Artist Spotlight: Chris Ayer
From Amsterdam to Pinecrest: globetrotting singer/songwriter/guitarist/TV star Chris Ayer’s never-ending tour comes to Bear Music Fest!
“The Make A Band Famous show gave us all these creative challenges; we were driving all over New York playing weird shows, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone in a way that felt creative. Like they gave us a box of toy instruments and we had to play a cover with those, so my bassist had a little Casio keyboard and I had maracas tied to my ankles and we were playing an Alanis Morrisette song at 2 in the morning.” - Chris Ayer
You’ve been sort of a late bloomer, artistically. What’s your musical background?
"Well, my parents played a ton of music around the house. Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor - singer/songwriters and folk music from the sixties and seventies - that was the stuff I remember being in my subconscious brain. Then my dad got really good at bluegrass banjo; he’d play speed licks and I would run around the living room in circles until I fell over. So there was this folky, bluegrass American old-time thing that I really loved."
“Then when I was 11, I found my dad’s old radio in the basement and at night I’d pretend to go to sleep but really listen to the top 10 at 10 on DC 101. Bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, other bands that my parents were not into me listening to - I just found so much meaning in my life doing that. You’re 11 years old and these bands are talking to YOU."
"When I was 18, I started writing songs, and it's always been a way to sort out confusing feelings. Lyricism is a big part of why I write; the lyrical side rewards a relationship with the music, almost like a puzzle that starts to reveal itself. But the music also has to say what you’re trying to say in an almost subconscious, emotional, guttural way the first time you hear it, and that has to work for any of the lyrical stuff to even matter - the music kind of invites you into that world."
You were a finalist on the music reality show ‘Make A Band Famous’; what was that like, and did that give your career a boost?
“Sleep deprivation was a big part of it. It was a rigorous process where you go through a series of challenges and it’s all filmed. It pushed me out of my comfort zone in a way that felt creative. We were driving all over New York playing weird shows. Like they gave us a box of toy instruments and we had to play a cover with those, so my bassist had a Casio keyboard and I had maracas tied to my ankles and we were playing an Alanis Morrisette song at two in the morning. Or we’d go to the corner and busk and make as many tips as we could. Or you’d have two hours to write a song in the middle of the night; and Bonnie McKee, who’s written with Katy Perry, came by at the end and was giving us notes."
“Tyson Ritter was the host and he’s kept in touch afterwards. Adam Blackstone - who’s a great bassist, and music director for Justin Timberlake - was my coach, and he would always get in touch when he was in New York to hang out. There was a real mentoring that came out of it, as well as a huge amount of exposure, a cool infusion of attention and enthusiasm for my music. It really jumpstarted a lot of stuff for me creatively; I started to feel like I was getting a shot to do things I had not previously been invited to."
You’ve played over 1,000 shows in the last few years, largely in Europe. What has that experience been like?
"I’ve done a lot of solo touring, opening for other people, whatever I could get, sometimes two shows a day. It was a little crazy, but I’m scaling back a little just so I don’t burn out. But even the bar gigs on a Tuesday at 1am in NYC really help me, because I started relatively late as an artist, to get comfortable and build a vocabulary to get things across in a live setting. I’ve had the opportunity to see places I could never have visited otherwise. People always laugh at me because I’ll say “where’s the nearest castle?”, when they’re passing three castles on the way to the grocery store and don’t care about it. To me it’s so novel and exciting to be around all this history."
What are you looking forward to at the Bear Music Festival?
“Festivals can be so disconnected and surreal; you play a thing and then you disappear, and there are barriers between you and the audience, and you’re like, ‘I don’t really know what’s going on here’. So for Bear Music Fest, I’m excited about hanging out and interacting with people, and trying out different songs, or arrangements of songs, maybe one acoustic set and one rock set. I’d also love to do some songwriting workshops; it’s fun for me to talk about sounds of words, showing and not telling, stuff like that."