Cerebral Slideshows: The Marías Marry the Arts of Film and Music in Expansive Debut LP ‘CINEMA’

The Marías © Ashley Seryn
The Marías © Ashley Seryn
Visually minded indie pop band The Marías sit down with Atwood Magazine to discuss the beauty of interpretation and how their first full-length album ‘CINEMA’ draws from the films that made them.
Stream: ‘CINEMA’ – The Marías

It’s important to keep an open mind, because as artists we write based on what we are experiencing… and what we’re experiencing from one day to the next, from one year to the next, is completely different.

There’s something nostalgic and almost sad about airplanes.

Their passage overhead holds the promise of possibility. Though most head to someplace mundane, one of many Nowheresvilles, USA, they still entice with arcing paths sliced through maroon twilight. It’s the potential, the window into an elsewhere, an elsewhere that isn’t here, where anything can happen.

If this ennui feels familiar, it might stem from the collective isolation that sapped a full year of our lives away. We remembered times where we could go and do and experience, when we could celebrate the full potential of our humanity. We wish we could be on those planes, those little windows into a world we used to know.

CINEMA - The Marías
CINEMA – The Marías

Our imaginations are perhaps the most human of our qualities. Form them sprout all art and fantasy, worlds entirely of our creation that are as real as the rain on our faces or the chill of a brisk winter squall. And through them, the things we can see and touch feel all the more real. What is real after all, but the scenes we act out on an otherwise lifeless stage?

I’ma live in the past
Look at the videos
I’ma give you the wheel
What do you wanna know?
And I’m calling you back

When I dove into CINEMA, the first full-length album by alternative pop band The Marías, I saw that stage come to life. Swelling strings dressed the backdrop in the grainy, black and white film of old Hollywood, the mournful notes of a guitar plodding across the hardwood as if lost in time and unsure where to land. When the houselights dim and the players take centerstage, the rest unfolds in hyperreal magic that dwarfs the trappings of “real” life. That’s the power of the art form from which the album takes its name. It transports us from the inside out, delivering a little of what distant planes promise.

Each song is its own scene and visual world.

The Marías appropriately enough were born from cinema. Along with partner and producer Josh Conway, frontwoman Maria Zardoya began writing for a music supervisor friend. “[He] would send us little descriptions of scenes he needed music for,” she explains. “We’d receive a synopsis of a scene, and then we’d have to write the music to it within a couple of days. Not only did that teach us how to write songs together fairly quickly, it taught us how to think like filmmakers.”

The music of the Los Angeles-based quartet never feels simply auditory. It conjures images and scenes that transport one from the couch to a dimly lit Spanish café, rain pelting the cobblestones outside (“Little by Little”). They bring one to the strobing lights and slow motion decadence of an after-hours club (“Hush”). You are teleported to an early morning overlook, the city shrouded by mist (“Fog as a Bullet”). Yet all of these interpretations are just that. “Each song is its own scene and visual world,” says Zardoya. “That’s how we created it and I think that’s how it should be experienced.”

Calling back to the striking visuals of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (Hable Con Ella [2002], which The Marías invoke on their track of the same name), French auteur Leox Carax (Mauvis Sang [1986]), and personal favorite films like Black Swan (2010), Garden State (2004), and Paris, Texas(1984), the band weave a soundtrack for a film that exists in the mind of the listener. It is introspective, evocative, and demands repeat viewings to fully grasp everything that it stirs in one’s mind.

“At the end of the day the whole movie has one overall meaning – and I think that meaning changes depending on the viewer,” elaborates Conway.

While I see serenity, possibility, and debauchery in equal measures, someone else could glean a whole different collection of scenes from the Marías’ silky-smooth songwriting. Like all good music, meaning manifests in the listener. A song, a story, a film takes on as many forms as there are people to consume it. In that sense the value of art does not exist in the piece itself, but in the emotions it conjures. So does this happen in spades on CINEMA.

The Marías © Ashley Seryn
The Marías © Ashley Seryn

While every song unfolds a scene of its own, perhaps the most encapsulating of this multiplicity is the ethereal, Spanish-language lament “Fog as a Bullet.” In it, Zardoya explores the potential for a source of beauty to inflict destruction.

