Photo by Eleanor Petry
Seattle often seems like a mystical place for those of us who have never visited: tall trees surrounding a beautiful city on the edge of the ocean. From within this wilderness, this place where the concrete meets dirt roads, native musician Briana Marela weaves a tapestry of sound meant for what some in Japan call forest bathing.
Marela’s newest record Call It Love is a delicate mix of ethereal vocals and ambient beats. Its overall tone brings to mind other artists whose music paints a transcendental portrait of time and space – Purity Ring, Sigur Rós, even Bon Iver’s newest album come to mind. Marela’s background in audio production and music technology shows itself in layered synths and soaring vocals, yet the shape of the album feels spontaneous in nature.
We spoke with Briana about how she navigates the tenuous relationship between production and organic sound:
AF: Tell us about your upbringing in Seattle. What kind of music were your parents listening to? What did you grow up hearing?
BM: I grew up in North Seattle. My family of five lived in a two bedroom apartment; my sister and I shared a room up until I moved out to go to college. I’m very close to my siblings, although we grew up in close quarters. My grandma lived in a different part of Seattle in a house that had so many tall trees and plants and land to run around and let our imaginations run wild. I’m POC mixed race – my dad was born in Peru and I grew up hearing so much Spanish and indigenous music. I love the Quena and love traditional Peruvian folk songs and Spanish ballad artists like Raphael and Nino Bravo. My dad also loves salsa and cumbia and was really the parent who dominated music I remember hearing when I was young, though it was my mom who could see my musical interest and talent and helped nurture it any way that she could, put me in choirs, helped me get vocal lessons. I remember sitting with her in my grandma’s house and I’d put on countless old 78s on my grandma’s record player.
AF: You studied audio production and music technology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. What’s the best advice you got during school, in regards to creating music and manipulating sound?
BM: I don’t think I can think of any specific overt advice I received. I think I learned a lot just by doing and making and taking risks and chances! I think it’s so important to try new things, and to always be pushing yourself. I feel like in school I was really pushed to try new ways of making music and thinking about what sound and music are and mean to me. To think about abandoning song structure and then at the same time trying to build something abstract into something cohesive.
AF: Your music feels organic, very otherworldly, yet clearly has many intricate production layers. How do you strike a balance between the two?
BM: I am always seeking that balance – it is a challenge! Especially with this last record, I wanted it to be very produced, very intentional, but not stifle the sort of airy carefree spontaneity that the songs blossom from. I try and just be very open to whatever may come, and not critique myself in the creative process as much as possible.
AF: Do you draw writing inspiration mainly from experiences in your own life, or from outside material?
BM: Mostly from my own experiences, though some from experiences of friends and family close to me, and on this record, one song in particular, “Farthest Shore” is very tied to inspiration by a book of the same name.
AF: Originally this album was meant to have two distinct sides, like a coin: ambient & pop. Instead, you ended up blending the styles together. When did you come to that decision and how it affect the recording process?
BM: I mentioned how I love finding balance and I originally wanted to have every pop song have a sister song that was its ambient counterpoint. Honestly I was a bit discouraged by my label to try attempting that completely. After sending over demos, they thought maybe that would be too confusing for a listener. I could see what they meant, but I still think it is a cool idea I might try in the future. A lot of the songs that were duos were either combined into one song, or were split into two separate ideas. And some of the ambient counterpoints to other songs were thrown away. “Be In Love” and “Give Me Your Love” are examples of songs that combined