Calpurnia’s Ayla Tesler-Mabe: It All Started with 15 Seconds

Photo Credit: Leeor Wild

“Kids today…” That’s a phrase every generation has said about the previous one since the dawn of time. It’s usually paired with an eye roll and a scoff, but I can’t honestly do that when I look at those younger than me. Not when they’re truly doing things at their age my peers were far from doing. Especially the young women out there. Whether it’s being vocal AF about politics, making remarkable television or slaying the music scene – young women like Ayla Tesler-Mabe of Calpurnia are proof that we can no longer roll our eyes at those younger than us.

Influenced by The Beatles and Paul McCartney as a whole, Ayla first picked up the bass to emulate her favorite. Soon after listening to “Something” she knew that was it. She remembers, “I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life making music,” adding about her instrumental switch, “As I fell more and more in love with playing the guitar, all I really wanted to do was go to a place where everyone loved music. Playing in a band had always been a dream of mine, and so spending part of my summer at a music camp was a no-brainer for me.”

Music camp and playing with friends, that became her norm as she found three like-minded musicians to jam with. She spent a few years playing together Finn Wolfhard and Malcolm Craig and playing with Jack Anderson on her own. So when the four came together there was a bit of history that connected them. That history soon became their present as they are now looking forward to their future. One that includes their upcoming EP, Scout. Out June 15, Scout is just the beginning and we talked with Ayla about everything from her start on an app we use every day to playing sold out shows around the US.

Kendra: Your generation is one of the first to really take advantage of technology in a way that fuels creative passions, but did you have any reservations about putting yourself on a platform like YouTube at first?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: Funnily enough, I think I have more reservations now then I did back then. I actually started posting videos on Instagram first (Jack was the one who convinced me to do it!), and at the time you were only able to post 15-second clips. As I started to improve as a musician, I didn’t have many opportunities to perform live and share my music at the time. So I figured I’d record a few longer videos of me playing and post them on YouTube. It’s so incredible to be able to reach people from practically anywhere in the world because music truly is a universal language that transcends any boundary people might try to put up between each other. That being said, it can at times be a little daunting that anyone can say literally anything about you and your music, and it’s not always positive or respectful. As an artist, you need to have faith in your art and know that not everyone is going to enjoy or appreciate what you create.

Kendra: What was your initial reaction when your videos started to take off?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: For me, the goal has always been to move people with my music the way my favourite music has moved me. I couldn’t believe that there were actual, real people who connected to the music I was making, even if they were only my interpretations of music written by other artists. I really can’t think of anything more rewarding or inspiring than that.

Kendra: Fast forward to some chance encounters and Calpurnia is formed. How long did it take for your four personalities, work ethic and inspirations to really start jiving once you sat down and started working on original music?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: Once we all got together, the guys immediately hit it off. Though we obviously didn’t sound all too good in the beginning, the musical chemistry was there from the very first time we played together. The energy between the four of us just really works. After we had a few rehearsals and played at Strange 80’s last May, we all knew that it was time to start writing together. The ideas started pouring out of us and taking form almost immediately. The six songs on the EP are the first six songs we wrote together, which I think speaks to that musical chemistry.

Kendra: I wanted to ask if you guys write from a teenage perspective, and then I was listening and reading what you had to say about your current single “Louie.” You all come from a very mature mindset. Where does that lyrical maturity come from?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: I suppose maturity, in general, might just come from life experience, which isn’t necessarily determined by your age. I think maybe we’ve seen certain things around us, whether it be in art such as film or in our actual lives, that comes out in our music in some way. Even if you’ve never experienced exactly what you’re writing about, perhaps you’ve seen and experienced enough to tell a believable story that does draw on real moments from your life.

Kendra: Listening to “Louie” and “City Boy” back to back, “Louie” seems to have a more DIY feel to it while “City Boy” has a more crystal finish. Would you say Scout goes back and forth between the grit of DIY and the more polished indie rock?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: Yeah, the EP definitely explores a few different atmospheres and tones. Whatever fitted the song! I’d say a lot of it breaks free of the traditional indie rock sound, and to me, each song is really quite different from the others. I think it’s awesome that people will be able to listen to six songs that all touch on different styles and moods.

