Interview: Maralisa Simmons-Cook


Next up in our International Women’s Day interview series is Maralisa Simmons-Cook of Space Captain. Based in New York, Space Captain came together in 2013 while Maralisa studied at  The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Their music is multifaceted, exploring  identity and personal experience through multiple genres – Michael Gonzales of The Wire once saying, “Space Captain’s embrace of beauty is obvious. But it’s nice to know they can get ugly when they want to.”

Check out Space Captain’s music here.

Maralisa has also contributed to the Tru Thoughts IWD playlist which you can listen to here.

Photo by Noel Woodford.

Who are your female influences, in music or otherwise?

Amy Winehouse has always been my main vocal influence. I also really admire a lot of the female artists in NYC right now including Mitski, Margaret Glaspy, Kendra Morris, Kimbra, Melanie Charles and Anna Wise. I was raised on singers like Billie Holiday, Tracy Chapman, Bonnie Raitt and Nina Simone. One of my current favourite authors is Roxanne Gay.

What is your favourite empowering female track and why?

Again with the Amy Winehouse, I’ve always loved “Tears Dry On Their Own”. It makes me feel powerful singing along and it is an anthem for finding the strength to overcome heartbreak. I also really love the songwriting in “Pretty Things” by Big Thief. It’s about a woman and a man and how in their most intimate moments, the woman understands that although she may be the holder of the anger and pain of men at large, she is also incredibly wise and strong beyond that weight. She is the warmth and the knowledge of the world, as women always have been. It’s a more subtle female empowerment but it made a big impression on me. And then of course there’s the classic “Video” by India Arie.

Have you found there to be any pressure to fit in to a particular role in the industry?

Because Space Captain’s sound is constantly changing and being informed by many different genres including jazz, folk, R&B, hip hop, soul and rock, I feel more space to explore my identity and presentation, yet of course there are so many expectations and ideas about what artists should act like, dress like, sound like in those genres too. I’ve always aspired to be an artist who is able to successfully build a lifelong career, even if it’s slow and on my own terms. I think it’s just important to keep creating and staying true to myself and what feels honest.

In your opinion, is there enough being done by the music industry to give women equal opportunities in music?

No!! The older I get and the more my musical community in NYC and beyond expands, the more incredible female artists I’m meeting but also hearing more and more of the same stories about inequality, harassment and so on. I think it’s really important to look at ourselves as artists and creatives and think about what we can actively be doing to support and uplift women. Hiring them when we want to make a music video, finding female instrumentalists for a gig, trading advice about the industry. My friend Rachael Pazdan is an awesome event organiser and booker in NYC and she started a series a few years ago called The Hum – it’s an all female and non binary concert series in which artists who have never collaborated before form new supergroups and perform together and it is AMAZING. Participating in this series gave me a huge appreciation for working with all women. The communication was completely different and the whole experience was so special. More of this!

Where do you feel most free to be creative?

When I’m back home in California driving through the redwoods with all the windows down screaming and singing my head off. Or when I’m taking a day trip upstate and riding on the train or wandering around a small town not worrying about time or getting things done. It helps me to change my scenery when being creative, especially leaning toward nature. Or sometimes being at home really quietly and calmly with a lot of candles and some whiskey works too!

Who helped you to get to where you are today?

My Mom is a painter and visual artist and is the reason I am a musician. Her love for blues, soul and jazz and her dragging me all over San Francisco to jazz clubs, the New Orleans Jazz Fest and so on when I was little is why I am so passionate about music today. I also had an amazing voice teacher from the ages of 12-18 named Amber Morris who was like a second Mom to me and recognised I had a lot to say/really helped me develop my own tone, coached me through college applications and the whole nine yards. I was in a teen a cappella group throughout high school and that totally inspired my love for harmony and performance. Now, my bandmates inspire me to keep going and maintain focus, my boyfriend Max who has his own band called Elbows is incredibly encouraging and we help each other out, both emotionally and by contributing to each other’s projects. Most of my close friends are musicians and my best friend since high school Ivy Meissner is a singer/songwriter living in NYC as well. We keep each other going. My friend Paige (who has an awesome punk/country/experimental band called Irrevery) really inspires me to stand up for myself as a woman in music and always gives great advice when I’m stuck in a rut. My grandpa, a classic San Francisco character and owner of Specs Bar was a brilliant man and tough, too – he inspired me to work diligently and with soul and heart.

If you could offer some advice to women in the music industry, what would it be?

I once had a guy bail last minute on a show I put together and he texted me saying, “Don’t pull your hair out, it’s so pretty,” instead of apologising and offering to find a replacement. If I had been a man, how would he have behaved differently? It’s easier said than done and I still regret not speaking up for myself in that moment, but my advice to women is to never let experiences like this go scot-free. It is so important to call sexism out and it starts in your own community with your friends and fellow musicians. Also, trusting your voice and the stories you have to share is so powerful and special. Not compromising your vision and what you want to express is also very important.


Follow Maralisa online here and her work with Space Captain here.