An Ascending Star
By Paul Rigg
Ayla Tesler-Mabe (7th March 2001) is a Canadian-based guitarist and songwriter who by the tender age of 15 had uploaded covers of Pink Floyd’s Time, and Led Zeppelin’s Since I’ve Been Loving You, to YouTube. ‘Nothing too unusual about that’ you might think; until you hear that those songs alone have since clocked up well over seven million views. Her cover of Santana’s Black Magic Woman has racked up a further 4.5 million on its own.
Tesler-Mabe also writes her own songs, which have been heavily viewed as well, and has played in popular bands, Calpurnia and Ludic.
Guitars Exchange catches up with Tesler-Mabe while she is at her home in Vancouver. She has just been listening to Santana’s superlative performance at Woodstock, and is now happy to talk about her love of guitars, her bands, and how someone so young manages to transmit such emotion in a song…
GE: One comment from a fan on your guitar playing is: “This girl is […] going for top ten of all time [guitarists] of either sex some day. The tone, the timing, the way she plays around the beat; she has nailed every classic that I've heard her play.” Another is: “As a lead guitarist myself, she just has the whole thing nailed down, period.” What do you think is that something ‘extra’ that you bring?
AT: Well I suppose it is important to have a technical facility on any instrument, it is critical to spend time learning the scales and arpeggios and learning other people’s songs, but the ultimate aim in doing so is to have a medium through which one can express emotion. I have always approached each and every song foremost thinking about the emotion that the piece is trying to convey, and I always try and have that behind every note I play. I’m sure there are many others who play that way, but maybe that is something that sets me apart in the way I look at music. For me it has always been about how expressive I can possibly make this note and constantly pushing myself further.
GE: Going back to your childhood, you started playing guitar when you were very young. You have said you were inspired by The Beatles ‘Something’ and because of Paul McCartney you started playing bass; what made you switch instrument?
AT: When I was eight I got my first electric guitar and I took two or three lessons; it was a Speyer - some off brand Stratocaster impersonation company - I guess I found it at a local store. I was interested, but at that age I expected a certain immediacy, and with music you have to put in the time and the work. A few years later I started playing the bass and I love playing bass to this day but I remember that every single time I was with a guitarist I would always be looking at what they were doing and in the end people said to me ‘that is what you need to be doing musically.’ I was horrible at first [Laughs] but I was practising and practising and then things slowly started coming together.
GE: What was your first guitar brand?
AT: The first was a Godin LG, which is made by a Canadian company that make beautiful instruments.
GE: You started putting your guitar playing on Instagram and then uploaded Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ when you were 14. It now has well over half a million views; why do you think it struck a chord with your listeners?
AT: Good question; well obviously Pink Floyd is an iconic band that has transcended generations, and I think it must be really cool for people who grew up loving that music to see someone who is young who appreciates it, and also for young people to see someone loving what they are doing so much. People from all walks of life can enjoy it. Everyone loves Pink Floyd; Dark Side of the Moon is a masterpiece. I have listened to it so many times, and I tried to inject that emotion into my playing.
GE: Then when you were 15 you uploaded Led Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’, playing a Gibson Les Paul - which has almost six million views – can you tell us how a 15 year old girl gets the feel for this classic blues rock song?
AT: There was a summer between 8th and 9th grade in High school when I would listen to that song every night at least a few times, and I remember every single time I got complete chills all over my body and it made me cry. It is an incredible song and I just dreamed that I could play it. The emotion of that song is definitely what makes it so powerful; it is something I really connected to. I have lived a privileged life in many respects; I have a great family and I grew up in a wonderful country but I have certainly experienced certain things that forced me to grow up pretty quickly. Maybe not the traditional heartbreak that comes from being in a romantic relationship with someone, but there are other forms of heartbreak and because I have had to go through all of those experiences I was able to connect with that. I always try to take what I have experienced in my life and I try to understand where the songwriter is coming from with their song.
GE: You also do a Santana cover - where you are playing a Gibson ES 390 - called ‘Oye Como Va’ –¿Hablas Español?
AT: ¡Si un poco! My parents are from South America – my Mum was born in Chile and my Dad grew up in Argentina - but I never learnt too much Spanish when I was growing up because my mum thought that my dad was teaching me and my dad thought my mum would! But over time I got a feel for the language and I can definitely understand a lot more than I can speak. I grew up listening to Latin music and that has had a lot of influence on the way I feel rhythm in music.
GE: Your YouTube video in which you play Fender’s American Acoustatonic Telecaster is something very different to what you normally see, and it is very popular; can you tell us how that came about?
AT: First of all I was so excited and humbled that Fender reached out to work with me. It has given me a relationship with them and obviously Fender is one of the most iconic guitar companies, they have changed the landscape of modern music in so many ways. I had conversations with Billy Siegle, an absolutely amazing Artist Relations guy there, and he just goes above and beyond any expectation that an artist might have, and he sent me an email one day just saying they had this new guitar, they had a line up of people promoting it, and they also wanted to add me! So they flew me down to LA and we shot that video and it was amazing. It was a song I wrote and I brought it to my band, Ludic, which is a kind of soul jazz funk pop fusion blend, and at some point I think we’ll release it, probably on our first album.
