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Meet Mariana Fiel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mariana Fiel.

Hi Mariana, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Well, it all started on February 1st of 1985. Jorge Fiel and Eduarda Pinto Leite were ordering dinner at a Chinese Restaurant by the D. Luis Bridge in the city of Porto in Portugal and I didn’t feel like Chinese, so I decided to interrupt the dinner and just be born.

Growing up in Portugal was pretty sweet and I was lucky enough to have parents with an excellent taste in music. My Mom was super into Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, CSNY, Procol Harum and Yes (we won’t hold the latter against her). My Dad was into The Beatles, The Kinks, Kate Bush, Marianne Faithful (my namesake), a ton of Motown stuff and surprisingly Madonna. One of my oldest childhood memories is my Dad driving me to school during winter, with the car windows wide open, while he sang (in a super monotone but A+ for enthusiastic performance) songs like “Lola” and “Yellow Submarine”. So there was always music playing somewhere.

I’m the middle child of three (later in 2000, we became 4). My older brother Goncalo turned me into all the good stuff that was coming out in the 90’s (Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Obituary, Helmet, Sepultura, Unkle, Portishead) and also some 60’s and 70’s stuff that my parents didn’t exactly listen to, like King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath and Can. I was sort of a metalhead kid, but that never really affected me in school because in Portugal, the high school cliques are not as big of a thing as in the US.

I remember the first time my brother brought home a guitar and one of those Boss multi-effect pedals. My mind was blown watching him play. Shortly after that, he started jamming with our neighbors and school friends in the garage of the building we lived in. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and would just watch and try to absorb everything (I retained about 15% of it).

In my mid/late teens, one of my older brother’s friends, Bruno, made us a mixtape with Kyuss, Nebula, Pentagram, Sloth, Bottom, Colour Haze, Los Natas and a bunch of other stoner / doom bands and it was just so damn groovy but heavy and ethereal at the same time that I just completely fell in love. According to him, the genre was “stoner rock” (made sense). I needed more mixtapes. He delivered (he also delivered weed and hash – it was all very convenient). I think he’s also the one that turned me into Hawkwind and Captain Beefheart, I’m forever grateful to him, my older brother and my parents for the awesome musical education I got along the way.

Anyway! One day my older brother showed up at the house a BC Rich Warlock bass (it’s probably going to be in a picture at the bottom of the article) and that’s when I picked up the bass for the first time: around 17 / 18. We jammed and would record stuff in our Pentium whatever it was with a computer microphone. He was the talented one so most of the recorded jams were him on the guitar and I would just do vocals. I felt connected to the bass though, it was low, it was heavy and it was the instrument I felt like I was paying the most attention to when listening to music, even though it was not always very present in some mixes, I found myself searching for it.

I joined this now defunct message board called, a community of like-minded weirdos that found commonality in a genre that at the time was very esoteric and obscure. Keep in mind this was way back when social media wasn’t a thing – in fact – it’s what social media should’ve been but never was.

I met some delightfully people from all over the world on the site. I think the first official meeting with some of them was at this dutch music festival called Roadburn (which is now a staple in the genre) back in 2004 or 2005 and met many more later on, but I’ll revisit this.

Around that same time, I got a job as a photojournalist at Jornal de Notícias, which is one the major daily newspapers in Portugal. I had the pleasure of working with award-winning photojournalists like Alfredo Cunha and Leonel de Castro. Photography was my second passion after music. My father’s cousin, Fernando Barbosa, gave me my first digital camera: a Nikon D70. We would sometimes go shooting together with his partner, Luisa Carneiro, at Parque da Cidade, which was near my place at the time. I feel like throughout my whole life, the Universe just connected me with amazingly creative and supportive people. I don’t take that lightly and am fully aware of what a privilege that is.

In 2007 (that wonderful year when the world economy collapsed) I moved to Los Angeles.

I had been long-distance dating a person from that website and we decided to get married. He didn’t speak a word of Portuguese, so we agreed that I would be the one to transplant my life.

My first job in the US was as a not-very-creative sandwich artist at a Subway in Glendale, CA. I applied to jobs at a lot of newspapers but at the time, they were laying off most of their photojournalists and either purchasing photos from Associated Press or sending their writers to take photos with their iPhones.

My partner was a musician and told me that LA was filled with amazing musicians and that I should not consider pursuing music as a career or even a hobby. Obviously, that completely destroyed me on the inside but I figured I had my camera, so I would remain involved in the music industry by photographing bands at shows. I felt that as long as I was still involved with music, all was well in the world. The relationship didn’t last (for disclosed and undisclosed reasons), but the friendships created around it did. All those weirdos from the website are my closest friends and became my family.

The divorce process took a while, so I stayed in the US for its completion. Once it was finalized (it took about three years even though no kids or any sort of financials were involved), I felt like Los Angeles was home. I’m fully aware that this is an extremely hard city to live in, but I was lucky enough to have a solid foundation of friends that made it hard to leave.

