Sometimes you write a song that becomes self-fulfilling.
That’s kind of what happened with independent pop artist Ayelle and her most recent single “Fast Life”. The multicultural singer-songwriter has been working for years honing in on a batch of songs she’ll be dropping this May in the form of a twelve song mixtape, entitled NOMAD MIXTAPE. It’s a reflection of her transient lifestyle, among other things, and perhaps “Fast Life” feels uncannily accessible right now. But even when there’s not a global pandemic going on, sometimes it’s ok to just stay home.
Andy: So where are you from?
Ayelle: I’m from Sweden. I’m half-Iranian, half-Swedish, and I grew up between Sweden and Spain.
Andy: Where are you living now?
Ayelle: New York.
Andy: How do you like that?
Ayelle: I like it! I liked it up until quarantine. It’s not the best place to be stuck in a flat.
Andy: Did you go to university? When did you come to America?
Ayelle: Yeah, I went to university in London actually. I went to BIMM, British Institute of Modern Music, and I went to high school in Spain. And then I came to the states in November of last year. So I’ve been in America that long.
Andy: So that’s really not that long then. Were you culture shocked?
Ayelle: No, I started coming here two or three years ago. I went to LA first, and that was the biggest culture shock – the first time coming to LA. I think New York wasn’t as much of a culture shock because it’s like Europe in a lot of ways, and it’s such a melting pot. Whereas LA, I was like “This is so weird. Everything is so big. No one walks anywhere.” It’s so strange.
Andy: You said you went to music school. I assume you were writing songs before that right?
Ayelle: Yeah, I started writing songs pretty much as soon as I learned how to write them down. I was always writing songs, and singing them out loud… just kind of making shit up. So it was just natural to start putting them down on paper when I learned how to write. I was just doing that for fun, and I had a music teacher in Sweden when I was like 12-14 who kind of noticed me, and started encouraging me to take music more seriously. He would give me extra classes during breaks, and things like that.
Andy: In Sweden do they just make everyone learn an instrument when they’re like 2 years old?
Ayelle: (laughs) No.
Andy: Everyone over there is a pop savant.
Ayelle: Yeah, but the school system is actually pretty lax. We do have music. And I mean music classes… the Swedish music system is so chill that you don’t learn anything rigorously deep. So everyone pretty much learned how to bang on a drum. And that was the extent of it. That’s why I kind of had to take up music on my own outside of school, and then when that music teacher saw I was writing songs, he took an interest, and kind of gave me more specialized music lessons during breaks and stuff, because what we were doing in class was just like banging around on stuff (laughs).
Andy: You said you’re half-Iranian too. Is that a part of your musical fabric, so to speak. Were you around a lot of middle-eastern music?
Ayelle: Yeah, growing up, since my dad was Iranian, there would often times be Iranian music playing in the house, and I have a really big family. My dad has nine siblings, so I have loads of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. So there would always be these parties – it’s a very rich culture. It’s hard for it to not put its mark on you. There’s just so much to it. Music is a big part of it as well. Iranians love to get together, and party, and dance. So yeah, it’s definitely a part of me.
Andy: Were you part of any projects before Ayelle?
Ayelle: Yeah, actually I was doing a lot of dance music in Spain, because I lived in Spain and went to high school there, and that was the only kind of music scene in English that was available to me. Even though I was making R&B music as well – cause I’ve always been making R&B for some reason. I managed to find the only R&B producers in Valencia, where I was living. So I was experimenting with that, and doing some feature stuff on the dance side, because that’s what people wanted. It wasn’t until I got to London that I started to ask myself what kind of music I really wanted to make, and what I’m about as an artist. I started listening to more left-leaning, experimental, electronic crossover blends, and not just what was on the charts.
Andy: What’s it like being an indie artist right now as opposed to a couple years ago.
Ayelle: It is difficult, but it does have its perks. You get to be your own boss, and if that’s something that motivates you, and you enjoy, then you get a lot more creative freedom and that can kind of compensate. It’s a long road for sure. It’s not a quick thing. I think a lot of people get put off by that. If you consistently put in the work, there are so many ways to make money in the music industry. It’s all about kind of adapting your mindset to understand that, and be creative with it. And to keep up with the times. It changes every year. What went well last year might not be going well this year.
“If you consistently put in the work, there are so many ways to make money in the music industry. It’s all about kind of adapting your mindset to understand that, and be creative with it.”
Andy: Yeah, the industry is definitely very fickle.
Ayelle: Yeah, exactly. Even now, the whole live sector is crippled.
Andy: Yeah, that’s been weird for sure. So you’re currently on a cycle for a mixtape you’re calling the NOMAD MIXTAPE. Why did you package this group of songs together? How do you see them as linear?
