Artist Kit Interview: Briana Marela

January 7, 2016 5:03 PM

When Patterning was released back on August 20th, Seattle-based Briana Marela shared with us an artist kit that was included in the initial launch. The next day, her most recent album, entitled All Around Us, was also released. The samples in Briana's kit are but tiny fragments of what her finished recordings sound like, but they give us a glimpse into what makes those recordings so special. As she says in our interview, the voice remains her most vital instrument. In the case of All Around Us, this means both clear and powerful lyrical content, as well as distinctive vocal samples that are primary sources of texture, rhythm, and ambiance. It was great to check in with Briana again, just over four months after each of our exciting releases.

Do you have a creative process that you typically follow? 

My creative process varies a lot. Creative sparks I get can come at any time, usually while doing mundane life tasks, but to be able to follow through on these sparks does require a certain setting to allow the process to manifest. I always need to be alone, though sometimes I can work with a trusted loved one in the room with me if they are also working on something of their own. If the song is lyrical I will have all my recent journals laying around open to different pages with a pen to circle and underline word and sentence fragments that can be pieced together. I need a keyboard of some sort around, because that is the most trusted way that I can figure out chord progressions or even remind myself what notes will work in different keys. And if I go a step beyond just noodling around I always want my computer or some device to record the sound and document what I am doing. If I am working in the computer to compose I will make a lot of typed or written notes about the piece or further ideas I have so that when I come back to the piece later that I will have a better jumping off place. I also will let ideas just float around in my head for a long time and work them out there until they are ready, I will think about them every day and try and come a little closer to fully realizing them.

How does technology play a part in your work?  How has it changed your work? 

Technology plays various roles in my work that are at this point pretty essential. I am always recording things. I often think about most of my songs and compositions in their "finished" ultimate form, which is usually a studio recording. I think about sounds not just as how they are but how they can be manipulated in the computer, with effects and processing. Technology allows me to be more than I am on my own and to compensate for the fact that I am not a virtuoso or highly skilled at any one instrument. It is great because I am not limited by my physical abilities and allows me to think in a more abstract way. I think since I incorporated computers and recording into composing that my work is more interesting than it was before, but I know that once I learn and explore even more that I will change again.

When you are working on a project, do you typically know ahead of time where it’s headed?  Or do you just start working and find out? 

I always think I know where a project is headed. Usually when I have a song or composition idea my mind fills in all the blanks of where I think it is going but then often when I am actually recording it or playing it out I will find that there are more variables than I anticipated.  So through working on it I find that the piece changes from my initial solid idea of it, which is cool, but sometimes I then get obsessed to try and make it closer to my original vision of the piece if possible.

Is there a tool, instrument, piece of gear, or software that is essential to your work? 

I feel that my voice is essential to my work. Or voices in general. I can be moved by music without vocals, but something about the human connection to hearing vocals in recordings moves me so much more. And not even just vocal as a lead, I love it as a texture or used more abstract. I wonder if there will be a time where I am less interested in hearing voice in music but I highly doubt it. Instruments and gear and software could fluctuate and my voice as my primary instrument/tool will always be what grounds me. Having new instruments to play, gear and software to twiddle with is fun and creative and helps me write things I wouldn't have made without them, but I feel like they are replaceable. I am really tied to delay used in my recordings as a texture. I love playing with analog/tape delay and automating it manually as parts are run through it and being able to play delay as an instrument in itself. Especially on my newest album, I was really loving the Roland Space Echo. I had used some of it and a Echoplex on my previous album and taking some of that same inspiration and using it for new songs worked really well and I felt like I got many sounds that I was really happy with.

How do you get out of a creative block?

I wish I had an answer that would work 100% of the time. For me it really varies. Sometimes just forcing myself to make something even if I don't really like it initially helps me get past that first hurdle. Sometimes taking a lot of space from an idea helps. Often setting aside my music and listening to other people's music or seeing other pieces of inspiring art can help me when I feel stuck. Feeling the energy of other people's brilliance can sometimes spark me back into creativity. We are all are own worst critics and sometimes just making something and trying your best to not critique it, leaving it alone for awhile, and then coming back to it with new ears can be amazing. You'll surprise yourself what weeks ago you made and you'll either be able to critique in a less harsh way or be inspired from that idea to take it further.

Do you typically work alone or in collaboration with others?  

I typically work alone. Though I feel like my work is taken to a higher potential when I open it up later to others for input before I call it finished. Working on something alone up until I think I have no more ideas for it and then showing it to a trusted set of ears other than my own helps me gather any other last minute ideas or ways to take something a little beyond myself.

Is your creative process more about quantity or quality?  Put another way, do you create lots of things and edit/refine later, or are you always working towards a finished product? 

My creative process is definitely more about quality than quantity. I always have a stockpile of unfinished ideas that are all being polished and refined to reach a finished end product. Currently a bunch that I have been working on gradually for 2 years now. I love having a finished album in mind or finished song that I am working towards. It can be hard for me to start lots of things that aren't going anywhere. I inevitably have a lot of those, but they make me anxious. I think about them and still want to finish them, even years later. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

I'm working on two main things at the moment. I have a collection of unfinished songs that I want to go towards a next full length album, that are all songs that should be listened to in pairs. I want each pair to have the first song flow seamlessly into the second one. Of the pair, one will be more of a typical "song" and the other will be a little more ambient or abstract. This isn't quite a concept album idea but just something that feels important to me right now and is fun because I think about the song pairs as 1 long song and as 2 separate songs. It presents challenges too, because do I keep songs in the same keys or similar bpms? This has been something in the works for a little while, but feel glad to have a little more freedom these days to dream it out. The other thing is a small collection of more ambient non-lyrical pieces that I would like to release just as a way to do something with some little ideas I've had that aren't necessarily album ideas. Not that all songs have to belong on albums but for some reason my brain thinks that way a lot, how would a new song fit next to other new songs?

Briana's website: 

To order All Around Us, visit Jagjaguwar.

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