Friday, May 8, 2009

No sleep 'til Brooklyn

By Meredith Deliso

(Published in the 5.7 issue of 24/Seven)

Chris Ayer may have produced his last two albums in Nashville, pulling from the community of musicians down there to fill in his folk-rock pop sound, but Brooklyn’s the place where he wants to be.

“I like the variety of people there [in Nashville]. It’s a nice little oasis,” says the Park Slope-based musician. “But I love New York, not what it does for you as a songwriter, but the circle of musicians I’ve gotten to know.”

Since moving to New York four years ago, the singer-songwriter has delved into the local scene, getting involved in the New York Songwriters Circle and participating in their own songwriting competition, as well as the Williamsburg Songwriting Competition with his John Lennon Songwriting Contest-winning song “Evaporate,” off his debut album “This Is The Place.”

“The songwriters circle that I do a lot of my stuff with – there’s a certain vibe to it, it’s definitely old school,” says Ayer. “The Williamsburg Songwriting Competition – there was so much more experimentation with the songwriting. It’s fun to do that – you look at yourself differently.”

To promote the release of his sophomore album, “Don’t Go Back To Sleep,” produced with Jason Gantt (The Chieftains, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill) and out later this summer, Ayer will be heading to one of his usual hangs, Manhattan’s The Bitter End. He’ll be there May 13 for an acoustic set, a stripped-down version of the work he’s accomplished with this band in Nashville.

“I got excited about bringing in different instruments on the record – that was an experiment for me,” says Ayer of the recording process. “As a songwriter, it will be just the guitar or piano and me doing lyrics. On this record, I got to expand that sound and feel more confident about that final product. I still love writing melodic, pop influenced, folky music, but this is pulling from a bigger range.”

Rather than guitars and drums merely filling in the sound, Ayer really wanted his musicians to truly experiment and have the instruments shape the songs.

“For this record, I feel like there’s more purpose,” says Ayer, “like, ‘This song I want this harmonium part to play through the whole song.’”

Not only that, borrowing a method from Bob Dylan, Ayer had the musicians switch their instruments for some songs, so the harmonium might be played by the bass player, or the drummer will be on the organ. Their five days in the studio was “organized chaos,” with his pianist breaking out the bassoon, horn players coming in, a harmonium added to the mix, as well as a toy piano and toy drum kit, that on the song “Roy G. Biv.”

“That song references bluegrassy, ‘60s folk a little bit – it’s not like the rest of my record,” says Ayer. “I figured, let’s do something different.”

When not working on his own sound, Ayer can be found collaborating with musician friends from the New York Songwriters Circle, such as singing with Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter John Schmitt and his funk R&B cover band, as well as having songwriting sessions with Hillary Johnson.

Of course, the focus ison his own work right now and trying not to cross the bridge as much.
“I’m hoping with this record release, I will do some residency stuff in this part of town,” says Ayer, who’s a fan of venues like Union Pool, Southpaw and Union Hall. “I spent most of the last two years out of town half the time, so this summer I get to hang out on the East Coast and play hopefully some weekly, frequent gigs.”

Chris Ayer plays The Bitter End (147 Bleecker St. in Manhattan) on May 13 at 8:45 p.m. Cost TBD. For more information, call 212-673-7030.


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