When Xyla first arrived in San Francisco from the Houston area as an undergraduate in 2013, it was to study French horn performance at the prestigious San Francisco Conservatory of Music. While there, she toured Europe with the SF Youth Orchestra and studied under SF Symphony French horn player Jonathan Ring. But midway through her four years at the school, something happened that set her on a different path, one that led her to release one of the most exciting Bay Area electronic music albums of 2020.
“I went through what most people do in college, where you say, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’” Xyla says from her home in San Francisco’s Sunset District. She found her calling when the conservatory had opened up a program called TAC (Technology and Applied Composition) that caters to students studying production and sound engineering. On a whim of curiosity, Xyla decided to enroll in an Intro to Ableton elective and a light bulb went off.
“I hadn’t used [Ableton] before, but I immediately thought it was so cool and fell in love with it my last year and a half of college,” she says. “For me, producing was a way to decompress from conservatory life as a classical French horn player. As much as I love the instrument and the genre, I couldn’t feel as creative as I wanted to be.”
Xyla’s debut album, Ways, was released on Oct. 30 on LEAVING Records. It’s a polished expression of IDM and footwork rhythms, with undertones of R&B and atmospheric drum and bass. Its eight tracks clock in at a mere 37 minutes, but when it’s over, inspired moments of pushing forward in the face of heartbreak have washed over you, like the fog rolling over the stillness of San Francisco’s outer extremities. Ways slots in masterfully alongside LEAVING’s roster of the eclectic and avant-garde, including the liquid jazz of Sam Gendel, the desolate beauty of harpist Nailah Hunter and the smoky jungle of San Francisco’s own Brogan Bentley.