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Photo by Jibril Yassin
The debut full-length by Maryam Said, performing under the name poolblood, is a languid and meandering late-night listen through the complexities of everyday life. More than just an indie-pop bedroom project recorded on a laptop, poolblood’s set the foundation by which friends and peers from the Toronto music scene – and beyond – can lend their talents to create something special. It’s not uncommon to find a horn here, a string section there, throughout the nine tracks that make up mole.
A conversation with Said reveals a bevy of surprising influences that aren’t immediately recognizable within the music but help shape the feeling Said wants listeners to have when listening to the songs.
The diversity of your influences is refreshing, from Fiona Apple to the Deftones. How did you arrive at your sound? Did you try some heavy stuff, some singer/songwriter stuff?
MARYAM: It’s so fun because of the time we’re living in now, a lot of friends and my generation were able to find music pretty easily on the internet. You could just look up the genre you wanted to hear. Genres became more blended as the 2000s kept growing. Writing wise, in the beginning I wanted to make a rock-based record. I sort of dialed it down a little bit, sat with my acoustic guitar and decided to write songs in a way that I had never written before. It was new to me to play around with certain chords, certain jazzy chords I had never played before. I was influenced by Fiona Apple’s anger and rawness and I wanted to portray that in my music. I didn’t want to come off as if I was resolved in any way with this record. The sound came together by me messing around with my guitar and sitting down and trying to figure out a melody I connected to. I think, because of all the influences that I have under my belt, I didn’t really want it to sound like a certain genre but, rather, I wanted it to sound like what a certain genre made me feel. I felt connected to Deftones songs but didn’t want to make something that sounded like the Deftones. I wanted to make songs that made me feel the way the Deftones music makes me feel.
There are some songwriters who have bits and pieces of hundreds of songs that they can return to and then there are songwriters who write just enough to fill an album. Which type of songwriter are you?
MARYAM: I have friends who have a backlog of music and then can go back and go through all the songs they’ve written and pick and choose what they want to make a record out of. Whenever I finish a song, I feel strong and proud about it. I wasn’t writing to hit a certain number of songs that I wanted to be on the record. I just wanted to make sure all these songs and melodies that I was really, really excited about were finished and fleshed out. I wanted to celebrate them by allowing myself to finish the songs and allowing them to live.
This is your first full length after releasing two EPs. Is there anything you learned while recording the EPs that you carried over into recording the full length? And, is there anything you did on the EPs that you have been through once and didn’t want to repeat?
MARYAM: Recording the Yummy EP put my body into a bit of shock because I was not used to the intense technical side of making music. It was a learning process – learning how to track my vocals properly; how to use a metronome properly; understanding textures in a way that I had never really focused on. It carried over when I was making mole because I knew where I wanted certain parts to land. I knew what type of instrumentation I wanted, which I didn’t really vocalize when I was making Yummy. I learned so much from making this record too. This record taught me a lot about how I want my vocals to be received. And, also, how I want my guitars to sound. I also learned a lot about collaboration. I learned how great one instrument or one line can change an entire part of the song.
mole has strings and horns. Is that something you knew going on that you wanted to do? Did you pick out the people you wanted to collaborate with?
MARYAM: I kind of knew who I wanted to work with going in. I had finished writing all these songs and I was talking to my friend, Louie Short, who wound producing the entire record. We have a friend in common who plays on all our stuff. Her name is Eliza Niemi and she makes beautiful music. I sang on her record and she was kind enough to sing on my record and play bass and also do all the string parts. I knew I loved her music so much and she would bring her own touch to my music. I knew I wanted it to sound chambery. I knew I wanted strings. I wanted some horns. It would be cool to get a violin section in one of the songs, and then some piano as well. Louie is a pianist and he’s doing the piano parts on the record. A lot of the people I collaborated with are friends from Toronto and friends who are in the scene with me whose music I just love. It was surreal to have people who music I really admire and I think that they are musical geniuses to be on this record. It worked out really well.
It was funny, Christian Lee Hutson plays on “My Little Room.” I sent him a demo and asked him to play some parts on it. It took him a little while. When it finally came back, we were close to the time of when we wanted to wrap up recording. It was just phenomenal. I thought we were going to have to go a different route, that we wouldn’t have time to mix in what he sent over, but it arrived just in time and it transformed the entire song.
Do you want to be the type of artists who reinvents yourself with each release?
