Inner Perspectives

Briana Marela by Lucinda Roanokephoto by Lucinda Roanoke

“I view my songs as conversations with people who I am too shy to speak with directly and openly. When singing the words, I have no fear of being vulnerable.” — Briana Marela

Singer-composer-soundscaper Briana Marela was barely out of college when she entranced critics and indie pop fans with her uniquely well-honed aesthetic. Her work—a fascinating study in contrasts—pairs emotionally direct lyrics with absorbing ambience constructed from synthetic and organic instrumental sources.

When she set out to create her sophomore album, All Around Us (Jagjaguwar), the Seattle-based artist was searching for her inner compass to navigate the post-college landscape. As a result, Briana conceptualized a sonically ambitious album that, with invigorating candor, revealed herself questioning her hopes and her fears. The imaginative, lush, and boldly expressive album was produced by Sigur Rós’ producer, Alex Somers, in Reykjavik, Iceland, and features strings by Amiina and percussive touches by Samuli Kosminen of múm.

“I had a vision for what I wanted to create. I had begun to write these songs in a transitory, post-college time. The general feeling of the album is facing the unknown in the best way possible,” Briana reveals. “It took about a year to figure out the logistics [to record the album with Alex in Iceland], but I was glad it did because that time period really allowed for introspective vulnerability to take place.”

Interestingly, Briana began as something of a confessional singer-songwriter, playing her songs on an acoustic guitar during high school. However, during her sophomore year in college, while exploring music technology, audio production and composition, she had an epiphanic moment. She realized the poignancy of lush, electronic compositions, and how that method of expression was essential to putting forth the immersive emotionality she was seeking to convey with her songs. “At that time, I realized I could create a whole new world of sound,” she explains.

Working with music programming software Max, Briana’s been able to develop an otherworldly creative fingerprint crafted from breathtaking, stacked vocal loops, bold overdubs, intrepid signal processing, and imaginative arrangements.

Briana Marela by Juliet Orbachphoto by Juliet Orbach “An ex-boyfriend of mine would joke that I was more of a recording artist than performing artist because I do, first and foremost, love recording,” she confides. “Technology and recording help me fully realize my music; I often think about compositions while I am writing them. I think about how I want to arrange and record certain parts, layer vocals, and fill out the song with overdubs.”

Another key influence on her artistry is her preoccupation with the expressive qualities of Polaroid images. “I love the unpredictable way that the photo will turn out. You know it will turn out dreamy—but how dreamy?” she says. “The vibe is mirrored in the way that my songs are very much composed and structured ahead of time. But no matter how structured and thought-out they are, it doesn’t take away the music’s fluidity and emotional content.”

There is a mystical aura surrounding the origins of All Around Us. In 2012, while on her first tour, Briana performed at an art gallery in Providence, Rhode Island. In the audience was artist and photographer Scott Alario, who passed along Briana’s music to his close friend, producer Alex Somers (Sigur Rós and Jóns). On one fateful day later that year, Briana received a message from Alex.

“I remember the day he emailed me because it was the last day of the Mayan calendar—a day that people were claiming would be the end of the world. I got the email when I was working on a drone piece with a friend for an ‘end of the world’ drone compilation. I read the email quickly at first and didn’t think fully enough about it being real,” Briana says.

Soon, the two began an in-depth dialogue that revealed the two musicians were not only kindred spirits as people, they were sympathetic artistic allies. At the time of their initial exchanges, Briana wasn’t very familiar with Alex’s work, but through studying his back catalog, she was able to surmise that his artistic perspective was compatible with hers.

Briana and Alex recorded and produced the album in Iceland, and though the country’s breathtaking environs would seem like creative fodder for the impressionistic tracks on All Around Us, it truly was Briana and Alex’s intuitive artistic connection that inspired such ambitious sonic constructs. “My friendship with Alex influenced the album,” she says. “We were just two Americans alone in a room in Iceland with a musical kinship. We could have been in a room anywhere else in the world and still have made the same record.”

The album’s title was directly taken from a 1940s children’s book Briana encountered in an Olympia, Washington bric-a-brac shop. Its green cover features a young girl and her little dog. The freedom afforded by picture books—an unscripted, youthful exploration of life—appealed to Briana while she processed her own surroundings post-graduation.