Kendra: Speaking of Scout, you guys are Vancouver based but spent a little less than two weeks recording the EP down in Chicago. Did you guys get a chance to be tourists while in the Windy City or was it all business?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: Aside from Thanksgiving, when we had the day off, it was all business! We got to walk by the river, look around some parts of the city and eat out at a delicious restaurant that night. Also, we did make a quick excursion to the Chicago Music Exchange on one of our last days, which was a total blast.

Kendra: Fans will soon get Scout in June. Soon after you’ll play a sold-out show in Los Angeles, just a month or so after playing a sold-out show in Atlanta. Do you feel any sort of pressure knowing that when you walk out onstage it’s going to be packed wall to wall?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: I feel pressure anytime I play, whether it’s to a packed crowd or just a few people because I’ve always been really hard on myself. But I’d say that it’s more exciting than anything. The support has been overwhelmingly encouraging so far, and I can only hope that people will enjoy hearing the music live even more after hearing the way we laid the songs down in the studio.

Kendra: Are there any performers you look up to solely based on their stage presence that you think of when you play?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: I’ve never actively tried to emulate him on stage because I’m just not quite as cool as he was (not even close!!), but I think Jimi Hendrix was such an incredibly captivating performer. He was the total package as an artist, from the way he dressed to his humility to his astoundingly good music, but even just his stage presence alone was so stirring and fascinating. Obviously, everyone knows him for his outrageous antics on stage, like playing the guitar with his teeth and setting his guitar on fire and all that, but he was so effortlessly cool on stage and just completely commanded your attention. He would be totally lost in the moment, and he left his entire soul on the stage every time he played.

Kendra: After those shows, you have a couple more back in Canada. Anything else coming up you can let your fans know about?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: It’s been fun keeping things under wraps at the moment, but we definitely have some new songs we’ve been working on, some new shows we may not have announced yet, as well as some other really cool projects in the works. I think it’s fun to keep things quiet so you can unexpectedly hit people with something exciting.

Kendra: Being that you are a master of the guitar, if you had to make a mixtape featuring the best guitar solos – ever – what five songs would have to be on it?

Ayla Tesler-Mabe: Master?! I wish, haha. But nonetheless, here are five songs that have totally impacted the way I want to play the guitar and changed my entire perspective on the possibilities of the instrument…

See the Light” -The Jeff Healey Band…Easily some of the most electrifying guitar playing I’ve ever heard in my life. I’ve listened to this song probably over a hundred times at this point and the unbelievable fervency and fire in Jeff Healey’s playing gives me chills literally every. single. time.

Train Kept a Rollin’” -Aerosmith…Almost six minutes of sheer classic rock guitar bliss. The guitar solos, and in particular the fifth and final solo that comes in around the 3:54 mark, are wild, blistering, and everything that rock and roll should be. This is one of the first classic rock songs I ever heard and it totally blew my mind.

Worry, Worry, Worry (Live in Cook County Jail)” -B.B. King…Exquisite tone, lyrical phrasing, and, of course, B.B. King’s iconic vibrato all come together so perfectly to create one of the greatest moments of musical expression ever recorded. You can feel every single note. The guitar solo in this recording taught me the importance of pouring your entire soul into every note that you play.

Since I’ve Been Loving You” -Led Zeppelin…One summer a few years ago, I listened to this song literally every night before I went to sleep. Some nights, I listened to it up to three times in a row. This song has made me cry more times than I could possibly count, and the searing wail of Jimmy Page’s guitar is so soulful and unrestrained it almost feels as if time stops during his solo.

Machine Gun (Live at Fillmore East)” -The Jimi Hendrix Experience…Never have I ever heard guitar playing so transportive and transcendent. With just a guitar, Hendrix is able to make you hear the screams of dying soldiers, the gunfire, and the fear. Undoubtedly some of the most explosive and evocative music ever made.

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