words Ryan Mo
photography Lamont Abramczyk
When I called last week, Washingtonian producer/singer Briana Marela was prepping for her upcoming tour, to celebrate the release of her newest crowdfunded album All Around Us. Debuting on Jagjaguwar — home to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Besnard Lakes, Foxygen, and Dinosaur Jr. — Briana’s layered indietronic soundscapes have been casually compared to Björk and Grimes for their textures, and she to Lauren Mayberry for her vocal profile, almost as much as they’ve been lauded for Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers’ role. She didn’t sound nervous at all.
“Just been in Olympia rehearsing with two friends of mine who are gonna be in my live band. Just trying to figure out how we’re gonna pack up the van and stuff like that.”
Those two friends, Joel Skavdahl (SEAGULLINVASIONS) and Natalie Day, will join Briana as she travels across Europe to perform at the Green Man Festival in the Welsh fields of Brecon Beacons, journeying back through North America with Norweigian singer/songwriter Jenny Hval. Though Briana’s music is self-produced, this won’t be the first time she’s performed with on-stage support — earlier in 2012 Briana embarked on a two-and-a-half month cross-country tour with her sister on guitar and backing vocals.
Sharing the stage with bandmates might seem like a given for some, but for Briana – whose setup puts drum machines, loops, and synths at her fingertips – it’s a calculated step, an expansion of her previously intimate shows in the DIY spaces of Seattle and Olympia. I asked about her experiences with the two scenes to get a better idea.
“There’s some crossover but they are pretty different. There are just different scenes going on and people play different kinds of venues. Like in Olympia there’s not a lot of actual venues, but in Seattle there’s a lot of bars and lots of shows every night. So that way Olympia feels like there’s a little more DIY than Seattle, though there is a cool DIY scene in Seattle, for sure.”
Places like The Finger Complex and Grandma’s House are little more than residential conversions for live performances — these backdrops strip away pretension and provide a sense of intimacy seldom found in the larger, however more furnished, established venues. This intimacy also informs Briana’s body of work — All Around Us is lyrically heavy on self-reflection, retrospectives of platonic and romantic love. There’s tacit emphasis on syllabic weight and its interplay with tonality, but it all goes back to those feelings: recognizing the omnipresence of love, dwelling on and coming to terms with the transient nature of relationships. In many ways All Around Us is a significantly personal album, even though Briana has been motivated by these themes in the past.
“Just in general, it’s something that influences my songwriting. For example the song ‘Dani’ is about one of my best friends, about the struggle she was going through. I’ve never named a song after a friend before but this one felt right, since she’s also a big part of the album. A lot of the other songs are about friends and lovers or ex-lovers.”
Danielle Burton, witchqueen superhealer and multimedia artist, who debuted her comic Slithering Sleep on Neoglyphic Media, also contributed to the album artwork for All Around Us. To drum up the album’s release, she even created an oversized poster of the album cover late last year.
“She’s definitely been a muse to me. This whole album process — she’s been really tied up in it and it felt so fitting that the song about her would be on it. We’re really in touch with each other’s personal aesthetics and there’s so much collaboration on this album between me and Alex with recording, and me and Dani on art.”
Despite the influences and collaboration, Briana is still fixated on evolving her own style — looping and layering vocals with instrumental throughout songs like “Surrender“ and “Take Care Of Me,“ you can hear throwbacks to her Bicycle Records debut Speak From Your Heart and the 2010 self-produced Water Ocean Lake. There’s notable growth in All Around Us that comes from a personal space. But as a Music Technology & Composition graduate, working with Alex Somers — whose credits include co-scoring for the WGN period drama Manhattan, and producing for Julianna Barwick, Pascal Pinnon, and Sigur Rós — was invaluable.
“As I’ve learned little recording tricks, I’ve learned new ways of thinking about how I want to layer instrumentation and ideas. Working with Alex was amazing because he definitely could tell that I had a very producer-ly aesthetic. He would just be like, ‘Here’s a trick that I like to do for recording vocals or backup vocals,’ and after learning all these techniques from him I feel like I’m gonna be able to take that away from this record and put into the next record. [But] I’m always hoping to keep it with my kind of style and keep it growing.”
Fans of Briana, take heed: that next record might be just beyond the horizon.
“I’m definitely in the tour mindset right now and preparing for the album release, but I actually have a whole album’s worth of songs written. Some of them are halfway done but all the structures and ideas are there.”
Briana’s impending success shines particularly bright in the ever-changing landscape of the music industry, where more and more musicians are passing over major company backing for the direct support of their fans and the down-to-earth flexibility of local indie labels. And for all the hard work that she’s put into her music, Briana knows that she wouldn’t have gotten here without the love of her dearest.
“I want to thank all my friends… to my bandmates Joel and Natalie who are gonna make this trek with me around the country. I’m excited to travel with them for a month and a half!”
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