MAY / 2010
saGuijo Celebrates Six Years of Evolution and Revolution
Change (verb) - Pronunciation: \ˈchānj\\, 1: to make different in some particular way, 2: to replace with something else, 3: to shift one’s means of conveyance, 4: to pass from one phase to another.
You never end up quite where you expected…
Six years ago, big bro Angelo approached me with this crazy idea he had. Not being the most verbally-inclined of people, his pitch went thus: “Dude. Dan and I have been talking and we’re thinking of opening up a venue. Kinda like Club Dredd, y’know? But it’ll be a space where we don’t have to worry about getting our teeth kicked in by some junkie. Chill lang, diba?”
I couldn’t blame him for wanting to take our life-long music fandom to the next level. The aforementioned performance area co-founded by Patrick Reidenbach and Robbie Sunico was, at that point, nothing but a fond memory. Meanwhile, Indie bastions such as Freedom Bar were starting to feel the pinch…God bless them…moving heaven and Earth just to stay alive. The Katipunan peeps and the fine folks of BigSkyMind in New Manila were doing their share to keep the torch alive. Mayric’s and 70’s Bistro, to be fair, had their hands full with the more established bands. 2003, though, was the year that Original Pilipino Music had reached critical mass. Unfortunately, there simply was NOT enough space for everyone. Who knows how many fledgling Abays, Artadis, Blancos and Buendias were out there just itching to be discovered? SOMETHING had to give.
Now don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. We didn’t (nor have we ever) hoodwinked ourselves with delusions of grandeur. The so-called “scene” wasn’t waiting for us. Christ…sometimes I think we are still considered outsiders REGARDLESS of how long we’ve played the game. Our motivation was simple: we wanted to see something fresh. New. And if we weren’t getting what we needed elsewhere…well…why not actually DO something about it rather than bitching?
The catch? We were going to launch in …yes…MAKATI of all places! The business district. Where the metropolis’ bright and beautiful yuppies converged to rub elbows. A vastly uncharted territory with regards to what these straights dismissed as “jolog noise.” Right into the stronghold of long-held suspicions and mistrust. The mainstream didn’t want to come to us? To music that, in my honest opinion, was far superior to a lot of the shit they were raving about on Top 40 radio? Fine. We would break their doors down and get right in their faces. Flood them with so much sound, substance and creativity that they couldn’t POSSIBLY keep ignoring what had been under their noses all along: THERE IS A LOT OF TALENT OUT THERE. You just have to go a little out of your way to look.
Were we justified in our chutzpah? I really don’t know.
Personally, I threw in with this project thinking that it was a temporary endeavor. A side-thing which would keep my writing chops sharp while I sought a paying gig elsewhere. Painting…writing. It didn’t really matter so long as it was something I could be passionate about. Little did I know that I’d still be here six years later. Six years, man. That’s a fucking long time to NOT know if any of you have given a shit about stuff I committed to print. But it’s like I told Angelo in the beginning: “If we can just get ONE new person out there to care…to see our local musicians as invaluable and world-class…then all of this will have been worth it.”
Know what the funny thing is? It may have actually worked…
Call it providence. Call it happenstance. Call it pure, dumb luck. But word got out. I really cannot fathom how it happened. It just did. Aspiring groups that nobody had ever heard of started submitting demos. Never mind that they often performed to only a handful of people in those early days (who were probably on their “guest list” anyway). What matters is that they cut their teeth and honed their skills. Skills that, in almost no time at all, led to record deals and television appearances. The more experienced veterans of the scene, likewise, would eventually pitch camp. Road-testing new songs and forming alliances with their younger peers. Indeed, saGuijo was initially considered nothing but a “hang-out” place…tamabayan ng mga musikero. Right on cue, the fans followed close behind. Ideas came hard and fast from every conceivable direction. It was messy. It was chaotic. It was glorious.
It all culminated, of course, in those few heady years in the mid-2000s when Original Pilipino Music was everywhere. Restaurants remade themselves, looking to cash in on the growing demand. New venues popped up like mushrooms in a moldy cellar. Rock radio was no longer a niche. The advent of affordable home-based recording equipment ushered in a welcome influx of Independent labels. Maverick entrepreneurs could, for the first time in recent memory, challenge the formerly-invincible Major labels on their own terms. The underground had gone over…much like it had in the mid-1990s. Predictably…the bubble burst under the strain of its own enormity. And the silence that followed the fallout was deafening. At least for a little while.
But everything moves in cycles…
Already, signs of rebirth have materialized. Bands are being formed. Albums are produced every few months. Gigs are being played as we speak. Things are shifting around. Past trends are being discarded or assimilated based on how valid they are to our people’s developing appetites. It’s not a question of how fast or slow things are going. It’s a question of forward motion. Based on what we have seen in the record stores lately, there is much reason for hope and optimism.
Things have changed. But the one constant in this clusterfuck of an industry has always been the patrons. The listers. The supporters. Some are rekindling their passion. Others are buying that first album that will forever change their lives. But they will always…ALWAYS…be there. If only for each other.
Because if there is one thing I’ve been mulling over for some time now, it is this: being a music fan is…complicated. Some of us will slap our hard-earned money on the counter to buy a CD. Some of us will attempt to “friend” specific musicians on social networking websites. Some of us will flesh out production companies in order to highlight our chosen band’s live performances. Hell…some of us will even go out of our way to open up a physical venue just so our favorite group has a place to ply their trade. We have CHOSEN to love your music with every fiber of our being. And…like the proverbial one-sided relationship…we never question whether any of these artists have ever bothered to love us in return.
And it goes beyond that. Even when our heroes fail us, I urge you to rage against cynicism. Go to a gig. Take a good hard look at the person standing next to you. You didn’t go to the same school. You don’t run in the same social circles. Chances are, you have absolutely nothing in common with them. Save for that one unifying factor that brings us together five nights a week. Isn’t that what it SHOULD be about? If we in saGuijo have tried to do anything these past six years, it has been to foster a sense of community. Of belonging. Because the “scene” isn’t some elitist clique for people “in the know.” It isn’t a place that can be measured in mortar or bricks. It is something that belongs not to the one…but to the many. This venue has always belonged to ALL of us. It was…is…and so shall it ever be… always about the music.
