In 2015, Ayla Tesler-Mabe posted her first cover to YouTube, soulfully playing John Mayall’s Bluebreakers “Hideaway.” Fast forward four years, the now 18-year-old boasts a following of over 300k on Instagram, plays to sold out crowds, and finds her name featured in Rolling Stone magazine. Driven by a deep passion for music, Ayla has developed into a professional guitarist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer, garnering millions of views on her YouTube videos from people all over the world. Her rise to instrumental success has helped her land her current gig playing guitar alongside childhood friend and Stranger Things star, Finn Wolfhard, in the twangy rock band Calpurnia. When she’s not jamming with Calpurnia she’s busy with her other project Ludic, a more soulful funk band.
We had the opportunity to speak with Ayla about her musical inspirations, tour life, and her unwavering love for Clif Bars.
Q & A with Ayla Tesler-Mabe
EB: How did you get your start in the music industry?
ATM: I played my very first paying gig right after my 13th birthday. I was on bass in an all-kids Led Zeppelin tribute band, and we got to play at the Vancouver Art Gallery a few times. From that moment on, I knew with unwavering certainty that I wanted to spend the rest of my life playing music! Soon thereafter, I began posting videos of me playing covers of songs I loved on social media, which in turn led to opportunities to connect with incredible people in the industry, people that I never would’ve even dreamed I’d be able to work with.
EB: What was your earliest memory of music?
ATM: Since I was a newborn baby (and still to this day!), I like to fall asleep to classical music. Mozart’s work, and in particular his aptly named composition Eine kleine Nachtmusik, was in constant rotation as my first choice nighttime tune. I recall listening to that piece over and over again every night until I finally knew every twist and turn of the intertwining melodies and arrangement better than I knew the alphabet at the time!
EB: Who has been your biggest inspiration in music?
ATM: It certainly is difficult to choose only one, but it would be amiss to not mention the astronomical impact The Beatles have had on me. They ignited my love of music, and to this day remain an endless source of inspiration. Even though I’ve listened to their discography an uncountable number of times, I still find myself hearing new nuances I have never heard before, and still can’t help but listen with the same enthralled wonderment as I did the first time I heard their music all those years ago. They changed music forever!
EB: This career isn’t an easy one. What inspires you to wake up every morning to write, record, and perform?
ATM: It is both daunting and incredibly exciting to be at such an early point in my career. I certainly can’t say that I am as weather-worn and experienced as many of the amazing musicians whose footsteps I am trying my best in follow. However, even in my limited time spent on the road and the 12-hour days locked up in a recording studio, I sometimes need to remind myself of what I love about music so I can motivate myself to keep pushing forward and give 110% in all that I do. It’s inspiring to think that I have yet to write my best music, and as I continue to understand the guitar more, the more I can see how much I don’t know. It’s that thirst to always be better and reach that next level in my artistry and musical expression that gets me to hop out of bed and try to push myself further.
EB: What is your best memory on stage?
ATM: As incredible as it is playing for people you don’t know who just love your music, there is is something very special about playing to important people in your life like family and friends. Unfortunately, my current gigging situation makes this rather difficult more often than not. When I’m not playing in totally foreign cities and countries where my friends and family are far away, I’m playing in my hometown Vancouver, where almost every venue is 19+. I’m still in high school, so a lot of my friends are not legally able to come out to see me play. However, one of my bands, Calpurnia, had the opportunity to play two nights at The Vogue Theatre this last December and all of my under-19 friends and family could finally be there. Just because of the way the stage is lit at that venue, I could see every single one of them in the crowd and got to play to them the entire time. That was amazing!
EB: What’s the most abnormal thing you can’t do without on tour?
ATM: Crunchy Peanut Butter Clif Bars! However, unless you happen to be a high-performance athlete who needs a dense daily dose of superfood nutrition before an insane workout, they sadly aren’t quite as nutritious as we’d all like to think they are. But they’re so delicious. Also quite helpful when the tour schedule gets hectic and you don’t have time to grab a proper lunch. But yes, they taste insanely good.
EB: What was that pivotal moment in your career when you realized you knew this is what you wanted to do?
ATM: There was a part of me that always knew that I wanted to be a musician, even before I had picked up an instrument. I think when I started performing live, I knew undoubtedly that this was something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I started noticing how I was able to connect with people in the crowd through my music. It was such an amazing feeling to see that my music was connecting with some people in that way, and I couldn’t see myself wanting to do anything else but that!
EB: How does playing music make you feel? How do you want people to feel when listening to your music?
ATM: I know this might be a cliche answer, but the feeling really is indescribable. Music has the ability to touch people in such an unfathomably profound way, and actually having the capacity to create music that might touch people that deeply really is the most inspiring feeling in the world. I just hope I can move even just one person who listens to my music the way that my favourite music has moved me.
EB: What made you choose your Music Man and how does your instrument inspire you to create your signature sound?
ATM: The Valentine is truly one of the most versatile instruments I’ve ever played. Versatility in an instrument is very important to me as I love playing many different styles of music ranging from jazz to funk to rock and beyond, and the inspiration that comes from being able to play an instrument that really doesn’t have any boundaries has transformed the way I play guitar. Also, the Valentine has this uncanny ability to both completely cut through the mix and still be one of the most sonically rich guitars I’ve ever heard. The roasted maple neck doesn’t hurt either!
EB: What is one piece of advice that you would give someone trying to jumpstart their career in music?
ATM: The harder you work the luckier you get. It’s a well known fact that the music industry is fundamentally built on connections, who you know and who knows you, so I think that the more you put yourself out there and establish yourself as an artist that people want to work with and take interest in, the more likely it is that certain opportunities will arise for you. When I was first trying to get things going for myself, I tried to go to every local jam in my city and play with as many different musicians as possible. I also put videos of my playing out onto social media, in the hopes that I was building a sort of “online résumé” for myself. Try to be the hardest working musician you know!
EB: What’s next for you/your projects?
ATM: I’m hoping that 2019 is the year that I can get a whole lot more of my music out to the world. By the time this comes out, one of my projects, Calpurnia (which is more on the “rock” side of things), will have released another single and accompanying music video. We’re hoping to have an album recorded and released sometime this year, which would be amazing! We also have some really cool shows and festivals booked for the next few months, which I’m so grateful and excited about. As for my other project, Ludic (more on the “funky/jazzy/soul” oriented side of things), we have our debut single coming out in early April, as well as some more singles and an album on the way. Once I’m done high school in June, I hope to be able to revert back to my 10-hours-a-day practice and songwriting schedule. I can’t wait.