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Daniel Akira Marella Interview

1. What is your name and your profession(s)?

My name is Daniel Akira Marella. I am a studio/live drummer, but also have my own project called Marella. I also am an Assistant Coach for Pepperdine University’s Division One Swim and Dive team.

2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship?

I am hapa - half Japanese and quarter Irish and quarter Italian. I was born and raised in the United States!

3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?

Both my parents were engineers, and are not a part of the industry. My dad is definitely not a musician, despite his wealth of knowledge of the 1980s American Indie Underground.

My mom had a brief stint as a Gospel singer, singing in churches across the country and even internationally in Asia in her mid to late 20s. To this day she still sings at our local church and plays flute and piano.

4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies.

I didn’t even know I was half Asian until I was in middle school.

I knew I looked different from other kids in early schooling and in club sports, but I never knew why. I remember asking my mom why I looked like ‘nobody’ when I looked in the mirror in pre-school. It’s one of, if not my earliest memory as a child.

The reason why I didn’t know until middle school is because I met another half asian kid - who was very aware of who he was and what his background was. I never really dealt with racial stereotypes until middle school, and that’s where I think I felt my first instance of an identity crisis.

The Silicon Valley breeds excellence in the classroom and in extracurriculars. Expectations on eleven year old children are higher than some adults ever feel in their workplace. And being half Asian, my friends felt like I should fall into line and be in the highest math classes, score the highest on every test, and do so with the utmost consistency. If not, I was a failure. At eleven years old.

On the other hand, I was also half white. The white kids were supposed to dominate on the playground, in after school sports, and in social settings. And being half white, my friends felt like I should follow suit.

There were obviously exceptions to these dumb stereotypes in middle school and high school, but I often felt these kids were met with a little bit of resistance when breaking out of these molds. Perhaps this experience was just found at my school, but I know for a fact it was prominent in many, many schools in Silicon Valley and throughout the country.

But what happens when you are half Asian and half white? You feel welcomed and rejected in both at the same time. I didn’t know where I should fall, and truthfully it was really hard at times. I didn’t realize it’s okay to just be me until I was in college.

I think the hardest thing for me was that I was both half Asian and involved in two polar opposite extracurriculars - music and high level athletics. I was a part of every band imaginable in middle and high school, but at the same time a very high level swimmer. I felt like on both sides of the spectrum, no one took me seriously because of my involvement on the other side. So I was not only racially mixed, but everything I did outside of the classroom was also mixed. I lived and still live a juxtaposed life according to societal norms and racial stereotypes.

5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)?

I don’t feel too connected. My sister and I never learned the language, and my mom never really spoke, but she could understand.

However, I grew up going to my Japanese grandparents' house quite a bit. There, I was able to indulge in all of the great Japanese cuisine my Grandma Shigeko would make me. Food is the only way I feel connected because I grew up knowing that Japanese food takes time, delicate preparation, and pride to make. To this day I think Japanese cuisine is the best in the world, and I try to replicate it myself.

6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)?

I got into music because of an old video game called ‘Rock Band’. Seriously. I’ll never forget the day when I went over to my cousin's house and he showed me ‘Rock Band’ and I played the plastic guitar. I was listening to music that I’d never been exposed to at this time of my life, and I never felt the exhilarating feeling of ‘playing’ music like this.

I was a Music Studies major at UC Santa Barbara and was a three year member of the jazz program there. I was also a part of their Division One swim team there. I was admitted to a few graduate programs in the UK to pursue a masters in Pop Music and Culture. The plan was to go to the University of London at Goldsmiths, but I loved my day job in college athletics and I was getting consistent work as a session/live musician in LA, so I stayed.

6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now?

I decided my senior year of college. One of my best friends who is in the industry convinced me that I had what it took to do it, so I trusted him and took the leap of faith. My parents 100% supported me. They firmly believe that if you do what you love you’re going to succeed even if it’s not down the straight and narrow path. I’m forever grateful for them.


7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.

I’m very proud of the Marella project. It has transformed from recording in a freshman dorm room on a USB mic to headlining multiple shows all around Southern California. I write everything, and play all the instruments (vocals, guitar, bass, piano, various percussion etc.) on these songs in the studio, with some guitar and bass help from my producer and one of my best friends Max Bienert.

Secondly, any project that Max brings me into work on - mainly drumming on these songs or sometimes songwriting input. Max is a budding star in the music world and I think everyone will be hearing about him soon enough. He’s a phenomenal guitarist and producer, and everything he’s pulled me in on is consistently great.

I also play drums on a project called “Goblynne”, the moniker for Molly Kirschenbaum’s project. There are a lot of acts in LA, and I’ve played for a handful. But none of them are as rewarding, or as good as Molly’s. Spanning from Hyperpop-alt that you’d see at a 100gecs show, to intimacy you’d feel as if Slow Pulp was playing in your living room, Molly’s project is hands down the best project I’m a part of.

8. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry or in general?

I find myself in the ‘Indie’ Rock or Rock scene quite a bit. I have never seen another hapa or asian musician in other bands. This makes me feel a little out of place at times when the two other bands are all white at the whitest dive bar you’ve ever been to in Costa Mesa. I’m not sure my image is marketable in this space, because I’m not your typical tatted up skinny white dude behind the drum set or the microphone. Rather, I’m a half Asian wide guy who gives off quasi frat vibes because I was a division one athlete at one of the biggest party schools in the world. I’ll never charm you with pretentious takes about the recent art gallery I just visited or the vintage jacket I’m wearing. I’m just a dude.

Being half Asian has actually helped me one and only one time in the music industry. There is a show called Two Rooms that’s based in Los Angeles that is run by Lauren Lee, another fellow hapa. She booked me as an artist for her show, not on the sole fact that I’m hapa (although I think it helped), but because she was a fan of the music. Lauren books AAPI artists all the time, at a rate much higher than any other show that I’ve ever seen. Lauren is creating a community for people like us to meet, network, and share our experiences together. It’s really, really awesome and I’m forever indebted to Lauren for introducing me to other AAPI musicians and music industry people.

9. 9a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why?

Beabadoobee has been a huge inspiration for me ever since I stumbled upon her song “She Plays Bass” in 2019. Since then she has entered the mainstream and is one of the biggest faces for AAPI musicians in the world. When I was younger, Far East Movement was a huge inspiration for me because, frankly, there were Asian dudes on my TV playing music!

9b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general?

My hopes for the AAPI music community is that we continue to grow and continue to push forward in a very white dominated field. We need to continue to push for representation in all of entertainment, and continue to push to end racial stereotypes.


10. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.

I am very passionate about the sport of swimming. As I mentioned earlier, I was a Division One swimmer in college, and I coach an awesome group of young women at Pepperdine University. I also love the 49ers and Warriors, and most importantly cooking and eating.

11. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community?

I’m just grateful for the opportunity for my voice to be heard as a young hapa man trying to navigate the music world. Thank you so much!


Support Daniel Akira Marella online :)

Instagram: @danmarel

Images courtesy of Daniel Akira Marella

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