Canadian Experimental Project Chiiild Is on the Rise
With his vulnerable and intimate music style, the band's front man Yoni Ayal is the new voice of contemporary R&B.
by : Yang Shi- Mar 2nd, 2023
Growing up in the suburbs of Montreal in the 1990s, Yoni Ayal spent most of his time playing basketball and making beats in his friends’ basements. His early musical influences were a medley of Ethiopian classics and FM radio—two things his parents listened to at home. A gifted musician, he is a classically trained pianist who studied at the prestigious Royal Conservatory in Toronto. He also spent some time in New York City before settling in his current home, in Los Angeles, in 2014. Despite having a difficult first year in L.A. as he built up his reputation, the multi-talented artist branched out quickly and even caught the ear of pop icons like Usher and Jennifer Lopez. In 2017, after Ayal moved back to Montreal, he formed the experimental project Chiiild with producer, guitarist and overall musical force Pierre-Luc Rioux. Drawing on eclectic soundscapes, Chiiild creates soul music that has hints of psychedelia layered with Ayal’s hopeful vocals. Three albums, an opening act for Leon Bridges and a headlining performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival later, Ayal is eager to continue his sonic expansion. We recently caught up with the Canadian rising star, who’s now back living in L.A., to talk about touring again and his desire to support homegrown talents.
ON THE ALBUM THAT MADE THE BIGGEST IMPRESSION ON HIM
“When I was younger, I would share CDs with my friends, and that’s when I discovered Never Say Never by Brandy. It was the first time I’d heard an album with so much vulnerability.”
ON MOVING TO L.A.
“At first, I was just excited about what could happen—I had no money, no connections. I would wake up, go get coffee and make beats on my headphones. Eventually, I started meeting people who would help build my initial creative community. I paid close attention to what they were doing and listened to [figure out] how I could fit in. People started noticing my potential. That’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned: Surround yourself with the right people because they will dictate your trajectory.”
ON THE NAME OF HIS BAND
“All things creative come from your inner child. When you’re a kid, you see the world as limitless. You start losing that spark as you grow up, so you have to feed it. The three i’s represent the concept of several people working together to make art. It takes a village to raise a child.”
ON CHIIILD’S JUNO-NOMINATED ALBUM, HOPE FOR SALE
“On the surface, I think the record has this feeling of optimism. It tries to reassure itself that the best is yet to come.”
ON WHAT SONG OF HIS TO LISTEN TO FIRST
“I would say start with “Pirouette,” from the album Synthetic Soul. It connects you directly to the words, the melody and the voice. We might as well speak softly and get to know each other.”
ON HIS CREATIVE PROCESS
“A big part of my morning ritual is writing lyrics. I cruise around the canyon in L.A., listen to a voice note or a demo and spitball lines. Then I go back to the studio and transcribe; that ’s a big part of the lyrics. In terms of the music, it usually starts with a sound and an ambience. As soon as I get a feeling, I grab the bass guitar and start singing. I cycle through the lines with the basic melody until it hits, and we’re on our way.”
ON THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT OF HIS 2022 APOCALYPTIC OPTIMISTIC TOUR
“How can I not go with [performing in] Montreal? Everyone who worked on [Chiiild’s music] is from there—it’s the hometown show. People in the audience know the whole story. Pierre-Luc [Rioux] and I connected in Montreal, and we both wanted to build a bridge back home so we could continue to bring on other talents through our art and help guide them along the way. L.A. made me who I am—it feels good to be back as a more fulfilled version of myself, a version that can give back.”
ON WHAT HIS FANS MADE HIM REALIZE
“That they exist. When we came out of the pandemic, our record was on the internet and that was it. So it was surreal to see people dancing to and singing our songs. You come out of a tour with a completely different energy after that experience. All these people are connected to what you’ve created, which makes your art much more meaningful.”
ON RAISING THE BAR FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF BLACK ARTISTS
“I think ‘representation’ is a great word. All you need is to see yourself represented—the feeling you get from that is powerful. [For example], The Weeknd’s music is constantly getting more unique, which inspires me. [In terms of my own music], I don’t think about how I make others feel; I stick to my values and push those as far as possible [creatively]. It’s up to listeners to extract the feeling they want—my work moves people for different reasons.”
ON WHAT’S NEXT
“My new album, Better Luck in the Next Life, is coming out. I’m working on refining my sound, and I feel like I’m still making my first albums. I want to create more honest and dynamic tracks that better represent who I am.”
Better Luck in the Next Life is out on March 3 via Avant Garden/4th & Broadway (Def Jam Recordings, Inc.)
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