AFTER BRIANA MARELA released her first studio album in 2012, she booked herself a tour of DIY spaces across the US. At the time, Marela was on the one-man-operation label Bicycle Records and had been playing house shows around Olympia for about four years. This tour was in support of an ambient electro-folk album and her backing band was her sister. Marela's career path wasn't pointing toward fame, and it wasn't a tour designed to lure industry types or score a new record deal, but simply to share some songs, make some new friends, and take a road trip.
Halfway through the tour, Marela played an art gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, where one of the gallery's artists bought a copy of the album. He passed it along to his best friend, Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers, who quickly fell in love with its melding of electronic and acoustic sounds, and contacted the musician about working together on an album. Marela spent eight months sorting out logistics, putting together a Kickstarter, and taking out a loan. Having never been outside the US, she flew to Iceland to spend a month in the studio with Somers, whom she had never met in person.
"I was so nervous about whether or not we'd get along," Marela says. Luckily, the two became quick friends and spent weeks sculpting and refining the songs. They brought in Icelandic string ensemble Amiina and Múm percussionist Samuli Kosminen to add flourishes, before facing the confusion of being done.
"I came back from Iceland and was like, 'Okay, what do I do with this album?'" Marela says. "Do I just put it up on Bandcamp and be like, 'Hey, all my friends, listen to this album I made... in Iceland'?" Still owing money and not knowing anyone who had been in an even vaguely similar situation, she began asking around, trying to get her bearings. Eventually, through a stroke of luck, a Seattle acquaintance with college radio experience heard it and managed to get it into the hands of Jagjaguwar records—where the album, three years in the making, has finally seen the light of day.
The product of this journey, All Around Us, nods to both the twee-folk of Marela's early career, and the musique concrète and modern composer influences that made her put down her guitar and start composing with electronics. Not an album for jaded ironists or cynics, All Around Us is full of unadulterated sincerity. Her lyrically straightforward songs reflect on lovers and friends, missing the present moment for an imagined future, and following the path of one's art regardless of outside opinion.
But it's live that Marela's music takes on a life of its own. Onstage, she builds vocal loops to create intricate, seamless sets of lush ambient pop. Her performances—being both experimental and accessible—are full of enough magic to appeal to a wide spectrum of people. And since moving from playing living rooms to venues, she's found a sweet spot that puts a nice sound system to good use, while also maintaining the intimacy of the house show culture that nurtured her music over the years.