By O’Hara Shipe
Dressed in layers of differing shades of black clothing, large headphones around their necks and bold haircuts highlighting their decidedly carrot-colored hair, Sam Tenhoff and Raven Wilson-Boles are anything but ordinary. But they are just fine with not fitting into a prescribed mold.
“When we were 12, Raven and I used to have barbarian dinners where we’d dress up in furs and eat with our hands and end up throwing food at each other,” explains Tenhoff.
“Mmmm, a Cornish hen,” adds Wilson-Boles as he shoots Tenhoff a knowing look.
Maybe Sam Tenhoff and Raven Wilson-Boles didn’t have the most normal of childhoods, but at least it wasn’t devoid of magic.
“Since we were kids, we always dreamed of being Gaelic Druids from the future. Like we’re basically just cosplaying Gaelic Druids from the future who cast musical spells on our fans,” Tenhoff animatedly explains with a laugh.
The two life-long friends make up two-fifths of the dark pop-rock outfit Ayla Ray. Currently based in Portland, the band is rounded out by fellow Alaskans Brandon Shaw (guitar), Minoka Kakizaki (keys) and Tobin Tanner (drums).
“We were all down in Portland and I sort of put out the ‘Bat-signal’ that I was leaving my old band to start a new one and the guys just sort of came to me,” laughs Tenhoff. “You can pretty much never leave Alaska because [Alaskans] always find a way back to each other.”
Tenhoff and Wilson-Boles may have found their Alaskan tribe in Portland but carving out a niche in the indie-driven city has been a lot harder for the fledgling band.
“There’s this Pabst-drinking, Spirit-smoking indie rock scene out there and they come to concerts to make Instagram posts while they wear plaid shirts. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I fucking love them but they don’t have soul and don’t let the music overtake them. We just haven’t tapped into our fanbase there, but I feel like our fanbase in Alaska is on fire! Alaska just seems to get us,” says Tenhoff.
It’s a relationship the band is honoring by returning home to release their first full-length album. Tenhoff says that anyone who comes to their shows this weekend will receive an exclusive USB copy of their new album which doesn’t officially drop for another month.
“Our fans are Alaskans, and we want to honor that by making sure they are the first to hear our new stuff,” Tenhoff explains.
Of course, the album release isn’t the only thing Ayla Ray has up its sleeves. The band is also planning some epic stage shows they hope will cement their status with fans.
“There are so many bands everywhere, so you have to find a way to stand out. We put a lot of time into the actual sound, but we also want to be entertainers, not just musicians,” says Tenhoff. “We try and create a world that fans can live in and be a part of.”
“We encourage our fans to dress up and put on their war paint. We want them to be their own fantasy character and to express themselves,” adds Wilson-Boles. “I feel like it’s a good outlet for anyone who has to go to their day jobs and hide part of themselves.”
While Tenhoff and Wilson-Boles admit to being cosplayers, Wilson-Boles says that when he’s on stage wearing full Ayla Ray garb, he is the truest version of himself.
Despite, their seemingly dark makeup and clothing, Tenhoff insists that Ayla Ray’s sound and messaging are positive.
“We want to be dark but not damaged. Like, a lot of dark music these days is rooted in trauma and negative stuff. We want to encapsulate a dark vibe but not project hurt onto our fans,” says Tenhoff. “We decided a couple of years ago that we wanted to make dance music and we wanted it to be in a minor key, but we didn’t want to bum people out.”
In terms of sound, Ayla Ray sits somewhere between Billie Eilish and Marilyn Manson. With an impressive vocal range, Tenhoff can easily flit between mellifluous melodies and guttural screams. When Tenhoff’s unique vocals are paired with the band’s signature synthy arrangements, the result is an irresistibly danceable sound.
“Musicians are some of the last people in the world that cast spells on people. You’re basically taking a crowd of people and making them feel a certain way and you don’t do that really with any other art,” Tenhoff explains.
Tenhoff and Wilson-Boles are both unabashed fans of fantasy novels and comics, but they have a very real tie to the fantastical.
“We actually funded this album by mining gold,” says Tenhoff with a shrug.
Stranger than fiction, Tenhoff was a mainstay character of Discovery Channel’s “Bering Sea Gold” alongside older brother, Zeke for eight years.
“Yeah, it was cameras in your face 24/7 from the time you woke up until you went to bed. But seriously, don’t go look up the episodes! It’s embarrassing,” pleads Tenhoff.
You can catch Ayla Ray live with sci-fi rockers Harper’s Farce at Koot’s on Thursday at 9pm. You can also find the band on Facebook at Ayla Ray Music.