You couldn’t put Mariel Maher into a metaphorical box if you tried. Maher, AKA Seasick Mama, isn’t going to settle for just one type of sound, instrument, musical influence, collaborator, or hair color for that matter. Maher is all about experimentation and trying new things, and it’s working out pretty well so far. With no vocal training, Seasick Mama made her debut onto the scene with her electro-poppy Dead Like Money EP back in February. In November she released Tip Top Shape, an eclectic record with every genre imaginable somehow incorporated. You name it, Seasick Mama’s got it. Reggae, soul, pop, hip-hop, and even some rap thrown in for good measure. We sat down with Mariel to talk a bit about her latest album, feeling like Tom Waits, and being compared to Gwen Stefani.
You covered Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West.” Are you a big fan of his? Feel influenced by him?
That was the first song I ever sang in a studio. Mark said that my voice would be perfect for a Tom Waits song. It’s because I wasn’t hitting any notes. It’s like one note the whole way through. It just worked well. Because that’s the way I was feeling at the time too. I felt like Tom Waits at the time that I was singing that song. I wanna do more Tom Waits covers.
You’ve said that you chose to cover “Lost” because you feel very lost in your life right now. Do you still feel this way? Do you feel like that’s an inspirational place to be in?
With that song it was the same as the Tom Waits one where I was just feeling like that at the time. The songwriting is just so awesome and really personal. I wanted to be Frank Ocean. I do the covers because I want to be that person right now.
Who do you want to be right now?
I’m thinking it’d be Little Dragon or Sky Ferreira. I’m liking Sky Ferreira a lot right now. I wanted to hate her but I got her record and she’s so good. Supposedly she writes all of her own songs and a lot of them are amazing. I’m liking stoner rock right now, like that band Tame Impala. I just want to know what it’d be like to sound like that with my band. I think covering Tame Impala would be dope.
What was it like to work with David Sitek of TV on the Radio and Sam Farrar of Phantom Planet and Peter Wade?
Some of this might be too personal but whatever. So my first record I did with one producer, Mark Turrigiano. Once I did that, a friend of mine, Sean Glass, was like, “You need to be working with people a little bit better-knit in the industry, I guess. Or maybe who just have more experience with the rock-pop world. Because that was the direction I wanted to go in, like gritty rock, grunge, pop, I don’t know. It was just a weird direction. And then Sean Glass was like maybe you should just start embracing the pop sensibility, like writing hooks and writing melodic stuff. So he introduced me to David and Peter and Sam.
When I worked with Dave, he was my first experience working with someone who wasn’t Mark. It felt like cheating on Mark! I was so nervous working with someone else that didn’t know me. When I went there it was his house in Glendale, California so like into his home. Which is already really uncomfortable. He’d just moved into it so it looked like a hoarder’s palace. Just boxes and clutter which already made me so anxious. And bengal cats! So I’m in his personal world which was a little bit stressful but also a relief because I didn’t really know what to expect, I was so nervous. We sat together and he showed me music that he worked on by himself with no expectations of giving them to anybody, just music he felt fit my personality or music agenda. Then he kept showing me and I’d be like, “That one, that one!” at just anything I felt was a good direction for me. I took the tracks, went back to my hotel room, and spent the night writing stuff to it. We didn’t get too much time to get to know each other on a personal level, it was more of a music collaboration. I don’t prefer it that way because I felt like I was more of a chore.
With Peter it was a whole other thing, it was kind of the same agenda where I went into his studio and he had tracks picked out. But we spent time together. We went out and got drinks and hung out and we really enjoyed each other. Writing “Man Overboard” was the first song that we did and we were like, “Oh my god, that was so much fun, let’s keep writing more.” So we did “Give Me Something More to Work With” and two other tracks that didn’t make it onto the record but we hope that they resurface because they were all so good and had good energy. I enjoyed Peter a lot. I love producers who are so personal and you can connect with them on a grounded level. Sam was super sweet. It was in his house with his wife and kid. I felt like I was at home because his studio was in his garage and he had all these vintage instruments and producing equipment. You can hear that in the track “Rules Don’t Apply,” there’s this very bizarre, throwback sound to it. I liked working with him because he was just so nice! He was very supportive and very encouraging of all the ideas, even if they were bad. His criticism was good. I’m sensitive so it’s nice working with him because his feedback was always great. I wrote some songs with Mark again.
“Holy Smokes” and “Bite Bullet” were both with Mark. I had to bring him back. It wouldn’t be the same without him! So every experience was different. Luckily we were able to make everyone work together in an album, which was nice.
It feels like a lot of different genres are mixed in.
Yeah, it was a huge risk to work with five different people. Joel Shearer was the fifth guy. He’s from an older band called Pedestrian that isn’t as popular as the other bands, in the indie world anyway. That was weird. I wrote “Cooked Inside Out” previously with this guy Trevor Brown who’s in a band called Dead Rattles in North Carolina. I brought the song to Joel and we just drank a bunch of wine and wrote the song. That’s kind of the whole idea behind the song. We just got in the mood of how I felt when I wrote the song.
