It’s hard to talk about The Marías’ frontwoman María without deploying the usual list of Los Angeles-specific clichés. The dreamer arrives, intent on making it big. They grin and bear it through a slew of odd jobs. Then, in a small, dark Hollywood club, they meet someone who changes everything.
Maybe it was destiny. Raised by a proud cinephile for a father, María — who quit using her last name several years ago — spent her Atlanta girlhood watching L.A.’s most famous exports.
Her father bought an 88-inch tube television — “We ended up using the box as a playhouse,” she recalls – and installed a surround sound system to match. He would show it off to guests, often screening the schlocky 1996 disaster smash Twister. When company wasn’t around, it was The Godfather, Scarface, Terminator, and Léon: The Professional (an early favorite of María’s).
“Those are some of my first memories, watching movies and experiencing them for the music,” she says.
Eventually, a friend convinced María to move to Los Angeles to pursue music. Serendipity kicked in: she won $5,000 in a costume contest thanks to a witty target market costume — involving a makeshift farmers market booth and a bullseye on her chest — bought a car, and headed west.
Next cliché: odd jobs, including a juice shop, social-media management, dog-walking, and a receptionist job at what she describes as a “holistic medical company for the elderly.” She wrote songs on her guitar in her free time.
Having promised herself that she would play wherever and whenever she could, Maria found herself at a Laurel Canyon music revival night at The Kibitz Room, the tiny West Hollywood cocktail lounge adjacent to storied diner Canter’s. Local musician Josh Conway was running sound for the show, and her performance impressed him. He introduced himself and suggested they record something together in his home studio.
María and Conway hit it off straight away, collaborating by writing songs for film and television.
“We were like, ‘Fuck yeah, another side hustle,’ ” she says. “They were like, ‘We need this pitch in two days,’ and we would be in the studio for two days straight, working on these songs.”
It was nothing short of grueling, but none of the songs Conway and María submitted made the cut.
Undaunted — and in true L.A. fashion — Conway and María landed the velvety psych-funk number “I Don’t Know You” on a KCRW playlist.
“We came up with the band name for that. We didn’t have social media or anything,” she recalls. “People were calling in and they were like, ‘Hey, what’s this song? Who’s this group? We can’t find anything about them.’ ”
They fleshed out a live band with the additions of guitarist Jesse Perlman and keyboardist Edward James. Next came a proper EP, Superclean Vol. I., full of the kind of dimly lit funk, soul, and psychedelia that evokes some bygone era of smoky cocktail lounges where everyone drinks vodka martinis. María and Conway’s shared yet singular vision seemed immediately perceptible and polished; María’s ’60s yé-yé vocals effortlessly lent itself to songs in both Spanish and English.
Now the pair, who are dating, live in the Hollywood Hills, writing and recording in their living room at the speed of life. It suits them best, something the pair discovered when they indulged one last Los Angeles cliché and retreated to the desert — Joshua Tree, specifically — to write.
“It was the first time that we went out somewhere just for the purpose of writing,” she says. “We put too much pressure on ourselves. Like ok, we’re going to this destination to write. Whereas our apartment is there, our studio is set up, so if we have the urge and inspiration to write something, it’s there.”
Not that the Joshua Tree session was an abject failure. They cured a bout of writer’s block by recording a deliciously downtempo cover of “…Baby One More Time” and liked it enough to release it as a single.
But in the end, cliched or not, it was back to L.A., where The Marías truly belong.
The Marías, Friday, Aug. 9, 4:30-5:10 p.m., Panhandle Stage