ABOVE: MARIAL MAHER, AKA SEASICK MAMA. PHOTO BY BENJAMIN STELLY
“I’m not trying to dress up,” says Marial Maher, who records as Seasick Mama. “I’m not trying to do anything too kitschy or showy, and I think that’s what’s working.” With the release of her sophomore EP, Tip Top Shape, a collection of disarmingly candid pop songs, we can’t help but agree. Featuring contributions from David Sitek (TV on the Radio), Peter Wade (MNDR), and Sam Farrar (Phantom Planet), the record is an un-self-conscious take on pop’s infectious hooks and young love tropes. Ahead of Tip Top Shape‘s release this week, Interview spoke with Maher about breakup songs, the dangers of genres, and bolts from the blue. We’re also excited to premiere her new single, “Cooked Inside Out,” below.
ERIN BRADY: What’s your earliest musical memory?
MARIAL MAHER: My earliest memory is of [my father] singing to us in the kitchen and being so entertained by him. That was the only thing that would calm us down.
BRADY: How did you start making music?
MAHER: When I moved to New York, my first job was in a recording studio. I wasn’t doing anything too hands-on, but one of the perks of working in a studio was being able to utilize it. That’s where I met Mark Turrigiano. We did a Tom Waits cover and made a stupid music video that we put online. A new music label called No Shame found it and they called me up. They asked me what other music I had and I just totally bullshitted that. I was like, “I have so much music, you’re going to love it.” They were like, “Great, send it to us.” I called Mark and I was like, “Fuck.” Two years later, three years later, I’m still with the label.
BRADY: Where did the name Seasick Mama come from?
MAHER: When I was in college, an ex-boyfriend and I broke up, and on my birthday he wrote me this song, put it on a CD, and left it on my doorstep. One of the lines in the song was “You’re nothing but a seasick mama,” and it stuck with me for so long. I was like “What is that?” So I Googled it, and it’s taken from a Neil Young song called “For the Turnstiles.” What he’s referring to is a woman who’s always waiting for her man to come home. That’s a really great image. That’s not necessarily how I am. It’s just that that woman is so loyal. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to take this as a positive.” [both laugh]
BRADY: So is that the origin point for all the nautical imagery on the record?
MAHER: There’s just something about nautical life. [laughs] I just always come back to being from Rhode Island and living by the ocean… Actually, I don’t know. There’s no real reason it’s there. It’s just a ghostly presence.
BRADY: How would you compare this new EP with your last one?
MAHER: There’s a huge difference. Dead Like Money was college for me. I was learning from scratch, and I had a very patient producer. It was more of an innocence and not knowing how I wanted to sound, which was cool, I guess. People were like “I’ve never heard anything like this,” and I think that was because I didn’t know what I wanted. Tip Top Shape is a total maturity. It’s knowing exactly what I wanted and having the words to tell people how I wanted things to sound. Also, it’s my confidence in knowing that I wanted to write pop music. At first I was very insecure about that.
BRADY: I saw on your Twitter that you describe your music as intellectual pop music…
BRADY: Is that a joke, or is that a line you think has to be drawn?
MAHER: I don’t think it’s necessarily a line that I’m trying to cross. When people think of pop music, they think of Britney Spears, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus, but there’s a whole genre of pop stars that people don’t really know, like Mass Appeal, Grimes, and Little Dragon. These women are classified in the pop realm, but I think their music is way too smart for that. Intellectual pop music is like the Talking Heads. They’re huge, but they’ve got great songwriting, great production. It’s pop music, but every single part of it is coming from a super knowledgeable place. It’s more impactful. It’s hard to explain.
BRADY: Yeah, I think that’s why there’s danger in putting any kind of a label on music.
MAHER: People get really disturbed by the term “pop music,” you know, a little queasy about it, but it’s really challenging to create these infectious, catchy, diverse melodies. Once you can do it and still have a sense of individuality, that’s great.
BRADY: So speaking of unconventional pop songs, can you talk a little bit about the song we’re premiering, “Cooked Inside Out”?
MAHER: It is a two-way story. You’re with a certain person and they’re either really good for you or really bad for you. Sometimes, you’re in a relationship and it doesn’t matter that they’re really bad for you, you want them so much. So, you play that mind game of “I should’ve done this” or “I should’ve done that.”
BRADY: What’s worse: regretting something you haven’t done or something you did do?
MAHER: Oh, God. I think I would rather regret doing something. There’s always a solution for everything, but there’s never a solution for the undone. So even if you do something horrible, at least there’s a solution for it. If you don’t take an opportunity or a chance on something, then you’re going to be playing that “What if?” game for the rest of your life.
BRADY: I saw that you have some striking tattoos; any stories behind them you’d be willing to share?
MAHER: I met this guy and fell in love with him in two weeks and so we got matching tattoos. We got these matching lightning bolts on our wrists and as soon as I got it—I’m not kidding—I go, “I’m not marrying this guy. I don’t love him.” The lightning bolt shook me back into reality. The whole week after I was so upset and I went back to the tattoo artist and was like, “I hate it. We need to cover it up.” She ended up covering it up and my excuse was that I just didn’t like it or the lines weren’t good or some bullshit. I covered it up and he accepted that and we broke up. [laughs] It was the most intense situation.
TIP TOP SHAPE IS OUT TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 5, VIA NO SHAME RECORDS. FOR MORE ON SEASICK MAMA, PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE.