In a city as flamboyant as Miami, a band like Womanhouse are a dark, but much-welcome surprise.
Made up of singer Emily Afre, bassist Carlo Barbacci, drummer Björn Roland, and guitarists Andrés Nuñez and Steve Montoya, the young band of friends, which formed last year, has been making a name for themselves in the local music scene, playing everywhere from open mic nights to bars and house shows.
Their moody, shoegazing sound is a refreshing contrast to the sunny subtropical atmosphere of the tourist-friendly metropolis – and their loyal audience, representative of Miami’s ever-growing counterculture, are proof they’re making their mark on South Florida for the better.
The band is currently celebrating the success of their recently-released debut self-titled EP, a stormy five-track odyssey led by Afre’s haunting vocals and the band’s lush layered instrumentation.
But unlike their music, the band is anything but mysterious. These five friends, many of whom met either playing music together or at FIU’s college radio station, The Roar Miami, are filled with ambition and enthusiasm as they gear up for a new year of opportunities.
Looking to get to know the band? I got the chance to virtually chat with them on their journey as a young Miami band and where they see their music taking them in 2020.
Here’s what they all had to say:
Answers prefaced by an initial are the words of a specific band member, those without one are from the band as a whole.
How was Womanhouse formed?
SM: Before anything was started, Emily had been yearning for an opportunity to dive into music. Björn was a part of the FIU radio station, The Roar, alongside Emily at one point. He came across her at a café as she was writing down some lyrics and that blossomed into a dialogue of creating music together. Soon after, Björn reached out to me (Steve); we had spent some time playing music together years before in high school so the rapport was in place. The three of us decided to meet up one day and decided we might as well give it a shot as we quickly acknowledged we shared a love for music and the giant umbrella it falls under – we were excited with what our own palettes would create once we decided to join heads.
For a few weeks, we got the ball rolling to some degree, jammed with some pals, played some covers to get into the flow of things. It was during this time that Andrés fell from the skies. Bless.
The 4 of us played once and it was an instant fit. It didn’t take long for songs to start writing themselves (“Bay Bridge” was the first song made during one of our first sessions). We went on for months, practicing wherever we could. Emily and Andrés live in Hialeah and Bjorn and I are located in Kendall, so we usually met at FIU and tried to hijack an empty classroom as this was a halfway point for us.
We started playing some shows, but we were still missing the final piece: Mr. Carlo Barbacci. He met all of us for the first time at Churchill’s Pub (represent); we got to talking there and he was commenting on our sound and how all that it was missing was that low end. We got to even more talking and now he plays the bass for us, records, and mixes the music. Bless. We’ve been going steady ever since.
How would you describe your musical style?
SM: I listened to a lot of J. Hendrix., J. Page, J. Frusciante, and J. Greenwood growing up. I was also captivated by some genre-bending neo-shredders like Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles), Ruban Nielson (UMO), etc.. It felt like all of these people challenged the instrument instead of the other way around and my style is for sure a product of their thinking. I wouldn’t call myself a jazz guitarist, but that genre in itself has so much creativity on display at all times–that spontaneity is something I’d like to continue messing with when it comes to my approach with music.
AN: I didn’t really start listening to music until my preteen years. My parents never really shared any music with me so everything I discovered came to me via the internet or friends. What really inspired me to ask my parents for piano lessons was Lady GaGa, but as an older teen I was really into the stuff that was coming out from West Coast lo-fi bar-chord scene . I learned to play very basic guitar chords but never really took guitar seriously until later on in high school when I discovered Warpaint. I had only really played acoustic guitars at that point and that’s what inspired me to get an electric guitar. I can hear the influence in the way I play guitar. Particularly when it comes to tone. I think my playing, especially in Womanhouse, is influenced a lot by post-punk and new wave. I love reverb and chorus too much.
E: There are elements of shoegaze, dream pop, post-punk, and even psychedelic rock. At times we’ve got this dark western thing going on. Moody, emotional, vulnerable, intimate, tense – these are all words that come to mind. We don’t want to limit ourselves when it comes to our sound and we are excited to keep experimenting.
What are your biggest musical influences as a band?
AN: Warpaint, Alvvays, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, Angel Olsen, Talking Heads, SASAMI.
SM: For me, it’s usually bands or musicians that enjoy playing with dynamics. The energy behind a lot of global music in the ‘60s-’70s (Dorothy Ashby, Mulatu Astatke, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, etc.) is something I love to tap into. Guitar players like Frusciante, Rossen, and Clark are the cherry on top.