In this spirit that we PROUDLY invite you to “TAKING CHANCES: saGuijo Celebrates Six Years of Evolution and Revolution.” We’ll get the party started on Friday, May 28 with the likes of "SaGuijo 6th year anniv" Part One. feat: Up Dharma Down, The Charmes, Sandwich, Blast Ople, Imago, Pedicab, Greyhoundz, Drip, Angulo, Spy, Mr. Bones and the Boneyard Circus, Out Of Body Special, Sleepwalk Circus and more... On Saturday, May 29, we offer the fantastic "SaGuijo 6th year anniv" Part Two. feat: Us-2-Evil-0, Taken By Cars, Techyromantics, Musical O, Encounters with a Yeti, Chicosci, Lady I, Soapdish, Paranoid City, Domino, Radioactive Sago Project, Typecast. Show starts at 9 p.m. We’d love to see you there….cocked, locked and ready to rock.
There is nothing so certain as the inevitability of change. The issue is…how will you deal with it? In this new age of hybridization, it isn’t unusual to have a Jazz bassist, a Thrash Metal guitarist, an Electronica beat-programmer and an R & B singer working cohesively as a unit. “Purism” is an outdated approach left to nostalgia acts and showbands. Our musical vocabulary has outgrown that. Innovation is no longer a flight of fancy that we can afford to leave to the “artsy-fartsy” crowd. Taking chances has now become an essential survival skill if we are to keep pace with the rest of the world. And those who get hip to that stone-cold fact? Those who learn to adapt quickly…production, patron, performer and…yes…club owner alike? These are the people who will undoubtedly define Original Pilipino Music in this new decade.
One way or another, it is a very exciting time. For all of us. So I’ll leave you with this: STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Keep developing. Keep learning. LIVE. Grow stronger. As a music fan. And an individual. Taken in that light, I guess change isn’t such a bad thing after all.
As a wise man once said… “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
It’s been a hell of a ride. I’ll see you folks some time or other. ‘Til then…love, empathy and rakenrol.
-Christopher A. Carlos (C.C.)-
MARCH / 2010
THE SOUTHERN SOUL:
INSIDE THE HEART AND MIND OF URBANDUB’S GABBY ALIPE
Once upon a time, there was a boy…
…who lived in a beautiful city far, far away from the capital.
And while this boy was quite content with where he was, he spent his days looking towards the horizon. Because, you see, he had fallen under a spell.
He had fallen under the spell of a voice trapped in a magical box. Songs by a minstrel who told stories. Tales of romance and loss far more interesting than anything the local sailors brought back from their travels.
The boy said to himself: “One day, I shall be just like this minstrel.”
So he set out on a trip that took him far away from home. Along with a few loyal friends, he had many wonderful adventures of his own.
And sure enough…the boy got his wish.
Sounds like a simplistic yarn about a certain Beatle, right? The thing is, Gabby Alipe’s roots are NOT that different from John Lennon’s. Liverpool and Cebu are both the largest port cities in their respective countries. Yet both are unfairly deemed secondary to London and Manila with regards to cultural significance. Originally viewed as “artistic backwaters,” Liverpool in the 1960s and Cebu in the early 2000s grew to great prominence within the music business. And this, in large part, was due to a handful of bands. Bands who, amazingly enough, would teach their peers in the capital a thing or two about stagecraft and delivery. Indeed, revenge is a dish best served cold.
But it wasn’t always shits and giggles…particularly in the beginning.
Urbandub’s all-inclusive appeal is, arguably, still perceived as an enigma within the industry. The Eraserheads broke down the not-so invisible social barriers between the wealthy and the masses. But Ely Buendia, with all due respect, has the gift of tongues on his side…switching effortlessly between English and the vernacular. Consider, then, that not a single one of Gabby’s lyrics is sung in Filipino (or Cebuano, for that matter). For any other band, this might be construed as career-suicide. ESPECIALLY in a scene that is still coming to grips with QUESTIONS…never mind actual ANSWERS…about “national identity.” And yet this elephant in the room has done nothing to hinder Urbandub’s phenomenal rise to the top.
Perhaps we can explain this away by their prodigious work-ethic. Eschewing the laissez faire attitude that so many younger (and lesser known) bands are plagued by, they knew they only had one shot at cracking the capital. It took a lot of sacrifice for Urbandub to get where they are now. Never mind Pasig to Makati…how about relocating your entire life from Cebu to Manila? You gotta admire that kind of dedication to one’s craft.
Then there are the actual SONGS. Even the harshest critic will admit that the power of your typical Urbandub tune doesn’t come from the performance’s degree of difficulty (although there IS that). The power of Gabby and his bandmates comes from their ability to make you FEEL. It takes unwavering intensity…and an unmistakable ferocity to the attack. Because as anyone who has ever tried to cover “Guillotine” will tell you, if you do it half-assed, you come off as corny. Or, even worse, a whiny Emo kid. When Gabby sings the line, “All hope is gone, and since you’re never gonna change, I’ll erase your taste and let you go slowly”…well... you fucking BELIEVE him.
And this is when a personal cry of pain TRANSFORMS into a universal lament of the many. Without ever becoming self-indulgent or self-pitying. You are LITERALLY watching someone rip his heart out on stage. When people recognize that kind of sincerity? Success is but a heartbeat away.
The winds of fate and circumstance may have propelled his journey towards previously uncharted territory. But…like all inveterate sailors caught in this vast, unforgiving ocean that we call Original Pinoy Music… Gabby Alipe will sometimes have one eye trained towards home. It keeps him surprisingly (and charmingly) humble. He knows well enough that we must never forsake where we came from…
…if only to better understand where we are going.
- Chris Carlos: Let’s start at the beginning. In a MYX interview with Raimund Marasigan, you stated that your first instrument was actually the electric tambourine...later moving on to the guitar at age 11. What inspired you to move from the realm of “hobbyist” to “musician?”
Gabby Alipe: I started taking the guitar seriously in high school when I REALLY got into The Eraserheads. I wanted to be just like Ely Buendia - a singer/songwriter. It was also at that time that I started playing in bands.
- C.C.: How did your skills develop? I’ve watched you in live gigs and television. Thing is…I can’t help but notice your fretting hand. The way your left thumb DOESN’T show is usually a dead giveaway for someone who has had instruction.
