Toronto-based dream-pop folk artist poolblood (also known as Maryam Said) has only been releasing music since 2019, but has made a huge first impression with their debut album, mole.
The album is a stunning journey, both sonically and emotionally. Numbers range drastically from triumphant, driven anthems like “twinkie,” to soulful, melancholic ballads like “shabby” and “wfy,” to heavy, gritty sonic collections like “beam.” Despite the huge variety of sounds and vibes on offer here, all of it comes together in a distinctly human way.
Covering themes of sorrow, regret, and the harsh realities of friendships drawing to a close, mole is the ideal accompaniment for your next quiet night in, whether you’re running a melancholic bath or enjoying your own company.
We caught up with Maryam via Zoom to talk a bit more about their inspirations, their process, and what might be awaiting them around the corner, both artistically and personally.
PAN M 360: It’s been a really successful month for mole and poolblood. How does it feel to finally have your debut album out in the world?
Maryam Said: It’s been really exciting. It’s been nice to see the response to this record. I worked on it for a year and then when everything was wrapping up and stuff, I was kind of anticipating how I was going to feel about these songs a year after. And they still kind of hit the same, which is really cool. It’s also been awesome to meet new friends through it and play more shows with friends—it’s rewarding, for sure.
PAN M 360: Some of these tracks are such a far cry from your previous work, particularly when you pull in the horns and orchestral bits. Did you have any specific inspirations for this new blend of aesthetics?
MS: I kind of always knew I wanted to go into that realm. For the first EP, I was kind of just going off of things, doing justice to the songs to the songs that I had at that time and letting them live in this dream-pop world. But I grew up playing violin in school and I was in a classical choir in uni, so I was always drawn to orchestral stuff and around classical music. So I wanted the record to have elements of that to honour myself. I was also utilizing a lot of the great bands and artists that I knew around me, like “I love your work and would you wanna dip your toes into this? (Please do it.)”
I love that there are more wind instruments in pop now. Like, Lizzo has her flute. Aaron Hutchinson, who did the horn stuff on the record, is a phenomenal player and brought all these great parts. He made the record flourish in such a different way that I didn’t even expect—a lot of it was very spontaneous. I’ve always been a fan of music that leaves me feeling a big question mark. I wanted to explore that feeling and bring it to my own music as an experiment.
PAN M 360: Is it true that you wrote a lot of the words on mole around the major pandemic times in 2020?
MS: Yeah. I had written this really small poetry book that I was kind of just passing around to friends in mid-2019. Then I started writing words for mole (it didn’t have a name at the time) because I thought I was gonna record it in 2020. And when the pandemic hit I sat down and really started fleshing out the songs. Even during recording, I was tweaking things because certain inspirations had come through. I would watch something or talk to someone and be like “that’s giving me a feeling that I need to go back to.”
PAN M 360: Do any of these tracks have new meaning for you now that they’re in their final form?
MS: Sometimes, yeah. There are moments when I was writing certain songs and they felt very mundane or hyper-simple. Like I didn’t know what I was actually trying to say. As I was recording and finishing up production, I started to realize what I was trying to say, what I was trying to connect to, what feeling that certain line comes from—why I wrote it. When I’m writing I’m just trying to get something out, and then when it’s out I’ll start to process it. Some of the lyrics might sit in a different space in my life.
PAN M 360: When I first listened to this album, I thought it was like reading the best and worst days of someone’s life, straight out of their diary. Do you do any journaling?
MS: I’ve heard that a lot. People are like, ‘are you just straight-up writing from your diary?’ But this record is an homage to my younger self and paying my dues of being a writer in my 20s trying to figure it all out. I started journaling as a really young kid, like eight, but nowadays, I journal in my notes app. I’ll look back into my notes and sometimes use that to write lyrics. The diary thing is cool though, I’m still trying to grapple with it. I’ve always liked to write from my own perspective. I kind of want to challenge myself now to try and take myself out of the picture and explore different stories. I really, really love Andy Shauf and I think he’s a phenomenal songwriter who can do that in such a cool way, writing these characters who are sometimes unlikeable, sometimes likable, really human. He embraces the human condition in such a great way.
PAN M 360: You’ve mentioned before that mole is a story about letting go of relationships that don’t serve you anymore, and kind of a reflection on lessons learned.
MS: A lot of it is around relationships and friendships. I was learning how to reframe and reposition myself in my connection with the people around me. I felt like I was of service. I had really weird childhood stuff that was kind of leading me to certain people. This record was me going ‘that’s not cool, let’s reroute. Let’s recalibrate.’
PAN M 360: Would you say the making of the album itself shed more light on that situation for you?