EA: I grew up singing along to classic country and 70s rock, Patsy Cline and Stevie Nicks were on heavy rotation at home. Some other influences include Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Beach House, Kate Bush, and Bjork. I also have a musical theatre background, this probably translates in the drama, haha.
Here’s a playlist Womanhouse made of their musical influences for local radio show, The Pipeline, which showcases local acts as part of FIU’s student radio, The Roar Miami.
Why is your sound important to the Miami music scene?
There are a lot of pockets in this city with different scenes, hopefully our sound is able to reach listeners that might not stray far from their niche. We’d like to think we make music for everyone just because the people making the music have their own personal and varied tastes.
What makes Womanhouse special?
SM: The same things that make anyone else special, I think. Even if we’re not on the same page, we still see eye to eye. We all care for each other deeply and respect one another, the rest is just a product of what we feel about everything on the inside and out.
AN: Womanhouse is 100 percent a collaborative project. We all have strong personalities and we all make sure to voice our opinions and be heard. When we first started playing shows people asked what we based our sound on. There is no clear answer. We just sort of got together and made music that we enjoyed, and it somehow all works well together. I think that’s why this project is so special to me. Womanhouse wouldn’t be Womanhouse without the people in it. Perhaps we should change our genre description to “Democratic Post-Punk?”
EA: We managed to create our sound organically, this is something I hold dear. We owe our dynamic as a band to our relationship as friends – friends that are truly family.
What is your composition/songwriting process like?
Very collaborative, which can be challenging at times. We each bring different things to the table, which has resulted in the sound you hear today. We never had a sound in mind when we started playing together. We just wanted to make music.
What themes are explored in your lyrics?
EA: When it comes to lyrics, they’re abstract and introspective. So far we’ve explored relationships of dark and light, tension and release, intimacy, power. This is always subject to change. The music usually brings these deep-rooted ideas to the surface. I’ve realized that the lyrics work best when they respond to the stories the instruments are also telling.
What was it like recording your first EP?
AN: Fun and challenging. Recording can make you feel incredinly vulnerable because you have to hear your fuck ups again and again sometimes. But you definitely grow as a musician and learn what you need to know for the next recording.
SM: This was my first time being recorded so I was very excited to get into it. It was a bit nerve wracking at first because I became so used to playing alongside everyone–to be isolated while recording felt like I was missing limbs. That feeling went away quickly, though.
EA: It’s really strange to be hyperaware of what you’re doing. It felt a little disconnected to sing with reference tracks at first. Initially, I felt inauthentic not having the boys with me – since we recorded separately. After a while, you just immerse yourself in that world too. Mixing was definitely more of a tedious process. My lesson was understanding when to let the song go.
What has been the most exciting thing you’ve done since forming the band?
SM: The band throwing a party/show at my house will be etched in my mind forever. 10/10 excitement for that one.
AN: playing shows with some of my best friends. I had a lot of fun playing with Palomino Blond and Las Nubes
EA: Aside from performing together, probably releasing the debut EP. There is a magic in finally having a body of work that people can listen to whenever. Although it’s only available digitally, it feels like releasing the EP materialized our music and made it even more real.
For each member, what is a dream band you would each love to open for?
SM: I’d implode opening for Grizzly Bear. Ooh or Stereolab. Both.
EA: Interpol would be awesome. I feel like that makes sense for us.
What’s been the most important thing you’ve each learned as part of this band.
AN: there comes a point where you have to let things be and that perfection is boring. If you get too in your head you’ll never release anything. I consider recordings to be a reflection of who you are as a person or musician at the time. It’s cool to see growth
SM: Stay humble
EA: Always think of the bigger picture.
What are your biggest goals as a group now that your EP is out?
Play as many shows as we can and continue to write and record. Perhaps have an LP out sooner rather than later.
Where do you see Womanhouse headed into the future now that we’re in the new decade?
At a show near you.
What would you say to any aspiring songwriters and musicians?
AN: Try to write something every day, even if you hate it or if it’s small. Songwriting is something that I think everyone should do, even if there’s no intention to release it. You can always go back and rework a song, but you have to start with something. The intro riff of an unreleased song was borrowed from a song I had written months prior for my solo project but never finished. You never know where something you wrote in passing can go. It takes time to discover your songwriting style, and I’ve found trial and error is a good way to polish it. Don’t hold back!!
EA: Just do it. Understand that even as a band, you have agency. Go for it even though it may seem wild and unattainable.
What do you want the world to know about Womanhouse?
We’re coming for you!
Header picture by Nataly.
Are you part of a local group? Want to tell the world about your music? Email us your stuff at firstname.lastname@example.org.