For Toronto artist TIAYL, 2018 was a year of personal trials surrounding the idea of letting go, and those lessons have culminated in her new EP III fold. The project is the fourth self-produced release from the vocalist and producer formerly known as Xolisa, whose new moniker hasn't changed her signature sound of earthy, captivating instrumentals and emotionally honest songwriting. For her, like so many others, music has always been a medium that is well suited for expressing complex emotions, from life's greatest elation to the most somber blues.
We recently spoke with TIAYL (pronounced "tie-yal") about a range of topics including her stage name change and her process for creating III fold. The move away from using her birth name Xolisa allowed her to separate her artistic identity and her personal life. "Creating an artist name allowed me to build a mental separation between the two and also allowed me to build new boundaries on how others approached me in my personal life and within the music industry," she says. "Changing my stage name meant reclaiming Xolisa the person, taking back my birth name and just building a healthier foundation for myself on all fronts." In addition to providing a more clearly identified artistic persona, the name TIAYL is an acronym that stands for "Trust in all your light." She chose the phrase to provide, "a constant, inescapable reminder to trust in what I got. Trust in what I possess. TIAYL reminds me to create, live, be, love, experience as my authentic self, without shame, without fear, without doubt." She uses that credo as a guide through the three songs on III fold, each of which examines different approaches to letting go.
While creating music has been commonly used as a form of catharsis through adversity, TIAYL took it a step further by writing and producing III fold in the midst of significant strife: "My norm is to create when I've reached a place of distance and detachment and can reflect on a challenging experience from an observer's standpoint. With III fold though, I chose to re-direct all of the real-time anger, pain, confusion, and fear of letting go and convert those emotions into the creative energy of music. This helped me to move through those experiences and find a level of peace." The rawness from these experiences is palpable throughout the EP and her journey toward peace will undoubtedly resonate with listeners.
In the opening track "Her," TIAYL ruminates on letting go by choice, as she closes the door on a negative friendship. Over gentle, bubbling instrumentals, she also addresses a higher power on the track, peaking on the phrase, "I thank you for the strength to stand up for all I deserve to demand, oh, for giving me this fire to tend." The line encapsulates the idea that while adversity presents considerable challenges, it is also a gift that pushes us toward greater fulfillment.
The second song "1139" picks up the thread of spirituality from "Her," as TIAYL examines the practice of letting go as an act of surrender to a metaphysical power. She describes the concept of "surrender" as, "a form of letting go of control, letting go of the need for everything to have to make sense on a logical and factual level. It means trusting that despite not having all of the answers, things will fall into place. It means listening and remaining open to guidance, help, and support from a source outside of the physical." She communicates these messages gorgeously on "1139" over a minimal, guitar-driven production that showcases her buttery vocal layering.
The EP closes with the heartbreaking "IDK," in which TIAYL grapples with the loss of a loved one to suicide. With a pulsing, atmospheric beat, she confronts the pain of the loss as well as the choice of suicide, ending the track with the question, "Is peace really yours now?" TIAYL mentions that the EP features an unprecedented level of emotional honesty as compared to her previous works, stating, "When I wrote these songs, they were written without the thought of sharing them and in that, it allowed me to be more uncensored, more experimental than I normally allow myself to be. I chose to record them in their true rawness." The gut-wrenching "IDK" is perhaps the most salient example of TIAYL processing grief in real time.
Although the three tracks on III fold deal with separate challenging aspects of the human experience, TIAYL reminds us of the interconnectedness of the different approaches to letting go: "The process of letting go is in no way a linear, neatly categorized, black and white experience. In each song, you hear different elements of the other approaches. To let go requires a choice, surrender and some force. These three songs represent those three aspects and yet embody them all at the same time."
In only three songs, III fold is an absolute feat of emotional strength and brilliant musicianship, and it is hopefully just the beginning of a new era of creative exploration and output from TIAYL. She describes the future opportunities that are possible with her new persona: "Because I'm still in this space of transition due to my name change, I've been exploring more of the sounds that I'm connected to including House, Soul, Afro House, Soca and Neo Soul. This year will be a dope experience of taking 'III fold' to the stage to connect with my listeners in person, as well as releasing new singles, bite sized projects and visuals outside of III fold." With her surging musical capabilities and impactful emotional perspective, the larger music community should be on the lookout for TIAYL.
Photo credit: Eric Isadas