GE: You sing on Ludic’s ‘My Love’; how did that come about?
AT: I’ve always loved singing. When Ludic started in 2017 My Love was the first song we wrote together and it made sense that I would start singing and Max [Cunningham] would sing the bridge. One thing I really love about Ludic is the artistic freedom we all have within it.
GE: What is happening to Ludic now?
AT: We are constantly writing and recording. We have enough songs for an album but we keep pushing ourselves. Singles are really good for the online algorithms and the consumer market so we will release singles until we feel it is the right time for the album. We are trying to pull together music that comes from influences from the past and from today and we love exploring all types of music; we hope to do something that isn’t quite like anything that’s ever been done before.
GE: On your recent ‘Love Me Like’ video you play your adored 1967 Gretsch. It looked like you were having a lot of fun; what made you choose to play that song?
AT: When it comes to YouTube I am not necessarily thinking about what will get me most views but trying to build a body of work that will reflect who I am as an artist; that’s why I chose it. It’s also the most recent single we released, so it made a lot of sense.
GE: And you also looked like you were having a ball with your six minute run through of rock classics…?
AT: That video was difficult to put together because I had to carefully think through the order of the songs, the arrangement and how I wanted to put everything together in a way that I could film entirely in one take. But, apart from that, it was a lot of fun to do!
GE: And suddenly you switch to bass on Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, play drums on a cover of David Bowie’s Fame, plus do arrangements, filming and editing on a whole load of other videos; I have to ask, what’s going on?
AT: [Laughs] I love exploring other instruments. I played bass before I played guitar and I figured it was fun to pull out the bass. As for drums, cello, vibraphone, or whatever, I love playing new instruments… I just want to try to find a way to make the instrument sound like it does in my head.
GE: You knew Jack Anderson from school and later went to Music camp and met Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things) and Malcolm Craig. You all hit it off and formed what is now your band Calpurnia; can you tell us about that, and how your first EP ‘Scout’ was received?
AT: There was a music camp in Vancouver where I met all of them and we just started jamming and it all worked out. For me it was a really cool experience because they were the first people I really played with. It was a great coincidence how these two different worlds collided. I was really humbled by the response to our first EP, because they were the first songs we wrote together, and obviously we were still early in our development as a band.
GE: But Calpurnia split in November 2019; why was that?
AT: Like in any band there were issues that came up. I was committed to sorting out those issues but others less so, so we decided it was better to all move on to other projects.
GE: Can you tell us about one good thing your YouTube fame has brought you?
AT: It is hard for me to consider myself as famous because my day to day life is pretty much the same, which I feel fortunate about because I know it can become pretty stressful, especially for a young person. But for me, as I want to share my music with as many people as possible, it has been amazing that so many people online have been able to check it out. I have been able to play shows and experience new cultures in places I might never have been to, and that is wonderful.
GE: And one negative thing?
AT: Perhaps the pressure, because there are so many people who have expectations that everything I put out is going to be better and better. I always push myself, because I think that is how the greatest art is created, but there is the added pressure of other people’s expectations.
GE: You recently said your five favourite guitar solos ever were: ‘See the Light’ -The Jeff Healey Band; ‘Train Kept a Rollin’ – Aerosmith; ‘Worry, Worry, Worry’ (Live in Cook County Jail)” - B.B. King; ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ -Led Zeppelin; and ‘Machine Gun (Live at Fillmore East)’ -The Jimi Hendrix Experience… Could you add three more for us?
AT: Yes! Impressions by Wes Montgomery; Crossroads by Cream; and All Right Now by Free.
GE: If you were on a boat with all your guitars and it was sinking; which would you grab first? AT: I think because of the age and how hard it is to find, probably my 1967 Gretsch Double Anniversary.
GE: And which gear would you take with you? AT: My 1973 Fender Twin Reverb. I love all the vintage stuff that I have, which isn’t too much at the moment, but I am hoping to build up my collection.
GE: I am going to choose one more comment from a person who has seen your videos and clearly loved them. One guy simply wrote: “That’s it. I hate my life. Guitar for Sale” - What advice would you give to aspiring guitarists?
AT: [Laughs] Well definitely don’t throw away your guitar! Just know that the beginning is the absolute hardest part because progress is slow, and it is difficult to keep your motivation. But remember that all your favourite guitarists, whoever they were, they all started not knowing anything about how to play. Just keep practising and playing because you love it, perhaps trying different approaches, and you will see progress. Everyone has their own journey.
Guitars Exchange’s interview with Tesler-Mabe closes with a chat about what she has planned for the next year. “The focus will be around being in the studio and recording and writing, in spite of the current difficulties and not being able to tour,” she says. “Also there is a company near Vancouver that is very well known for making music education content, among other things, and I look forward to working closely with them; I’m certainly very excited about that.”