Singer/Songwriter Briana Marela on Why Female Musicians Get Judged More Harshly Than Men and Missing Her Chance to Meet Bjork

Seattle-born Briana Marela has a knack for crafting charming, whimsical ditties that remind one of retro British singer Vashti Bunyan mixed with a hint of Canadian electronic producer/crooner Jessy Lanza. The singer/songwriter, who now resides in Mount Olympia, Washington (“because Seattle got too expensive”), has a fluttery, delicate delivery and her songs are often about topics near and dear to her heart, such as friends, family, and the loss of a loved one.

From her home in Washington, Marela spoke with us about her latest album, All Around Us  (and Pitchfork's review of it), as well as her songwriting process, missing her chance to meet Bjork, and what it's like to be a female in the music industry. 

[jump] Briana Marela plays with Waxahatchee at 9 p.m., Tuesday, March 8 at The Chapel. $18; more info here

What’s your creative process like when making a song?

It really depends. A lot of times I’ll just start out with a melody in my head and then I kind of start working out the basis of how to shape it, like chords or vocal parts. I was just working on a song last night where I started out with only the melody and then kind of built this chopped up vocal thing that surrounds it. And then the last thing I added was drums, which is funny because a lot of people would start with a drum track but I did the reverse.

And when do lyrics come into the picture?

Sometimes first, but also sometimes at the very end. It depends. It just always varies.

When you write your lyrics, are you writing them for a specific type of audience?
I honestly really just write my songs for myself. There’s this emotional release that helps me process these feelings, but at the same time, I do write songs for certain people in my life. They are meant to try and inspire them. I might be encouraging my friend, or trying to boost myself up when I’m feeling bad. In a lot of ways, a lot of the songs are kind of like the way that I, as a female, am perceiving and trying to understand the world.

You went to Iceland to record All Around Us?
Yeah, that was pretty fun. I was already working on that album at that point and had been contacted by a producer Alex Summers. And then I kind of just stopped working on it here and went to Iceland and redid it, basically.

That’s awesome. Sometimes it really is helpful to be in a different place while working on something.
Yeah. I think those songs really benefited from it. I thought they were already good, but then they kind of just grew into being more than they could have been on my own.

And I know you like Bjork a lot so that's kind of cool that you were in her home country.
I do love Bjork. I missed my chance to meet her though and I’m still kicking myself about it.

How’d you miss it?
Ugh, it’s such a horrible story. There was this show at an art museum and I was just waiting with a friend in the bathroom line. And when we came back from the bathroom, Alex said, ‘Oh, you just missed Bjork. She was just here hanging out with us.’ And I was like, ‘Nooooooooo. I could have peed later. That sucks.’

So now I’ve got to bring up something sensitive: Pitchforks' album review. I’m sure you've read it. They equated your lyrics to sounding a bit Sesame Street-ish and I was wondering how you felt about that.
I think it’s pretty rude, just in general. I feel like there’s a lot of references to my songs being childish. The interview is also a bit sexist, saying things like, ‘Oh, I think she just lifted these words from her diary.’ Whereas, I think if I was a man, they wouldn’t be so harsh on my lyrics. People love to really critique women who are perceived as being emotional. And I think that's a huge problem.
I’m really glad you brought that up. As sad as it is, I’m always interested in talking about how women are treated differently, whether it's in music, other work environments, or just life. I agree that people are harsher critics on women. In fact, I used to think about changing my byline to make my name sound less feminine and more ambiguous, actually.
Yeah, isn’t that sad? That women have to think about how we can get people to treat us seriously and think like that?

Totally. It’s really frustrating.
And it's just sad that in that review, there's so much around my lyrics and how they're perceiving me as a child or immature girl, but they hardly talk about the sonic qualities of the music or the songwriting. You read other Pitchfork interviews and they actually are talking about the music, and I just felt really slammed on something really petty that doesn’t actually have much to do with the music. He plucked one thing that he didn't like out of a song and came to the conclusion that therefore he hated the album. It’s like taking one thing and instead of giving it more of a chance, you just judge everything by that opinion.

Well, the fact that you play most of the instruments on the album, that's a big deal, and that wasn’t in the review, either. I think that any time a woman is able to be a one woman band is a big deal.
Yeah. I think I’m just a little sensitive about it as one would when they feel completely misunderstood. It’s also just sad. I feel like in terms of writing fiction or personal things, for so long throughout history, women's voices haven't been heard as much. When you think about it, the norm of what writing is is predominantly white male voices. And when you're like, ‘Oh, these female voices are not good enough because they're not writing what these white men have been writing,’ that’s just muting us even more.

Did you know that Pitchfork was reviewing the album?
I didn’t even know. I kind of stay out of those things. The more I don’t know, the better. I’d rather not be involved in the internet and music reviews. But I definitely read it because people were like, ‘You should probably read this.’

Because of the not so awesome review, has that made you feel any differently about the lyrics that you're working on now for your new album?
Yeah, definitely. It’s made me self-conscious. I’ll write something and then be like, ‘Is this horrible? Am I writing bad lyrics?’ But then, at the same time, I kind of just have to let go of it and be like maybe this is just my voice and the way I write. And if people don’t like it, so be it. I’m definitely aware of it, but I’m not letting it get me down.

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