New Face, Fresh Style: Jagjaguwar Signee Briana Marela Shares New 'Farthest Shores' Clip, Talks Olympia Haunts & Sentimental Vintage Style

Eleanor Petry
Briana Marela

Meet Briana Marela. The Seattle-bred, Olympia, Washington-based artist today (Aug. 4) celebrates the release of her sophomore full-length Call It Love, via Jagjaguwar. A unique blend of beat-driven ethereal, ambient pop, the set -- co-produced alongside label mates Juan Pieczanski and Ryan Heyner of Small Black -- was preceded by early cuts "Quit," "Give Me Your Love," and "Feel What I Feel."

Today, Marela shares her dreamy new video for album cut "Farthest Shores," premiering exclusively via Billboard.

In the clip, helmed by Marela and Seattle-based director Bobby McHugh, she confronts mysterious figures in a hazy dreamscape -- representing her past struggle with nightmares growing up. "I had a lot of night terrors and sleep paralysis, so we wanted to incorporate that as a big element of the video, with me kind of having to struggle with not being sure if I’m waking up in reality, or being stuck and trapped in a dream," she tells Billboard.

The shadowy figures sport a cocoon-like synthetic material that conveys the confusion she feels -- not knowing if they're benevolent, or manipulating her into being further trapped in the nightmare. "It’s actually sex, bondage wear," she explains with a laugh. "I won’t totally reveal why I was looking at this stuff, but I think it’s this thing where people want it for sex purposes and you’re just naked in it and fooling around or being erotic. I saw them and just thought it was perfect for the video because a lot of times in my dreams I see people as these kind of cloudy figures, where they aren’t always clear or defined to me."

Billboard phoned the fast rising upstart at her home in Olympia to discuss her favorite hometown haunts, her "sentimental" vintage style, current on-stage go to -- '80s leotards -- and her upcoming tour with San Fermin.

Carrie Brownstein described Olympia as being akin to "Paris or Berlin in the '20s" in her memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. How do you think the Pacific Northwest shaped and nurtured your desire to be a musician and artist? 

I grew up in Seattle and I moved to Olympia to go to college, and I’ve spent a lot of time back and forth between the two cities. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life and as a later teen I got really interested in the music that was coming out of Olympia, like this band Kickball and LAKE. It’s hard to pinpoint what the Northwest sound is but it’s a kindred sound for people who grew up here or live here.

Does Olympia still feel like it has that same artists boom?

I think it’s always changing and evolving and I think that the music scene in the Northwest will kind of always be ebbing and flowing – new cool bands, and new ideas, and new music pairs coming up and fading away. It’s always going to be changing, it can’t ever be the same as it was.

What were some of your favorite haunts growing up in Seattle? ​

My friends and I would go to Easy Street Records and that was where I spent a lot of formative time, just digging through the used CDs and records at those stores and sometimes taking chances on things. I could find some things on the Internet but I was still going to record stores a lot, it was during that kind of shift between digital (laughs). I remember spending so much time with my best friend at those records stores in Seattle and listening to KEXP and being really excited going to see new bands and getting exciting on new music, going to all age shows at the Vera Project.

What about in Olympia?

When I moved to Olympia, I had never really been to house shows before, and Olympia had this really big house show scene, and it still does. That was something that was really cool and I played some of my first shows in Olympia at houses and friends’ houses, and I saw how the community can really build you up. When you’re starting out you’re not very good, but everyone is so supportive and sweet and you get better because you feel cared for. There’s some cool places in Olympia – the main venue there right now is called Obsidian, it’s kind of like the only real music venue in town right now. That’s the only thing that’s kind of changed. There are still shows at other places too, but a long standing record store in Olympia that’s awesome is Rainy Day Records.

You studied audio production and tech at Olympia's Evergreen State College – how did the ability to self-produce inform your songwriting and your artistry?

It helped a lot – it shaped the way that I started composing. Before I took those classes at Evergreen, I was writing songs on guitar and doing that whole singer-songwriter thing. It wasn’t until I found out how to record myself that I realized all the ways I could manipulate sound and change things and do lots of overdubs, and I got more into electronic music with sampling, and beats, and synthesizers. It just opened this whole other world of possibility.

Your new LP was co-produced by Small Black in New York City. How was the recording process compared to your past releases? 

All of last year I worked on this album on my own at my house, building up the structures of the songs and recording vocals, and then I basically brought them all of the stems I had and we basically put it into their ProTools set-up and listened together, and we basically just said what’s cool, and what can be replaced? They had a lot of cool synthesizers that I don’t have, like a Roland Jupiter and a Roland Juno and they have this really amazing bass synthesizer, a Moog Sub 37. It was really fun to replace sounds that I thought were good and it was like 'oh wait, this synth is actually way better sounding'.

Did you like being in New York?

I liked the energy of New York – it fuels people like me who have a layer of anxiety. I think that people with anxiety maybe do well there because of that, it propels you forward. There were a couple of times where I felt swallowed up by the city but I think overall I really like New York, I love spending time there.  

Jagjaguwar is such an iconic indie label (with Bon Iver, Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, Foxygen and more). Have you befriended any other musicians on the roster?

I kind of knew Sam France from Foxygen, just through friends of friends because he lived in Olympia for a bit, but we were never close. We always would be nice and exchange communication a little bit, but other than that working with Small Black -- they were the only other people I’ve met. It was really fun working with a band on the same label, it felt like some camaraderie, and we’d make jokes about some label stuff (laughs).

How would you describe your style?

Vintage and thrifting is a really important thing for me. I love that feeling of clothes having a history, or feeling worn, that they belong to someone else – I’m really into that. I also just kind of love natural fabrics, wool and I also have been really into velvet and mesh lately too. I’m all over the place – I go through phases where I want to wear all black, and then phases of wanting wear really bright colors.

How does your style reflect your music?

I’m pretty sentimental and kind of nostalgic too, and I also have a lot of vintage clothes that came from my grandmother. I just love that feeling of items having some sort of history, something behind them. I feel like new things can feel kind of soulless to me, and relating to music, I love when I find sounds that carry some deeper weight behind them.

Do you have a favorite piece to wear on stage while performing?

Not exactly. This summer I’ve been really into vintage leotards and I’ve been into some ‘80s ones, and I like to pair them with a skirt, it’s kind of a fun look.

What's your off-duty look like and how is that different from your on-stage look?

I think I wear the same stuff – I haven’t cultivated an onstage alter ego yet (laughs).

What's your favorite recent trend?

I’ve seen a lot of cool clear, see-through material or fabrics and I really would love to see more of that – shorts, dresses – I’m really into things with layers where you can see underneath.

Do you have a favorite thrift store in Olympia or Seattle?

A good thrifter doesn’t reveal her secrets. (laughs) Otherwise everyone will go there!

You’re going on tour with San Fermin this September – are you planning anything different with the production?

I’m having my two friends who are my bandmates back me up on the tour, and I’m just really excited to play the songs with a full band. When I don’t have that, more stripped down with my laptop and one synth, but if I have a full band, I can have live drums and my other friend does back-up vocals and my other friend on keyboard. It’s just fun to have more people on stage with me, there’s an energy to it. Sometimes being the only one up there, it can be harder to tap into. But I’m just excited to be able to play these songs in a full setting and bring them to life.

For more Briana Marela, head here.

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