The Marías Aren’t Afraid to Cry

the marias submarine
The Marías Aren’t Afraid to CryCloudy Thoughts

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Two years ago, The Marías were bigger than ever before. The release of their first album, Cinema, was followed by the band’s first-ever late-night television performance, on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and a few months later, the group’s debut appearance at Coachella. Soon after came two Grammy nominations and a collaboration with Bad Bunny on the Puerto Rican superstar’s chart-topping album Un Verano Sin Ti. It seemed The Marías—frontwoman María Zardoya, drummer and producer Josh Conway, guitarist Jesse Perlman, and keyboardist Edward James—were only on the way up.

Yet Zardoya admits it felt like the end. “There were a few moments after Cinema that I thought the band was over,” she says in an Instagram video introducing the band’s sophomore album, Submarine, released last week. “I was going through such a transition that I didn’t know what was going to happen.” Maybe the band would be over, just as many of its indie predecessors had ended up. Or perhaps it was time to dive deeper, to tackle a genre that was as in tune with the darkest emotions as The Marías’ lyrics have proven to be since the band first appeared on the scene in 2017: the breakup album.

Two years later, the answer is here: Submarine is a 14-track project that documents the end of Zardoya’s romantic relationship with Conway, as well as the process of grief and healing that followed. It’s darker and even juicier than Cinema, an emotional accounting of just how deep one can get when thrown into heartbreak. “I think it’s gonna be a cathartic experience because this album does have a lot of themes on heartbreak and loss and solitude,” Zardoya tells Harper’s Bazaar a month before its release, via Zoom. “It was a heavy album to write, but I think as soon as we release it, it’s almost like I’ll be free from all of those emotions.”

a person wearing sunglasses and a white shirt with a green bird on the head
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The Marías have stood out since their inception, releasing their first EPs, Superclean Vol. I and Superclean Vol. II, in 2017 and 2018, respectively, paired with stunning red and black visuals that might as well have been from a Pedro Almodóvar movie. The band’s sound is a genre-bending mix of indie, electronic, and even reggaetón, with lyrics in both English and Spanish. That last part is perhaps why, in a saturated market, The Marías have grown a not-so-niche loyal fan base that exists in the in-between—just like Zardoya, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Georgia. “I think our music and what we do is naturally [bilingual] because it’s just naturally how I am and how I grew up,” she explains. “I also understand the responsibility of what that is and how important that is, and I take that seriously.”

Painted in a moody blue aesthetic, Submarine opens submerged in “Ride,” like a voice speaking from the underworld, backed by a rash bass and an angry synth that means business. But it quickly takes a turn into an airier feel with “Hamptons,” a psychedelic funk tune that has you wondering whether to cry or dance, or both. “If you’re crying, you’re dancing. If you’re not dancing, you’re crying,” Zardoya jokes. The album’s fourth track and first single, “Run Your Mouth,” delivers a certified-classic anthemic chorus to play in honor of haters and gossipers, both strangers and known: “Always run your mouth / I don’t wanna listen.”

Submarine’s second single and first Spanish-language song (of two), “Lejos de Ti,” finds Zardoya begging her lover to not forget her, even if they’re apart, with the screeching longing of an old-school bolero. In the video, she’s naked, wrapped in freezing snow, a stark image of desolate sadness. The narrator resigns herself to her sorrow in a piano ballad fit for the end of La La Land on the album’s second-to-last track, “If Only” (on which Conway’s family friend Tom Waits is credited as a co-writer): “Even when I dream / You are next to me / I can’t fall asleep / If only.”

You need only look at the album’s cover to know it’s not a light listen: Zardoya is submerged in water so blue, I believe it to be the color our darkest days must feel. “I just wanted a really, really drastic change, and a color that represented grief and loneliness, but also exploration and hope and rebirth,” Zardoya says of Submarine’s blue and black palette. The dark reds of Cinema, in contrast, represented a universe that was sultrier, more romantic, and more, well, cinematic. The singer says her choice to go blue was inspired by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, whose three psychological dramas are respectively painted in blue, white, and red. The color blue is used differently throughout the first film, Zardoya explains, just like it is on Submarine, to represent various stages of the lead character’s journey through loneliness and grief, and ultimately optimism and hope.

And then there’s the water, a visual portrayal of the “baptism” this album felt like for the band: “Water is the source of our life—we were in our mother’s womb, we started in water, and so I almost wanted it to represent being reborn again,” Zardoya says. The water and the blue also evoke the musical aesthetics of the ’90s, as seen in the covers of albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Portishead’s Dummy. Which makes sense, since Zardoya’s mood board for the project included the work of fashion designer Elena Velez, ’90s grunge, and Radiohead’s Kid A era. Revisiting and rewriting this style was vital for Zardoya, especially as a Puerto Rican leading lady. “I see it as kind of like a resurgence of that sort of band aesthetic, because I think it’s something that makes us unique,” she explains. “I don’t know of any other bands that have a Latin singer and three Jewish best friends.”

the marias submarine
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Yet at its core, Submarine is a prodigious breakup album for the ages—not just in a romantic sense, but also as an exploration of what it’s like breaking up with one’s old self and becoming someone else. It falls in line with the music of Lana Del Rey, whose discography includes some of Zardoya’s favorite breakup songs. “She does it best,” Zardoya says, pointing to 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! as the Del Rey album she probably listens to most.

It may sound sadistic to put listeners through an alpine coaster of moods—ready to party in “Hamptons,” barely leaving your bed by “If Only”—at a time when the world feels heavier each day. But Zardoya says she just wants fans to “feel whatever you feel”: “It’s about allowing yourself to feel that range of emotion without judging yourself.” Also, she warns, if you’re planning to attend The Marías’ upcoming tour, which kicks off in the U.S. on July 16: “Maybe the people in the front row should come with waterproof attire.”

Submarine is out now.

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