G.A.: I never took formal lessons. But I did hang out a lot in an RJ Guitar store near my house in Cebu. The sales people there…who were mostly musicians themselves…would let me play with the floor models. Sometimes, they would teach me different scales. I also learned a lot from just WATCHING them.
- C.C.: How did you move from that to Urbandub? You’ve had a few drummers over the years but the core three of you, Lalay Lim and John Dinopol has always been a unit.
G.A.: Well…I’ve known them since college. We went to the same university and had the same course/major. Individually, they had bands already that were actually quite popular in Cebu at that time. I got together with them through our current manager Alex…who is also Lalay’s brother. I was working for Alex at an events company and when I mentioned I wanted to form a band, he referred me to them.
- C.C.: The name “Urbandub” is easy enough to explain as you were ORIGINALLY supposed to be a Reggae/Dub group infused with elements of Rock and Hip-Hop. And yet the sound you are most known for are Experimental Rock and Proto-Emo. Is this indicative of each member bringing something different into the fold?
G.A.: I can’t really pin-point who brings what to our “sound” ‘cuz we all listen and like the same kinds of music. Of course, we listen to different styles and we try to bring what we know to the table when the creative process begins. You could say that it will always depend on what mood we’re in.
- C.C.: But you MUST have had the growing pains that every band goes through – playing “covers” of other artists’ material.
G.A.: We went through the “cover” phase pretty fast. From when we started…it only lasted, maybe, 3 months. But yeah…we did Sublime. Incubus. Shootyz Groove and P.O.D.
- C.C.: Just as quickly, Urbandub (along with The Ambassadors and Sheila & The Insects) became proud products of the “Cebu Sound.” Tell me…what was THAT scene like in the early 2000’s before the Metro Manila luminaries started to pay attention? Would you say the market down there was fiercer because it was (somewhat) smaller? Or was it an all-encompassing community?
G.A.: It was definitely a community. A FAMILY to be exact. Those times were the best. There was so much sharing of ideas about music and life in general. These were always topics of conversation when different bands from different genres would come together. We would drink at a place called Backyard Projects Studio. That place single-handedly brought the scene together and made Cebu music as strong as it is today.
- C.C.: A rumor that comes up with veteran gig-goers is that your band BECAME tight in terms of musicianship because you had to play at bars where the equipment was less than stellar. You had to learn how to make crappy amps work to your advantage. And when you were finally provided decent ones…well…marunong na kayo mag-timpla.
G.A.: It’s true that back then in Cebu, bars never really had great gear for bands to use. So we just had to make do with what was there. I guess that helped train us. Bawal ang arte-arte sa Cebu kasi when it comes to equipment…hehehe. ESPECIALLY when you’re a new band.
- C.C.: In the same vein, your band is VERY well-known for technical virtuosity. You really know how to play. It’s almost as if the four of you have some weird, psychic connection.
G.A.: It came very automatic for us. Maybe also because…as individuals…we really love and are passionate about what we do. As a band, we make it a point to jam at least 3 times a week for 2-3 hours per session. We practice each section of a song to make sure our breaks, pauses and transitions will be tight and in-sync with each other. We also try to copy each other’s playing nuances so that there is a “uniform” style of play. But even without the group, we practice on our own at home. We live, breathe and love music. As a band. And as individuals.
- C.C.: On the flipside (and so struggling groups have an inspirational story about you)…can you remember an early gig where things just went completely wrong?
G.A.: Marami, eh. Even now, we still get cringe-worthy gigs. Performances where strings break. Or we forget lyrics. Or we play a song super fast (or at least faster than we are supposed to). Gigs where guitar straps break and slam our gear on stage. Or even a time when a member fell off the stage…hahaha!
- C.C.: You conquered Cebu…and yet the decision was made to try for a breakthrough in the Metro Manila market. That was a very commendable and, more concisely, BRAVE choice on your part because a lot of lesser artists would have stayed in their comfort zone. You took the leap of faith and essentially re-started from scratch.
G.A.: It started around 2003. Sandwich watched a gig of ours back home at a place called Ronnie’s Tattoo Bar. We got a chance to talk with them and they said they enjoyed our set. Next thing we know, Myrene Academia calls me up and asks if we wanted to perform during an NU107 event in Manila. So of course, we said “YES.” I guess we just wanted to try our luck and see what came out of it.
- C.C.: Speaking of which, I heard a very interesting story from Cris Ramos (uber-critic and Revolver Prods honcho). Apparently, one of the first times Urbandub travelled to Manila, you gigged on the Superferry as part of the fare. Hats off to you on THAT one.
G.A.: We did pay our dues…hahaha! That story is true. In order to get to Manila, we asked Superferry for sponsorship. BUT…one of the agreements was we perform a few songs on the boat while their resident “show band” was on break. I even remember the songs we played! “Soul Searching”…”A New Tattoo”…”Come”…”Gone”…and “Sailing.” We also covered “Badfish,” “Santeria,” and “Summertime” from Sublime. But we did it acoustically. It’s important to pay your dues….so that you can better appreciate success when you get it.
- C.C.: So what was it like when you first started gigging in Manila?
G.A.: We were nervous as hell! I even puked before we went up on stage. It was an NU 107 event pa…so it was a big show with all the popular bands kaagad. But we were so happy when the crowd went nuts when we performed.
- C.C.: Still…after you achieved your “clout” in the capital, you turned around and stayed based in Cebu for a time. I’ll tell you Gabby…a LOT of other musicians would have chosen otherwise after that first whiff of recognition. I understand that Cebu is home for you. But do you think it would have been easier to just relocate to Manila right away?
G.A.: At the time, we weren’t signed to a major label yet. We never actually HAD plans of being signed to a major ‘cuz we were afraid of all the horror stories about losing creative freedom. Or the labels dictating the way you should sound or look. That’s why we wanted to stay in Cebu. But, fortunately, EMI offered us a deal that still allowed us to maintain (and retain) our independent ideals. Even our new label now…MCA Music…gave us the same deal. So it’s safe to say that even if we are now based in Manila, our hearts are always going to be directed towards Cebu. We consider ourselves as “representatives” of that music scene.
- C.C.: Switching gears. Let’s talk composition since you are the band’s chief songwriter. What comes first?
G.A.: It depends on what mood I’m in. Sometimes the lyrics come first. Sometimes it’s the music. The situation will determine that.
