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‘If you give LA a little bit of time and patience, it's going to teach you a lot.’
Gems in this
In 2015, Puerto Rico-born, Georgia-raised María Zardoya was working at a creative agency in Atlanta. After winning the company’s Halloween dress-up contest, she bought a car and drove non-stop to LA to chase her musical ambitions.
Gigging anywhere that would take her, she soon met drummer Josh Conway, and The Marías was born. Their indie pop fuses María’s music schooling in Puerto Rican reggaeton and her teenage love of R&B alongside Josh’s diet of psychedelic rock — and it quickly caught on. Now counting a Grammy nomination, Bad Bunny collaboration and multiple US tours under their belt, the band are hunkering down to finish the next record. Just before they returned to the studio, María took the time to speak to Exceptional ALIEN about her journey from Snellville, Georgia to LA, and her Travel Playbook of favorite places to experience in Los Angeles.
On the influence of Puerto Rico and collaborating with Bad Bunny
My family moved to the States, to Georgia, when I was really little, but I was born in Puerto Rico and my entire family still lives there. I go back nearly every year, so I have a lot of fond memories. I grew up on OG Puerto Rican reggaeton: Don Omar, Daddy Yankee, Zion y Lennox, Wisin y Yandel, Tego Calderón. And Puerto Rico still influences us to this day — we recently collaborated with Bad Bunny, which was a dream come true.
On growing up in Snellville, Georgia, and winning a life changing Halloween costume contest
My family is from a small town in Puerto Rico, and Snellville is also a quintessential small town surrounded by nature. It was great growing up there. If you've seen Stranger Things, it was like their childhood — without the sci-fi aspect! From Snellville, I decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue music. I was working in advertising at the time, and we had a Halloween costume contest. I went as a ‘target market’ because, you know, ad agencies have target markets. It was very much geared to the judges, and I won $5,000. So I bought a car and drove to LA. I think I stopped once to take a nap. And to eat. Other than that, it was just a straight shot, munching on dark chocolate espresso beans the whole time. Josh and I started The Marías about a year after I moved.
On LA culture shock, playing gigs to five people and forming The Marías
Coming from Snellville, LA was definitely a shocker. I hated driving because there was so much traffic and I didn’t know where anything was. I just felt uncomfortable. But I started playing a bunch of bars, restaurants and open mics — anywhere that would let me play. My strategy was to get to know the city and other artists and musicians. There was one venue that I played with probably five people in the audience. Josh was running the sound at that gig, and after the show he was like, ‘I love your music, and I want to record with you.’ So we started recording together and created The Marías. So it paid off. It paid off for sure.
On the importance of mixing up cultural influences in your creative process
When I’m writing, some songs will come out in Spanish; some in English; some might be a little bit more folky; some with more rhythm. I don't consciously think about how I want it to sound, I just create — and I think that's the motto that Josh and I have followed from the conception of The Marías. We've just followed whatever we wanted to create. Josh comes from very different influences, like psychedelic and rock music. I think all of our influences combined created The Marías, subconsciously.
On the ups and downs of a life on tour
I love getting to know a different city and being in different inspiring environments. That fuels my creativity. But I also like routine; going to sleep and waking up at the same time. When it’s hectic on the road, I’m thrown off. I’ve learnt to try to stick to a routine as much as possible, no matter where I am in the world. That helps me stay sane.
‘The diverse nature of LA inspires me.’
On why Los Angeles is an inspiring place to live
The diverse nature of LA inspires me. I live in this former commune in The Hills, so we get beautiful sunrises and sunsets. And we’re so close to the ocean, there’s mountains and hills — you can drive just a few hours and be in the snow, or at beautiful hot springs in the desert. So where I live is the most inspiring place for me.
On showing a friend around LA, AM edition
We would start with breakfast at Beachwood Cafe, which is in my neighborhood. It used to be less touristy, but it was popularized by Harry Styles — he put it in a song. Then we'll pop next door to check out my favorite vintage store Aralda Vintage and maybe get a couple of things for a show or a hang. After that, we would go on a long walk in The Hills and take my dog Lucy to Lake Hollywood Park. A lot of tourists go there to see the Hollywood sign, but I like it because there’s a giant grassy area for dogs to run. Then we’d have lunch at this spot that I love in Hollywood called Superba. It’s got a beautiful outdoor garden. Then pop over to Echo Park to Silver Lake Intelligentsia, which has really great coffee.
On showing a friend around LA, PM edition
Maybe we’d take my little Benz over to Malibu. One of my favorite places is a nature reserve called Point Dume. You can do a little hike and sit there and watch the whales at sunset. It's beautiful. Then we would pop back to LA. One of my favorite dinner spots is Lolo — I crave their sourdough bread and honey butter all the time. Then we’d do a night walk through The Hills, because LA at night is magical. We’d probably run into a few coyotes, and then call it a day.
On good spots for music lovers in LA
Our guitarist’s dad owns a record store called SUPERVINYL; it’s a great space to listen to new and old records through the McIntosh sound system. Beyoncé and Jay-Z frequent SUPERVINYL; she did her vinyl release party there. There’s also a nice hole-in-the-wall called The Silverlake Lounge. We’ve played shows at the Echoplex and the Greek Theatre and they’re great; and the Lodge Room is another beautiful venue – it used to be a Masonic temple or something.
On your relationship with LA
From my urge to leave the city when I first moved to now calling the city home has been a big, big change. Everything that I mentioned about LA are the reasons why I love to call it my home. I think I’m going to stay put for a while.
‘I think ‘I Don’t Know You’ is the most LA song we’ve done.’
On a window or an aisle seat
Window for sure! Even though the people next to me would love for me to take an aisle, because I get up probably twice an hour to pee. I take my king-sized pillow with me everywhere, so I'll just put that against the window and get a nice little nap.
On what song best represents LA for you
The first song that we ever wrote and released together in LA: ‘I Don't Know You.’ When that song was written, I was just starting to get to know LA. So it’s the most LA song we’ve done.
On LA in one word
Patience. I think a lot of people who come to LA to visit, or have freshly moved, have the same reaction I did, like ‘Oh my god, this is too much, let me leave.’ But if you just give the city a little time and patience, then it's going to show you what it has to offer and teach you a lot.