A Seasick Mama Heads for the Turnstiles

[portfolio_slideshow id=23956]Seasick Mama performs Friday, May 24th at Glasslands Gallery

I met up with 27-year-old Marial Maher, better known as Seasick Mama, to talk about her debut EP Dead Like Money, a few days before her upcoming gig at Glasslands Gallery in Williamsburg. We sat down at Variety Cafe on Graham Avenue to get her take on Brooklyn, music, and her life as an artist.

Marial, a visual arts grad, told me about how she spent her Cinco de Mayo birthday in the Dominican Republic, shooting a music video. “I thought doing this music video was going to be a small production, maybe me and four more people. But I showed up and was like: holy shit! There were about fifty people on the team, all there to work for me. I was blown away.”

Q. How did this record get made?

A. It all began after landing a job at a recording studio in Union Square where she met music producer Mark Turrigiano.

“I was given a free hand to utilize the studio after-hours. Mark and I would drink lots of beer, and just fuck around in the studio, just pressing records to see what would happen. We spent months doing that. After a while we went back and listened to what we had created, and we were like, ‘Oh my god, this is so good!”

Seasick Mama performs Friday, May 24th at Glasslands Gallery in Williamsburg

Seasick Mama’s professional break came when she recorded a cover of the Tom Waits song Going out West, and uploaded it online. The label No Shame found the tune and wanted to hear more. She was given some money to polish her songs. A year later, Dead Like Money was born. “So really, my music career started with a leap of faith from this label. They are like my bros. I am so thankful they encouraged me to do it.”

The unlimited studio time which gave her the freedom to work was a source of  inspiration for “Quit Your Job,” the first release from the EP.  “I’m not trying to tell people to quit their jobs and be like a gypsy and live life unemployed, but you only have so many years to really get comfortable and really dive into stuff you love. Some people say that you are never too old, but I don’t believe that. You do have an expiration date. Do whatever you want now that you are young. You have all these opportunities.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 11.31.53 PMOne of her earliest childhood memories is of her musician father playing the guitar to make her stop crying. He always encouraged her to sing or play instruments while growing up. But it wasn’t until after graduating college that she headed back home to jam with him.

“I took up on those offers my dad always gave to teach me how to play the guitar, because they were free,” she laughs. The guitar lessons led to performing with her father and his local band, and this is what, she explains, cured her early of stage shyness.

While we are sitting outside the café, she happily greets people she knows on the street, introducing me to her roommate and to an old friend from Wilmington who randomly walk by. Marial may have been shy, but Seasick Mama is smiling and outgoing. Shyness is definitely something that doesn’t show in the photos taken of her, nor in her performances—she is one lady who is not afraid to bare it all in front of her audience. She describes her image as strong, sexy and opinionated. “I am not actually saying for women to take their clothes off and be a big ho, but if you like your body, show it off. I don’t think it is that big a deal. Women are hot and they should be proud of being sexy.”

Where did the Seasick Mama get her name?

Her stage name came by way of a breakup when an ex-boyfriend called her a seasick mama in a song he wrote for her, as his way of breaking up. Wondering what it meant, she researched and found that the expression derived from a Neil Young song. It referred to a woman that every sailor would have in the ports.

“It basically meant whore. I am not calling myself a whore, but something about it stuck with me. It could go both ways, it could also be a woman who waits for her man to come home, a loyal sailor’s wife, I’m not sure.”

All the sailors with their seasick mamas / Hear the sirens on the shore / Singin’ songs for pimps with tailors / Who charge ten dollars at the door.
—Neil Young, “For the Turnstiles”

Tough Tattoos and Dead Money

Apart from her tough-sexy image, Seasick Mama is an extremely down-to-earth and upbeat person. Some of her projected toughness could partially derive from her left arm, which is completely covered in tattoos. She gladly gives me a better look by pulling up her sleeve. There are beautiful women, horses and flowers portrayed, all in a classic tattoo style, almost sailor-like. She claims at first that they’re purely decorative, but it soons comes to light that they each have a story. “Me and my boyfriend at the time got a matching tattoo. And as soon as I got it, I realized it was a bad idea. The fact that I already then thought it was a bad idea, I knew that our relationship wasn’t going to last forever. Then four or five months later we broke up. So that was like a reminder of if you ever have a bad feeling of someone you are with, you are probably not going to be with them forever.”

Marial points out that she finds inspiration in anything from commercial pop artists to underground indie bands, and from travel. “Being in the Dominican Republic really inspired me because of how people are able to make things work no matter what their situation is. There is a lot of poverty there.”

Seasick Mama’s thought about money could further be interpreted simply through the name of her EP Dead Like Money. “Basically, everybody is really good at spending money. Effortlessly. A child could spend a thousand dollars in a day. Its just like, money doesn’t even have any value anymore, especially to me. I have no drive to become a richer person, I just have a drive to become a better person. I think more people should focus on being better, and not richer”.

Seasick Mama’s newest EP Tip Top Shape will be coming out in the fall; she plans to keep diving into and exploring different genres of music. “I want to put my hand in each pot first and pick one, or to mix it all up. We will see…“