MS: A lot of artists do this thing where they go, “I made this album because it was healing and now I’m healed and I’ve poured everything into it and it’s transformed me,” but it kind of didn’t really do that—it was kind of just me being a brat. I said all this stuff I was upset, depleted, defeated about, and I didn’t really know the solution. I guess the solution is just realizing that this is a reality and it’s gonna be an active lifelong journey to undo all this stuff. And I kind of chose the biggest, hardest topic. If I chose something smaller, like a heartbreak, I could just be like “Oh yeah, that was not cool. Next situation, I’m gonna learn to love the person a certain way or treat love a certain way.”
I feel like ending a friendship is harder than romantic stuff. There’s a different kind of intimacy. There’s not a weird, inherent power structure, we just love kicking it with each other and it sucks when you can’t do it anymore.
PAN M 360: I wanted to ask you about “beam.” Where did the inspiration for such a dark, brooding interlude come from?
MS: It’s so funny. I was listening to Korn a lot, and I was doing a lot of walks when I was recording this record. There’s this big forest conservatory place near my house, and I’d walk there a lot. It’s really beautiful, I’d see deer during my morning walks and stuff. This one day I was walking and listening to Korn, and I was thinking about how much I love how weird and dark their music is.
I was playing around with older stuff I had recorded on my computer and layering it and just making it as weirdly hellish as it could possibly be because I knew it could fit on the record. With the lyrics, I wanted to pretend to be dark, with Edgar Allen Poe-type stuff. So I guess the main inspiration is listening to Korn’s “Freak on a Leash.” That breakdown? Insane, like, what is he even doing? He makes you terrified.
PAN M 360: What was the thought of the track placement of “beam” between “null” and “sorry”?
MS: I was really excited to do the track listing. I knew how I wanted to sort the record, not only thematically, but also to have a sonic story from start to finish. Placing “beam” in the middle, I think is the moment when someone hits their breaking point, and is in a moment of defeat. I wanted to capture that feeling of defeat—like there’s no end to it. The song covers the stages of grief in a way too, with the feeling of sorrow, and then forgiveness comes in “sorry,” and then a bit of that person crawling out and hearing “my little room” and being like, there’s a light now that you can sort of get to. But can you? I don’t know. It’s kind of the hangover track as well.
PAN M 360: At times, mole is like the soundtrack of the saddest yet happiest coming-of-age film ever. Do movies and the cinematic aesthetic play a part in your process?
MS: I’m a movie guy for sure. When I was making this record I was watching stuff that revolved around complicated friendships or relationships, but that didn’t necessarily have that resolution or typical traditional narrative of ‘they go through the rough times but clean up their act and they’re good again.’ Movies like My Private Idaho, with these two intense characters living through similar situations and trying to help each other through the shit. But they end up not being friends in the end. They’re distant. Like people they knew, friends of the past, but still rooting for each other.
I was also watching Black Swan and David Lynch’s Lost Highway. The way he plays with time in that movie was a mind-equals-blown kind of moment. The soundtrack in Lost Highway was a big one too. The Bossa Nova moments by Angelo Badalamenti and Trent Reznor were big inspirations. The soundtracks of movies mean a lot to me. Music can make it or break it for a scene, and it can do the same for your life. We all have those feelings of knowing how we were feeling or what we were doing the first thing we heard a song. It’s such a beautiful and magical thing that music can do.
PAN M 360: What are you thinking next for poolblood?
MS: I’m going on tour in March which is really sick. It’s my first tour, so I’m trying to be all prepared. I’m going to Detroit and Iowa, but I’m playing SXSW which I’m really stoked for. I’ve always wanted to go to Austin, so it’s cool that it lines up that way. And SXSW is kind of GOATed too. So I get to do that, and hopefully, in the next couple of months we’re gonna be touring again, and I might start writing as well. It’s weird, once the record comes out ‘what’s the next thing’ is a natural question, but I just want to spend some time with this little child I just gave birth to!
PAN M 360: “my little room” is such a stunning resolution and really speaks to that sense of learning to be happy by yourself. Can you walk us through poolblood’s perfect night, home alone?
MS: I feel like I’m gonna sound so boring, but I’m a big fan of a nice, clean living room. Some sort of TV, and a blanket, and my three-drink rotation. At night it would probably be a decaf coffee, water, and some kind of seltzer, like sparkling water. And then putting on a bunch of different movies and maybe having a meal that I’ve made with a friend together. That’s a nice night in. Just a cozy night. Maybe I’m second-guessing. Should I just be like ‘I love partying, I love to do all this crazy shit. I’m gonna smash up over here. Straight to the club. Pounding back shots. Then it’s the next club. Getting on a plane. Getting married. The whole nine yards.’ It’s just being super cozy with someone you love. We get to just chat and vibe. That’s cool. And that could be in your room too, just to tie it up.