Ayelle: I think it’s really only been the last few years where I’ve been writing and feeling like some of my stories from earlier on – I’ve kind of closed a lot of chapters. Whether that’s from my childhood, or my teenage years… a lot of things that I’ve been learning, and am still learning. It felt more like a pivotal moment in my life. I guess cause I’m 25 now. You grow so much during these years it’s insane. I feel like it’s been even more accelerated for me because I’ve been travelling the past two years, almost every month. I’ve been to all of these different places, and taken all of these stories, and influences, and brought them into this project. Which, whilst I was writing it, I was kind of on this roller coaster of processing trauma from childhood and things like that. Free-writing really. Once I’d written these songs over the past two years, I’d kind of looked at them, and thought “There’s a handful of songs here that feel really relevant.” This feeling of being uprooted. This story of how I live my life. I’ve written them during this span in my life, and I’ve learned so many lessons just from living like this.
Andy: What’s it been like rolling them out during the covid-19 pandemic?
Ayelle: It’s been interesting. I feel I’ve definitely gotten to engage more with fans and people – seeing how they react. I’ve had all this energy, and time to just develop more 1-on-1 relationships with people. Taking my time to answer every message that comes through, and just building more core relationships. Which has been great. Even though it’s been weird, in terms of other stuff like business aspects, a lot of things have been getting delayed and caught up. The one thing it’s given me is I have to refocus on why I really do music. What it’s for. What I want to achieve with my music, and really hone in on that.
Andy: Your most recent single “Fast Life”, what was that inspired by?
Ayelle: So I wrote “Fast Life” about a year ago, around this time, which is funny because fast forward a year and it’s like my wish has been granted. Not that I hoped for this, but it’s weird because the song is about choosing to stay in on the weekends, or just in general, because when you live in big cities and you’re in the music industry, you have opportunities to go out all the time, and you’re encouraged to do so, all the time. It’s really about taking stock of what you need, and saying that it’s okay to say no – getting over FOMO. So I kind of wrote it for myself, to be like “This is my own party song”, that I just condensed to at home – to feel okay about just taking a step back and just focusing on me.
“It’s really about taking stock of what you need, and saying that it’s okay to say no – getting over FOMO. So I kind of wrote it for myself, to be like ‘This is my own party song’.”
Andy: Totally, it’s easy to get caught up in. I think in America in particular we were overdue for something like this to kind of knock us on our ass and slow us down. When you live here you kind of feel like you’re always in the spotlight.
Ayelle: Exactly, I think it’s about really honing in on quality over quantity. Especially when I’m in LA, it’s so hectic. People cramming sessions into the day, and wanting to work all the time, never taking a holiday. And I’m like, “It’s okay if you take a holiday. It’s okay to take a day off.” I need to tell myself that because I know if I’m going to be in this for the long run, if that’s going to be realistic and sustainable, then I need to look after myself. Sometimes we might even be arrogant and not honest with ourselves by thinking, “Oh no, I can keep going. I have this unlimited amount of energy,” but eventually you’re going to hit a wall. Everybody does.
Andy: So why a mixtape, and not an album or EP?
Ayelle: I think because to me it felt more like a collection of songs that – I didn’t write it with intentions of it being an album. There was no real plan. In some ways it’s kind of scattered, and there are little bits of these different journeys that I wanted to hone in on. The concept of being a nomad, and what that feeling is. To me they’re all their own separate stories. You don’t have to listen to it from the top to the bottom like an album. It’s a playlist, or a mixtape, of all these different moments.
Andy: What was it like drawing up your tracklist for that?
Ayelle: It was so hard! I changed it so many times. It could go any way because it’s just this rollercoaster. I tried to order them in a way that felt good because I couldn’t really do it chronologically or anything. It’s a total mix. It’s a little candy bag (laughs).
Over the past few years I’ve just written so many songs, and there were a handful of these songs that I felt I really wanted to put out, but I don’t want to feel the pressure of it having to be a crazy thing. They’re just really special songs to me that have been sitting there, some for 2 years.
Andy: You’ve had a high output leading up to this point, but is there anything you feel sets this batch of songs apart from the previous ones?
Ayelle: I do feel that the sound of these tracks – when I was writing them, I purposefully set them apart from other songs I was writing simultaneously whereas in the past I had focused a lot on soul and electronic. This mixtape is way more pop/R&B-oriented. I tried to find a crossover between my Scandinavian roots, and a little bit of the Middle East, and also this R&B and soul I grew up listening to that I love. I wanted to merge them all into their own genre, and that to me is what the sound of this mixtape feels like. I hope other people can hear it too, but to me it feels completely different from my other stuff.