- C.C.: Your lyrics, though. I read through them over and over…and I’ve noticed something. You never go for the “obvious.” When you sing “I’ll bleed for you like a new tattoo” for example. Sure it’s a declaration of love and devotion. But there is a hint of obsession…emotional volatility…and even madness/lunacy. It’s like instead of the guy saying, “I love you”…the guy CHOOSES to scream, “I cannot live without you.” Is there a reason WHY you mix traditional sentiments with non-traditional delivery?
G.A.: I write what I know and I write what I feel. I write in a way that I wanna give the listener an image in their head of what it is I’m trying to say. And besides…saying something like, “I would die for you, I love you forever” would be too long to put into a melody. And cheesy. So I’ll try to say it another way. Hence, the line “I’ll bleed for you like a new tattoo.” What’s more permanent and forever than a tattoo? So I thought it would best describe what I wanted to say.
- C.C.: Tapos you have those airtight vocal harmonies with Lalay (and sometimes John). Conscious choice or happy accident?
G.A.: Everything we do in Urbandub is deliberate. Like I said, we’re influenced by a lot of styles of music and we try our best to incorporate that into our sound. Our vocal harmonies are a direct result from loving bands like The Beach Boys. And we also listen to R & B, Soul and Jazz musicians.
- C.C. The music naman. On the surface, it is very heavy. But there is something…UPLIFTING…about your chord combinations. Metal bands kasi will stick a “flat” in there for texture and mood. Pop artists will hit a “sharp” to spike the melody. You seem to be something in the middle.
G.A.: I think that’s our goal naman talaga with our music. Heavy enough for you to bang your heads to. And yet melodic enough so that your parents won’t get mad if you play our songs in the car…hahaha!
- C.C.: Then you have the alternate guitar tuning. It sounds like a Drop-D or even lower. Is this because of your vocal range or is it an “atmospheric” choice?
G.A.: Our tuning came about because of The Deftones. We liked the idea of tuning our guitars half a step lower than E-flat then dropping the 6th string to C-sharp. It sounds heavy ‘cuz the strings are looser but still bright enough when we do chords in a “clean” tone.
- C.C.: Sorry for the guitar geek-speak. You and John have a very interesting partnership. Hindi traditional “rhythm” or “lead” kasi. It’s a poor metaphor but…usually…lead guitarists will only “garnish” the rhythm in terms of solos. Kayo naman, you consistently play two different things which make the sound thicker.
G.A.: Well…we try to be as creative as we can while still maintaining a certain level of compromise. We know when to agree when one of us should lay back IF the other wants to do something crazy. And vice-versa. It’s important to complement each other when we have separate riffs.
- C.C.: Okay. The “ten song” rule per album. Why THAT number exactly?
G.A.: When we were recording our first album (“Birth”), we could only afford to pay for 10 songs worth of studio time. I guess that tradition continued on for the other albums. We kinda think 10 songs are a good, solid number. ‘Cuz really…you’re only gonna release, at most, 4 to 5 singles per album. Especially nowadays. So sayang naman yung ibang songs, diba? We’d rather use those for the next one.
- C.C.: It’s an unfair question because artists see each individual work as their “children.” I’ll ask it anyway. Do you have a favorite song that you composed?
G.A.: I think “Soul Searching” is my favorite only because…at the time I was writing it…I was going through a lot personally. It became the first song I wrote about MYSELF. And it gave me a certain level of therapy. At the same time, it was the first Urbandub song that got us national attention. It even managed to win “Song of the Year” at the Rock Awards.
- C.C.: Listening to all of your releases, it is obvious that your “sound” keeps maturing. Pero something like “Evidence” is TOTALLY out of left-field…something we never expected from you. First time I heard it, I thought…”Wow! An R&B song. Malayo na!” I know that it’s all about reaching new people. But as a composer, can you tell me WHY you avoid formulas?
G.A.: We let our moods dictate how we write. At the time, I wanted to write something groove-based and R&B-ish. I wanted the music to offset the lyrical content of the song. The lyrics were heavy enough as it is…so I wanted the melody to balance that out.
- C.C.: Let’s switch this up. You’ve gone on record…saying that your Internet fanbase has played a pivotal part in your career. Talagang alaga ninyo kami…kinda like The Arctic Monkeys. Yet so many bands (Filipino or otherwise) have resisted this new medium because of the “piracy” issue. As an artist, why do you think it is important to embrace this new vehicle of expression?
G.A.: I think the piracy issue is mainly directed at internet downloads…which we are AGAINST. But keeping in touch with fans is a totally different story. You can say that’s the “good” side of the Internet. It allows us to stay connected to our supporters…even if they’re in other countries.
- C.C.: Going deeper. Urbandub are touted as heroes of the “Indie” scene. However, you have mainstream distribution…which is REALLY smart on your part. It’s the best of both worlds commercially and creatively. How do you manage to find a balance?
G.A.: We used to be “Indie.” Now we’re a major label band. But, again, we only agreed to sign IF we retained full creative control. With our music… and our image. Or lack thereof…hahaha! So if you, as a young band, want to sign a major label deal, you HAVE to make sure you have full control of your music. If you don’t…then it’s much better to stay Indie.
- C.C.: Do you have any message or advice for kids who are thinking seriously of making music as a career? What do you wish someone had told you from the start of your journey?
G.A.: If you want to choose music as a career, you have to be sure that you’re passionate. Practice, practice, PRACTICE! As a band and on your own. Research different styles of music…and keep an open mind. NEVER think you can stop learning new things. Music is an art form that is ever-evolving. Enjoy the ride while you’re on it…good OR bad…’cuz even through struggles, you will learn something new. Pay your dues. And respect the veterans that came before you.
- C.C. And finally…why music? Why have you chosen to make it your way of life? What do you love about it?
G.A.: Music was something I was instantly interested in since I was a kid. Many thanks to my mom and dad who exposed me to different styles and always encouraged me when I started writing my own songs. With music kasi, I can express myself fully with words. And my mood through the melodies. I have an easier time expressing myself through this form rather than if you asked me my opinion on a particular topic. Even if Urbandub stops, I think I would still continue on. Maybe even behind the scenes as a producer or songwriter…which I’m sure my bandmates would do too. I don’t think I’d ever give up music.
