It might be true that there’s nothing lazier than calling a band uncategorizable, but it’s hard to imagine how else one would go about explaining the music of Pumarosa. The English five-piece, described by critic Caroline Sullivan as “the missing link between Joy Division and Pendulum”, make sensual, evil music, and seem beholden to no one genre.
Indeed, their choruses – equal parts vicious put-downs and intimidating, crooned come-ons – share more in common with summoning rituals than the pop hits of old: when lead singer Isobel Munoz-Newsome rails against a “stupid son of a bitch” in ‘Honey’, the shimmering rage under her voice is so palpable as to be genuinely disturbing.
So yeah, there’s a reason the band’s long-awaited debut record is called The Witch. It is as much a haunted house as it is an album: saxophone wails break out like jump scares; long, jutting instrumental freakouts bounce about the place like footsteps clapping off castle walls; and Siouxsie Sioux-inspired guitar work paints the whole thing pitch black.
Which is what makes it so surprising when the band’s multi-instrumentalist Tomoya Sukuzi turns out not to be a brooding, gothic poet in conversation, but an affable, chatty sort of chap, eager to talk about everything from his time as a chorister to the band’s penchant for playing chess.
Music Feeds: When you’re off the road and just chilling at home, do you really have to use that time to recharge your batteries?
Tomoya Sukuzi: Kind of. Although to be honest, I rather suit the touring life. Much of the frustration when you’re on tour is that you’re actually playing less music because most of the time is just spent in the van going from one venue to the next one. So like, last tour we actually started playing a lot of chess on our phones. We did a short tour of America, and there are so many roads and so much driving, there’s really nothing to do but play chess.
MF: When you do have that whole logistical side of touring – having drivers getting you to shows, and people behind the scenes organising it all – does that change the way you think about playing the music?
TS: You know what, for me, I don’t think it really does. I’ve been playing music since I was really small. I used to sing in a choir and used to perform in that every day. So I’ve always been used to performing and doing all that waiting around. I kind of think it should be kind of irrelevant who’s watching you, or the people behind the scenes, or where you are in the world. It’s all just about playing a good show.
So like, when we’re rehearsing, we’ll just be playing and jamming and having a great time, and when you’re playing a show, you’re really just trying to replicate that. You’re just trying to play well and to have a good time.
MF: So was performing live always something that came naturally to you then?
TS: Kind of. When I was younger and in that choir, I used to have no nerves except when I had a solo. When I was 15 I would play my saxophone in front of a thousand people or something and I’d have no nerves at all – I’d just love it. But as soon as I had to sing a solo in front of the 20 other people who were there at the choir rehearsal, I’d just get so nervous. It absolutely terrified me. I reckon it means I should just stick to never doing choral solo music, basically.
But I have always loved doing it. I think I’m lucky in that I really know what I want to do in my life. I always have. Whatever happens in the future, I know that I will always be making music, one way or the other.
MF: How do you go about making the music as Pumarosa? What is the writing process like?
TS: Often Isobel comes in with the lyrics and the chords and the basic song, and the rest of us do a lot of work writing new parts and writing new arrangements and working it out. We spend a lot of time working on songs – particularly when we first started out. Some of our early songs have got so many versions, just because we never felt like it was quite right. It was good that we spent that time though, I think – we weren’t scared to go back and say, ‘No, that wasn’t so good, let’s try something else.’ And then slowly but surely we worked ourselves towards what we sound like as a band now.
MF: Do songs change drastically over that process then?
TS: You tend to get a better understanding of what the song actually means. For example, if you walk into a room and play a song to five people, I bet each of those five people will hear a different version of the song. Everyone processes music in different ways: some people think about melody; some people think about lyrics; some people think about chords… It’s quite interesting seeing how other people interpret something like that, and how five different people in a room can all leave their mark on the changing song – everyone gives their interpretation.
I guess the more you do that, the more you get to know how everyone else in the band works, and how the song works. You learn how that song has an impact on you, and your bandmates, and its, kind of, underlying intentions.
MF: I guess that means that process of personal interpretation must be really amplified when you release a song out into the world. Do you worry about your audience when you’re writing?
TS: I guess so. You do have to think about how people will actually listen to it. One of the joys of music is that it is so individual and psychological, so I like to think about the spiritual side of the music, and think about how everything is going to be interpreted by the listener. You become aware that everyone listens to music in so many different ways, so you can use that in so many different ways; you can use the personalised element to confuse people, to excite people…
MF: I think that’s what makes seeing bands live so beautiful too: sometimes when you go to a gig with a bunch of friends, everyone has such a different emotional experience that it’s like everyone has seen totally different gigs.
TS: Exactly. It’s the same for the band as well. Because we have monitors, we get totally different sounds from the people in the crowd. When you finish a gig, sometimes you come offstage and you go, ‘Oh man, I was playing so badly’ and someone else will go, ‘Nah you were great!’ [Laughs.] It’s amazing.
‘The Witch’ is out now.