Isabel Munoz-Newsome is Here to Bewitch You

Redefining spellbinding, Pumarosa is here to haunt your dreams.

After the successful release of their debut album, The Witch, London-based quintet Pumarosa is embarking on what will inevitably be a game-changing U.S. tour. The band is ready to enchant their fans with psychedelic jams, harrowing vocals, and darkly euphoric vibes that frontwoman and guitarist Isabel Munoz-Newsome hopes will have everyone grooving. The group’s ritualistic rhythms have attracted a lot of attention in the music world, thanks to their innovative, gothic sound and Isabel’s determination to create realistic representations of women. From the creative album artwork to their rad venue picks, the band’s conceptual focus adds layers of complexity to the group’s deliciously dark sound.

We caught up with Isabel pre-departure to talk smoke, lights, dancing sisters, and gruesome friends…

So tell us a bit about Pumarosa. How did the band get started?

We started with just me and Nicholas (who plays the drums)–we met a few years ago through a mutual friend. We started playing music together and going out in London at the same time as well. Gradually, we met the rest of the guys along the way. Tomoya, who plays saxophone and keyboards, was living in London. I played a gig and he came to support and play with me. He seemed to like the tunes and was like, “If you want to jam, I’m always up for it.” That’s what his life is like–he jams all the time. To him, it was just another jam but I was like, oh shit he’s really good. Let’s keep him. Jamie was a best friend of a best friend, and he came along; he was great and everybody loved him. As each person joined, the sound evolved and kept changing–it happened organically.

Your sound is so unique. It’s something that seems to really defy a genre definition. How would you describe your music to people who are new to the band?

It’s really hard! We call it “Industrial spiritual” because it has that euphoric lift you get from dance music, but it’s also quite intense, gothic, and dark. The tracks take you on a little journey.

A really distinctive and innovative aspect of your music is that there’s always an unexpected element; a lot of your tracks build into an unpredictable crescendo, which you don’t really see coming. Are those moments intentional or do they happen organically?

They happen totally organically. In fact, when we’re rehearsing, we’re like, oh god, another massive ending. When you’re playing with the intensity of the songs, you feel the groove going on, and at some point, you just want to explode. It usually swells–whether it’s a track like “Lions’ Den,” which is a release of tension and anger, or “Priestess,which is more jubilant. You know it’s calling for a dance, and then the dance arrives, and it’s like this big musical bit that makes you want to move. Each track’s ending has its own meaning, but they all usually end with an explosion.

 Do you have a favorite song on the album or a song that you particularly like performing the most?

It depends. I love performing all of the tracks on the album. [It’s exciting] when you bring a new song to the set. For this tour, our track “Barefoot” is ready to play live and we haven’t played it yet. You know you’ve got it nailed, but playing it in front of people for the first time gives you a buzz. I love playing “Priestess” live because I’ve got my dance routines–I don’t have to hold a guitar so I can move and talk directly to the audience. I like Snake as well which is the last track on the album–it’s really fun to play live since it’s pretty wild.

Yes, it’s good to have that mixture for sure! So, the album feels complete, yet each song stands on its own; did you approach working on the album as a collective piece of work or did you guys focus on each song individually?

 Because it’s our first album, most of the songs have been written over the last couple of years, but they worked with our current music so we kept them. The writing happened as and when, but the recording was done over a couple of months. “Priestess” was the first track we recorded with our producers, so that defined the sound role, and we went from there. It’s a specific collection of songs; each song has its own story.

What are some of the inspirations behind your lyrics? Do have any experiences that you’ve found influential when you’ve been writing?

There are quite a few songs on this album that are inspired by my friends, my sister, and people I find amazing. “My Gruesome Loving Friend” is about my best friend–she’s a pretty amazing, wild person. “Priestess” is about priestess culture, but it’s also about my sister who is a dancer and this amazing quality she has. When she moves, it’s something else. A lot of the songs are about friends or things that have happened to friends of mine. A friend will tell me an intimate story and I’ll think, I’m going to write a song about that–but I always manage to disguise it.

 I think when you’re sitting down to write the lyrics, it has to go through this process, and then it comes out in song form so people must not recognize those stories right away.

No, it’s great! They’ll be singing along and dancing, and I’ll be like, that’s about you breaking up with your boyfriend! There is definitely a [theme] in the album about the female. [We] created an album that was more [focused] on the woman being a protagonist. I find that it’s rare in culture these days.

I’ve read that you like to have female protagonists in your lyrics, which challenge the conformities of women like the “good girl” or the “bad girl,” which is really refreshing.

We all know it as women, don’t we? We see these female characters again and again, whether it’s a song or a character on T.V.  It’s either the sexy, bad bitch or the good girl, who’s probably a virgin–it’s so weird and such nonsense! It’s also very boring as a woman–we want more depth because we have depth. We are three-dimensional. So much of the music you listen to, even if it’s sung by a woman, the song might have been written by a man. We are used to narratives written by men. I wanted to take the opportunity to put music out into the world that has a female, authorial voice.

The idea of ‘the space’ seems to be really important to your performances. How would you describe what influences your choice of gig space? 

Yes, definitely! Like, for our own shows, we always agonize about our gig space; well, I do, anyway. I make it really difficult for everyone. I’m like, no, not there–that place has a bad vibe. I love all the places where we’ve done our London shows over the last year or so.  The last couple of places we played were Village Underground and Oval Space, and they both have that modern, industrial vibe. There is something very open about them. They’re not necessarily just a gig space–you can do other types of performances in them.  At the Oval Space, my sister performed some of her choreography in the audience before we played. That was another way of trying to shake up [the performance]. Rather than people being stationary, they join in a little bit more.

What does your usual set look like?

As much as I’d love it, we can’t really have actual set design at this stage yet. Because I studied set design, one day we’ll have big, ridiculous sets. For now, we use different lighting and loads of smoke. It’s nice because I think people come and play–I don’t think people think about [other artists] like that. But the lighting can really make or break a show. We use quite a bit of smoke because you can play with the lights more and sculpt out shapes–it feels three-dimensional.

What advice can you give to other women artists trying to break into the music industry?

It’s cool if you make contact with other women artists in a male-dominated industry. It’s always really nice and interesting because you find out about their experiences and you learn so much–it’s reassuring. Take your time and be confident. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re too slow or you’re talking too much–that’s all in your head. Say what you want to say and take your time. And don’t be pushed into any decisions. I haven’t felt victimized ever, but I think [the music industry] has a masculine culture–drinking a lot, that kind of thing. You don’t have to be like that. You can approach that in your own way.

What have you and the guys been up to since the release of your debut album, The Witch? It looks like you guys are really busy!

We released the album at the beginning of May and we’re flying to America to do some festivals out there: Austin City Limits Music Festival, stuff in Miami, and few of our own shows. Then we’re off to Mexico where we will be supporting Interpol in a big arena, so it will definitely be our biggest show yet.

 So what’s next for yourself and the band?

Next year we’ll be supporting Depeche Mode in arena gigs so that will be mad! And that’s going to be quite hard to follow–come on! Then we’re supporting Everything, Everything. We want to get back to the studio and write and play together. We want time to experiment, explore, and have fun with it. We’ve been mainly working on this set, finishing the album, and performing (which we love doing), but as creative people, we start feeling like something is missing. We might even get away, shack up, and do more writing together.

Check Pumarosa on Spotify or snag tix for their upcoming tour dates here.