Mr. Almodóvar, The Marías Are Ready for Their Close-Up

The Marías
The Marías Photo by Ashley Seryn, courtesy of Atlantic Records
María Zardoya has got “it,” that wow factor that can take a fine project like the indie pop band she fronts to exciting and dizzying heights. Zardoya is the vocalist for The Marías. The Los Angeles-based band is gaining all kinds of momentum on the strength of Cinema, its exquisite debut full-length album, and a growing list of sold-out shows as headliners, including a February 5 date at White Oak Music Hall.

Zardoya isn’t shy about her influences as an artist. She's a movie geek with an all-time favorite film director whose specialty is the sort of cool sexiness she exudes. You can hear the effects of her devotion to Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Julieta Venegas and Norah Jones in her dulcet, soulful tones. She’s a Los Angeleno by way of Georgia and Puerto Rico, but she said she owes some of her flair to a Texan she idolized growing up near Atlanta, namely Selena, the Queen of Tejano.

“I was in elementary school when my parents introduced me to her music and then I learned about her story and obviously watched the biopic with J. Lo. I think honestly it was after that movie that I just fell in love with Selena’s music,” Zardoya said. “I remember having my mom sew beads onto bras for me and I would be singing in my bedroom with a brush. Just watching her videos and watching her perform, and also just learning about the person that she was, the sweet and the kind person that she was, I just fell in love with her as a person and as an artist.”

Just five years ago, Zardoya and her partner Josh Conway formed the band with friends Edward James and Jesse Perlman. Their combined efforts and respective pools of talent melded into a sophisticated jazz-pop sound, revealed over a couple of EPS, Superclean, volumes I and II. But 2021’s Grammy-nominated Cinema was a breakthrough. It intentionally plays out theatrically since Zardoya and Conway are film buffs. In movie terms, it’s a blockbuster hit for The Marías.

“I mean, in 2021 we finished our first album and we released our first album ever so that was a huge milestone for us and also like a huge sense of relief because a lot of the album was written and produced during a worldwide pandemic in 2020, when it all started. So, it has these undertones of a bit of claustrophobia and also a little darker undertones than our previous music just because everything that was happening in the world sort of reflected itself through our music.

“So finally being able to release that into the world and release that energy was a huge sense of relief for us, but also very exciting,” she added. “Releasing our first album was a huge feat and it's really exciting that we’re now playing the shows and playing the songs that are on that album and hearing the fans singing them back. It’s pretty surreal.”

Surreal is a good word to describe going from relative obscurity to NPR, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the pages of Vogue in a span of a few years. Zardoya said performing songs from a successful, critically-acclaimed album for the band’s growing fan base has created some unexpected issues.

“You know, after the show yesterday I went back to my hotel and just kind of broke down a little bit because this is the first time we’ve got a couple of tour buses, we have the whole production, lights and a crew and somebody running our merch. So it’s not us running around trying to accomplish all these things with just the members of the band,” she said. “With that whole production sort of comes this notion of like, dang, all these people are here for us, thousands of people are coming to see us and we’re just normal people who wrote these songs in our little apartment in California. Now all these people are here for us. I don’t know if I’ll ever really get used to it, but it was just kind of like, are we deserving of all of this?

“I think that’s the biggest thing for me, just sort of settling in the fact that okay, our music and everything has gotten us to this point and it’s going to continue to grow and with that growth more people are going to continue to sort of be a part of this project and working on this project. That’s definitely a growing pain, just feeling undeserving of it all.”

More and more, fans are assuring her and the band that they are indeed deserving as are new and thrilling opportunities. They’ll be playing Coachella when it returns from its two-year hiatus this spring. The date is a point of particular pride for Zardoya, who was born in Puerto Rico and is part of an unprecedented roster of Latin acts on the music festival this year.

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Atlantic Records released Cinema, the band's debut full-length, in 2021
Album cover art
“I feel extremely proud to be able to represent for the Latin community at Coachella for sure and also being female performing at Coachella,” she said, subtly addressing a couple of demographics that the festival has sometimes glanced past. “I think just overall it’s exciting. It’s nice being recognized for the music that we’re making and at such a big festival and in California in our hometown. It’s really cool, it’s really nice.”

Cinema includes a couple of Spanish-language tracks, notably the reggaeton-tinged "Un Millón." We note that those songs speak to her Puerto Rican heritage and the band’s chill vibe is quite L.A. Is there any hint of her Southern roots in the music?

“I grew up in a small town outside of Atlanta and I just kind of grew up listening to everything. I mean, I listened to a lot of country music and a lot of folk music which sort of directed me in the course of singer-songwriter type writing where it’s just a melody and a guitar and lyrics,” Zardoya explained. “A lot of the first songs that I wrote were really heavily inspired by folk music and country music that I listened to growing up in Georgia, but I also was surrounded by a lot of Latin music.

“There’s a big Latin population where I grew up in Georgia, sort of from all over the place. People from Colombia or Mexico or Puerto Rico. It was kind of a melting pot of all the different cultures and we would introduce each other to different songs from our countries, so I listened to a lot of that. And, a lot of hip hop and R&B that was coming from Georgia as well. I think you can hear a little bit of all of that in our music, which is cool.”

Zardoya has that “it” factor. She’s gaining recognition, lives in Los Angeles, is stunningly photogenic and loves movies. Does she have acting aspirations?

“Yes, for sure,” she said emphatically. “When I was little, I thought I was going to be an actress and not a musician. I would write scripts and perform them for my friends and my family and all of that. It’s definitely something that I’ve always wanted to do. Working on the album, on Cinema, I wanted to learn about all the aspects of what goes into cinema and what goes into making a movie, so I took directing classes and I also took acting classes to sort of understand the actors’ perspective of their position in a film. It was honestly a really amazing experience and I learned a lot. I learned a lot from taking these acting classes, about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and sort of growing that empathy muscle. I think I would love to pursue that a little bit more.”

We asked if there’s a director she’d especially want to work with, even though we were fairly sure we already knew the answer. Zardoya isn’t shy about her influences as an artist. Among all the musicians, she credits Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar as integral to her own artistic vision.

“So, there’s a rumor that my favorite director Almodóvar is working on an English language film and I was like, ‘How do I get in the room? How do I get in the room so that I’m in this movie?!’” she gushed. “I would love to work with him, he’s my favorite.”

Is it possible that The Marías are already on the iconic director’s radar? After all, they do have a Grammy-nominated album with a sort of steaminess of which he'd certainly approve. They’re Coachella listed. They’ve been on television and in magazines and are adding fans from all over the globe to their ranks. Why not a beloved, award-winning film director?

“It would be just insane if we even were. I highly doubt it,” Zardoya sighed. “Hopefully one day, hopefully one day I’ll be able to meet him and let him know how much impact he’s had in my creative life.”

The Marías Cinema tour stops at White Oak Music Hall Saturday, February 5, 2022. Doors at 7 p.m. for this show in White Oak’s downstairs hall. Sold out.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.