Briana Marela: Why Being a Woman of Color in Electronic Music Matters

Eleanor Petry
Briana Marela performs Wednesday, September 20, at the Bluebird Theater.
Over the last year, singer-songwriter Briana Marela has been charting new creative territory. Known for her ambient, dreamlike sounds, she released her third album, Call It Love, on August 4. This new record is more beat-driven than her previous efforts. Marela, who describes herself as an anti-fascist, has also used her music to make political statements. The label she's associated with, Secretly Group, launched the program Our First 100 Days, which released a song for each of the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency. This compilation raised money for organizations in the cross-hairs of the Republican administration and included Marela's cover of Leonard Cohen's song "There Is a War."

We caught up with Marela over the phone to discuss her new album and her involvement in social and political issues.

Westword: Tell me about the album, Call It Love, that you just released — the creative process and inspiration.

Marela: I guess, in a really loose way, it was a concept album. I was trying to make this album about different sorts of feelings about love, kind of intentionally leaning toward a more pop, polished vibe. I had been working on those songs two years prior to releasing it. It was an album that I really wanted to include my friends, who are also my bandmates. [I was] also wanting to explore rhythmic beat structures for songs more so than I have in the past.

From what I know of the album, it seems to be a balanced blend between ambient and pop sounds.

I think it was me trying to push the pop side forward a little bit. but I can’t help but keep my ambient leanings.

Would you say your sound has been ambient until now?

No. I think it has always been a blend. I’ve often shied away from beat-driven stuff because it’s not as easy for me. It can always be harder to try and do something that doesn’t come as easily to you, but I think that’s why people do things.... It’s just good to push yourself.

What did you like about what you found in that discovery? The difference in sound [moving toward more beat-driven music].

I think it’s really fun to make beat-driven music. I think just from playing more shows, especially in bigger spaces, it has a bigger impact when people hear a really strong beat. It’s fun to have something that kind of cuts through a crowd of people talking.

Tell me about your involvement with social issues.

For the record, I’m definitely anti-fascist. I think many people have been really distressed by the current administration that we have and a lot of the – pardon my language – fucked up things going on. I don’t have a big history of being a strong social activist. I think I can be kind of passive. But it’s this kind of time when I think people who are quiet or don’t always want their voices to be heard need to start having their voices be heard. I definitely want to always support marginalized communities and want to support progress and keeping things moving forward. I just hate feeling like anything is keeping us moving backwards. I think it’s just so hard to not feel heartbroken in terms in finding place in social justice sometimes. I think I want to conquer that feeling of just being sad and wanting to do more.

How do you feel music can be such a powerful platform for this change? How are you using it for that?

I think in a sense, being a woman of color making electronic music is a statement in itself. And to be someone in the indie community who's just not another white face, per se, I think is counter…something [laughs]. And in the way that a way a lot of femmes of color have come up to me after shows and have [said,] “I’m really inspired by what you’re doing,” and just being on stage, it gives me a feeling that I could do something." I think that kind of empowerment is really awesome to show, that: “Hey, people whose voice needs to be heard, your voice can be heard.” Even though I don’t think my music is actively political, definitely a lot of the newer songs I’ve written this year that are not out yet are hinting at wider issues outside of myself, which is a first.

How do you feel your music has evolved? From when you were first getting started versus now, how have you expanded creatively?

Just thinking about songwriting as a craft has changed for me. Thinking about structure for songs and thinking more about meaning behind songs. I think slowly. I can’t help but write songs that are very personal and internal. I think I’d like to slowly shift to writing more externally, too.

Briana Marela, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 20, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $16.50-19, 303-377-1666.