-Christopher A. Carlos-
FEBRUARY / 2010
THE POSTER BOY:
ONE ON ONE WITH MONG ALCARAZ
Here’s the thing about Mong…
He SMILES a lot. And by that, I do not mean a self-satisfied smirk. Nor is it the smug, shit-eating grin we see plastered on FAR too many celebrities’ faces. When Mong smiles…particularly during performances…he (almost) looks like a little boy enthralled by a shiny new toy. I’m talking cheek-muscle-raising, pearly-white teeth flashing, twinkle-in-the-eye elation here. It’s genuine, y’know? Little wonder that my girlfriend once conceded: “I can see why chicks like him.” I myself am forced to concede that, save for Eddie Van Halen, I’ve never seen a guitarist so full of utter joy onstage.
So much for that dismissive “Emo kid” tag he and his cohorts in Chicosci have been obliged to endure.
Think about it. Passion for one’s craft is certainly a laudable thing. Self-expression, by its very nature, is an oftentimes painful process requiring an intense amount of focus, concentration and self-belief. I’ve known many people who can barely string two sentences together (never mind channeling thoughts through a hunk of wood and six strings)! But…shit…I’ve watched a lot of shows in my time. And lately, I find myself LAUGHING whenever I see some would-be-rockstar pulling “guitar face” on a nonplussed audience. You gig-goers know what I’m talking about. It’s that “Christ…I’m trying to look fierce…my fingers feel like they’re gonna fall off playing 100 notes a minute…I’d like to hit my Dunlop wah-wah pedal…but I really need to take a massive pooh-pooh” look. Oh would-be-Hendrix of Metro Manila, please SPARE us from the coma-inducing boredom of yet another interminable solo. You don’t LOOK like you’re having a good time. So why should we?
And perhaps that is the reason why so many “real artistes” out there are so conflicted about Mong. To be sure, he has his detractors who straight-up refuse to accept that anything so intrinsically pleasurable would have any iota of creative merit. I see their point. Kinda. Admittedly, his recent riffing with Chicosci (or Sandwich for that matter) has been more Spartan. Simpler. More austere than the stuff he used to pull when his band was still “Chico Science” and playing Rap-Metal. But you must remember that “simpler” does NOT necessarily mean lazier. His recent stylings, in my honest opinion, are actually more…clever. Shades of stark sophistication coupled with just the barest hint of prodigious virtuosity. Zen-like. And completely lacking in pretentiousness and artifice. Many have heard him play. But how many of you have really LISTENED?
Couple his skillz (yes…with a “Z”) with the boyish good-looks and what you have, my friends, is a recipe for groupie-worship. I mean, let’s face it. The guy has the teeny-bopper appeal of a fucking Jonas Brother. The difference being, of course, is that he can actually play (which you can tell from our mutual guitar-geek digressions).
Am I lionizing him too much? Perhaps. But dig this. The term “Rock & Roll” was originally invented as an African-American colloquialism for “sex.” Sex…IN SPITE OF what the bible-thumping ‘guardians of morality’ out there say…is supposed to be FUN. Kurt Cobain might have built his reputation on angst. But that wasn’t the original reason why he picked up a guitar. And that, I believe, is what so many artists fail to remember. To be a musician entails a crapload of hard work. But it IS ALSO supposed to be fun. You are being paid to do something that you love. That is the reason why Mong Alcaraz, for better or worse, strikes a chord with so many of us. Smile and the world WILL smile with you. It doesn’t get any better than that…
- Chris Carlos: Let’s start with the easy stuff first. Your nickname. I mean…”Miggy” is pretty much a no-brainer for “Miguel” Chavez. But “Miguel Crisostomo” to “Mong?” Not so obvious dude.
Mong Alcaraz: Ah. An easy one. My dad loves his name so much that he put it in all of our names. Miguel Crisostomo…Manuel Crisostomo…etc. His nickname when he was young was “Tomong.” So the name came from him. I’m thankful that they ditched the “To” part though…hahaha!
- C.C.: I always ask this but, let’s face it, it’s a pretty interesting anecdote about you musicians. Do you remember what the very first album (I’m assuming it was a cassette from Radio City or Odyssey) you bought was? Was there a particular reason WHY you chose to purchase it?
M.A.: I bought Bon Jovi’s “Keep The Faith” and Roxette’s “Tourism” by myself. 5th or 6th grade yata. I loved the “How Do You Do” and “Keep The Faith” videos…and generally liked the Pop melodies of Roxette versus the ROCKING guitars of Richie Sambora. Hahaha! We used to edit Hi8 videos of us slam dunking on a 6 foot rim to those songs. Good times.
- C.C.: First concert ever attended WITHOUT parental supervision? Ako…Metallica at ULTRA.
M.A.: The “Alternative Nation Tour” with The Foo Fighters/Beastie Boys/ Sonic Youth. I must have been 12 or 13 as well. Easily still the best show I’ve ever been to. It was the first time I jumped the railings to get into the pit. 550 bucks for both “ringside” and “SRO”…and I bought the wrong ticket since they were priced the same! I thought, “Maybe it wouldn’t be too criminal to jump down?” Hehehe! If you count the WWF/WWE as a concert, though, then maybe THAT would be my first one. I actually got Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s pink shades! Ahhhh…more good times.
- C.C.: So what was your first instrument? Was it always guitar? I’ll assume your parents bought it for you. Was there a particular band or album where you said, “Uy!!! Kaya ko yan, ha!”
M.A.: My parents actually bought a guitar for their Christian fellowship group…not for me. It was a Yamaha CG-40. Still plays nice to this day. I learned piano first…but then realized I couldn’t lug it around if I wanna be in a band. And ALL my friends wanted to form bands. Rage Against The Machine’s “Bombtrack” made me want to learn the guitar sooooo bad. I love arpeggiated guitar parts (obvious ba sa work ko?)…which means I was influenced by Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”…NIN…Van Halen (insert evil E-minor arpeggio riff here). They just sounded more awesome on a guitar rather than a piano to my ears at the time. I first learned RATM songs/riffs on piano…and didn’t like the sound.
The piano story naman…well…I learned by watching my sister take lessons here at home. And I was shy that the instrument was kinda…ummm…”feminine.” So I opted NOT to take the lessons. I’d make mental notes of the lessons in the afternoon…and then try them out when everyone was sleeping already.
- C.C.: So with regards to the guitar…nag-lessons ka ba? Who taught you? Or kapa-kapa lang since wala pang Internet dati?
