Often you hear people say “I want to be doing this” or “I want to be doing that” without really doing anything about it. Danny Schmittler, aka AYER is not one of those people. It was just over a year and a half ago that he left his comfortable management position at a very successful blog and embarked on a career in the music industry. With the recent release of his six-track EP, In My Headphones, and his latest video release, which was co-directed by Steve Benisty and Rick Day, he can rightfully say “I did it!”
Note: The above video contains images that may not be appropriate for viewing in work or other sensitive environments.
Interview by Leah Mersky
Photography by Idris + Tony
Makeup by Michael Anthony
“I went through a long phase of knowing I had a talent, but not knowing how to package it, or how to make a living from it.”
Tell us about yourself.
Well, I grew up in Southern California, about 25 minutes from LA, and had a pretty ideal childhood really. My mother put me into community theatre when I was three years old, and I really clicked with it. It was a fun and free childcare alternative she tells me, but I did love spending my time singing and what not. I spent my formative years either in school or doing something in entertainment. I caught the creative bug early on, on sets of commercials or music videos, I was in a Kris Kross video actually.
To be very truthful, my father was diagnosed with Hepatitis C right before my freshman year in high school, so we moved to Michigan, where his family lived. They told me and my siblings we were going on vacation and then they were like, “we’re not going back to California!” It was kind of scarring! But it served its purpose, because I was able to focus on choral singing, and classical vocal training, without much distraction. Not a lot going on in Michigan, especially in the winters.
I made it my mission to get to New York as soon as humanly possible after that. I applied and then got into NYU early decision when I was 17, and have been here ever since.
When did you start producing music?
I went through a long phase of knowing I had a talent, but not knowing how to package it, or how to make a living from it. It occurred to me that I should look for the answer in my musical interests, and what I thought was coolest you know? And that was indie electronic music. This was five or six years ago, and Spotify and Pandora had just taken off at this point. I just really wanted to make music that I could have on their stations and playlists that I was already listening to. I started looking for electronic producers, and I tried a whole bunch of them that didn’t work out. After some pretty bad records, I focused on craigslist looking for collaborators with indie success. I eventually met Micky Valen, we worked well together and he helped me create the AYER “sound.” We worked together for almost a year before he and I found something we were comfortable releasing. Since then I’ve been very fortunate to work with many awesome electronic producers.
I realized that in addition to writing music, I’m really good at articulating sound, so that’s become a major part of my writing process, directing or producing other producers by what I hear in my head. There really is no shortage of words we can use to describe sounds.
“It’s about stripping yourself down and allowing yourself to follow your true human person.”
I would describe your music today as synth pop. Where do you look for inspiration?
Anything that sounds like Donna Lewis’s song, I Love You Always Forever..? But really, I like romantic synth pop that is flowy and atmospheric. I put together a playlist on Spotify, In My Headphones, that sums up my taste. It’s disco, electro, dancey, vibey moody stuff. I love Bon Iver, Stevie Knicks…I love lush vocals, catchy hooks and personal lyrics.
What was the goal behind your Digital Fantasy music video?
One of my primary goals in general is to create make music and content that is accessible to everyone. Similarly, Steve Benisty, Rick Day and I all agreed that we should have a wide array of personalities and humans to tell the song’s story – not only because it helped convey what we were trying to say, but also, why wouldn’t you want that? This is my heaven right now. Every single person is different and has a story to tell. I think that was the ultimate goal behind the music video, to say you know, we’re all the same, we all–each and every one of us–want something to feel, something that’s real.
I want to be in that video.
I live in that video. Honestly it’s my most prized possession. It’s the story of transformation – for whatever application the viewer wants to give it. It’s about stripping yourself down and allowing yourself to follow your true human person.
You write all your songs- does it come from a personal place?
I use personal experience to inform my lyrics, for sure. I try and distill what I’m feeling down to the simplest and most meaningful expression, though, to make my music, but more so my lyrics, adaptable to a variety of human experiences.
“I might see the world in sounds…”
What about your hurdles?
I feel like I’m my own biggest hurdle. I’ve always battled self-confidence issues, and in this way I’m always second-guessing myself.
Where would you like to go from here?
I’m making collaboration a cornerstone of my career, because it’s the most fun for me. To go into a writing session and create music with, in most cases, someone I’ve never met before, is such an amazing thing. It’s the best way to learn as well, collaboration. I’d like to look for people that have a unique way of making music to work with. People with a genuine, heart-felt appeal.
Are you touring?
I have four shows coming up at Pianos bar in the Lower East Side. I am curating four to six different acts in addition to my own extended sets. I’m going to do a different set every night if I can. Also, bubble guns and flamingos because I can. It starts on Tuesday June 2nd and continues for the three Tuesdays after that!
What role does music play in your life?
I might see the world in sounds, I mean, music to me is like colors. Some people see red, I hear it. It’s also the most successful way for me to communicate with myself and others. I’m so in love with music, I mean…it’s music, what’s not to like?