Photo: Ashley Seryn
The Marías Honor Their Origins, Declare Their Love Of Film On 'Cinema'
Beneath the whimsical reverie of The Marías' full-length debut album, Cinema, is a feeling of intimacy, reimagined over the course of 13 mesmeric tracks. "I wanted the sense to be fairly warm and luscious, [where] there is not much distance between the songs and your eardrum," Josh Conway, producer and drummer of The Marías, who also shares vocal duties, affirms. "Both María and I really love songs that have that sort of sonic intimacy."
Full of stylistic juxtapositions, the Los Angeles band guides listeners into the abysmal world of love and lust, with all of its highs and lows—where iridescent synths, supple basslines and moody strings interplay against María’s featherlight coo. This combined with horn melodies so spellbinding, your heart could either sink or skip a beat. They conjure up a perfect balance between nostalgia and forward-thinking, sleek pop sung in English and Spanish.
Film, the band says, is the reason The Marías exist and at the crux, Cinema is an ode to these roots. Film is what got Conway and María (who goes by her first name only) to begin writing music professionally in 2017 and what took their bond to the next level. "Not only did that teach us to write songs together fairly quickly, it taught us how to think like filmmakers," María said in a press release. On Cinema, their reverence for film luminaries like Pedro Almodovar and Wes Anderson shines through not just in the title of the album, but through the music video for their track "Hush," which was partly inspired by the two.
In a few short years, The Marías have gained a loyal and fervent fanbase that has garnered them views by the millions on YouTube, as well as bookings in top-tier festivals like Coachella and Tropicalia Festival. With Cinema, the band aims to "transport listeners to their own little movies inside their heads," María tells GRAMMY.com over the phone while at home in the Hollywood Hills, where the group also writes and records most of their work.
Maria and Conway spoke with GRAMMY.com about their origins, the inspiration behind the album and how it honors María’s Puerto Rican origins.
Your second single "Un Millón" was inspired by your native Puerto Rico. What’s the rest of the story behind the song?
María: Being from Puerto Rico, I grew up listening to reggaeton. I remember when I was 15, I had my first job so that I could save enough money to go to reggaeton concerts. I had saved enough to get VIP tickets to Don Omar and Daddy Yankee concerts. One night Josh and I were like "what would a The Marías reggaeton song sound like?," so we started "Un Millón" just as an experiment. The lyrics are inspired by places I would go to when I was little in Puerto Rico. There’s a place there called Bayamón where I have family. Another place that I namedrop is Luquillo, which is a beach that my family and I would go to. The whole vibe and the lyrics are heavily inspired by my love for the island.
You were born in Puerto Rico, raised in Atlanta and now you’re based in Los Angeles. How has your transnational experience played a role in your creativity?
María: It’s played a large role in the sense that I met Josh here in L.A. We’ve become creative collaborators, creative partners and that has definitely changed my approach to making, writing and producing music. Both of us play off each other really well. When we met, we knew this was going to be something that was going to be special for us. It changed both of our creative approaches and outputs meeting each other.
What’s your favorite thing to do in L.A. when you’re not recording music that also informs your musical process?
Conway: One of my favorite things to do in L.A. is nothing. We live in the Hills, where it’s so quiet, peaceful and extremely beautiful. Especially on rainy days, just sitting in the apartment, and looking out is really special. Aside from doing nothing, I would definitely say not driving, that is not fun in L.A. I guess we can start with the process of elimination [laughs]. It’s a huge city and there is really anything you can think of to do in L.A., whether it’s the beach or if you want to drive a couple hours, maybe it’s not in L.A., but there’s snow in the mountains not too far. I think Lake Arrowhead is the closest, about an hour and a half. There’s lots to be inspired by for sure.
Your song "Hush" is a stark contrast from "Un Millón" with bleak yet alluring overtones. Can you explain the concept behind the song and video?
María: It’s a song to anybody who has an opinion on your life, or on what you’re doing with it because people always have their opinions. The song is telling them to be quiet, like "let me do my thing." For the video, we wanted to approach it like if The Marías released a song in the ‘60s or ‘70s, and reimagine 2020, what we think that looked like. It has this sort of futuristic vibe, A Space Odyssey-inspired video.
Can you talk a bit more about what other themes, concepts and sounds you worked with?
María: From start to finish, we wanted [the album] to feel like you are watching a movie. There are ups and downs and different vibes overall. When watching some of my favorite movies, some of Pedro Almodovar’s, he has a Caetano Velso song followed by a punk song. We wanted to transport listeners to their own little movies inside their heads.
Besides Almodovar, I read that you also got inspiration from Wes Anderson. Can you choose one or two adjectives for each filmmaker that captures what’s so amazing about them?
María: With Pedro, I’d say nostalgia. He is also unapologetic. With Wes Anderson, I would say whimsical.
Conway: They’re both extremely unique. María nailed it with Pedro being unapologetically himself. Wes Anderson has a lot of fun with visual art, so symmetry is my word for that one, but also quirky and offbeat.
Your bio mentions that The Marías began pursuing music for cinema. Was this like writing a soundtrack for a film?
Maria: We were approached early on by a friend of mine who is a music supervisor. He was like, "Are you guys interested in writing music for film and TV?" We were like, "Yeah, of course!" He would send us all these pitches for films and TV, and we would write songs to scene descriptions. We were super drawn to it. That was the main reason why Josh and I started writing music together. By the end of it, we released a collection of songs [in 2017] as part of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 [called Superclean]. If it wasn’t for these pitches, our music supervisor, film, TV and cinema, The Marías definitely would have never existed.
How does your romantic relationship with each other inspire you each creatively?
María: When it comes to The Marías, it plays a huge part in our creativity. We write these songs together in our apartment. [Every aspect of] our lives is being together, working on music together and experiencing everything that comes along with it — tours, music videos, all of it, in addition to being in a relationship. I think it makes it special because we love each other, and we understand each other really well, but we are so different as well. I think our differences come together and create this whole.
Conway: María texted me the other day and was like, "we need more drama, get mad at me." She’s not wrong, we do need more drama. A lot of our songs are about relationships. When everything is going well in our relationship, well, what do you have to write about?
So you write more optimistic love songs when you’re happy, and a kiss-off when you’re upset at one another?
Conway: I find ourselves writing in more of a sad lyric state. I think we just kind of gravitate towards sad and lonely lyrics.
María: When we are really happy and content in life and in our relationship, we just tend to live in the moment and not write about it. But when there is something wrong, or like Josh said, when we are feeling sad, lonely, or if there is something in our relationship that we tiff about, then we feel inspired to write about it to try and understand the feelings that we are having. We are inspired by each other, but we are also writing about past experiences and past relationships as well.