M.A.: Yam from End of Man/Mass Carnage was my first teacher. I had 6 hours with him. I learned about Thrash and Death Metal. Not necessarily to play…but to literally just be AWARE of those genres. I still remember a funny conversation about White Zombie. I was so into “Astrocreep 2000” – to which he said, “Techno na yan ha! Talaga? Trip mo yan!?!” My first experience of hater-ade on “change of direction” regarding what I listened to. Hahaha! He taught me alternate picking, finger positioning (especially the thumb of the fretting hand), exercises and sweeping techniques. At the time, I really just wanted to keep up with the other guys who learned guitar first. Part of my competitive nature.
Went on to watch VHS tapes. Bought a LOT of guitar magazines in Shoppersville grocery (thanks Mommmm!), and learned scales/modes through those lil’ personal articles. Remember the “So You Wanna Be In A Band” editorials by J. Yeunger? And I learned so much from Dimebag Darrell’s column. Although I think Kirk Hammett didn’t do such a good job teaching his riffs…haha! It took me ages to learn “Creeping Death” the right way (which I can’t play now by the way). Guilty pleasure was Guitar Player…coz’ they never put anyone “hip” in that mag. They didn’t teach songs in tabs either. Just a lot of exercises and gear talk. I learned a Django Reindhardt lesson with NO idea what his music sounded like! Practiced it over and over and, apparently, played it the wrong way/feel/time. Eventually, that’s how my writing style developed.
I had another teacher, Aya Yuson. He taught me a couple of standards. How chord substitution works. Circle of 4ths versus circle of 5ths. Relative context. Jazz standard and modal pieces. I had 6 lessons with him as well. Now I get schooled everyday by my bandmates and producers.
- C.C.: You hooked up with Miggy, Calde and Joel pretty early on. Ateneo (high school) pa kayo, diba? Was it a common love of music that brought you together? Or talagang mag-kabarkada lang?
M.A.: Magkabarkada lang kami talaga. We’d mall…arcade…Marvel vs. Capcom…play ball…talk comics…talk basketball cards…resbak and go chicksing together. HS was awesome. All of us had pencil/ink/paper as our first loves. Miggy, Calde, Joel and I all drew, sketched and wanted to work for Marvel at early points of our lives. I DO remember, though, asking Miggy why he was “Metal.” He proceeds to play Pantera on the tapedeck, did the devil-horn sign and banged his head to the beat. I thought it was the coolest thing you could do by yourself ever. This was in 7th grade, I think. He’d then proceed to take home tapes with songs he recorded off the radio (KROQ!!!) from the States every summer. We’d gobble those up. Funny thing is…Mike D (Dizon) shares the same story. Glenn…the singer of Teeth…did that for them. We’ve started to notice a lot of similarities between Chicosci and Teeth as of late.
- C.C.: And Miggy started out playing drums or something, right? Was it you who convinced him to switch to vocals?
M.A.: Miggy originally played bass. He was in a band with Dave Abaya and they played Pantera covers. 7th grade. Then we formed a band freshman year HS. Mike Benedicto of Outerhope sang. I played guitar. Miggy played bass and Chris De Joya played drums. They kicked me out coz’ I sucked. Then I formed a band with Mike, Chris and Chris’ twin Mark. “Dr. Seuss’ Perriwinkle Humdrums” and we played a couple of originals…and Gin Blossoms covers. I then reunited with Miggy in sophomore year with him wanting to sing…after he had seen Korn and Deftones live in L.A. He was blown away by the Deftones and Chino Moreno.
We were talking, once, and Calde passed by reading some comic or school book. I forget but I clearly remember Miggy and me just saying: “He’d look cool onstage. Let’s get him in our band to play something. Bahala na kung ano.” We had Chris come in and play drums…covered 311 and Deftones. Plus a few originals called “The Archer” and “Shepherd Song.” Both gay references…haha!
We competed in the same battle of the bands where Raimund (Marasigan) first saw Marc Abaya perform. Raims did NOT remember us at all…hahaha! Joel naman didn’t come in until senior year. He just went to my house and played “Ball Tongue” (Korn)…blew us away (sorry we had to kick you out Chris!). Si Joel…this was a guy who went around in headphones reading the E-Heads’ “Fruitcake” book and covered Parokya Ni Edgar songs with classmates to kill time after school. We were so shocked at his natural talent.
- C.C.: Chicosci (Chico Science back then) were REALLY young when you first got signed by EMI to record the debut “Revenge of The Killer Robot.” Magka-edad lang tayong dalawa and I cannot begin to fathom recording/touring/promoting at such a young age. How did you cope?
M.A.: Focus and reality checks. We all talked to our parents since we needed their signatures first before we could sign. We all had agreements to “stay-in-school.” It was a lot of pressure on us because we were all in honors classes in high school. Miggy, Calde, Joel and I were in English honors…and Yug was in Philippine Science. Miggy went on to become a merit scholar in college. Yug took up Industrial Engineering. So academically, of course, our parents wanted continued “excellence” or “magis” as Ateneo put it. We met somewhere in the middle. We had a lot of gigs early on with Chemistry books in tow. A lot of notes shared and leakage reviewed. We’d have flights scheduled at 6 a.m. to make it to a class or exams. A couple of compromised shows and/or free “outs.” We had an every Tuesday afternoon practice session in Blue Ridge with the late Marc Orosa (RIP) to keep our music in check. Plus a lot of sleepless thesis nights.
- C.C.: I don’t know about Chicosci’s composition process…but tell me. 50/50 ba? Miggy lyrics and you music?
M.A.: Hmmmm. Different lineup, different process. In earlier years, it would almost entirely be led by me (or at least I influenced everyone to do some motif in the songs). But it wasn’t much of a dictatorship. Still very democratic most of the time. Then Miggy was 100 % lyrics, 90 % melody. With this new lineup, I’m much more of a musical arranger/director. Everyone brings their musical “baon,” kick out the jams, and then I come in to edit or arrange. We’re working with younger people now and we see some rookie mistakes, of course. But it’s important for them to feel our confidence at the start of the writing process.
