even to the point where at one time I decided I didn’t want to be a performing artist because it was too nerve-wracking. I even said, “I will probably never tour.” And really, through practice, I learned performance is all about vibration.
I learned the vibration I stand in when I perform the song is literally the vibration the song would go out on.
If I am worried about what other people think or caught up in this or that fear, then that’s the vibration the music comes out on. If I’m really grateful, happy, intentional, and surrendered, then that’s the vibration the music comes out on.
Now I don’t get nervous, it’s more about remembering what I am there to do, it is not about me, and when I remind myself that, the show is better. If I treat it like it’s me, Ayla getting up on stage sharing with everyone, it’s a lot of pressure to try and create the best outcome for everyone from one human being.
If I let all of that go, and just remind myself that I’m not trying to do anything here, I’m just trying to receive as well as possible, then the best possible outcome that I can’t even create or conceive of by myself happens.
What does courage mean to you?
There’s a quote I remember reading once, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather the directing of one’s attention to something else.” It’s not about battling fear or winning over fear, but it’s tending to what is important. When that attention is so strong and direct, there is not room for fear.
We show our courage when the attention of what we do want is stronger than the fear of what we don’t want.
How do you think vulnerability fits in?
I see vulnerability as a form of courage because it’s a form of transparency and really showing ourselves. It’s opening ourselves to others, it’s a softening, and a letting in. I think vulnerability has been one of the ways I have began to understand courage, power, and strength. Vulnerability is the feminine power. It’s the ability to receive, and there’s a grace in that.
It’s definitely been one of the more humbling and beautiful teachers in my work, especially in performance, showing up in front of people on stage and letting myself be vulnerable. To not create an appearance of who I am and how I want people to see me as, but rather just show up in the beautiful simplicity of this human being, who I am. When I can really do that, it is incredibly empowering. When I embrace vulnerability, I feel my strongest.
What advice do you have to someone who has a dream but is stuck, afraid or doesn’t know how to take the next step?
I would say trust life. But first, make your prayer really, really clear. As clear as you can make it in this moment. Ask yourself, "What do I really want? What is my passion? and What do I desire above all else? " And, not just the external things, (and actually it’s probably best to leave those up to spirit to decide), but the internal state of what you want to experience. I ask myself, "How do I want to feel everyday waking up? Do I want to feel really grateful? Really in love with my life? Am I so grateful that I have the best possible life I could have? "
Those are the things that I pray for and ask for. The external will create the best possible outcome to make me feel that way. So make those prayers really, really clear and then trust that every single thing that follows is helping that prayer, even if it appears like it is taking too long, or is not a blessing. Trust, and clarify the prayer.
The other big piece is to move towards it in any way you possibly can. If you want to meet the universe halfway, then you have to go halfway, and often, it’s a lot farther than you think. If you want to sing music to people, then you need to start singing music to people and organize your own house concert. Ask someone if you can play music at their party, or if you want to teach workshops, just start teaching to friends.
It’s about how you are showing the universe you are committed, you really want it, and you are going to do whatever you can in this moment to move towards it.
What projects are you currently working on?
My latest album, Hollow Bone just came out. There is currently a remix album being made, and I’m doing a remix contest for it.
I’m also working on a collaboration with The Polish Ambassador and Mr. Lif, a hip hop MC and the three of us are doing a whole album together. We’re doing a Fall tour, around the whole country, and we’re in the midst of doing a launch for that. We are integrating permaculture and calling it “A Permaculture Action Tour.” We have a team of people working with us that are helping us connect in to local groups in each city we go to. On every Sunday of the tour we are going to build or plant a garden and do hands on work to benefit that community directly. We are doing an IndieGogo to bring that permaculture team on the road with us. There’s so much that needs to happen in the world, so we are trying to light people up, spark curiosity, interest and action with permaculture and sustainability.
What do you consider the most important part of the work you do?
The most important part of the work I do, is what I don’t do. It’s the things I can’t take credit for. It’s the way that life or spirit or soul, this higher good of all beings that can come through each of us, that feels like the most important part. If I said anything else right now, it wouldn’t be true.
If there was one thing you’d want every person to learn from your music, what would that be?
To learn how to love themselves and accept themselves completely and have their love so filled up that it extends to every human, animal and living thing on this planet.