There are no Kinks in The Kinks, no Smiths in The Smiths, not a stroke in the The Strokes to be found. Perhaps then, to some surprise, front woman María of The Marías seems anything but out of place. María (who leaves off her surname in press) is the focal point of the band’s aesthetic, supplying the velvety vocals to the songs she co-writes, wearing the bob of black hair recognizable on the album art of all of their EPs, releasing singles and song-snippets with clips from Goddard’s “Vivre sa Vie” and Almodovar’s “Los Amantes Pasajeros.” A Puerto Rican LA transplant who grew up in Atlanta, María sings in both English and Spanish in her songs, the band somewhere along the border of indie-dream pop and Latinx, though I don’t see any reason to force a distinction on them — The Marías are comfortably, necessarily, multi-faceted.
In the band, María is joined by drummer, boyfriend and co-writer Josh Conway, as well as Jesse Perlman on guitar, Edward James on Keys and Gabe Steiner on Trumpet. Conway recruited Perlman and James to join on after he had already approached María about working together. Steiner also functions as the band’s touring manager.
The band’s platform has grown steadily since they released their second EP, Superclean Vol. II, in the fall of 2018. Their debut single “I Don’t Know You” recently topped thirty million hits on Spotify, they played festival shows and venues across the country for the better part of last year; they’re the type of band that you’re indie-attuned friend has already added to a playlist, the type of band they’ll claim finders-fee-dibs over if their next album breaks big. All to say, there’s many sets of eyes and ears waiting eagerly for what comes next.
Last year, I met up to talk with the band at their show in Detroit.
The Marías’ day-to-day has steadied between projects. They were on and off the road from March until August, embarking on a set of three tours throughout spring and summer. These were their third, fourth and fifth tours, their travels taking them through some two-dozen cities, onto a Coachella stage, altogether playing in five countries across three continents. The great irony of an artist’s sophomore project has nipped at The Marías’ heels too: So busy with the promotion and maintenance of the work that’s made their name, any time or inspiration needed to build toward the next project pinched.
“All our growing pains we felt touring have already happened,” María said, “it’s been a lot easier on this tour than previous tours.”
Their final summer tour, a docket of fifteen domestic shows, was their first with a band bus. The four Marías were in agreement that having a known space to come back to every day had helped them settle into those weeks on the road.
“Since we used to drive, just the stress of getting to shows in the past was very draining – leaving on time, sometimes driving eight hours the day of the show,” James said.
They told me their free time before and after shows was split equally between streaming shows and movies and playing badminton outside on Hotel lawns.
When asked “who’s the best badminton player,” the band (with a shifty-eyed James) answered unanimously:
Conway: “Derone (the band’s touring bass player), he’s by far the best, he brought the set.
María: “Then Jesse, probably.”
James: “No way, me! I think I’m definitely number two.”
Perlman: “I think I’m number two.”
James: “I’m not gonna let this slide, like I — definitely Derone and I are neck and neck.”
The four of them all talk at once.
María: “I just heard you like to…” She mimes whipping the badminton birdy back and forth.
James: “No no — yesterday we were hitting it straight at each other for like thirty-five minutes.”
María: “Oh, well I missed that.”
James: (to me) “I’m not gonna — that’s the only thing I’m not gonna let up on.”
They all laugh.
From what I saw, they’re a pretty tight-knit group. It was interesting to see María, Conway, Perlman and James organize themselves for the interview. Immediately Perlman and James separated themselves from the leading couple, though, on all questions apart from those considering writing, Perlman and James weren’t at all hesitant to jump in. Sometimes the questions would sort of default back to María, probably coming from the fact that most interviews they have are very focused on the singer.
At some point, when I was asking the band about their current music tastes, we got into a conversation about avoiding repeating something that’s already been done – essentially the awareness (and, hopefully, the avoidance) of writing a song that sounds too similar to something else. To my ear, The Marías have one of the most unique sounds right now. Hearing them voice their fears about being unoriginal made me think this need for novelty might be exactly the reason for this style. I wonder if this also plays a part in their patient approach to recording and releasing new music.
Early last year, fighting a bout of writer’s block, María and Conway left the city to get some fresh air. They spent a few weeks in Joshua Tree National Park, thinking the change in scenery would help spur them on.
“We’ve been there many times. Up until that point we’d recorded everything in our living room,” María said, “we wanted to just get away to somewhere peaceful and open – and get ourselves into a different mindset because we’d been touring so much last year. We needed to get away from people and clear our heads. It definitely did that. It was just fun; it was a good time.”
Both María and Conway were upfront about the difficulties they found writing while on the road.
María: “The mindset of … before we went on tour, the mindset was all about the songwriting, it was all about the songs. Once we started touring it became, just, a different journey of those songs. When we weren’t touring, there was so much more to draw inspiration from. Like our heads were in a better, more creative space –”
Conway: “Sort of in the clouds.”
María: “Yeah, and then when touring, it’s definitely more difficult to find inspiration. We’re in a bus. We drive to a city. And even though they’re different cities, we don’t get to explore as much as people think. It’s pretty monotonous.”
The band has turned down offers from record labels, deciding to remain independent. Last month, they released a single under their own Superclean records.
At first listen, I was disappointed. “Out for the Night” doesn’t separate itself from the rest of the band’s discography. The single could be slipped into either of the Superclean EPs, without much effect, which makes sense when you learn that it’s not a new song at all. “Out for the Night” was the first song María and Conway ever wrote together. They didn’t think they were ever going to release a studio version, so they decided to share the rough cut they’d already had done.
Regardless of the confusion “Out for the Night” supplied, I can’t help but feel weary about the The Marías’ next steps. The band hasn’t released any of post-Vol. II music since, well, Superclean Vol. II, in September of 2018. I hope the time off toward the end of 2019 has given them a chance to return to their lives, to their inspirations, and has given them a chance to bring it to our ears into a satisfying new light.