Glitchy songbird Briana Marela started out in Washington state as one of undoubtedly umpteen, teenage, aspiring acoustic buskers, but soon gravitated towards the soundwaves of her age, a time where debates of “organic vs. digital” are rarely rehashed anymore. Marela ladles out her siren calls over celestial layers of shifty synths and her own contrapuntal harmionies. So traveling to Reykjavic to record with Alex Somers from Sigur Rós made perfect sense for her debut album, All Around Us, out August 21 on Jagjaguwar.
Earlier this week, Marela released the first single from the album, the lovely and ephemeral Surrender, and it got us wondering about it and her. So check out the song, the interview and tour dates, below.
So you began making music on an acoustic guitar, right? When was that, and what were your early inspirations to play music?
I started playing acoustic guitar in high school as a way to accompany all of these melodies I had been dreaming up since middle school. It was around 2005, I think? I had a really amazing voice teacher in junior high/high school named Johanna Kunin, who is still one of my all-time heroes, and she really showed me the way to becoming the musician I am today. She would give me cool new music to listen to and be inspired by, and she would listen to my early compositions and give me amazing feedback. She helped me record my first EP! Her music as well as her friends Laura Veirs and Karl Blau were huge early influences to me and an introduction into the world of the DIY Northwest sound.
What age did you move to Seattle, and did that move spark your newfound interest in more electronic and computer-sprung sounds?
I was born in Seattle, in Ballard to be specific, so I only moved to Seattle when I moved back from Olympia after living there for five years after attending The Evergreen State College. It was only after moving to Olympia that I became interested in exploring sound through computers and recording. I had another amazing teacher there named Ben Kamen who showed me that I was more than just a girl who played guitar. I fell in love with recording and arranging sounds, and with vocal looping. I’ve been so lucky to have so many amazing teachers in my life so far. Also, I think the electronic music scenes in Olympia and Seattle are really amazing actually, and are definitely under the radar to most people outside of the Northwest. But trust me, if you ask anyone cool in these places they could name you more than a handful of talented artists from the local scenes.
Do you ever feel, beyond the interest in the sounds you can concoct, that manipulating your vocals was related to any insecurities about your own voice?
No definitely not, if anything my desire ever since I started writing songs was to find a way to harmonize with myself in a live setting. If only I had known about vocal looping or how to record myself in high school.
How do you balance your desire to work with computer manipulation while retaining the sort of organic, acoustic emotions of your original musical inspirations? Or, are we past all that “computers are sterile and souless” thing?
Well, if you think about it, most mainstream music these days is computer manipulated. We live in 2015, most every modern song you hear has passed through a computer in some regard. Computers are only as sterile and souless as the person who is behind the creation. I personally love to find a balance of using acoustic and sampled sounds to use as primary sources, while using a computer to manipulate these sounds to be more than they could be in a live setting. With that being said, I find it hard to call myself an electronic musician or an acoustic musician. I’m somewhere in between.
Are you into sci-fi movies about robots becoming self-aware and emotional? If so, which ones?
I love sci-fi. The most recent movie I’ve seen with this theme would be Her. I really liked it and enjoyed the soundtrack.
How did you get together with Alex Somers, and how did you get to Reykjavik?
Alex emailed me in late 2012, and we corresponded for almost a year before I was able to come to Reykjavik to record.
I was able to board a plane to Reykjavik in September, 2013, with the financial support of my loving friends.
How long were you in there, and did you have time away from the studio to explore the town?
I lived in Reykjavik for two and a half months, with the majority of my time spent in the studio recording. I spent a good amount of time on walks around the city, going to the local pool, cafes, restaurants and bars. I loved going to the weekend flea market, I got some special finds. I was lucky enough that Alex and Jonsi snuck me a pass to attend Iceland Airwaves while I was there. I felt really lucky. I would love to go back to Iceland someday with enough money to explore other parts of the country and to get to be more of a tourist.
Tour Dates for Briana Marela:
05/29 – Seattle, WA @ Kremwerk
06/01 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right #
06/02 – Brooklyn, NY @ Achilles Heel
08/20 – Sun. Aug. 23 – Brecon Beacons, UK (Green Man Festival)
08/25 – San Francisco, CA @ The Chapel *
08/27 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios *
08/28 – Vancouver, BC @ The Cobalt *
08/29 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza *
09/01 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry *
09/02 – Iowa City, IA @ The Mill *
09/03 – Chicago, IL @ Constellation *
09/04 – Toronto, ON @ Drake *
09/05 – Montreal, QC @ Bar le Ritz *
09/06 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade *
09/08 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle *
09/09 – Washington, DC @ DC9 *
09/11 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter *
09/14 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl *
09/16 – Austin, TX @ Holy Mountain *
09/17 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links *
09/19 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar *
09/20 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy *