Reflecting on Connection and Creation with marine eyes

When I first heard marine eyes this spring, I connected with the vibrant warmth that permeates her recordings. Her music opens up beautiful sonorous worlds where listeners can find respite, an aural cocoon drifting in space as the soothing tones wash through the air. On her debut, idyll, she created a beautiful aquatic ambient world imbued with emotional expression. Beyond her solo work, she is half of the duo awakened souls and recently completed a stunning collaborative album with zaké. For an artist that’s already offered so much, it still feels as though marine eyes is just getting started.

So I usually start interviews off with a similar question, but I want to change it up a little bit here. What are some specific memories of environmental sounds you have – when you were a kid or even last week – that helped you realize the calming and pastoral effect that sound and music can have?

My first memory involves sound. It must have been when I was three or four, sitting in my car seat in the back of my Mom’s car and listening to the rain fall on the roof, the swooshing of the windshield wipers, and the sound of the car on a wet road. At times, some of my childhood memories stem from pictures or home videos. This is a memory I know is all my own, being fascinated by the comforting sounds of rain. 

More recently some sounds that have moved me are the dawn chorus in the Santa Monica mountains of Los Angeles, a rocky beach in La Jolla, the scurrying of bunnies mixed with crickets on an evening walk with my husband. One of the things I love most about field recording is the ability to enhance your sense of sound by listening to your environment through headphones. It feels like a superpower of sorts and is a direct way for me to connect deeply with nature.

When did you first start writing and making music and what pushed you to start?

I wrote my first song around the age of 9 underneath the front porch of my childhood home near Clayton, California. The lyrics were about rain and it’s not a tune I plan on resurfacing, ha. I think the amount of music that surrounded my upbringing (CD’s and cassettes covering a full wall, concerts, family record shop outings) had a big part in what pushed me to want to become a musician. I did struggle at times on if I wanted to share my voice but when I picked up the guitar at 15, it gave me the courage to start playing cover songs at parties here and there (Mazzy Star, Radiohead, and The Cars in rotation), and experiment with turning some of my poetry and writing into songs.

I moved to San Francisco in my early 20’s and started a band with my friend Andrew, playing indie folktronica at a few coffee shops including the one we worked at alongside Golden Gate Park. Years later, I would mess around with GarageBand from my extra bedroom in the house I had in the Central Valley of California with me and my young son. It wasn’t until I met my husband (James Bernard) back in 2014 that I started properly recording my original song, diving into production. James and I started with indie electronic songs with hints of ambient but when James gave me the RC-505 for my birthday back in 2016, I started to explore loop-based ambient, doing 4 track nightly meditations. awakened souls was born soon after that but it wasn’t until last year when we released, how we heal on Stereoscenic that we fell in love with writing albums together versus single songs and got a lot more diligent about completing projects. After completing the marine eyes remixes for the awakened souls and 36 album, The Other Side of Darkness, I knew that I wanted to make my own EP, which then turned into the full idyll album over the course of 3 months.

Why did you decide to call your solo project marine eyes? It’s a beautiful name and fits the music so well, but I’m curious if there’s a particular story behind it…

I came across the phrase ‘marine eyes’ in a translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem, Leaning Into the Afternoons during the time I was working on the awakened souls + Pepo Galán album, Palettes (released on Hush Hush records last year). I wrote the name in large letters of my journal and I kept coming back to it. Also, I’ve been told my eyes are reminiscent of the ocean and my middle name is Maureen, after my aunt who passed away at a young age. All of these together made me know it was my chosen solo project name. 

idyll is such a beautiful album and I love in the description how you talk about creating an album that was peaceful like the rolling hills of Southern California in the spring. That really comes through. I know, for myself, a lot of times when I’m composing, I start with an image or scene in my mind and try to recreate it through sound. The great Laraaji described it to me as ‘pulling music from the air,’ which I love so much. So I’m curious, what is your process like? How do you take such lush, vivid imagery and then translate it to sound?

I love that Laraaji quote and connect with it as well. I think that part of the beauty of creativity is anything can be the muse to inspire you. It could be a single photograph, a loop in a song, a friend’s laugh, a poem, a situation you are going through, a trip to visit a favorite tree-there is potential for inspiration and magic everywhere. With idyll, I knew from the start that my intention was to make a whole album dedicated to Spring. Living in Southern California, if you want to enjoy the green and wildflowers you need to make sure you dedicate time to spend with them before they disappear and the hills turn golden again. I gathered the sounds for the album throughout late fall of 2020 primarily but always had Spring on my mind, using my field recordings as my guide when I would sit down in my bedroom studio to write. This album became part of my therapy during Covid. Nature was always there for me and my family to go visit no matter what—the trees rooted, the sun shining, the birds singing their songs. 

In addition to your solo work as marine eyes, you and your husband also have the duo, awakened souls. I know, for me, working on create projects with my wife (we also have a band) has always been a way to deeper our connection in a different way. What is the experience like for you?

It’s encouraging to hear of other couples who create and wonderful that you and your wife have projects together! Creating music has always been a direct way for James and I to deepen our connection as well. I think it took us 2 days after meeting to start writing music together and within a month and a half, we had written six songs. We have grown a lot as humans and creatives in our seven years together, lessons of vulnerability, being seen and accepted and honesty are wrapped up in the creative process. James’ knowledge of production, performance, and unashamedly being himself, has helped me embrace my own uniqueness. Being creative is a fascinating way to get to know yourself more and when you add this to a partnership, it turns into something with its own type of sacredness. I am certain that James and I won’t stop creating together-it is what we like to do together (and separately) nearly every day and helps us process our everyday life and nurture that soul place in us, the origin of our duo’s name. 

How did you get involved with the Past Inside the Present label and come to know zaké?

James released an album, Fragments in 2019 on PITP and awakened souls contributed two songs to the Healing Sounds Compilations which began our friendship with Zach and the rest of the crew. It wasn’t until we were preparing for the release of The Other Side of Darkness (our collaborative album with the amazing 36) that we all started to become closer. It feels much like we are an ambient family, lifting each other up and holding space for each other and of course, creating together remotely. With my passion for curation, events, and the ambient community, it was natural for me to become part of the label and I am honored that Zach asked me to part of the team as events and compilation curation. I have an exciting project in the works that will be out in 2022 and I can’t wait to share more details soon.   

Your album with zaké is another fantastic release that’s come out this year. What was the experience like creating Unfailing Love? It’s such a great, apt title…

Thank you! When Zach asked me to be part of an album together, I immediately got tears in my eyes. He said he wanted the album to be a love letter to his wife, Julia who has been experiencing health challenges over the past several years. This hit me hard because my husband’s first wife and four step-children’s mother, Nicole battled acute myeloid leukemia and passed in 2011. James would often write her music to help her get through treatments and even has a bit of one of those songs tattooed on him. Over the years, when a tough situation has come up with the kids, I have taken to singing words to her, in a way asking for her guidance. I felt like I had the opportunity with Unfailing Love to sing words to Julia, Zach, and their kids, and to my husband, children, and Nicole.

When Zach sent me the album, it was the first four songs and none of them had names yet or the gorgeous cover art we ended up choosing from Benoît Pioulard. I had just finished my first version of idyll the day before Zach asked but immediately knew I was all in on a collaborative album and would help mold it into the love letter I knew he wanted to give to her. It took about three weeks for me to finish the whole thing, including writing the foundation of the last track Floating Together which I wrote from my bedroom studio one morning while the kids were doing online school. It was amazing to have our friend Lucy Gooch add the main vocals to the track and sing alongside her. My process with the rest of the album was to listen to each song repeatedly on my Bluetooth headphones while I was cooking, cleaning, working out – until I heard the words/mantra of the song come to me. I would then head to the studio, using my vocals through our pedalboard, and allow myself to go on the journey with wherever the song took me.

Another beautiful part of making this album is that I have become friends with Zach’s wife, Julia. She is an extremely talented writer and has been working alongside Zach on some new material and hopefully, I can do a project with her at some point as well. As I said before, this community often feels like a big family and I am grateful for her part in it. It is going to be lovely to all meet in person at some point!

I love the idea of connecting more deeply to nature through field recordings and can definitely relate to that. Do you have any especially memorable experiences collecting field recordings or any specific places you would like to gather recordings that you haven’t yet?

When James and I first started exploring field recording together, we took a trip to the Sequoia National Forest and ended up capturing hail, thunder, and lightning sounds from the inside of a giant Sequoia tree. We lingered in that environment for a while, soaking in the protection of a tree that has been on this planet for thousands of years. It’s beautiful to have those sounds to go back to as they always end up grounding me, reminding me how big and yet how small I am at the same time.

I have a song I’m working on right now with city sounds–a collage of me walking around Highland Park in LA. I found that capturing the city connected me to that place of the young creator in me, as San Francisco was the place I would wander when I was first living on my own out in the world. 

I want to gather recordings from many different nature environments (desert, forest, caves) which can feel like an exciting scavenger hunt, inspiring me to do more day trips to nature spots. Also, I want to do a project of more of my day-to-day sounds. As an active mom, I am trying to find creativity in much that I do and think it would be fun to capture some of these daily sounds and turn them into art. 

What projects are you currently working on?

I just finished a marine eyes rework and am starting another one this week. Also, James and I just finished our next awakened souls album and are in the middle of a collaborative album with some friends right now. After those projects wrap up, I am diving back into my second full-length marine eyes album which I think I am about halfway done with, but we will see where the journey takes me. 

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