There's Something About The Marías

The bilingual Los Angeles psych-soul quintet blurs the lines between decades, genres, and cultures on their newly released 'Superclean, Vol. II' EP. Their new music video for "Over the Moon" continues the streak.

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Nov 2 2018, 6:29pm

Listening to The Marías is a bit like traveling in a time machine with your bilingual primo (that's “cousin,” for you monolinguals). Founded by the group’s eponymous singer alongside producer/drummer Josh Conway, the Los Angeles quintet mixes vintage sounds—from jazz to psychedelia to funk and lounge—with a retro-meets-future aesthetic. On any given song, they sound like the bridge between 90s-era indie pop, à la The Cardigans, and modern-day indie electronic girded by jazz, R&B, and Latin influences: A chameleonic pastiche as varied as their LA homebase, amounting to a seductive sound all their own. The result is a sound that can transport listeners across genres, decades, languages, cultures, and moods, often within one single track.

"We discovered our sound very early on and naturally,” the velvet-voiced María, who fronts the band, tells Noisey. “The first time Josh and I wrote a song together, we knew that we had a special chemistry. We each have different musical influences and grew up listening to different types of music. For us, those differences complemented each other.”

But don’t get it twisted: The Marías ain't no derivative copycats stuck in the past. While their music takes sonic cues from scenes like the psychedelic and soul movements of the 60s, the band also namechecks D'Angelo, Radiohead and Tame Impala as contemporary influences.

"Vintage is a word that's been used forever because there's always been something before bands or artists that has inspired them," Conway told Noisey by phone last week from the band’s tour van while on their way to a gig in San Diego. "I think it's about finding a balance between being inspired by vintage songs or vintage looks, and then turning that around and making it your own that'll be something new."

Take, for example, The Marías’ dreamy music video for "Cariño," which pays tribute to 60s French New Wave cinema. A Spanish-language bop, "Cariño" encapsulates the band’s silky-smooth approach to multi-genre songwriting—via psychedelic guitars, jazzy trumpets, and chilled-out lounge vocals that melt you into your seat—and María’s own cultural multiplicity.

"Growing up, I was Latin. But I was also living in the States, so it was like two different cultures, but also like many different cultures," says the Puerto Rico-born, Atlanta-raised María, who sings in both English and Spanish. "On the Latin side…we all have this unity because we all speak Spanish, or because we're all Latin, and we have similar values and morals...I embrace the fact that I can identify with a lot of different people, a lot of different cultures."

The band fused that modern-vintage approach and cross-cultural sound on their two-part Superclean EP series, which includes their stellar 2017 debut, Superclean, Vol. I, and the newly released Superclean, Vol. II.

The Marías now return with a new music video for "Over the Moon," an airy, swoon-worthy dream pop cut off the new EP that flirts with your entire body and spirit. Premiering on Noisey below, the ethereal visual features stop-motion claymation (directed by Darren Dai with animation by Bona Bones) inspired by the 1902 French film A Trip to the Moon, spliced with live shots and animated versions of the band dressed to the nines and looking dapper AF.

Noisey spoke by phone with the band's María and Conway, who are also dating, about finding a work-love balance, discovering new inspiration from vintage sounds, and code-switching between languages and cultures.

Your music has been described as sounding "old-school" and "vintage," which is somewhat of a sonic trend these days. Why do you think so many artists are harking back to old-school and vintage sounds?
Josh Conway: I don't think going back to old-school and vintage sounds is anything new. I think even in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, people were influenced by the old-school then. Vintage is a word that's been used forever, because there's always been something before bands or artists that has inspired them—especially now that people are much more able to find old music than [they were able to] maybe 50 years ago, which is why there may be more old-school, vintage sounds nowadays. But there's nothing new in terms of being inspired by it.

Are there ever any risks for an artist when it comes to revisiting the past and reviving retro sounds and maybe getting too stuck in the past?
Conway: I definitely think that there are a lot of artists that are very much stuck in the past, and don't really use their vintage or old-school influences to create anything new, which I think is something that's very important. I think it's about finding a balance between being inspired by vintage songs, or vintage looks, and then turning that around and making it your own that'll be something new.

María: It's just all about making it your own, and that in and of itself is going to make it new and unique. You just gotta put a new perspective on old things and what's been done.

The last time we spoke, you said you winged your music video for "Cariño." Your new video for "Over the Moon," which features lots of painstaking stop-motion animation, is almost the opposite.
María: With this one, because of the claymation and stop-motion, a lot more planning needed to go into it. [Going back] back to what you were saying about being inspired by old, vintage things, I studied film, and in my first film class, our teacher made us watch A Trip to the Moon. The 1970s version of The Little Prince also struck a chord with me. So [we] took those as inspiration because the song is "Over the Moon" and has that ethereal outer space vibe to it. I wanted to do stop-motion animation done in a new way, but also using elements from some of these stop-motion [films], and also mixing those with the live elements of the band to get people to get to know us a little bit better. Using old-school, vintage things to inspire something new is definitely the case with this video and the inspiration for it.