Lyrics revolve around our lives and are actually real stories...with just a lot of word substitution. Literally, “Method of Breathing” was a way of saying our “way of life” (yes, that’s what the album title meant). So the band is actually lyrical fodder for Miggy, most of the time. These last two albums naman, Calde has come in with so many ideas versus the first three records. He’s responsible for a lot of the back-up vocal ideas and screaming patterns. Lyrics and hooks are sometimes settled in the studio. The “Lock and Load” cheer was decided in the studio. We originally wanted to just do an homage to Faith No More. “Be…aggressive…B…E…aggressive!” Or even Manson’s “Be…obscene…B…E…obscene!” But we just couldn’t get it to work. “Stop Biting”…the 2nd track off “Fly Black Hearts”…it was just Calde, Miggy and myself bouncing lines off each other for the intro. We do a lot of that now. Bounce lines off each other.
- C.C.: And your infamous guitar spin? How did THAT come about?
M.A.: Yngwie (Malmsteen – Swedish guitar player extraordinaire)!!! Tiyan na kung tiyan, spin pa rin nang spin! But DO google Bee Eyes. A new Indie band here. The frontman used to front a band called Spelt Backwards. Very late 90s/early 2000s Emo. I saw him do it first live. He was in high school! OWNED!!! Hahaha!
- C.C.: One thing the haters always bitch about is that Chicosci ALWAYS seems to have a finger on the new trends in Music. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve defended you guys. I dunno man…I think all this genre-bending stuff you do simply means you are unapologetic music fans. Fuck limitations, diba?
M.A.: I’m speaking for myself here and not the rest of the band. I always have the Radiohead/Beatles model in mind. I think Radiohead are the modern day Beatles and they’re doing what John and Paul would be if they hadn’t split up. Hit Pop…almost boyband-ish debut album…killer sophomore release…and then, somewhere down the road, the “experimental” turn. We can blame The Beatles for every band who comes up with the “experimental record” that every fan hates. Then comes Radiohead where they just switch things up all the time. After mainstream success, they just suddenly go IDM (Intelligent Dance Music – think “Kid A”) on us. And then, more recently, they just give away their record for free (but didn’t Rivermaya do that first?). But Radiohead STILL retain much of their mainstream success and huge fanbase.
In our case, we’re not scared of starting from scratch and that’s what we think of every time we start to write. What I realized from the RH/Beatles model is that you never “lose” your old songs. They’re still part of your discography. They’re still part of YOU. So why write the record all over again? Why put an imaginary limit on yourselves? We reserve our limits to the “physical.” We know Miggy’s range and we know how long he can sustain his voice during tours. That’s accounted for when writing. I know what I can play standing up or sitting down…and how fast things go…and what I can’t play live physically. Same goes for every member. Creatively, no limits should be set UNLESS the limit itself is the inspiration of the art (for example, “let’s make a song with 2 chords and 3 notes ONLY”).
Inspiration comes from everywhere. We listen to the new Jay-Z, LMFAO, Snoop, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, etc. Top 40 is fun! But at the same time, we’ll listen to Periphery, Architects, Circle of Contempt, BMTH. We also listen to The Misfits, Minor Threat and Bad Brains…tapos Glassjaw, Thursday, TBS and The Used. Then we’ll listen to The Deftones, Korn, Snapcase, Will Haven and Slipknot. There are a gazillion artists we listen to but don’t share as collective influences…but I think you have an idea where this is going. And we’re only speaking about musical influences! We’re not even taking into consideration the movies, the paintings, the comics and the chismis.
- C.C.: How did your parents take it when you decided to make music your lifestyle? Ano ba talaga ang mga advantages and downfalls of being a working artist? Would you recommend it to any of the aspiring kids reading this now?
M.A.: Music as a lifestyle COMES to you, I think. It just falls into place. Some things…you just work on it really hard and you enjoy it so much that you don’t even realize you’re honing an ACTUAL skill. That’s how I got “called.” The main disadvantage IS also the advantage…TOURING. You see beautiful places, eat local delicacies and go on adventures with friends who are practically family. But I miss out on certain milestones at home. 4 birthdays of siblings already. The physical demand of touring is also a downfall. I can’t imagine how The Rolling Stones do it.
- C.C.: Over the years, Chicosci has gone through several line-up changes. You lost Yug…tapos si Sonny…and now Joel. What I think makes it more difficult is that you guys essentially grew up together. Do you find that the chemistry within the band is different with the “new guys?”
M.A.: That’s very true. The tough part is more emotional than musical. I’ve known Yug since the 5th grade. My “BloodSugarSexMagic” (Red Hot Chili Peppers) cassette is still with him. Joel was our classmate for 4 years straight. We had to get over it, though, since we were writing a new record and we thought THIS particular record would be crucial to our career. It felt like ANOTHER debut album. New guys automatically bring something new. Different chemical reactions from new ingredients are the driving force behind this new album. I think I’ll let the music speak for itself.
- C.C.: I really don’t mean to embarrass you in front of your peers here. But when Chicosci plays Guijo, talagang dinudumog kami. I’d say 80 percent of the audiences are girls wrestling/clawing/scratching their way to get near you. How do you deal with that kind of adoration?
M.A.: I don’t! When we play, we get nervous right before. It just becomes a sea of faceless people and a struggle to hit the right fret. It’s a nerdy thing to say…but true!
- C.C.: What was your most embarrassing gig? I’ve already covered the Bacolod incident in an earlier editorial…
M.A.: Here’s one…not really embarrassing. More like a reality check. We were front act for Razorback in Cebu for a Valentine’s gig circa 2001. The venue was maybe a Cuneta Astrodome in terms of capacity. But the people count? 50! Hahaha! Sana sa saGuijo na lang kami tumogtog. We called it “Slam of The Flies.” Horror situations were when we checked into motels with cum-stains on the bed pa! Tapos having to fly at 6 a.m. to get back to Ateneo in time for a gamebreaker long test in Philo. We also faced a near-death situation in Dagupan because of a stampede. So much more…
- C.C.: Let’s switch gears here. Sandwich. How did the Chicosci boys take it when you said: “Dudes, I’m gonna start playing with Raimund’s band too?”
M.A.: A long argument between Miggy and Calde versus Dayglo C. (Diego Castillo) in U.P. Bahay Ng Alumni. Tension was coming from the pressure of the then-in-the-making Chicosci self-titled record. They thought I would ruin the momentum with my move. Everything played out perfect in the end, though.
- C.C.: But didn’t you already “sub” for Sandwich whenever another guitarist couldn’t make a gig? When did Raims say, “Sige…hindi ka na saling pusa?” Thrilled ka, no?
