Music has always been a fixture in Barbie Almalbis’ life for as far as she can remember. From her early beginnings as a child in the small Barangay of Culasi in Roxas City, Capiz, to her life now as a wife and mother. This was evident as the LIFESTYLE.INQ team made their way into the home she shares with her husband, Martin Honasan. Fender Stratocasters hung on their walls like pieces of artwork, and amplifiers decorated the sides of their living area almost camouflaging themselves as furniture.
Barbie, is of course, the versatile vocalist many first came to love during the late ’90s to early 2000s. Lead singer of the bands ‘Hungry Young Poets’, and ‘Barbie’s Cradle’, her hit songs have earned her a seat amongst some of the country’s most prized musical icons.
However, in spite of her astounding success and stature in the industry, Barbie remains grounded. A trait not many in the musical diaspora are graced with, Barbie’s humility is refreshing, exuding nothing more than grace, fulfillment, and gratitude for her storied career as she shares with us the many phases she has gone through in life and music.
Could you explain your beginnings in the music industry?
I grew up in Roxas City, Capiz. My mom’s side of the family all loved music, sang, played instruments, and had a choir in our local church. My Lolo Rene and My Mom Inday also wrote some songs that they played during mass. Trivia: My Lolo’s brother is Fr. Eddie Hontiveros, the priest who wrote Pananagutan, and other Filipino Mass songs.
Growing up, they taught me to play the piano and guitar (at 11), and I started writing songs at 14. By the time I moved to Manila for college, I had written maybe 30 songs, I can’t remember exactly.
It was in Accounting class, I sat beside a musician who introduced me to Ricci Gurango who became my bandmate in Hungry Young Poets. We made demos, started performing, and got a regular gig in Freedom Bar in Anonas, QC. That’s where we eventually got connected to record labels and finally signed with Sony Music Philippines and released our first album.
With the height of social media, creative careers can be pursued by pretty much anyone nowadays, whether that be in music or art. What were some valuable lessons you learned starting out that you think is unique to your generation of artists?
Music was something I really enjoyed growing up. In Grade 5, I began playing guitar and did it everyday. There was nothing much to do for entertainment in our small Barangay [Culasi].
There was no cable tv, we lived so far from the city center that even the local TV channels couldn’t reach us! But playing guitar was my instant dopamine fix. Until today, I can come home tired from a gig and relax by playing more guitar. Haha! Music wasn’t a means to an end. I didn’t have a goal, I still don’t have many goals today. It might not be the best thing to not be goal-oriented, but I think having music as its own reward helped keep me moving and taught me not to give up. When everything stopped during the beginning of 2020, I was grateful to still be able to play music in my room like when I was young.
What is your creative process like whenever you’re working on a new project? How would you compare it to before you became a mother, and now that you’re a mother When do you feel the most creative?
I try to be in a state of flow when I make something. Usually, I play some chord progressions on the guitar or piano, then when I find something interesting, I just try out different melodies and mumble words that don’t make sense until they do. I like working in a messy environment where there are a lot of stimuli. I can’t write much on vacation, on the beach, or on the mountains. It’s like playing I guess. I live for the creative moments where you can stumble upon something new and surprise yourself.
I’ve learned that a woman’s brain changes a lot when one becomes a mother, I just don’t know exactly how that has changed my creative process. I know I have to be more organized to get things done. My husband and I, like working at night when the kids are asleep. I also love how we all get to bond though music as a family, it’s helped us even in teaching the kids some of their lessons in school. We made some songs to help them with math. It’s also just great to be around kids who are so fearless and free, kids are just innately creative, it reminds me of what I should try to be.
The more I live in faith and hope (rather than fear), the more freedom I have to be creative.
A lot of people have this idea that artists make their best work whenever they’re heartbroken or upset, while others say it’s the total opposite. Do you agree with this kind of ideology?
There’s a direct correlation between feelings and creativity for sure. But I find not all negative emotions make you creative. Fear or disappointment can be a huge hindrance. I had to unlearn so much over the years. The more I live in faith and hope [rather than fear], the more freedom I have to be creative. Besides, it’s so unhealthy to be in a dark state just to make something good. I’ve experienced being so sad that I couldn’t even enjoy music. So, a range of emotions is good, all kinds are welcome.
Would you say the kind of performer you are depends on who’s on stage with you that night? So for example, is Barbie playing solo different from Barbie when she’s with her Hungry Young Poets/Barbie’s Cradle band-mates? Quite like how actors are with the characters they portray in different movies.
For sure! Recording and performing music is a truly collaborative thing for me, and I count so much on bandmates to make it work. We all have our different strengths and I’m so grateful to have really talented musicians to work with. They inspire me a lot and help me grow. When we play a gig, we try to leave a lot of room to experiment with the arrangement so we don’t get bored, so the songs naturally change from gig to gig, and depending on who’s playing in the band.
You mentioned during our shoot that you love fashion. Do you have any favorite artists you look at or looked up style-wise?
I love fashion and appreciate people who are great at it, I just don’t have the natural talent for it. It often takes me long to shop or find what to wear, ‘cause I can’t imagine it in my head.
I can just tell you if I like it if I already see it. Hehe. I don’t follow many fashion pages, except IconAccidental and BonPon on IG.
What’s one thing on your career bucket list that you still hope to achieve one day?
Honestly, to keep on making and playing music ’til I’m old. Haha!
Let’s say you’re granted one whole day with 20-year-old Barbie. What advice would you give her and what would you do with her?
Oh my! This one’s difficult because that was a rough period for sure. So much uncertainty, insecurity, and I just made lots of mistakes during those years. Maybe I’ll start by telling her to try not to worry too much about the future because God is so gracious and good that he can turn things around. Also, try not to strive so hard — like paddling so hard so as not to drown — trying to control things that you can’t. It’s much simpler now, really. More responsibilities now for sure, but things are much simpler too. Just “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” because he’s got you and he loves you! I’ve written down a journal of the small and huge miracles he’s done, and many open doors in my life, the many things I didn’t plan and couldn’t have achieved on my own. It’s just that God is faithful and loves us. There are many challenges still along the way, but even through the hard times, there’s a supernatural peace and satisfaction that you can find in Him.
The relationships you share are the real gifts. Too much competition can’t be healthy in the long run, we really have to support each other to make the music industry grow and be better.
What advice would you give to someone who’s beginning to make their way through the music industry?
My kids Stina and Liam are both getting into music more and more lately. I’ve always encouraged them to try different creative exercises, like making poems and writing songs. Also to find a good balance between discipline and enjoyment, do the hard work but always find something about it you enjoy. It’s a long road and you need all the joy to sustain you for the journey. Lastly, be an encourager, and build up those around you. The relationships you share are the real gifts. Too much competition can’t be healthy in the long run, we really have to support each other to make the music industry grow and be better. “When the tide rises, it lifts all the boats.”