The Latin pop and Latin alternative genres have exploded in North America recently. The Marías have been somewhat lumped into those categories. Are there any benefits or risks when an artist gets categorized into buzzing genres like this?
María: No. I am Latin and we do have songs in Spanish, so I don't think it's a risky thing at all because it's who I am, and who we are as a band as well, even though I'm the only Latin person in the band. Even to that point, the mix of different things in the band and the diversity among everybody speaks to the music as well. So we have songs in Spanish, but we also have songs in English, because all the guys speak English. I grew up in the States, so I grew up speaking both languages. We do what we are, and I don't think we go into it thinking that we want to be part of a certain scene or like a certain genre. We just kind of do what we like and hope for the best.

María, in a previous interview , you said that the music of The Marías does not fall into the Latin music bucket.
María: The Latin music bucket is perceived as being primarily Spanish. Since we merged the two—we have songs in English and songs in Spanish—I don't think it falls perfectly into the Latin music bucket, and I don't think it falls perfectly into the alternative bucket either. I think it's just kind of swimming between the two at certain times, maybe being one sometimes, and maybe being the other sometimes. But I think we're just doing both.

You've also mentioned that you yourself feel like you're from more than one country. How does cultural identity play into your music and lyrics?
María: Growing up, I was Latin. But I was also living in the States, so it was like two different cultures, but also like many different cultures, because on the Latin side, regardless if you're from Puerto Rico, or Chile, or Argentina, or Mexico, we all have this unity because we all speak Spanish, or because we're all Latin, and we have similar values and morals. So I don't feel like I'm necessarily a part of one thing—I think it's a lot of different things. I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. I embrace the fact that I can identify with a lot of different people, a lot of different cultures. If you see the band....we all come together and do our thing, and they're super, super open to us having songs in Spanish. They even sing some harmonies in Spanish, even though at first they didn't even know what they were saying. But the fact that they've embraced that part of who we are, and that part of the band culture says a lot about who they are as well.

When you're switching between singing in Spanish and English, do you feel like you're also switching between identities?
María: A little bit. I think having songs in English and Spanish is always going to be part of who we are and part of the band because it is such a huge part of who I am...We also don't go into the songwriting process being like, "OK, this song is gonna be in English and this song is gonna be in Spanish." I think that part evolves naturally as well, just depending on the chord progression or the feel of the song. I think it's always gonna be a part of our DNA because it's a part of my personal DNA.

You're in a relationship together, you live together, and you work together. That sounds like a lot of time spent with one another. How do you go about keeping boundaries or from driving each other crazy?
María: Being in a relationship and always being together helps in writing the music together because it gets to the point where we understand each other so well that all I'll have to do is like a little dance or like a little hand motion, and he'll know exactly what sound I'm thinking in my head, and vice versa.

Conway: We spent every day together long before touring started, so being with each other every day isn't anything new for us either. There was about a year and a half [or] two years before we started touring where we lived together for a year. And then before that, we would still see each other every day.

How do you go about resolving any potential artistic or personal conflicts so that it doesn't affect your music or your other band mates?
María: Anytime we have a conflict, which doesn't happen often, but when it does, it kind of turns into a song. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and we try to take the downs and the arguments into songs. A good example of that would be [our song] "Clueless." We were driving home one night and I just turned to Josh and I was like, "Ugh, you're just so clueless." That really hit him hard, and when we got home, "Clueless" was written because of that argument, and because of what was said. After that part was written, we just forgot about what the argument was even about and just moved on because the song finally was getting to a point where we really liked it.

Catch the Marias on tour:

11/2 - San Francisco, CA @ Swedish American Hall*
11/4 - Long Beach, CA @ Tropicalia Festival*
11/7 - Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater*
11/9 - Dallas, TX @ Cambridge Room at HOB*
11/10 - Houston, TX @ Secret Group*
11/11 - Austin, TX @ Antone's Nightclub*
11/13 - Nashville, TN @ Exit/In*
11/15 - Raleigh, NC @ Kings*
11/16 - Philadelphia, PA @ Foundry at Fillmore*
11/17 - College Park, MD @ MilkBoy ArtHouse*
11/18 - New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre*
11/20 - Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall*
11/21 - Montreal, QC @ Le Ministére*
11/22 - Toronto, ON @ Mod Club*
11/23 - Detroit, MI @ El Club*
11/24 - Chicago, IL @ Sleeping Village*
11/25 - Minneapolis, MN @ Amsterdam*
11/29 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge*
11/30 - Seattle, WA @ Nectar Lounge*
12/1 - Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret*

* = with Triathalon

John Ochoa is a Los Angeles-born, Brooklyn-based editor and writer. You can find him living his best life on Twitter .