María Zardoya Prepares for Re-Entry

After pulling inspiration from lockdown movie nights for the album Cinema, The Marías frontwoman is ready to tour again.

For the musician María Zardoya’s birthday in 2020, her boyfriend Josh Conway surprised her with a movie theater he’d created at his father’s house in Southern California. Zardoya—who is the frontwoman for the indie pop band The Marías with Conway, the drummer; guitarist Jesse Perlman; and Edward James on keyboards—adores movies. But like most of the world, she couldn’t visit a theater for the better part of last year. So Conway set up a “crazy projector and surround sound in his childhood bedroom,” Zardoya told me over Zoom recently. In that space, they watched “at least two or three movies a week,” including Mauvais Sang, a French thriller from the 1980s; Garden State; Black Swan, and all of Pedro Almodóvar's films. The soundtracks moved Zardoya so deeply that she began listening to them, over and over again.

Those scores became the inspiration behind The Marías’ first full-length album, Cinema, which came out in June. Speaking from a hotel room in New York City, where Zardoya was visiting from her home in Los Angeles to attend a few fashion shows, including Christian Siriano’s, the singer described keeping the Italian composer Piero Piccioni on repeat. “Throughout this soundtrack for a movie he worked on in 1968, he used different instruments, but the same melody throughout,” she explains. “In movies, you often hear a melody at the beginning and then you hear different variations of it towards the middle and the end, too. You hear it a lot in Taxi Driver. I was really inspired by that.”

Piccioni’s influence comes through on the opening track, “Just a Feeling,” an instrumental interlude with luscious string arrangements that evoke a sweet kind of melancholy. “Just a Feeling’s” melody can be heard throughout Cinema, in different forms—through the bouncy and dark synths of “Hush” and the upbeat drums in “Un Millón,” one of two Spanish songs from the album.

The band performed the former track on Jimmy Kimmel Live on September 14; it was their network television debut. “From the beginning of The Marías, all the guys were always like, ‘When are we going to play Kimmel? When will we do Fallon?,’” Zardoya recalls, laughing. “It was always a topic of conversation for the past three or four years. I understand it’s a big deal, but I don't watch too much late night TV. I grew up watching Sabado Gigante.”

Zardoya was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Atlanta before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her music career. She and Conway started playing as The Marías in 2015, after they met and began dating. They soon moved in together and created their first two LPs, Superclean Vol. I and Superclean Vol. II, from their apartment.

The writing process for Cinema wasn’t too different from that of the two Supercleans, Zardoya tells me. The same could not be said, however, for the band’s overall mental state. In the thick of the pandemic, each member was thrown for a loop by the “uncertainty of the day-to-day,” she says. “What changed the most was what was going on around us. We were grateful we and our families were in good health, but there was still a question of how things would play out. That was an undercurrent in all of our emotional states.” Compounding those feelings of discomfort was the fact that The Marías, which has spent years as a band on the road, could no longer tour. Still, they got together in their little pod and recorded. “We’ve been rehearsing, even through the pandemic,” she says. “We were like, ‘When are things gonna open up? Might as well be prepared for when they do.’”

The payoff from that work will come to fruition when The Marías begin a new American tour for Cinema on September 22. They’ll start with the Treefort Music Festival in Boise, Idaho alongside Japanese Breakfast, Tennis, Goth Babe, and many more. At that point, when Zardoya and the band can finally bring the music to their fans live, she hopes listeners will embrace Cinema not only as a piece of sonic work, but also as a visual one. “I hope people are able to create little movies in their heads based on what is happening in their lives, and feel connected to their emotions,” she says. “I hope they feel connected to something more than the sadness of what’s happening in the world.”