by joanie wolkoff
In the misty realm of America’s Pacific Northwest, Briana Marela says you can take summertime dips in the fern-rimmed lakes and attend Skateroke – it’s just what you’ve always dreamed of: a marriage between roller skating and karaoke in a rink. Her technical arsenal was bursting at the seams with samplers and loop pedals after focusing on audio engineering in college, so Marela set about the business of creating her otherworldly debut album, All Around Us in Reykjavik, Iceland, as you do when you’re a raven-locked forest nymph.
The LP glitters with airspun synth strains buoying Marela’s crystalline voice. These sun-dappled faerie jams are brought to you by a Washingtonian whose mystical incarnations include (but are not limited to) spring goth, crystal aficionado and goblin keener. Naturally, I had some questions to ask her and you can read the full interview below; not before wrapping your ears around her glimmering, wholesome debut single which you can listen to exclusively here;
Shall we begin with the early years?
Those were mostly pretty good. I shared a room with my sister for seventeen years before going off to college. It really created our bond. Our life experiences have always been shared. My sister and I are musical, but not many other people in our family are, so I don’t know where that came from. My mom says when I was a baby I used to dance to Peruvian folk music- my Dad’s from Peru- it’s kind of embarrassing, but you know, that kind of energetic pan flute music. I always get mad when people harsh on pan flutes, cuz I’m like, ‘Hey, that’s traditional Peruvian music, don’t hate on that!’
Some instruments just get poked fun at more. People make fun of saxophone music, too. Look at Kenny G; he’s a brilliant instrumentalist but even with his chestnut ringlets blowing in the wind machines of time, the poor saxophone took a real beating.
For pan flutes, it’s such a cultural thing, though. I remember my dad teaching me about how Simon and Garfunkel stole the traditional Peruvian folk melody El Condór Pasa. The people of Peru were so outraged. They were like, ‘our culture’s being stolen!’
What about mom’s ethnic background?
My mom is half Finnish and then English Scottish and French mix.
Would you say you’re more drawn to the pan flute than, say, the bagpipe?
Oh yeah, I’d rather listen to the pan flute than bagpipes. But all musical instruments have merit. Scottish music played on the bagpipes is really passionate and cool.
Let’s take a second to talk about how fashionable it is to dislike certain things. Scorn never goes out of style.
Why do people do that?
You tell me! Your album sort of nestles the listener in the womb of time. It’s very positive and comforting. Are you going out of your way to combat hatred with your music?
A really big influence in my life since childhood has been Mr.Rogers, who always preached about loving each other. I think that really stuck with me. Mr.Roger’s isn’t known for being this amazing composer, but he wrote all the songs on his show and they were so uplifting for children. Why can’t people just make music like that for all ages? I actually feel like his lyrics are similar to mine. They’re about figuring out how to navigate the world, about love.
It definitely feels like there’s a love story happening on All Around Us. So much yearning! Will you go there?
I wrote most of these songs in 2012 and ’13, and I had just gotten out of an important relationship, and into another important relationship, and it was on and off a lot of the time, long distance. That always makes for longing. I would say I’m always kind of longing for something.
All Around Us strikes me as bittersweet album. How did you want to make people feel with these songs?
It’s not so much about how I want to make them feel. It’s that I want them to feel.
You traveled so far to make the album! Did you choose Iceland or did Iceland choose you?
It kind of chose me. I didn’t even completely believe I was going there until the plane was flying over Iceland and about to land. I loved it- I’d barely traveled outside of the US and it was really exciting to sit in a coffee shop, listen to people’s conversations and not having any idea what anyone was saying. I’d already started recording these songs with a friend, and then I got an email from this person called Alex saying that I should come to Iceland to record these songs. I’d head a song he and his boyfriend had done on the Dark Was the Night compilation. Then when my sister and I were on tour I met his best friend at a show we played in an art gallery on Rhode Island. He ended up showing Alex my music. So I used Kickstarted for help [with travel costs], and borrowed some money which I’m still paying back. Welcome to being a musician! I remember just being like, ‘No one’s gonna help,’ and all my friends were like ‘Shut up, of course we’re gonna help, don’t even worry about it!’
Any road trip tales from that US tour with your sister?
Briana- We went on a big tour in 2012 together. We were traveling in this Hundai Senata that we ended up filling with stuff. I was worried about someone breaking into the car and stealing all our things, but it just ended up looking like a bunch of clutter. No one was gonna want any of it. We ended mailing all of it in a big box back to our mom.
What was it like collaborating with your Pacific Northwest homies Odesza?
Actually, I’ve never met them in person. Everyone laughs when I mention that because we live close to each other. They actually contacted me before they got big. We were supposed to play a show in Bellingham and they were like ‘We were supposed to play a show with you but our live set isn’t ready yet. We really like your music and were wondering if you’d send us vocals for a future song.’ So they sent some beats and I sang something pretty random, I think, over it, and then I didn’t hear back from them for like over a year and then all of a sudden they’re like ‘We’re putting out an album and we wanna use your vocal!’ I guess I just wish in retrospect that it had been more of an in-depth collaboration instead of me just sending something random. I emailed them to see if I could get a free ticket to one of their shows but they were too busy to answer. They’re too famous now! They can’t deal with this!
Thanks, guys. Thanks for making a song with my voice and then not sending me a ticket to your show! Odesza, if you’re reading this…
Maybe send me a fruit platter with my name spelled out on it.
Then you can take a photo of it and that’ll be the cover of your next EP.
Or Odesza’s next EP!
photograph by juliet orbach
Admission to big shows gets costly. There’s that faulty notion that a bunch of musicians sitting around counting their mounds of dollars when, in fact, there’s only this narrow stratum of writers and recording artists who are lucky enough to make the money they need to sustain themselves from music alone.
Oh, I live in a dining room. The wall separating me from the kitchen is just a screen I found it on Craiglist. Seattle’s rent is so expensive, but I’m very frugal. I buy my clothes from the Goodwill bins, I din’t eat out ever, I’ve done temping jobs for a Google contractor, I had a brief job at a grocery store. I worked for a year at the opera house, pouring wine and serving food. I did mock jury stuff for focus groups. You’re only there for a day and you meet all these people you’re never gonna see again. One time, I went in and decided to strike up all these arguments with people. When they got heated up, I was like, ‘Actually, I don’t really care.’ I hope it doesn’t sound pretentious but I just can’t hold down a nine-to-five job right now. It drives me crazy. I just can’t do it.
If it really came down to it I’m sure you could, but you’ve created a way not to. Not taking a nine-to-five might well be a question of emotional survivalism for you.
Pretty much! The first song on All Around Us, ‘Follow It‘, is really about following your bliss whether or not you find success. As I’ve gotten older, so many people around me have started giving up on their dreams of being a musician or an artist because it’s hard to support yourself doing creative work, but Follow It is about how there has to be some way you can follow your passion. You have to stick with it.
‘All Around Us‘ is released later this year, via Jagjaguwar