She recorded her first EP when she was just 13 years old and went on to impress international audiences with her songwriting prowess at the age of 16. Now in her 20s, songbird Ayla Scanlan holds the key to musical greatness.
With wet hair and not a stitch of make-up on, Ayla Scanlan walks through the door at her local coffee shop, and introduces herself with a warm embrace. While she’s a jitter of nerves, she fails to show it; this fresh-faced 20-year-old songbird remains demure and humble as she navigates her rise to stardom.
Performing under the moniker of her first name, Ayla is all about the music and feels more comfortable on stage in front of her legion of fans than she does in an intimate interview setting. But given her flourishing popularity, it’s something she’s getting used to and settles into the conversation as she sips on her cappuccino.
Ayla grew up on her parent’s farm in Cooroy, where she capitalised on the abundance of inspiration around her from an early age.
“I was always making up little songs in the car when I was really young,” she says.
“I grew up on the farm, so I really like animals – I own 12 cows, we have mostly cows and I used to have a horse and we’ve had all kinds of animals; pigs, goats, geese, ducks and chickens and we have some camels!
“We’ve got another farm in Rockhampton and the camels keep the dingoes away from the cows, they’re ‘guard camels’ and they eat the weeds and stuff too, so they’re really handy.”
As a Year 3 student at Noosa Christian College, Ayla’s musical talent was fostered when her teacher encouraged her class to buy a $20 ukulele each, and it wasn’t long before she upgraded to guitar and continued composing songs.
“It’s always been a way of expressing myself and that hasn’t changed, but I was pretty lucky to grow up on the farm, that made for a pretty good place to write songs,” she says, “we were on the top of the hill so we had a nice outlook.”
The first time I ever heard Wish I Was being played I was on the highway and I pulled over because I was so excited.”
In more recent years, Ayla’s paperback songbook has been replaced with a notes app on her phone, jotting down verses and melodic phrases as they spring to mind.
And Ayla’s dexterity with songwriting was quickly recognised when her song Talk About Home was shortlisted in the International Song Writing Competition in 2012, when she was just 16. The following year, Ayla once again made it into the finals, this time with her song Wish I Was.
At the beginning of 2014, Ayla released the latter single through Triple J Unearthed and began catching people’s attention through regular airplay.
“The first time I ever heard Wish I Was being played I was on the highway and I pulled over because I was so excited, I didn’t know what to do, whether to listen to it or not,” she says.
“I usually hear the first bit and get excited and then I turn it off.”
Then in 2015, Ayla released another two songs Waiting and When The World Ends, which were both added to regular rotation on Triple J, who late last year invited her into the studio for the coveted weekly segment Like a Version, in which she covered the Hunters and Collectors’ Throw Your Arms Around Me.
Of her song choice, Ayla says, “I’ve always liked that song, my mum sings the chorus of it around the house sometimes, so I’ve always had a special place for it”.
Ayla has also been polishing her stage performances, supporting various artists including The John Steel Singers, Katie Noonan and Husky, before hitting the road to tour the east coast of Australia, playing shows in Sydney, Melbourne and wrapping in Brisbane – in the midst of all that she also released her EP When The World Ends in November, the same month as her 20th birthday.
“I don’t really get nervous about performing, I’ve been doing it a lot and it’s something I enjoy so much, it’s the other stuff that I get nervous about,” she says candidly.
Now at home, Ayla is back into the swing of writing, teaming up with fellow Sunny Coast songstress Katie Noonan, along with other artists in Sydney. The end result will hopefully transpire into another EP or fully-fledged album release.
“When I was younger I did do another EP before this one, but that one stays in Mum and Dad’s garage! That was when I was 13,” she says with a bashful laugh.
Having enlisted the production skills of Elliot Heinrich from Heliport Studios in Buderim for her debut EP, Ayla is rounding out her skills as an artist and is currently studying production at university in Brisbane.
WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?
When I was little I listened to a lot of Neil Young and John Denver, because my dad really likes them and I think they’re both great songwriters. I’ve always liked John Mayer because I think he has the whole package in that he writes great songs, plays really well and has a great voice. And I really like female artists like Sarah Blasko, Norah Jones, Florence and Sia.
Ayla has also reverted to her roots, picking up the ukulele again (albeit a more expensive one this time), and doing cover gigs around the Sunshine Coast under a secret guise, “Living the double life,” she says with a laugh.
Having purchased Ayla’s EP the day before our interview and awaiting its postage, she tells me she has some in her car, and pulls out a vintage wicker picnic basket, plucks a cd from its tartan lining and offers to sign it, swiftly fishing around her handbag for a pen.
“Dear Nicole, Thanks! Ayla,” she scribes.