Son of famed musician Roy Ayers explores his identity in a new memoir — despite his absent father
At 50, Nabil Ayers decided it was time to reflect. "It took me that long to process a lot of what happened in my life, both the good and bad," he says. The result is his new memoir, My Life in the Sunshine (out June 7).
The memoir charts the musician-turned-entrepreneur's life from childhood through his current role as president of indie music label Beggars Group. The child of a musician going into the music industry may not seem like a stretch, but Ayers never actually knew his father Roy, famous for his 1976 funk jazz classic "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," which has been sampled by everyone from Mary J. Blige to Tony Yayo. (Roy and Ayers' mother Louise mutually agreed that she would raise Nabil alone.) Ayers got information about his early years and family history from his mom, who surprised him with her vivid recollection. "Maybe that's another reason it took me so long to write this because I've never asked these questions, and that was a fascinating process to get answers from my mother," says Ayers, who has only met his father a handful of times.
My Life in the Sunshine is also an entertaining journey through the eras of music that punctuate Ayers' life. "Through the book, and my life, you see music evolving and my tastes evolving over the decades," he says. That includes Ayers seeing Kiss for the first time live at 7-years-old, which he calls a "life changing experience" in the book. "That was a huge pivot. I've been a rock guy ever since," he says.
Ayer shares the books and music that inspired him during the writing of his memoir and beyond.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What book inspires you as a writer?
NABIL AYERS: There's a book called The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. It's not totally a how-to book, but it served as one for me. There's one particular line where she says something about whenever you write about someone you should write from a place of love and I was really thinking about that when I was writing, even about people who I had a negative experience with.
What artist did you listen to while writing?
I listened to so much Kraftwerk while writing this book. We used to listen to them while playing Monopoly when I was a kid. To me, Monopoly was this brainy and focused game, so listening to them during the games turned into me listening to them during high school, college and eventually writing. It was my focus music.
If you added one more chapter to your book, what album would you title it?
"Cult of Personality" by Living Colour. They were a Black rock band and were important to me because I was a Black kid who wanted to be in rock bands, but I didn't see myself in videos or albums. I saw Living Colour when I was in high school in Salt Lake City and it was these four Black guys playing rock music on stage and it was inspiring.
Recently I've become friends with the guitarist Vernon Reid, who is a well known guitarist before and after Living Colour. I've had these amazing conversations with him. He remembers that time so very specifically and has a lot to say about how scared they were going to Salt Lake City.
Is there an underrated musician you keep in your rotation?
There's an 80s band called Missing Persons who had a couple of MTV hits and were written off as a silly California new wave band. They were actually incredible musicians who came from Frank Zappa's band and were doing interesting, forward-thinking stuff with their music that for some reason didn't get to a lot of people who would have appreciated it.
Who is a Black writer whose work excites you?
There's this book called Oreo by Fran Ross that I discovered. It was a republished book from the 70s that was re-released a couple years ago. I absolutely loved it. It's fiction, but it's about a racially mixed kid who goes in search of her father as a teenager. She takes the bus to New York on her own and has some scary, some funny adventures.
What do you love about writing?
Being able to take myself back to a certain time or place. Some parts of this book were really fun and had me laughing out loud. I was having so much fun remembering things and texting friends that were there. On the opposite end, some of it actually made my body feel as bad as it felt when something was happening in real life. Either way, it's a powerful thing to be able to do that to yourself and I didn't realize that until I got deep into this book, and I love it.
What artist do you listen to when you need a break?
A lot of Björk. It always makes me feel good and maybe ignites a certain part of my brain where it's weird and creative.
What are you reading right now?
Energy Never Dies by Ayana Contreras. The subtitle is Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago. I'm not done with it, but I'm in. It's just this beautifully written history of Black music and culture in Chicago, some of the stuff from the 60s and 70s. It connects artists I know well with artists I've never heard of.
Who is a musician from the past whose story deserves to be told?
This is an interesting one and a risky one, but it's what I'm thinking right now: My father, Roy Ayers. A lot of it is because I don't know that much about his story and I would like to know more. What little I do know is very interesting and it's not really out there.