Voices in a Room
Jan 14, 2016
Issue #54 - August/September 2015 - CHVRCHES
Briana Marela doesn't require a lot of space. Wearing a floral print top with her dark hair still damp from her morning shower, the 25-year-old Seattle musical artist is sitting in her "room," a makeshift, cordoned-off spot that serves as both her sleeping and work space in the apartment she shares with five other girls. "It's great," Marela says, via Skype, of the setup. "I actually feel this has been easier than any other living situation I've had in the past." As the only tenant, however, without a door to close for any real privacy, even she will admit, "It can be hard to find a quiet moment to record these days."
Despite such confined and relatively exposed physical space, musically Marela is able to go somewhere far more expansive and personal, where she says she is "able to be more than myself." Building off of a series of MIDI controllers, synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, and mixers, Marela occupies an ethereal and ephemeral kind of pop soundscape. The linchpin of her arrangements, however, rests largely on the way she manipulates her airy vocals to her own digitized whim-looping, echoing, stuttering, and layering everything from metronome-mimicking cries and utterances to massive choral harmonies. Serving as a proper introduction to all of this—after delivering two self-released LPs—is Marela's indie label debut All Around Us on Jagjaguwar.
The daughter of a Peruvian father and American mother, Marela grew up in Seattle, attending Evergreen State College in nearby Olympia to study audio production and music technology. In 2012, Marela was emailed out of the blue by frequent Sigur Rós collaborator and producer Alex Somers. Serendipitously having been passed some of Marela's music by one of his friends, Somers offered his services to produce and record an album. Scrounging up the money for a ticket, Marela eventually boarded a plane for Iceland in the fall of 2013, spending two and half months working in Somers' Reykjavik studio and sleeping in its adjoining apartment.
"I was really nervous before going," says Marela. "I kept thinking, 'What if we don't get along? What if it doesn't work out?' I had all these worst case scenarios built up that I hadn't been thinking enough about all the good things that could've come. It was funny, because when we finally met, I felt like we were kind of instantly friends. The first night we stayed up drinking and talking about music. We're both really into production and really into sound."
Despite the fruitfulness of her time putting together something she was extremely proud of, Marela still had no means of getting the record out to a wider audience. She refused to just sell the album on BandCamp, and it would take another two years—through what Marela describes as a few "magical connections"—before All Around Us found its way into the hands of Jagjaguwar.
"I think it takes me a little bit longer to do things," says Marela. "But whenever I try to rush, it doesn't end up being good." Though speaking in the context of her own slow-paced songwriting, Marela's words seem to just as easily apply to the wait she's had to endure for her album's long overdue release. "I think I've just learned to accept being patient and being able to embrace that some things just take time."
[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September/October 2015 Issue. This is its debut online.]
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