Aileen Bryant: Voice of the Woods

Illustration by Max Littledale

Illustration by Max Littledale

It’s late summer somewhere in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles and Aileen Bryant is tending to her succulents. The weather has been dangerously hot on the West Coast again this year, and the musician is still acclimatizing to the California sun after fifteen years of living in Vancouver. “I’m growing mostly succulents and cacti,” she says. “The variety that grows down here, and how easily they grow, you just really take that for granted. You can take cuttings and put them in the ground and they go. It’s really alien and amazing.” Bryant and her creative practice have a close relationship to the Earth. As a child growing up in the woods of the Sunshine Coast, she transformed daily into an elf climbing trees in her backyard, then a mermaid swimming in the ocean. “There were trees that were <my> trees,” she tells me.

Bryant makes music with her voice – she layers and loops the sounds she makes a cappella with minimal equipment. She’s never released an album and her online presence is notably sparse. She’s designed her creative practice that way: she’s primarily an improviser, playing for live audiences, never presenting the same set twice. “I do like the effect of being someone that nobody has heard of, that nobody really has any idea about,” she says. “That way, people have an experience that they hadn’t planned, there’s no expectation.” With her music, Bryant aims to create an atmosphere, to evoke emotion. To be present at an Aileen Bryant show is to step into a dream world controlled by Bryant herself, the moods and settings changing with the lilt of her siren voice, a message from the wilderness where she makes her music.

“The way I make music is [by] going to more remote locations like the Gulf Islands,” she says. “I would house sit or get someone’s cabin or something like that. Then I would just go and cultivate that good solitude and I was finding that those places were really positively guiding the music I was making.” It’s in the woods that Bryant can find the silence that she says helps her to hear the music she is making with more clarity. In fact, nature is a driving force to her creative process. “I am trying to create or find conditions that will put me in the receptive place for improvising. When I go for a jog in the forest, I have a higher success rate of finding that. And that could only be twenty minutes, but in the city, I could prepare for hours and nothing would come of it.” Bryant’s music becomes the aural manifestation of the musician’s environment. It seems that she channels the flow of the forest, and even her audiences have picked up on the energy of the space in which the music is made. She tells me, “this woman came up after I played [one of my first shows here in LA] and said, ‘that set really transported me,’ and I asked her where. She said, ‘it’s really green and cold.’

Going into the wilderness seems to be in alignment with Bryant’s authenticity, and it is from that space that she can be a steward for her work. “[In the woods I’m] myself, and if I forget to do it, I’m unwell,” she says. “I find it really comforting.” The commitment to taking the time to exit the city space and re-enter nature for her own health is part of carving a sustainable lifestyle. “I’d have to be pretty heavily medicated to participate in the world’s expectations,” she says of her choice to continue to focus on and prioritize her music. The woods have also taught her to be less self-absorbed, less worried about expectations, about making five-year plans. “I find if I have a less planned, wiggly trajectory, that something will happen,” she says. “You look everywhere in the forest and something has happened, something has filled this space and something has led to another thing. You can feel this natural causality there that is soothing.”

This piece has been amended since it was published in Issue No. 26: Green.