“I think what resonated most with me is that, although I am technically an adult now, I still feel overwhelmed in the same way I did as a child,” she says. “I also just think it is so important to retain the part of yourself that is curious and interested in people and the world around you, and remain innocent in that way.”

Though there is a spirit of naiveté running through the tracks on All Around Us, there is also a sage, knowing wisdom within Briana’s no-frills approach to songwriting. “I view my songs as conversations with people that I am too shy to speak with directly and openly. When singing the words, I have no fear of being vulnerable,” Briana confides. “I value clear communication with my friends and relationships, so I think that is why I am so direct in my lyrical choices. I see no point in being overly vague and poetic with words. I let the music that surrounds the lyrics give the full meaning.”

Briana Marela by Lucinda Roanokephoto by Lucinda Roanoke

All Around Us opens with a lone, angelic vocal that eases into a mosaic of looped harmonies, sweeping the listener away and whisking us to a netherworld of electro-pop that evokes the intimacy of the singer-songwriter genre and the striking aural dimensionality of the post-rock movement. The track “Follow It” has an inviting quality—an intentional artistic gesture. Briana explains, “I am very into the sequencing of my albums. Sequences are all about leading the listener through different emotions and being a sound guide, and I always try and keep that in mind, like in the choice of beginning with a more poppy, energetic intro and ending with a long, ambient song.”

Album highlights include the declaratory “Everything Is New,” the dizzying pop bliss of the album’s first single, “Surrender,” and the title track, which offers powerful life lessons from vocals that feel like they’re beamed in from a spiritual guide from the afterlife. “Everything Is New” is a revisited track from her back catalog. It represents a turning point in Briana’s artistic continuum, as it was the first track she wrote upon leaving behind her acoustic guitar origins for the fresh frontier of technological-based creativity. “It was really important to me to include it on this album, because I never had a good studio recording of it, and because I felt like it marked this important transition in my musical style and needed to be heard,” she confirms. “Surrender” offers a respite from weighty matters. “There isn’t really a direct message to ‘Surrender,’” Briana says. “It is just meant to be a pop song about being confused in love.”

The album’s centerpiece is “All Around Us,” which overflows with the kind of aphorisms you want to jot down and keep close in daily life. The song opens with the lyrical couplet “If you run from fear take caution/There is nowhere to hide/There is meaning in our every movement that keeps us alive.” Briana expands on these words saying: “This song is very important to me. Those lines are based on a conversation with an ex-partner. He is afraid of death and thinks that maybe, since we are all going to die, that life has no real meaning. I think, on the contrary, that the meaning of life is to love each other and show it.” From there, the song unfolds with glacial elegance, ponders the existence of heaven, and reminds us to hold close those we love.

“It feels good to reflect on this album,” Briana admits. “It was such a hard and beautiful time, lots has changed since then, and I think I have grown as a musician and as a person and am better for it. It taught me to view the world in a bigger way—which makes me think bigger and makes me want to live up to my full potential as a creator.”

Mac is Back

Mac DeMarco by Maria Louceirophoto by Maria Louceiro

On the heels of his latest release, a sentimental mini-LP via Captured Tracks, the laid-back-yet-prolific indie rocker Mac DeMarco dishes on his recording process, instruments he doesn’t know how to play, and butts.

Bandcamp: Has your writing and recording process changed much since the Makeout Videotape days?

Mac DeMarco: It’s essentially the same. I still do everything by myself in my bedroom or space or whatever I have to work in. I have a lot more fancy recording toys now, and I’ve gotten a bit better at it than I was back then, but it’s all still just ye boi.

BC: Do you follow Alex Calder’s and Peter Sagar’s (Homeshake) respective projects? Any chance you guys would hit the road together?

MD: Yeah definitely, these guys are some of my oldest friends. I was molesting Alex in a karaoke bar in Montreal last night, actually. Both AC and Homeshake whip ass. I still play with these guys whenever I can. We’re actually taking Alex for a string of shows this fall, so yes, we hittin’ the road.

Mac DeMarco by Kiera McNallyphoto by Kiera McNally

BC: Your album 2 includes an apology to your mom. How do your parents look at your career these days, now that it’s really taken off? Has your family been directly involved in any of your music?

