Debuting to the world on Zane Lowe’s Beats show in September last year, London five-piece Pumarosa have gone from strength-to-strength since the release of their first single, “Priestess”. A hypnotic, almost psychedelic seven minute reverie, “Priestess” is as bold as it is bewitching. Having recently released the video for their second single, “Cecile“, and with a performances at Latitude just around the corner, we caught up with vocalist Isabel Munoz-Newsome to talk about leaving her life in theatre design, what it’s like walking down the street with her sculptural sister and why desire can be dangerous.
You explored folk, electro, rock before arriving at Pumarosa. Could you tell us a little bit about that journey?
Nick and I have been playing together for about 5 years on and off. During that time I spent quite a while writing and gigging on my own, it was really scary but I think it made me more confident. You test both yourself and your songs in a very raw way, it’s like “Here I am with my little guitar”, and that’s it. Pumarosa as it is now, we all came together about a year and a half ago now.
You were at art school before that? When did you decide to make music your primary focus?
For quite a while I was doing different things, I still had my painting studio, I was still doing theatre design. I can hardly do that anymore now though. It’s quite funny I was at work the other day and I was like, “I played at the Albert Hall last night” and the guys I work with shouted “WHAT!? What are you doing here?”. Seriously though, at some point you have to make a conscious decision to do this, it makes you feel more certain about who you are. I still paint and draw a bit but now it’s all to do with the band, it’s very engrossing. If I paint now I’ll be making some animations for our show at the ICA or I’m doing some artwork for the next single. It all gets eaten, in a good way, by the band.
Could we see theatre design work its way into your live performance at some point?
With our forthcoming show at the ICA on the 7th as it’s our first headline show, I’ve started specifically thinking about the lighting in an architectural way. I’m making a series of animations for a few of the songs too. With regards to three dimensional set pieces I think we’ll have to wait a bit for that because then you need a crew and everything. I’d love to do it though!
What is “Priestess” about? Is she your sister? Or is your sister some kind of vessel for the priestess?
Lots of the lyrics in the song are specifically about my sister. She’s incredible to behold when she moves, I think it must be hard being so statuesque. When you’re out with her she’s like this sculptural creature walking down the street. I think when you’re a trained dancer and you’re in tune with your body you exist in a completely different way, you’re all muscle. The concept of priestess, perhaps that’s more to do with the female, it’s an energy which my sister can sometimes bring to life through her movements.
If the Priestess is more closely linked to your sister, who is “Cecile”? Is she a fictional character?
Yea she’s a fictional character. She’s that desire that you have in your mind and in your dreams, that compulsion to find the other. It’s your desire itself that becomes the object of your lust, which is really thrilling when you’re on your own but when it’s projected onto another person it can be quite dangerous. You start to think “Oh my god they’re fulfilling everything”, you see them as this delicious thing, despite the fact they’re their own person with their own mind. I know when I’ve done that in the past it and doesn’t usually lead to a good relationship, all the same it’s very exciting.
Did you have anyone specific in mind when you wrote it then?
Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t!
Do you think they’ll have worked out that it’s about them?
I’m always surprised by how people don’t see themselves in songs actually. Sometimes, people come to a concert and afterwards I’ll look at them like “So…”, and they’ll just stare blankly and have no idea it’s about them even though for me it’s really clear. I do like that songs become more metaphorical, they become a vessel, it makes them accessible for everyone. Still, there are some songs where it adds an extra element of pain or pleasure when you know who it’s about.
Do you find songwriting comes easily? You’ve said you prefer to write on your own.
I write most of the lyrics on my own, but some songs do come out of our jams. “Cecile” was a song that came out of all of us playing together. “Priestess” was a more personal composition, I brought it to the group and they lifted it into another sphere. It’s really interesting to find out about other writers, I’m reading Bob Dylan’s autobiography at the moment, and the way he talks about songwriting is really fascinating and really relevant. I try and read a lot, and see a lot and just be receptive and not always in a rush trying to get to the next thing.
You guys are playing at Latitude this year? Anyone in particular you want to see whilst you’re there?
Yea, I’m really looking forward to it! I’ve always heard great things from people who’ve been. The Flamingods are playing, we met them last year and Glastonbury and saw them play twice. They’re fucking brilliant. They’ve got a whole myriad of instruments so it has an almost Eastern flavour, and the music gets to this frenetic level, it’s euphoric, and it they can just hold it there for the whole set. I definitely want to experience some of that whilst I’m there.
Captain Beefheart – “1010th Day of the Human Totem Pole”
It was the summer and it was hot…this song for me is one of Beefheart’s best. He looks at things from every angle, seems at first like nonsense, then hits you square on with the horror of this heatwave vision.
Life Without Buildings – “New Town”
Hot concrete. This song has such good momentum…it would be good for driving, I think the lyric by the way is “you do what you have to do, looking in your eyes”, rather than ass. But it works as either.
Patti Smith – “Ghost Dance”
Raggle taggle righteousness. We listened to this in the van the other day…it has a very simple, communal feel and the way Patti Smith sings it is heartbreaking. It is epic acoustic music.
Radiohead – “Full Stop”
The beat in this track is fantastic, keeping you guessing where you are in the bar. The synth, or drones or whatever is making those godly sounds fly overhead are also incredible.
P J Harvey – “The Community of Hope”
This is my favourite song off her last album. It comes out the gates with such intent. I know it got attacked a bit as slagging off an area of Washington, but I think that misses the point. It’s the poetic license she has used since Let England Shake to encompass real places and people.
Pumarosa play Latitude Festival from Thursday 14th – Sunday 17th July.