Ayla Nereo tends to let out a deep "hmm" prior to answering a question -- she takes her time, thinks carefully, and when ready, delivers a well-spoken and thought-provoking response. The California-based singer-songwriter, who often collaborates with her partner The Polish Ambassador, is most inspired by the natural world around her, best evidenced on her most recent album, The Code of the Flowers, which arrived in early September.
While speaking on the phone from her Jumpsuit Records label's office space in downtown Nevada City, the modern day flower child tells Billboard Dance that her biggest musical muse is the Earth: "the cycles of seasons, life, and time, and have an immense curiosity and wonder about the intricacy of nature and all the beings of our gorgeous amazing planet."
Her relationship with the earth is imprinted in her music, a body of work comprised of thickly layered tracks where expansive and intriguing instrumentals serve as an intricate backdrop for her delicate and soft-spoken vocals. Nereo says her music aims to inspire others to form or reform a rich relationship with nature too, as she wants to help instill "a sense of wonder and reverence that can connect us back to our planet, and help us take care of this home that gives us life." Songs off her latest record such as "Look at the River" and "Seeds" are more explicit in this mission, while a track like "We Forgot" leans more subtle.
While Nereo's album may be new, she has been enamored with the world her whole life and says she was always raised to appreciate and respect the earth. Nereo was home-schooled up until high school -- her parents home schooled her for one year in first grade, then gave her the choice to continue or not -- and explains the way her parents taught and led her and her brother was "largely through nature." "I think that as children we naturally have that connection, and then it can get severed as school and sociocultural norms tell us it's not important," she relays. "And I never really had that disconnection."
Connecting and fully-committing to a passion or project is one of Nereo's strong suits. When it came time to begin work on her recent album -- she says both the concept and title of The Code of the Flowers "came in a vision all at once" -- she spent a month holed up in a studio built on her land in the mountain town of Nevada City. Recording in the space was special, she says. "Having the land and garden right there as we recorded really infused their presence into the album as well."
Another presence on the album is that of electronic musician The Polish Ambassador, also known as David Sugalski, whom Nereo is dating. She says the Oakland, Calif. native would often come by the studio to "weave in beats and give his production advice."
#LOVE 2nd Brand new @Wildlightmusic Acoustic song available on Jumpsuit Records Soundcloud now. https://bit.ly/21Q42to
A photo posted by The Polish Ambassador (@thepolishambassador) on May 10, 2016 at 11:17am PDT
In terms of what makes the two ideal collaborators, she "hmm" twice before responding, filling the pregnant pause. "We love each other."
She then goes on to speak about Wildlight, their collaborative project. Wildlight fuses Nereo's vocals and lyricism with Sugalski's atmospheric production and "dance world beats," as she says, resulting in tracks that could soundtrack daydreams.
Nereo says Wildlight is where the two artists' individual music projects meet, as it acts as a bridge to deliver their music to a whole different audience. "Maybe some of [his fans] wouldn't listen to my acoustic stuff or maybe some of [my fans] wouldn't listen to dance music per say," Nereo says, "but they really like that meeting."
Wildlight came about organically, as the two initially had no plans of collaborating. "We started our relationship and decided to not collaborate, because we didn't want to potentially complicate anything," Nereo says. Though when Sugalski asked for a song of hers to remix (which later became "Live Inside A Dream," off The Polish Ambassador's 2013 album Ecozoic) she says "songs just started happening involuntarily. "So then Wildlight was born from that, and it's become a project that just gets to exist organically that way, when we genuinely feel inspired to co-create together."
Fortunately for fans, when inspiration hits the result is always worth the wait. "As partners we're constantly supporting each other creatively in all our projects," Nereo says. "But on a musical level, I think we're both personally very driven with our music to connect in with the earth, and to really be of service to this planet and to all [its] creatures."
Nereo and Sugalski also work with the non-profit ActionDays.us, which works with local farmers and aims to inspire the creation of community gardens and foster a connection between the environment and music.