MD: My mom is loving it. She’s always talking to kids on the Internet, getting fan mail. She’s a celebrity in her own right – ha! She’s always been really supportive, just sort of let me do whatever I wanted to do. Now that things are crazy, I think she’s hyped.

BC: Was there ever an intention to develop a public persona, or is it just a natural extension of your personality?

MD: Obviously in front of a camera or in an interview, some things inherently get put on, but I’ve never sat around trying to figure out how to act – ha! I’ve always tried to keep the real me and the performer me pretty similar.

BC: You frequently include covers from all sorts of artists (and the Robin Hood theme song, in at least one case) in your live sets. Do you have a favorite band to cover?

MD: We just always end up covering butt rock songs, the kind of songs that every young dude that learns to play guitar knows the riff to. I don’t think we’ve ever actually covered a song the whole way through. Maybe someday.

BC: Do you develop the concepts for your music videos, or is that a collaborative process?

MD: Usually my bass player and I will work on something, or we’ll just start shooting. We don’t really put a lot of thought into them.

BC: Was the inclusion of more keyboard on your last two records a conscious decision, or it just seemed right for the mood? Any other instruments you’d like to weave into future releases?

MD: I don’t know how to play keyboard very well, so I think that fact makes it interesting for me to play around with. If I have no idea what I’m doing on an instrument, sometimes I find it easier to be creative. I’ve been playing guitar for a long time, so I think trying out keyboard is just natural progression, or boredom – ha!

Mac DeMarco by Coley Brownphoto by Coley Brown

BC: Andrew Charles White, your new guitarist, seems to fit right in. How’d you guys meet?

MD: Andy plays in a band called Tonstartssbandht. We used to play with them every time we’d come through Montreal on tour with Makeout Videotape, so I’ve known him for a bunch of years. When Peter decided he didn’t want to tour with us anymore I was living with Andy, so he just joined up and started shredding.

BC: Has anybody taken you up on the coffee invite at the end of Another One?

MD: Probably about three or four hundred.

BC: What’s the weirdest thing that happened to you last week?

MD: I kissed both of Donald Trump’s butt cheeks.

BC: Selling your old Vans shoes for the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (and answering all the resulting eBay questions) was an awesome move. Any connection to that camp? Also, did you ever imagine them going for $21k? Imagine how much the Volvo could get!

MD:The kid who placed the final bid never paid up, so they actually didn’t sell at all. Vans, the shoe company, and I ended up being the ones who donated to Willie Mae. Either way, it’s good that the camp got some exposure and cashola out of it. They’re doing a cool thing.

BC: When’s your next vacation?

MD: I don’t go on vacation.

Angels and Demons

La Luz by Andrew Imanakaphoto by Andrew Imanaka

“Four-part, girl-group harmonies have a tendency to sound sort of ethereal and angelic. But a lot of our music, lyrically and tonally, tends to dwell in shadows. Then again, it’s also often music that’s meant to dance and party to, so there’s a lot of duality there.” — Shana Cleveland

Surf rock is similar to the blues in that there’s often an almost-Pavlovian response that occurs when you hear that classic Dick Dale twangy guitar, or the signature chugging blues strumming pattern; you’re instantly transported to a sunny beach, or immediately anticipating a creaky old voice moaning, “I woke up one morning.” In the case of both musical styles, it’s not easy to deviate from an archetypal, deep-rooted sound. But when something unexpected leaps out of the speakers—music that puts you at ease with its familiarity and throws you for a loop with its risks and inventiveness—the results are explosive.

This has proven to be the case for La Luz, a four-piece, all-female group from Seattle. On the group’s second album, Weirdo Shrine, they’ve crystallized the most poignant elements of surf rock into a carnival of ecstatic leaps and sharp turns. Throughout, the masterful, dreamlike harmonies and front woman Shana Cleveland’s show-stealing guitar work rub shoulders with angst-ridden lyrics and a deep-seated melancholy to create a record that hardly brings to mind a cheery day on the waves.

