MANILA -- Barbie Almalbis-Honasan is sitting outside the doorstep of her home in Marikina watching her pet cat (named Vernie after singer Vernie Varga) romp around. The feline, now immortalized in her song, “Tigre,” her new single and extended play release of the same name, is in the midst of its 15-minutes of fame as a photographer looks for a proper shot with an uncooperative subject.
She smiles. There’s a hint of rain, but it is all good. “All the more to banish the scorching heat,” she says.
Almalbis-Honasan always tries to look for the good or even the lighter side of things. Rain for motorists brings flash floods and more traffic. “True, but it also washes away the heat and dirt that has accumulated around the city,” she gently ripostes.
Spoken like a true artist.
She settles in the chair of the dining area of her home with husband, visual artist and now musical cohort Martin Honasan, where we talk about her new extended play release, "Tigre," and well, the past 20 years.
Twenty years ago, she released the self-titled debut of Barbie’s Cradle at Farmer’s Plaza in Cubao where she performed what would go on to be some classics, “The Dance”, “Tabing Ilog”, and “Goodnyt.” Along with songs such as “Healing,” the music saw Almalbis-Honasan release her inner Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and Suzanne Vega that was a tad different from the pop-ish songs penned with Hungry Young Poets.
“That’s right,” she coos when told of the 20th anniversary of that seminal album. “I am bad with milestones. I keep forgetting.”
Back then, her music was influenced by the aforementioned ladies and bands like The Smiths that subconsciously worked their way into her songs. Today, she professes to love bands like Brooklyn jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy and local folk band Munimuni among others.
“I have always been a music fan and discovering new artists. I started out with Depeche Mode and Bon Jovi. In college, I discovered the singer-guitarist folk genre. Through my bandmates, I discovered The Smiths. My son and I would go on NPR to discover new music from Japanese house music to local bands. Lahat ng 'yun pumapasok sa subconscious ko and they become a part of any songwriting process,” Almalbis-Honasan says.
“I write from life experiences. If you look at the songs I write, it is about heartbreak and finding yourself and later, my faith. Kami ni Martin have started writing together. He wants to help me and we enjoy the process. One of the songs born out of that is ‘Tigre.’”
Vernie is her first pet animal and it is a curious and vexing experience and relationship. “She was moody at first, she even tried to scratch me,” relates the singer. “But once we got to know her and understand her more, it has been better.”
During a second shoot for this article, Vernie saunters over and holds her pose for exactly one second. Everyone laughs. The cat seems unamused and unaware about her sudden and unlikely celebrity status.
“I don’t think it will ever go to her head,” chimes in Honasan of their cat.
The second song on the EP, "Cover," was written by both Almalbis-Honasan and her friend, Michelle about her then fiancée and now husband. “He was totally surprised by that,” she laughs.
The third song, “Ghost” is about the singer’s faith and journey.
That’s two out of three, I point out.
She raises a puzzled eyebrow.
The usual topics of your songs – at least then – included heartbreak, finding yourself, and faith.
“Oh yeah,” she realizes. “Not much on the heartbreak. I am happy and in a happier place.”
One other perhaps not so subtle change is how "Tigre" will be released. It will be digital. It represents a first. Every album she has released thus far has been on compact disc.
“Like I said, I am bad at these things,” she admits. “But this is us adapting to the times. I know that vinyl is back as are compact discs and cassettes. My plan right now is to release a series of digital EPs and singles in bite-sized amounts then compile it. My whole mindset when doing this is a whole album. If it is on compact disc or vinyl, we’ll think about that when the time comes because it is expensive. But who knows? It sounds nice though.”
Growing up in Roxas City, there wasn’t much of a music scene. Although she did come from a family of musicians, it was usually performing and singing in church. “I didn’t really have these bucket list dreams,” clarified Almalbis-Honasan. “Mine were simple. Write songs and perform on stage. The biggest dream I had was wanting to do a music video after watching Guns ‘n’ Roses videos. Hearing my songs on the radio or people writing about them and liking them are immensely gratifying.”
“And it is cool about singing about my cat.”
"Tigre" will have an EP launch at 12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub on June 27.