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Photo by Mike Dunn

The Woolly Bushmen stretch their creative legs and shoot for success with new album 

This is growing up

Local garage-rock standouts the Woolly Bushmen kicked off their last three full-length albums with three different instruments. On 2014's Sky Bosses, it's the skittering Farfisa organ of frontman Simon Palombi. On 2017's Arduino, it's the booming drums of Julian Palombi, Simon's brother. And on the forthcoming In Shambles, which will be released on May 10 by Pig Baby Records, it's the throbbing surf guitar lines of Jacob Miller.

Granted, all three single-instrument intros immediately give way to a unified trinity of full-throttle rock. Each of the Bushmen adds instrumental elements of classic soul, grimy garage punk and revved-up blues as Simon Palombi's unmistakable howl twists and contorts around each strutting riff. But listening to the first few seconds of each Bushmen album is a useful exercise for charting the evolution of this trio.

Started in 2011 as what Palombi calls a "joke hobby band," the Woolly Bushmen quickly became Orlando favorites. Instigating sweaty freak-outs and feverish dance parties that often outshone the bigger national bands they were opening for, the Bushmen struck gold with their first few self-released cassettes, CDs and 45s. Now, with a national publicity campaign heralding the release of In Shambles and a run of major-market tour dates, the Woolly Bushmen look to convert even more acolytes while stretching their creative legs.

In Shambles covers more ground than any previous release, with country blues, Texas honky-tonk and psychedelic power pop all elbowing into the mix. "We've gotten tired of doing the same old three-chord songs over and over again," Palombi tells Orlando Weekly. "We just wanted to mess around with new sounds. We didn't know if they would work or not, and we scrapped a lot of material. But I just said, 'What the hell!' and made exactly what I wanted, trying to expand it into a Wall of Sound type of thing."

In Shambles was recorded directly to tape with all-analog effects in Palombi's home studio, but the sonic quality rises to Phil Spector's legendary level. While the Woolly Bushmen's live shows conjure up the ghosts of Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the Troggs, it might be Spector's early-'60s studio experiments with the Wrecking Crew at the nexus of R&B, pop and hard rock that influence Palombi more than anything.

After moving to Orlando in 2010, the Palombi brothers were pleasantly surprised to find a sturdy garage-rock scene and a welcoming atmosphere in which to hone their chops. "It's really impressive," Palombi says. "When I first moved here, I viewed Orlando as kind of a small town. And it is – but if you hang out once at Will's Pub, you realize that people here feel the same way about punk and garage rock. There are always great new bands coming out, and although it's not a huge scene, it's a nice, close-knit family."

That family will give the Woolly Bushmen a proper Will's Pub send-off this weekend, before the trio departs on May 22 for 11 gigs in 11 days across the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. "It's a lot of long drives," Palombi laughs. "We're covering a wider area of ground in less time, but we figured it's important to hit the cities where we have the biggest followings to promote the new album. Plus, we usually don't like touring for more than two weeks – we begin to hate each other."

That's the kind of work that Palombi says he and his bandmates never expected to be doing. "We started the Woolly Bushmen because we were bored – we never thought we'd be touring or having a record come out." And although the band is firmly rooted in Orlando, Palombi says they learned their oversaturating-the-local-market lesson early on: "At first, we tried to play as much as we possibly could, and that inevitably backfired. So we've learned to limit our in-town shows to once every few months. But every time we play in Orlando, I think, 'Everybody here has seen us – what do they care?' I've made peace with that."

That enduring love from fervent fans – what the band describes as "mass appeal without losing cult appeal" – is enough to keep the Woolly Bushmen going. "The band doesn't make any money," Palombi laughs. "We all work day jobs. But music makes me happy – it's one of the few things that does. You gotta love it to pursue it."

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