I feel like there’s definitely some reggae influence to your songs.
I get the Gwen Stefani, reggae-rock thing a lot.
How do you feel about that?
I don’t mind it so much although I laugh about it because reggae’s not the direction I want to go in but I’m still in this stage with the music where I’m exploring every genre. So it did kind of leak in there with “Bite Bullet.” I think I used Sublime as a reference when we were trying to write the song. My producer was like, “Sublime?!” And I was like, “Yeah, I really love Sublime right now!” I haven’t listened to Sublime since I was 12, 13, 14, you know? But I was just feeling in that mood. I was just listening one morning and I was like, “God! This makes me feel so good! And silly. And I want a song like this.”
What singers do you find yourself drawn to? You’ve got a really unique, cool voice. I especially love it on “Cooked Inside Out.”
I have had no vocal training. We grew up in a very musical family. My dad was in a band, my brother played guitar, my sister sang. So it was always kind of like in my day-to-day. Once I graduated college and I was home all summer, my dad was like, “You should sing with me when we play shows.” And I said, “Okay, why not?” So I started doing that. I don’t even wanna know what I sounded like when I first got on stage. It was probably pitchy and I couldn’t remember lyrics for the life of me. But over time you forget the stress. There’s a muscle memory for remembering lyrics. I’m still today learning how to become a better singer though. Tip Top Shape was a whole year of me learning how to sing. So it’s kind of a personality that comes through in the vocals as opposed to being an amazing singer. I take pride in that. I’m still exploring. If I was to sound like anyone I would sound like Mariah Carey if I could but that’s not going to happen.
What inspired “Cooked Inside Out”?
The song was a mixture of two stories. A story that I had and a story that Trevor had that were very similar. We were both living together in Gramercy for four or five months because they were playing in my band. We were both drunk all the time. We’re just sitting in this apartment, unemployed, playing music. We just got into a conversation about how alcohol and drinking always affect relationships. So that was a common story that Trevor and I had. He already had this short poem called “Cooked” or something similar. It’s more or less about being too drunk to realize things like you slept through a date because you were too hungover or you were sedated and didn’t notice someone’s feelings. Just that general sentiment. It could be any addiction though. A lot of people relate to that song. Just feeling beat up or fried from someone’s bad behavior.
“Tees and Jeans” has a small rap part in it. Where did that come from?
[Laughs] The other day I walked into this place where I used to work and the door guy was singing that back to me. He was rapping it back to me and it sounded so much better coming out of his mouth. I wanted to find a way to be relatable to everybody and I feel like even though I’m not a rapper, it still makes people happy that I tried? I think I originally wanted that part for a hip-hop artist who could make it sound more authentic and of their genre. But I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.” I just wanted to make somebody happy and I did and I found him! Phil! Phil killed it.
Do you know what your next single is going to be yet?
Just before I came here we were talking about what the second single is going to be. I think it’s gonna be “Give Me Something More to Work With.” We’re going to do a music video with Eric Weiner of the Wild Honey Pie. They just started doing the Buzz Sessions. We really liked him and his crew and the way he works so he came at us and asked to do a music video together. We’re hoping to get it done by February because that’s when we’re doing a tour.
It’s kind of loose but they want to spend most of the budget on costume design which is really exciting for me because all the videos I have now I’m in my every day clothes. There’s no character, it’s just me. I want to experiment with fashion and makeup and costumes and character and role-play and acting. That was my only guideline. Eric came up with the idea of shooting it in an old high school gymnasium in some small town. And I play every stereotype there is in high school. They’re just gonna spend all of the budget on great costume design. So I’m really excited because I just wanna play dress-up for a couple days. I just want it to be phenomenal.
Speaking of fashion, is there anyone whose style you’re really into right now?
I don’t have any sense of style really! I just wear t-shirts and stuff. I’m pretty relaxed. I don’t follow fashion that much. I’ve been working with this guy Phil, who's been helping me explore styles and fashion that work for my personality and the image I’m trying to go for because I don’t really have one yet. The other night we did a performance and he put me in this long-sleeved, long blue dress with sequins on it. If it was just me alone I would not pick that out, but when I put it on I felt so in charge. But I can’t think of anyone specifically. I have designers that I like but it’s not very exciting, it’s like Alexander Wang.
Favorite tattoo artists?
Her name is Karen Glass. She actually used to play in my band when we first started. She also plays guitar and she’s in a band called Bugs in the Dark. My very first tattoo I got done was by this guy Shaun Topper and it was amazing and then I met her and she said I should let her tattoo me. There’s something about getting tattooed by a woman that was so comforting and it really calmed the experience. Because it’s so painful and the last thing you want to do is be sitting with an angry, gross man that you don’t know, hurting you! And not being sensitive at all towards the pain. With Karen, she’s funny and if it hurts she’s very supportive. And she’s a great designer. All the stuff I have, she designed. She did my arm with the girl’s face. She’s got a crab claw, shells, a fishbone earring, and a sailboat crown. I didn’t even tell her to do it. She designed the face and it’s ocean-based so it’s like a mini-Seasick Mama.