MARYAM: I approach music with such a curiosity that I’m interested in pushing and exploring what potentially I could do and how I can manipulate or blend certain genres. I think with Yummy I was quite younger and I was into shoegaze and dream pop and I wanted to emulate those sounds. With this record, I figured out that I feel like I’m chasing a feeling and the curiosity of exploring different styles to see what else I can add. I think that’s my approach for the next record, continuously searching for the same feeling again. I think it’s chasing that feeling that’s the serotonin.
What gave you the confidence to play your songs in front of people?
MARYAM: When I was a kid, I loved singing in choir a lot. I loved connecting with people through music. When I started doing my own music, it took me a long time to warm up to the audience and be more engaging. It helped me to think of being on stage as a bit. I was thinking that if I don’t think of it super serious, but we’re all just here for a fun time, I can crack some jokes and things will be okay. That helped a lot. It takes a long time to get comfortable and it doesn’t go away. I played my release show last week and I was feeling those nerves again. I couldn’t look at the audience.
What is the Toronto music scene like?
MARYAM: There’s a really great, thriving music scene in Toronto. A lot of us are connected. We all go to each other’s release parties or if someone’s making a record, we’re always so excited to hop on and help where we can. I think everyone has been super supportive. I’m so thankful I have friends in the scene that I can call up and be like, “Hey, I would love for you to contribute to my record.” It kind of worked out really well because there are so many musicians whose music I really adore and who I also get musically. It’s a great scene.
Are there artists that have broken out of the scene to bigger and better things that you consider to be hometown heroes?
MARYAM: There are a lot of Toronto artists that people know. Alvvays is really great. Then there’s bands like Ducks Ltd and Tallies, who are kind of shoegazey, who are also really great. It’s also cool to see friends in the U.S. start to get their dues. I was talking to Bartees Strange 2 years ago when he was working on his record and now he’s getting some amazing recognition. Pom Pom Squad is another U.S. band that people are starting to take notice of.
How do you get people to discover poolblood and listen to your music?
MARYAM: Every artist is told you have to use social media/ People either look at it as the bane of their existence or something that they can thrive in. It depends on how your mind works and how open you are and willing to share certain parts of your life. We live in an age where you can know everything about someone in 15 minutes by viewing their page or seeing a video of them. I think I battle with the idea of privacy but also wanting to have a human connection with fans. I do love using Instagram. You can interact with people by posting a meme. It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship.
Are there any artists that you are a fan of, that you look up to, that follow you on Instagram?
MARYAM: I had met Mitski in 2015. She had come to Toronto to play a show. I was that fan, for sure, who went up to her and thanked her. I was like, “You’re writing these really beautiful songs and I’m connecting so hard. I want you to know your music has touched me.” She started following me on Twitter and Instagram and I was starstruck. Now, she still follows but I think it’s just her management because she doesn’t go on social media.
A few artists that I’ve noticed that follow you: Tomberlin and Ben Lee.
MARYAM: Ben Lee is friends with Shamir and we became Twitter followers and then Instagram followers of each other. He saw that I was working with Shamir and became a fan of my music. He’s really cool. He’s just a really chill, awesome guy who makes really cool music. He’s legendary because he’s from the ’90s and his stuff is fun. His last record was really cool because Sadie from Speedy Ortiz was on it. I thought that was awesome.
What kind of touring do you have in mind in the future?
MARYAM: I’m playing SXSW in March which I’m super stoked for. We might be doing a couple of dates in between. In Canada, we’re a bit lucky. Artists get grants, so we get touring grants and our labels will help out as well. It helps with the financial burden of touring. I want to try it out and see. But, we’re in a recession so I think there will be a lot of gas station coffee and bodega sandwiches.
What dream have you had that has come true and what dream do you still have?
MARYAM: I try really hard to not have intense expectations about my music because once I put an expectation on it, I tend to ruminate over that and I don’t want to break my own heart over it. I think the dream that came true was making an incredible first record. I had ideas and I had thoughts of where it was generally going to go but, when I finally finished it and all the songs were mixed and mastered and I got it back, I was like, “Yeah, this is a dream come true. I feel so proud of this record.” It took us 10 months to finish the record, it was crazy when we finally wrapped it up.
A dream I have is to make enough money to live off my music and not have to continuously pick up a day job. It would be nice to not have to bend over backwards in order to pay rent and also make music. I kind of really want to make a record that takes everything from me and that I can look back on like it’s the magnus opus and that I’ll be able to feel like I can walk away from music. But, I don’t think I’ll ever walk away. I’m so excited to make music, it’s basically a third arm at this point.
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