Estaré volando entre niebla y el mar
Volando entre dioses y paz
Qué rabia que ya tú no estás
I will be flying between fog and the sea
Flying between gods and peace
What anger that you are no longer

She wrote the song after gazing out on a misty morning in the Hollywood hills. “It was very foggy out and I remembering thinking how beautiful it looked,” she recalls. “The soft focus and glow with the grey in the hills… that doesn’t happen too often”. Two days later her brother called her in tears saying that Kobe Bryant had died in an accident. “I was thinking the fog was so beautiful and that it gave the world such a soft glow and slowed it down a little bit, and then two days later it’s the very thing… that had brought the helicopter down.” While more literal than most of the tracks on CINEMA it provides an almost perfect microcosm of the myriad possibility within all things. Our perception is what brings them to light.

Overall, CINEMA is a triumph in multimedia songwriting.

Videos for “Calling U Back” and “Hush” establish a strong visual counterpart to their atmospheric songwriting, while the rest conjure their own phantasms, a cerebral slideshow that changes with every subsequent listen. It evokes the hypothetical journeys we could be taking on passing planes, each woven with possibility and wonder. Art is a transportive experience, and more than anything, The Marías know the beauty of escape. They bring us there with every song, projected in our minds like the grainy rapture of an old film.

Zardoya and Conway sat down with me to talk all about how they brought this album to life, how they draw from the films that made them, and how music can transcend borders and language. Check out our conversation below.

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:: stream/purchase CINEMA here ::
Stream: “Calling U Back” – The Marías


Atwood Magazine: The Marías were born from cinema, and you’ve said that you came together because of cinema. Can you elaborate on this?

Maria Zardoya: The reason Josh and I started writing music together was because our friend who is a music supervisor would send us little descriptions of scenes he needed music for, for film and TV. So many of the songs we wrote for those pitches didn’t end up getting placed anywhere, but lucky for us, we were able to release them on our own. Most of the songs on [Superclean] Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 – and a couple on Cinema – were for pitches for film and TV. The Marías wouldn’t be The Marías without cinema.

You all recently said: “We’d imagine worlds in our minds based on the synopses – the colors in the scene, the lighting, the actors, the set design, and of course, the music.” Is there an overarching plot to CINEMA, or does each song contain a world and scene of its own?

Zardoya: I think each song is its own scene and visual world. That’s how we created it and I think that’s how it should be experienced… although from start to finish we do want it to sound like a short film, but within this movie there’s little scenes that happen and that’s what the songs represent.

Josh Conway: But like in any movie, while there are always scenes that may be alluding to something bigger, at the end of the day the whole movie has one overall meaning to someone – and I think that meaning changes depending on the viewer. Regarding Cinema, I do think there’s a meaning overall, but its really up to the listener to distinguish what that is.

Can you tell me a little about the visuals that come up for you over the course of the album and where?

Zardoya: The visuals were inspired by the some of our favorite movies that we watched throughout the years and over quarantine. Some of those movies, like the Pedro Almodóvar movies, I’ve watched since I was really little. His attention to detail in every scene inspired me because if he could have that level of attention to detail in a movie that’s 2 hours, we can have attention to detail in a 3-minute music video. Other specific movies that inspired us were this French movie called Mauvis Sang, that inspired the video for “Calling U Back”. Black Swan, Garden State, Paris, Texas and the 90s version of Romeo + Juliet – have all been a foundation for the music videos.

The Marías © Bethany Vargas
The Marías © Bethany Vargas

Hush” and much of CINEMA is heavier than a lot of previous work. Less dream pop and more dark-wave. What took you in this direction with your sound?

Zardoya: I think being trapped in our apartment during quarantine definitely had a lot to do with it. Plus, what was happening in the world – it was darker than what we were experiencing during Vol.1 & Vol. 2. I think one of the things for our fans to understand is that it’s important to keep an open mind, because as artists we write based on what we are experiencing… and what we’re experiencing from one day to the next, from one year to the next, is completely different. So, our next album will probably be a lot different from Cinema.