Fast forward past a million hardships that everyone that has lived in this city is aware of, and while I was sitting in the back on an LAPD SUV, I came up with this really interesting riff. I got home and appropriated the bass of my friend Cas, who was now my roommate (read: good friend whose wife, and amazing human being, Andrea Casanova, agreed to allow me to crash at their place for an indefinite amount of time) and made a quick video to remember the riff. I sent the video to my friend, Collyn (AKA Sludgelord3000) and he told me I should start a band.

I think at this time, it had been something like ten years since I’ve actively played bass. I’m not a virtuoso by any means. I’m a utility bass player at best.

There’s this whole intrigue and mystique surrounding female bass players… I’m not it. I love music, I come up with a riff, maybe I’ll add a vocal line to it and I’ll call it a day. Collyn, however, must have been having an extremely boring week: He posted an ad on Craigslist on my behalf stating something along the lines of “I’m not Billy Sheehan, but I can keep time and write riffs”. He wrote a lot more clever words (maybe you can see the picture of the ad at the end of the article too, it’s funny af if you’re still reading and are tired of the life story, just skip to that). I was originally only looking of a drummer because I felt like the less people I could embarrass myself in front of, the better, and usually, drummers don’t really care that much, but Katie Gilchrest replied to the ad, She said something like “I know I’m not a drummer, but this sounds like my dream project. Here are some videos of me playing guitar”. She was too amazing for me to pass on it, so I decided to meet with her at a show and got embarrassingly drunk in front of her (if she could endure this, she could definitely handle my shitty bass playing). Later on, Megan Mullins replied to the ad, Megan is an amazing performer. We jammed and the chemistry (and tolerance) was there, High Priestess was formed.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
To be completely honest, my struggles were very first world problems (luckily),

The move to the US from Europe was definitely an adjustment when it comes to quality of life. You get really used to that free healthcare and annual month long paid vacations. Add a worldwide financial collapse to it, blend it all together and voila! Your ego has now been completely destroyed.

The rent prices in LA are a struggle to everyone that isn’t either a trust fund or a millionaire of sorts (which usually comes hand in hand) at some point.

I was on the verge of being homeless a couple of times if it wasn’t for my now self-appointed American adoptive parents, Cas and Andrea rescuing me.

Being a woman in the music industry is a struggle. You’re automatically condescended, minimized, sexualized, tokenized, and much more before people even bother to listen to your music. Stuff that you absolutely wouldn’t hear if it was directed to musicians that happened to be men.

Obviously, the pandemic also caused massive struggles, like it did for the 99%.

I keep a daytime job because I need bills to get paid, and if I get sick, to not automatically be forced to declare bankruptcy. Luckily I survived rounds of layoffs, but with that survival come a ton of responsibilities. My workload tripled and with that came mental exhaustion. My brain took me to some seriously dark places that I’m still trying to recover from. Work from home is all fun and pajama zoom meetings until you live in an area where the only internet connection available is dial-up.

I basically spent the last two years jumping from house to house of good friends that were kind enough to open their doors to me and my whole work setup to work from their homes. It was not fun. I’m truly appreciative of what everyone did for me, but trying to figure out whose house I’m going to be working out next to avoid extending my invitation for too long while doing a full-time job that should be getting done by three different people was absolutely stressful and draining.

My band, High Priestess, released our second album right at the beginning of the pandemic and couldn’t promote it at all by playing live, which is how you promote stuff in this scene. That also took a massive toll.

Seeing live music is a form of release. Playing live music is another form of release because you’re providing those low-end waves, but you’re also receiving an equal amount of energy from the audience, hitting right back at you, and all that was removed from the equation for two years.

I felt this overwhelming (self-applied) pressure to create new music. I thought to myself, “You’re not commuting for 2 hours anymore, you need to turn this time into something productive”, and sometimes I would get to the studio and was so exhausted from work that I would just sit there for 2 hours, fiddling around and absolutely nothing would come out. The one thing you’re supposed to find solace in is also causing it.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Well, I’m not Billy Sheehan, but I play bass and sing in a stoner/doom/psych band called High Priestess.

We were formed in 2016 and are signed to this awesome label called Ripple Music.

We toured the west coast up to Canada in 2018 and Europe in 2019.

Not sure when the article will be going live but we’re playing with the amazing Black Sabbitch and the fierce Flames of Durga at the Viper Room on April 22nd. Maryland Doom Fest on June 24th and Ripple Fest in Texas on July 23rd.

What sets me apart from others is the ability to pick talented, patient and motivated bandmates.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
Get yourself a good therapist and psychiatrist if you can.

Force yourself to reply to your friends, even when you don’t have anything to say. Let them know you’re alive.

Don’t self-medicate too much.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Cameron Acosta, Josh Mullins, Danielle Spires, Gonçalo Granhão

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