Even at their most sublime, La Luz usher us into harrowing worlds of lurid, perplexing color and haunting emotion. Take “True Love Knows,” which begins with a warbling reverb-soaked guitar figure and sparse drums before Cleveland spins a tale of desperate solitude. “I never want to hear your voice,” she deadpans in an off-kilter coo before her bandmates’ angelic harmonies waft into place to sing the titular refrain. On “With Davey,” a jaunty bassline and dagger-like jabs of guitar give way to a painful declaration—“Life is short so take it slow”—somehow capturing James Joyce’s bleakness and Jack Johnson’s chill-out ethos in one deft phrase. “Four-part, girl-group harmonies have a tendency to sound sort of ethereal and angelic. But a lot of our music, lyrically and tonally, tends to dwell in shadows,” Cleveland points out. “Then again, it’s also often music that’s meant to dance and party to, so there’s a lot of duality there.”

That duality extends beyond Cleveland’s harsh lyric—at least somewhat inspired by a near-fatal car crash in 2013—to the push and pull of hypnotic grooves and ferocious explosions that cycle in and out throughout the album. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Hey Papi,” the hulking mess of a track halfway into the record that burns with spastic fury reminiscent of art-rockers Deerhoof, ricocheting in all directions like Chinese New Year fireworks.

Cleveland already demonstrated her virtuosic guitar chops on this year’s Oh Man, Cover the Ground, released as Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles. But while that record found her winding and weaving intricate finger-picked figures, here she wrangles menacing, bristling notes and tones out of her six-string; her solo on “You Disappear” is euphoric, a colossal monolith of sound that rips the song asunder. It’s the musical equivalent of the big earthquake that everyone seems to be talking about.

La Luz by Andrew Imanakaphoto by Andrew Imanaka

Weirdo Shrine was produced by garage-rock guru Ty Segall, whose obsession with distortion and fuzz gives these songs a gritty edge that constantly rubs up against the elegant harmonies and loose grooves. Segall and Cleveland met at a show they played together years ago in Portland. “He bought one of everything at the merch table,” Cleveland told me with a laugh. When it came time for La Luz to record, Segall offered to man the boards, and the sessions took place, incidentally, in a converted surf shop outside of Los Angeles. He later described the record as a “world… burning with colors [he’d] never seen, like mauve that is living.”

It should probably come as no surprise that Cleveland’s favorite track on the album, “Oranges,” is an instrumental that leaves its meaning in the hands of the listener. “[It] feels really cinematic to me… it just feels wide open to the imagination,” she explains. Yet it’s not just that track, but the whole album, that maintains a sense of being ripe with possibility. On Weirdo Shrine, Cleveland and her bandmates carve pieces—some small, some heaping chunks—out of the surf rock canon to make it their own. They may never be able (or even want) to entirely escape the bucolic nature of surf rock, but by blurring the line between the raw and the refined, sounding tender, brittle, heartfelt, and hopeless all at once, they don’t need to.

Gaining Weight — The Rise of Fat Wreck Chords As One Of The Last Great Punk Indies

Fat Wreck Chords

“I want Fat to be pure. I want people who got Fat tattoos in the ’90s to still be proud of that tattoo in 2020.” — Fat Mike

Twenty-five years ago, NOFX lead vocalist/bassist Fat Mike and his then girlfriend, Erin Burkett, founded the fiercely independent Fat Wreck Chords. To this day, Fat Mike and Erin, though now divorced, still own and run the label. The San Francisco-based label epitomizes many of the intriguing dichotomies inherent within the life and work of its conceptualistic beacon, Fat Mike. Since its inception, Fat has released over 157 studio albums. Catalog highlights include releases by such iconic bands as NOFX, Good Riddance, Descendents, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, The Loved Ones, Screeching Weasel, Propagandhi, Rise Against, Lagwagon, Strung Out, No Use for a Name, Less Than Jake, Against Me! and Anti-Flag. The label has also built a very respected reputation as a discovery conduit with its signature compilations. In honor of this landmark anniversary, Fat has curated a compilation exclusively for Bandcamp, Fat Music Vol. 8: Going Nowhere Fat.

