Pumarosa are one of those formidable bands who combine fun with being a bit weird, and also really bloody good - and their debut album is everything you’d hope it would be.
Pumarosa have achieved a lot in the four years of their existence. Building from just drummer Nicholas Owen and singer and guitarist Isabel Munoz-Newsome, the East London band have grown into an all-conquering globetrotting five-piece monster. Before even releasing their debut album they've taken their own distinctive blend of dark pop to different continents from Australia to a rapturous reception in Japan. "It was quite fun being in Tokyo because they have such a strong fan culture," begins Isabel. "We played a festival there and did a signing, and I was like, 'This will be quite funny and probably a bit tragic', but there were loads of people!"
The excited reaction to Pumarosa is perhaps a consequence of them taking their time before putting a full record out, content instead to build up their following and create an alluring dynamic that makes them stand out. "It gives you time to grow into your sound," says Isabel of the slow burning process that's led to anticipation for debut album 'The Witch' running at fever pitch.
It's easy to see why Pumarosa are inspiring such devotion among their fans; there's a deep passion and intensity that runs through their music. You can hear it in the string of excellent singles they've released over the past few years, but collected together on one album the whole thing rises to another level. For Isabel, the depth of feeling is a consequence of how she and the band invest themselves in the music: it's an all-encompassing experience. "When I'm writing and thinking about words and melodies, I'm trying to feel my way into things that make me feel passionate," she explains. "That's what makes me tick or feel compelled to stand in a room and sing to people. I have to feel pretty intense about it." For the whole band, the experience of making music is revelatory. "We do whip ourselves into this fever," she says excitedly. "We play in a passionate way. That comes from the message, and that's how we connect."
The message that Pumarosa deliver though is not just bound up in words. There's an importance and a socially-conscious idealism to Isabel's lyrics, but at the same time, there's something more primal going on. Pumarosa are making music that goes straight for the body and your primary senses. "That's something I've been thinking about recently while talking to my sister who's a dancer," she says. "I've been thinking about the intelligence of the flesh. In our civilisation, we have this belief that the mind and the head are where your consciousness is and the body is just this appendage that flops along behind. Your consciousness is in your own body, and you're a huge receptor. You're a powerful thing. To think otherwise is to do it down. Our bodies are incredible."
In many ways, ‘The Witch' resembles dance music filtered through the prism of rock. See for example the orgasmic, trance-like crescendos of seven-minute-plus epics like the title-track or ‘Red'. "We're all really into dance music and beat driven electronic music, but we don't make that kind of music," says Isabel. "That feeling of euphoria and release though that you get from dancing to heavy electronic music is coming out in these rock songs."
When it comes to the lyrics, it was abundantly clear to Isabel what she wanted to say and how she wanted to get that message across. "I consciously wanted to sing about women," she states. "I still find it incredible that in so much culture and politics the names and faces are so hugely predominately men. I wanted to put something out into the world where the words and narratives were feminine." For Isabel, the lyrical themes of the album address a key issue. "It's about seeing clearly the problems and ways of addressing it. In 'The Witch', it's seeing the history of oppression and through acknowledging it you're already beginning to take your power back," she says.
Recent political and social events have also indirectly influenced Isabel's thoughts and writing. It makes ‘The Witch' a vital listen in 2017. "It's so relevant to today," she begins. There was almost a time when we thought we were through that stuff, but the kind of things that are being passed in America right now is incredible. We've got to be so aware. I went on the Women's Day anti-Trump march, and it was so amazing. There was such a cross-section of people. It's not like it's this middle-class problem, it's everyone's problem. We've all got to be there and be present with it. You just have to see it. All you have to do is see."
Pumarosa's development has been characterised by them becoming increasingly comfortable with each other both as people and as musicians. "As a whole five-piece we've found our sound," says Isabel. "At the point when Jamie [Neville, guitarist] joined we were dipping into quite different sounds. We still have that, but then it was way more extreme. We know each other's style now. We improvise and jam a lot together. We sit really comfortably with each other." The relationship the band now have allows each member's confidence to soar as Isabel laughs, "Now I'm under this funny delusion that I'm incredible at jamming. I can just walk into a room and start playing this amazing music."
"You become a weird family," she continues. "That closeness makes it easy to play together. It feels natural. We've come a long way performing and pushing ourselves and what we can do. I like to push what I can do onstage. Whether it's something physical I can do with my body, or addressing something on stage."
It's not just on stage and in the studio that Pumarosa like to challenge themselves. Going right back to the beginning, Isabel and the band have cultivated a distinctive visual aesthetic. "I came to music via visual arts," says Isabel. "I don't think I'd even call myself a musician. I'm probably still an artist." For Isabel, taking charge of the band's visual identity and creating all their artwork herself was a no brainer. "That wasn't even a choice," she laughs. "obviously, I'm going to do the cover. Jamie was a bit like ‘Really?' and I was like, ‘Yeah! I'm fucking going to do it, shut up!' I was always going to do that. You're trying to get an essence of the sound of the song or the meaning and put it into this painting." It did take a while to get the right image though. "For the album cover, I did about 500. I did so many different images just trying to find this thing that had something of what we were inside it."
‘The Witch' is that best kind of debut album in that it has something to say. It's a statement, and it makes its presence felt. For the band, the title-track is the perfect representation of what Pumarosa are and what they stand for. "It's the last song we wrote," says Isabel. "The rest of the album revolves around the message of ‘The Witch'. Clean and pure. We wanted to create this pool of sound where you can imagine flames flickering and hear raw drums and weird echoey sound. We just jammed, and jammed and it turned into something. That encapsulated what we wanted to say."
The release of their debut album is a launching point for the band to achieve the rest of their ambitions in a busy 2017, that includes slots at numerous summer festivals including a proper slot at Glastonbury and a first ever trip to Reading. "That will be a real coming of age event," says Isabel excitedly. Perhaps the biggest ambition left for the band's singer and leader though might follow their next trip across the pond. "We're going to go to America and hopefully Mexico. I'm really looking forward to that," she begins. "The closer we get to Chile the better it is. Being half South American, I'd love to play there. I'm interested to see how the music would go down in different cultures." Not just content to thrill people in the UK, Pumarosa are continuing to go global.
Taken from the June issue of Dork, out now. Pumarosa’s debut album ‘The Witch’ is out now.