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Poolblood Enters Their Main-Character Moment

Toronto's Maryam Said channels 'My Own Private Idaho' and 'Black Swan' on their new album 'Mole'

When Poolblood’s Maryam Said answers their Zoom call with MTV News at home in Toronto, they’re sitting in front of a Frances Ha movie poster, on which the main character — lost in quarter-life stagnation, growing apart from her best friend, hopping between living situations — dances with joyful abandon. They love this movie, the 27-year-old dream-folk artist says; in their initial post-college years, they identified with Frances a whole lot.

In making their debut album Mole (styled lowercase), out January 13, films were a major inspiration; movies like My Own Private Idaho, with all its confused yearning, and Black Swan, with its intense drive for perfection, were on the mood board. It resulted in an album that tells a story of heartbreak and healing through impressionistic emotional brushstrokes and a deep sense of atmosphere, revealing Said as a songwriter to watch.

“I love movies, and soundtracks have always been such a big thing for me,” they say. “I think every musician writes from a main-character moment, and they’re essentially building a soundtrack for their life.”

Said wrote Mole about the ending of a codependent friendship. “Heartbreak from friendship is kinda overlooked a lot of the time, [but] I feel a lot of my friend breakups harder than my romantic breakups. I’m like, ‘This one hurts more,’” they say. In keeping with their cinematic influence, they crafted the sequence of the album deliberately. With opener “<3,” they begin in a quiet moment of contented solitude; in “WFY,” they’re in the depths of this friendship, desperate to be loved and full of self-loathing; and on midpoint “Voyager,” we hear Said let go. The album ends with “My Little Room,” on which Said trusts the process of healing and, wrapping the album up in a circle, learns to embrace solitude.

“The record is from a birth of intimacy and wanting to feel connected,” they say. “From the beginning, it’s like, ‘I am connected,’ and then it goes, ‘I’m not really connected,’ and then it goes, ‘Wait, actually I’m connected to myself.’ I think that’s because time isn’t linear, and essentially we are living everything all at once, and you can just pull out these memories.”

Said’s love of expressing themself began young, with a music class in kindergarten. “I really loved how singing made me feel — I felt like it was a runners’ high. I’ve always wanted to feel that way, and singing and playing music still does that,” they say. In school in Toronto, they joined musical theater and choir, and learned violin and guitar. Meanwhile, they fell in love with emo bands like Paramore and My Chemical Romance, instilling a punk ethic that they maintain to this day.

After high school, they attended York University (the alma mater of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, they proudly add). There, while bouncing between majors, Said became enamored with the city’s music scene. “I wasn’t really big on college, because I would go to my classes and then later at night I’d go to shows. I was so obsessed with going to see bands that I didn’t really care about my schooling. It was a little isolating, ’cause I didn’t really feel like I connected with people at school — I only felt like I connected with people in a space with music.”

It was during this time that they started making their own music as Poolblood and sharing it online. They were channeling inspiration from Fiona Apple, Nick Drake, and Simon & Garfunkel, while still retaining hints of their punk sensibilities. “In the beginning it was just me in my room. It was me going through something and then coming home and processing it through music,” they say. Two of the friends they made in these early days were bedroom pop wizards Shamir and Louie Short, both of whom co-produced Mole. Other contributions include fellow Toronto artist Eliza Niemi on cello and Phoebe Bridgers collaborator Christian Lee Hutson on guitar; plus, the horns, flute, and violin heard across various tracks give the album a richly poignant sound.

“It was all a learning process for me because it was my first record,” says Said. “A lot of the songs are me practicing how to play, but writing at the same time — weaving learning with trying to build a sound. I’m also someone who just enjoys the collaboration process and actually making music together, even if it doesn’t end up sounding how I want it to sound. I just like the idea of collaborating and making something together, and having it come from friendship.” Said worked with their collaborators to craft an atmosphere in instrumentation and production that subtly deepened the album’s emotional world. “What tended to happen for this record is I would sit and sing it, and then we’d base everything around the vocals and the guitar. Me and Louie both agreed that the guitar and vocals are king in a song, and everything else is just building a landscape; we really wanted to keep the landscape minimal but impactful.”

Writing the album’s lyrics during 2020, Said came from a place of isolation and despair both personal and universal; their own pain and heartbreak was on their mind, but also the pandemic lockdowns and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. From beginning to end, Said tells a story of time passing and slowly imparting perspective. Through this writing process, they grew to look at time as a “mother figure.” “When you say time is healing, it can kind of be seen as like a caregiver,” they say. “Time was the only thing I had and the only thing I knew would eventually get me to a better place. And there were times where I just felt like things weren’t really healing, and I was fighting with it in the beginning — going through my teenage years with time. And then afterwards, I sort of [grew] up and I’m like, yeah, I guess mom’s always right and she knows what she’s saying.”

The ability to process and soundtrack this journey through writing Mole has put the final pieces in place for Said to feel healed. “This is what I needed in order for me to close up those wounds. I remember writing one of the songs on the record and I was like, I don’t know if I can ever sing this live, it’s really painful, but I don’t wanna tweak it and I don’t want to sanitize any of the words. I wanna write it as it is and see if I can come back and feel a different way. And I do definitely feel that way now.” Cue the triumphant end credits on Poolblood’s debut; picture Said dancing along to their own soundtrack.

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