NOFX was one of the cornerstones of 1990s punk rock, highly regarded by fans and critics alike for well-crafted pop songcraft, barbed wit, pristine production, and accomplished musicianship. The band’s fresh and polished approach to what has been considered a lo-fi genre, and its bold decision to resist signing with a major label during the 1990s punk rock gold rush, garnered the quartet a dedicated fanbase and fostered a new era of punk.

NOFX by Ben Garcia
photo by Ben Garcia

Technical aptitude and a brash, anthemic sound are the hallmarks of the NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords style. The label has been able to earn an engaged following for its consistency and its dedication to its foundational ethos and music sensibility. In these revealing and exclusive interviews for Bandcamp, trusted employee and Fat recording artist Jason Hall of Western Addiction interviews cofounder Erin Burkett, and new Fat signees Night Birds frontman Brian Gorsegner chats with Fat Mike. The two cofounders discuss the label’s storied history and milestone anniversary with wryness and warm candor.

Interview One: Jason Hall with Erin Burkett

Erin Burkett by Kristen Wrightphoto by Kristen Wright

Jason: In your words, what is Fat known for?

Erin: I hope we are best known for treating our bands like family. For the most part, we sign our bands to one-record deals, treat them fairly and honestly, and keep our promises. For my part, I have tried to cultivate a feeling of mutual respect between the bands and the label. I’ve said it before, but these bands are truly family to me. I try to have an emotional investment with everyone on our label. Oh, yeah, and music. We’re known for putting out consistently good punk tunes.

Jason: At what point did you realize you were doing something special and it could turn into a life versus a hobby?

Erin: This is an interesting question. There are times when I still think I might have to go get a real job. The first few years, I kept my day job at a public relations firm because I thought there was no way we would be able to pay our rent and expenses on label income. When I finally quit, I figured it would be a few years, and I’d have to go back to work. I still can’t believe it’s been 25 years, and we are still going strong. I feel like this last year has been one of our best ever.

Jason: What release(s) are you most proud of?

Erin: I have an emotional attachment to almost everything we put out on Fat; however, I am most proud of the Tony Sly tribute album. Tony’s passing was a tragic and devastating blow to all of us, but obviously more so for his family. To be able to do something to help his family grieve and secure their future at the same time was huge. I was blown away by the response we received when we started that project. I felt such a sense of community and family. The number of bands that were willing to donate their time and artistry in honor of Tony was overwhelming. The day Brigitte Sly called me in tears after receiving her first royalty check and told me that the money will put her girls through college was the moment I felt most proud of my amazing Fat family.

Jason: What are some of your most cherished memories of the label?

Erin: Over the years we have had some awesome experiences. Fat’s 13-year anniversary party was an epic moment in our label history. We rented out the Great American Music Hall and threw a big party with NOFX, Lagwagon, NUFAN, and Propagandhi. Joey asked me on stage to sing “E Dagger” and it was the only time I’ve ever sung in public (other than Karaoke). I was so nervous up there… I just wanted it to be over so I could run off stage. It was such an awesome night. I can’t wait for our 25-year anniversary bash!

Propaghandi

Jason: How is running a label like being a parent?

Erin: Before I had Darla, I would have said it was exactly like being a parent in every way. My bands are my children, and I feel directly responsible for the well being of all of them. I give them advances on their allowance. I advise them if I think they are making poor decisions, but ultimately let them choose their own paths. I bail them out of jail if they are arrested and pay for their rehab if needed. Now that I am a parent, though, I can tell you that being a parent is a hundred times harder than running a label.

Jason: What does it take nowadays for a band to get your attention? What was the last band that made you go, “Ok, now this is different, this is good”?

Erin: I don’t think much has changed in the last 25 years in terms of what bands we sign at Fat. We sign bands with music that we want to listen to, with members that we want to hang out with. Of course, in addition to that, we need the band to be hard-working and willing to tour. The last band that made me stop in my tracks was Pears. They’re the first band that I can remember signing without having met, which breaks all of our rules. However, I heard the record and I just felt this surge of adrenaline rush through me. It made me feel 15 years old again, and angry, and I loved it. Then I saw them live, and I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with a new band. They are insane.

Jason: Where do you see music going? Are streaming services going to “save music?”