“Fog as a Bullet” is another big standout for me. I love that it speaks to the duality of something beautiful that can also cause so much destruction. How did this manifest for you?

Zardoya: It was a weekend in January of 2020, and I was sitting at my window, overlooking the hills of Hollywood. It was very foggy out and I remembering thinking how beautiful it looked. The soft focus and glow with the grey in the hills… that doesn’t happen too often.

Two days later, I get a call from my brother in tears and he said that Kobe had died in a helicopter accident, due to the pilot’s inability to fly in the fog. Just two days ago I was thinking the fog was so beautiful and that it gave the world such a soft glow and slowed it down a little bit, and then two days later it’s the very thing that I found so beautiful that had brought the helicopter down. So that’s what inspired “Fog as a Bullet,” just the sadness of that moment realizing that something so beautiful can also be very destructive.

Music has an awesome power to affect the mood of visuals. The same scene in a film can convey different emotions depending on the track played beneath it. How have you found that your music affects the “movie” of a live show, social gathering, or other real-world experience?

Zardoya: There was one audience member at one of our first shows ever who came up to us after the show and said, “You guys sound like pouring cream into coffee.” I think that sensation is what fans get with the very warm tones that we play… We try to have that warm presence, so they walk out feeling good and inspired.

You all told Apple Music that you approach releasing music like one would approach dating someone. Can you explain that process a little bit?

Zardoya: When we formed as a band, we decided we were going to go about this little by little. We weren’t going to release an album to the world when nobody had really gotten to know us, and we hadn’t really gotten to know them.

It started off with just a couple of singles and a short EP. We played shows and did videos based off that EP. Then I’d say about a year later we did a couple more singles and then another short EP (Vol.2). We got to know people through that and touring through that. And then throughout 2020 we released A-Sides and B-Sides, but until we felt like we were ready for an album – and until we felt like our fans were ready for an album – we weren’t going to do that. Like dating, you get to know somebody just little by little. You don’t want to give away too much of yourself off the bat and scare them away. But also, are they worthy of knowing your secrets? You have to get to know them as well.


If you were to create the perfect movie for your music to score, who would you pick to direct it? Any cast members who would be a must-have?

Zardoya: Would definitely get Pedro Almodóvar to direct it but I would be a close co-director haha! As for the cast members – definitely Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz. If we could go back in time, I’d say a young Leo.

Conway: Bill Murray and Owen Wilson

One staple of The Marías is that you’ve always traded between English and Spanish lyrics, plus you’ve listed Selena and Julieta Venegas as influences. Do you think that multiculturalism in music has any power in opening people’s minds to different perspectives and ways of life? What do you think it is about music that is both universal and immediate in ways that other mediums aren’t?

Zardoya: I think my first experience of knowing that music can transcend language was when we played a show in Indonesia and the crowd – whose first language was not English – was singing both the English *and* the Spanish lyrics of the songs. That was just crazy to experience. I saw firsthand that it does not matter what language it is in, music can transcend based off the feeling you get from it.

The Marías wouldn’t be The Marías without cinema.

I saw you have a tour coming up in 2022 that I’m very excited about. What else do you have on your plate in the meantime? Anything we can look forward to in the second half of 2021?

Zardoya: Definitely more visuals for Cinema and potentially you will be able to hear some of the B-Sides.

And now that we're coming out the other side of quarantine, how do you think this EP speaks to the new world that we're entering?

Zardoya: I guess we’ll see. I’m excited to be in front of people again and really have some human connection and flavor in my songs for the first time. So I have I have no clue. I can definitely say that fear of just seeing numbers and not people all of last year, it was terrible. I’m actually going to be able to see faces and human connection and not just comments. My headspace in my heart are already feeling 10 times better. Everything is just feeling so much more alive.

We recently featured “Hush” on our podcast Tunes & Tumblers. Like you, we believe that music can be enhanced by other senses, and the one we specifically focus on is taste. We created a chocolate-rimmed craft shot for the single, but I’m wondering what kind of drink you would sip to CINEMA.

Conway: A martini

Zardoya: If you’re old enough to drink, I’d say a glass of Spanish wine called Garnacha

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:: stream/purchase CINEMA here ::

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an album by The Marías

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