Simon Palombi has trouble expressing himself offstage, but something about playing fast and dirty rock 'n' roll with friends allows him to overcome his shyness. The emotions he's pent up — anger, sadness, whatever — are released through his reverb-soaked microphone and humming organ.
"It's entirely a therapy thing," he says.
Palombi is the frontman, primary songwriter, and organ player for the Woolly Bushmen, a rock outfit based in Orlando. They're heavily influenced by classic rock 'n' roll bands such as the Animals, in addition to early rockabilly and punk. And they're a pretty tight-knit trio: Palombi's brother Julian plays drums, and longtime friend Jacob Miller performs on guitar.
"I never really had any friends in high school except for Jacob," Palombi says. "He and I got along. We started playing music together as a two-piece. We auditioned a bunch of drummers [and] ended up settling on my brother, who, at the time, didn't know how to play at all."
It didn't happen overnight. At first, Julian openly hated being in the band. He didn't like music all that much to begin with and especially disliked playing shows. But he slowly warmed up to performing.
"And now he's the one who's always excited about everything," Palombi says. "He plays everything now; he can play any instrument he's handed."
Speaking with New Times ahead of the band's show at Las Rosas March 17, Palombi explains he grew up playing classical music on piano and made the transition to rock 'n' roll early on, after his dad bought him a home organ. To this day, he's all about the warm, resonant organ tones that lend rich texture and classic rock 'n' roll vibes.
"It's just neat," he says of the instrument. "You don't hear it that often, and, you know, it sticks with you. I like the way it cuts through everything and fills out the sound."
In high school, he was obsessed with Buddy Holly but didn't have the vocal chops to emulate his style with any success.
"I couldn't sing at all when I first started doing rock 'n' roll," he says. "I'd record demos, and my dad would tell me it would be better if I'd just stick to writing the songs — but if you do it, just trying screaming the lyrics, really belting them out. The more I grew into my voice, I just started singing louder and raspier."
Instrumentally, Palombi usually comes up with the general ideas for songs, but his brother helps tie everything together.
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"He just has a completely different mind for music than I do, and in a good way," he says. "Pretty much all I listen to is old 1950s and '60s garage rock, and he has a more modern sensibility. He makes things sound more adaptable for today."
The Woolly Bushmen have released two proper albums: the excellently titled Sky Bosses (2015) and last year's Arduino, their first release under the Pasadena, California-based Pig Baby Records. They've been touring heavily in support of their latest LP, but at this point all three hold down days jobs too.
"I can't believe we've gone this far with it," Palombi says. "I can't believe we've done as many tours as we have and that a record label liked our music enough to put it out. That's already more than anything I ever expected to happen... Even if I just keep doing it like this for the rest of forever, I'll be happy doing it."
The Woolly Bushmen. With Jacuzzi Boys, Heavy Drag, Dama Vicke, and others. 6 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Las Rosas, 2898 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 786-780-2700; lasrosasbar.com. Admission is free.