Erin: Well, I definitely see music going in the direction of more and more streaming services; however, I’m not sure I would say it’s going to save music. I don’t think music needs to be saved. I think there will always be a fan base for musical art, and there will always be advances in technology and new ways of turning a profit on that art for both the musician and the label. Fat has definitely seen its ups and downs, but one thing remains the same: punk rock fans are loyal, and they enjoy turning other people onto “their” band.

Jason: What would you say to your daughter if she told you she wanted to date a musician?

Erin: Ugh, I dread the day. I would tell her to follow her heart. I married for love, and even though Mike and I are divorced, we had twenty, sometimes-awesome, sometimes-not, but always interesting, years together. We built Fat, created Darla, and we both have an amazing life cultivated by that initial relationship. I would want the same thing for my daughter.

Nightbirds by Keith Marlowe
photo by Keith Marlowe

Interview Two: Brian Gorsegner with Fat Mike

Fat Mike by Alan Snodgrassphoto by Alan Snodgrass

Brian: What was the last day job you held before being full-time NOFX and full-time Fat Wreck Chords?

Fat Mike: I worked in the back of a couple of women’s shoe stores,’cause that was my Dad’s business, and for a pharmacy delivering drugs. Before that, it was McDonald’s. Shit, it all makes sense now—I’m a drug-using fat guy that loves to wear high heels! Nurture wins over nature!

Brian: You created Fat Wreck Chords with your onetime girlfriend, then wife, and now ex-wife, Erin… Which one of you came up with the idea to start the label? Were you running it together from day one?

Fat Mike: It was my idea, and I always signed all the bands. Before we had an office, Erin would fill orders and handle mail order when I was on tour. Then, in about 1993, we got an office and ran it together. She did all the accounting and I signed the bands. These days I hardly go in anymore. I sign bands and go to the weekly meeting, but she runs the place.

Brian: How the hell did Fat weather the virtual crash of the music industry? I mean, you’re still a viable operation where majors are shedding people left and right and trying to reinvent themselves. What do you see as the biggest changes between the early 2000s and now?

Fat Mike: We had to shed stuff too. We had four offices around the world and 18 employees in the ’90s because we were selling between a million and two million records a year. It was insane! Tilt sold 60 thousand records! The reinventing thing never happened. I wouldn’t do that to our fans. I started Fat Wreck Chords to be a label that represented me. I only signed bands that I liked and that had similar beliefs as mine. I wanted punk bands that were drunks and drug users that cared about playing music and having a good time more than they cared about becoming a success. There was no way I was gonna sign one of those emo/metal bands with kids that got their bodies covered in tattoos in three months and never tried drugs, but told everyone they did. No bands that sang about God or anything—that was against what I believed in. I signed MXPX but told them I would not put out their record if they sung about God or Jesus. There was no way I was gonna put out music just because it was popular at the time. I want Fat to be pure. I want people who got Fat tattoos in the ’90s to still be proud of that tattoo in 2020.

Brian: As previously mentioned, you and Erin were dating at the early incarnation of Fat, then got married, split up, but remained partners at the label. Kudos for being able to maintain a work relationship. Can you tell me about the dynamic of running the label with your ex?

Fat Mike: Well, since we share the same kid, we decided early on in our divorce that we would not become enemies. We were gonna be good parents that never talked shit about each other. Totally unlike the divorced families that we grew up in. Same thing went for the label. We maintain a very professional work relationship and any issues we have with each other (and there have been plenty) do not come into Fat. I think all the bands and staff really appreciate that. I mean we fought like pit bulls when we were at work and married. Everyone there was witness to huge fucking arguments all the time. Now there’s nothing. Our divorce worked out pretty good for Fat, strangely enough. Erin is at the label everyday and I’m there for two hours twice a month. Works out pretty good.

Brian: Who is your daughter Darla’s favorite Fat Wreck Chords band?

Fat Mike: By far, Darla’s favorite band is Masked Intruder.

Brian: What is the best Fat album to make sweet love to?

Fat Mike: If you can make it through The Decline [a NOFX EP featuring one epic 18-minute composition] your lady is stoked!

Brian: Thanks Mike, congrats on 25 years of Fat Wreck; we’re looking forward to joining the party. Last question, what’s your favorite Seinfeld episode?

Fat Mike: The one where George called his aunt a “beloved cunt.”

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