Five years since her full-length My New Heart, Barbie Almalbis-Honasan is back with a 3-song EP. Together with her husband Martin Honasan and Michelle Lim-Rivera (wife of Nikko Rivera, Barbie’s keyboardist), comes Tigre. Prior to the launch on June 27 at 12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub, Ortigas, I had the chance to ask her about the EP, her career, God, and the scene on a quiet afternoon in her humble abode.
What is Tigre all about?
BARBIE: The [Tigre] EP was actually supposed to be a single, but then we just decided to release the three songs together. The first song, Tigre, is about our cat. She’s around 4-5 years old but we have only had her for 6 months. She’s actually from my sister in law. To digress, me and Martin have been writing together for the past few months and for a writing exercise we decided to write about our cat as first time pet owners. Before, I never seemed to find affection for cats because I see them as snooty and scary. When the cat arrived, it was only Martin that was trying to befriend the cat and I was hesitant. He told me to at least try and when I did, I discovered that the cat got less snooty and more comfortable around us. At some point after a few days, it was starting to even become affectionate towards us. Although there still are times where we can’t quite figure out her mood and she becomes all moody and snooty again. It was more or less a play on familiarity from us towards the cat and vice versa. Hence the song more or less insinuates how you get to love somebody who’s mean. [laughter] Then in the end it basically circumvents that its about our cat.
The second track, which is “Cover” is something I wrote with Michelle as a surprise to her husband, my bandmate Nikko Rivera. Nikko was with us in arranging the song but we changed the lyrics into something else. So we had this secret Facebook chat where we can freely talk about the song without him knowing. He only heard the finished track to days ago, actually. The third one is “Ghost” which is actually a song about my faith and my journey, hence the reference to the spirits. It basically tackles how God has moved in my life through different seasons along with the Holy Spirit.
How has your writing process changed from Hungry Young Poets to now that you are working solo?
BARBIE: Well ever since, I would always write from experience. Back then in my teenage years there was a ton of material, such as that of heartbreaks and unrequited love. Moving forward, I started having kids so the material changed focus onto that. I just try to write from things happening around me, with friends and people in my life. In terms of arrangement, it was always a band effort since Hungry Young Poets. Everytime I finish a song I just present it to the band then we jam it out. The only difference we did now was that we recorded it live at the Tower of Doom, and it only took us two days to record. So we basically recorded it there together simultaneously, having a few takes and picking the one we like the most. After that I just recorded a few more guitars and vocals the next day.
I noticed you also write jingles for commercials. Is there a different process for that given that the song is sort of required to stick and be a hit?
BARBIE: Yeah! It’s a challenge, but I’m happy for that experience. With commercials, it helps me apply my creativity given the boundaries. You can’t put in minor chords, always on 4:4 [ laughter]. There always seems to be a need for it to be pop and happy, it’s a totally different thing. But I’m grateful that the clients are open to my style and that I don’t feel so boxed for the ones that I have done. They always give me enough space to apply what I want to make up for what they need. For me, one of my favorites was that of was Closeup’s “Just A Smile”. Logically, I don’t have to play it live because its a “commercial song” but since I love the song we keep on playing it ‘til now. I don’t really see it as a “commercial song”. One of the reasons why it probably worked out for me was because back in high school, there was this Louie Ocampo track sung by Gino Padilla — Closer You and I, and I was living in the dorms of Assumption Ilo-Ilo. There was this one TV that we all watch from after studying, and every time that Gino Padilla Closeup commercial comes on we would all end up swooning. So around 2005-2006, Closeup was in between talks with bands for a new jingle. My manager was quite involved and I told him, “I know what a Closeup song feels like, it’s in my heart!” [laughter] So then I had that peg, but it was hard for me to write on the spot. I always had a ton on snippets such as for this project. For all the commercials I had made, they would always start from songs that I previously started working on. I just tweak them a bit to be fit on becoming a commercial song. So then I have a verse already that felt apt for what I feel a Closeup song should be, then I pulled out a really pop-sounding chorus for it to be a commercial song. It all worked out well in the end.
How does your relationship with faith intertwine with your relationship to music? Do you think it works alongside or do you think it works against it?
BARBIE: My faith has always been a central part of my life, it never became as if it was just a Sunday thing. A big part of nurturing my creativity comes from my faith. Growing in my faith has always been a part of discovering creativity. Actually, me and my husband always talk and debate about these topics such as faith and art. We have always found the two to always intertwine in our lives. Although sometimes it is understandable when you start to question it as a part of growing up. I also went through this philosophical journey. But I always found my way back, because it’s where I have found answers to certain voids that I can’t figure out to fill back then. A lot of those things got answered in my journey in getting to know God more.
How do you find the current music scene?
BARBIE: I love it! Nowadays, the music that has been coming it is so free, there are a lot of support for every kind of good music out there. It’s never been this diverse, our music industry in the Philippines. Before we would always find people doing a lot of different things, but there wasn’t a lot of support. But now, it’s nice to see there are a lot of fans; a community is being built. A big part of this are the prods that make these shows and make the music more accessible. It really takes a lot to be able to gather people and put up a proper show.
Which artists/bands are you currently into?
BARBIE: Well, me and Martin are actually big Munimuni fans! Also Kai, my sister-in-law and neighbor, she’s with Autotelic. Basically we also get acquainted and be friends with their friends. So there’s Reese, Argee, Ben&Ben, and Clara. Zildjian Benitez of IV of Spades is actually my godson, and he would play as a session musician for my band when he was around 14 or 15. These guys are making so much great music.
Barbie Almalbis released her 3-track EP Tigre at June 27 at 12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub with supporting acts such as Aia de Leon, Autotelic, bird., Rocksteddy, and Orange and Lemons. The EP is now out on streaming platforms on June 28.