M.A.: Yeah. Get that money. Hahahahahaha! Well, Dayglo and I were flatmates so it all just fell into place.
- C.C.: Sandwich and Chicosci, though…two VERY different kinds of musical styles. How do you juggle that internally? What I mean to say is…you could take the greatest Jazz guitarist in the world…but stick him in front of a Punk band and he’s screwed.
M.A.: If we were in the 90s…yeah…I’d be screwed. But hey! We’re in the age of the art of collage. Nothing is cooler than cut and paste. Then invert it, crumple it, maybe burn it a bit and voila! Something new! I remember reading an article of a guy who auditioned for Green Day. He ended the piece with a flattened fifth chord and resolved to a major 7th. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job. Nowadays, the more left of center the ideas are, the more work we get done. Also, I like working with different sets of people and playing different roles. I lead more in Chicosci and play “kid brother” in Sandwich. It teaches me more about life than music, though. One thing I learned from working in 2 bands is that you automatically play differently with a different group…IF YOU ARE ACTUALLY LISTENING TO THE REST OF THE BAND. Hehehe…
- C.C.: Do you ever feel intimidated going up to Raims with a new song? I mean…Mong…this IS Raimund Marasigan of The Eraserheads. Kinda like going up to Paul McCartney.
M.A.: That part’s kinda easy. I just e-mail him or burn him a complete demo. It’s either pass/fail…hahaha! It feels like handing over a thesis paper to a professor at moments. Sometimes, you know you have an “A” in the bag. And others, you know you’re gonna fail. Impersonal hand-off. Hahaha!
- C.C.: At this point, though, the fans (especially the younger ones) CANNOT imagine Sandwich without you. But your two bands draw TOTALLY different crowds, no?
M.A.: We get different gigs. We get different calls. Fans and haters. Hmmm…it’s more a function of age, I think. We’re Filipino and barkadas are still the most amazing networking thing known to man here in The Philippines. So we draw different ages in general, I think…but we overlap somewhere as well.
- C.C.: You branch out a LOT though. I remember a side-band of yours called The Bitter Pill. You guys were so much fun…and then wala.
M.A.: We still exist in mp3s and conversation.
- C.C.: Tapos you’ve ventured into producing. Taken By Cars’ debut…a fine piece of recording. Did you find it difficult going behind the console?
M.A.: I’ve always wanted to produce. It was one of those, “if I can’t play anymore, what would I do” kind of things I think. Learning some parts of the software was the most difficult part.
- C.C.: Speaking of which, how DID you learn?
M.A.: I’ve been lucky. My bands have worked with Francis Reyes, Louie Talan, Raims, Buddy, Sancho and Eric Perlas. Raims just told me circa 2002: “The producer’s task is to be the conduit between the band and the engineer.” You become a conversion table of sorts. I love that geeky stuff. I buy a lot of Futuremusic, BPM and Sound Recording magazines. I also check out a lot of updates online.
- C.C.: Are you thinking of making it a regular thing? A musician-turned-mastermind?
M.A.: Uhhhh…skip the mastermind part I guess. I love working with music I didn’t write myself. Hence the remixes and the venture into production. It’s a regular thing for me – looking for bands I want or wish I could’ve produced. I want to produce Bee Eyes. I produced guitars on Pedicab’s latest album…and I co-produced with Mike D for Narda’s “Discotillion.” Mike D and I co-produce a lot, actually. And I don’t think we’re stopping anytime soon.
- C.C.: 2009 was such a tough year for the scene, though. You’ve been fortunate but a lot of your peers won’t have as long of a career as you. What do you think NEEDS to happen for Pinoy music in the future?
M.A.: Open I-Tunes in The Philippines…hehehe! We can upload our stuff on I-Tunes but we can’t PURCHASE from that store. Something’s wrong there, right? Managers and labels are already, I think (and hope). We need more tours…and RELEVANT tours at that. I’m thinking more like those saGuijo production nights. But make ‘em tour the country or even overseas. Since the bands have already made their mark in other countries, why don’t our production companies try the same? I know Joffy’s “Kind Assault” is doing that already…like Singapore’s “Wake Me Up Music.” I think we have MORE than enough space for everyone else to follow suit.
- C.C.: Can you ever think of a time where you would say, “That’s it. Tapos na ako. I’ve done my share for local music?”
M.A.: This one’s the easiest! Ozzy Osbourne once answered: “When you stop being nervous right before the show, then it’s time to call it quits.” So far, I still get butterflies in the stomach…so maybe we’ll be at it for a couple more years? Hehehe…
- C.C.: And finally…why MUSIC? What do you love about it? What can you say to the younger kids out there who are thinking of following the path you chose?
M.A.: Cliché na kung cliché…but music FOUND me. I love how it’s beneficial to both ends – the sender and the receiver. I love how no matter how technical it is, music can be read and understood as intensely in a non-musician manner. I love how grounding it can be. I love the natural high it gives. I love how anyone can just pick up a guitar and go for it. I love that it encompasses and transcends all secret handshakes when it’s in its purest form.
To the young ‘uns…let a path call you first and then decide which path to go. LISTEN! Both to your demo CD and your calling…hehe. Review everything you’ve ever recorded and, if you haven’t recorded YET, then that’s the first thing you should do. Then listen.
Music is more about listening and…in your mind…framing it with silence. I’m just quoting Sting here. Didn’t mean to go all existential on you…hahaha!
-Christopher A. Carlos-
JANUARY / 2010
Sammy Asuncion of Spy, Pinikpikan and Kalayo Speaks
“A long and fruitful career in the arts.” The very phrase REEKS of painful naiveté, brought about by two things: the ignorance of youth…and the doe-eyed optimism of inexperience.
I mean…let’s get real here. Artists in general…be they musicians or writers, painters or thespians… AREN’T exactly held in the highest esteem by genteel society. We are, more or less, seen as a social pariah. Floating around in our own little worlds, BELIEVING (or at least wanting to) that we have something to offer culture-wise while the rest of the populace go about being upstanding citizens. Jobs. Families. And real…get that…”REAL” careers. Becoming an artist, my friends, is exactly what a staggering majority of parents fear the most for their children. And that’s just in so-called “developed” countries! Imagine how much more difficult it is in developing nations such as ours. In a Filipino music industry where there are only “x” amount of vacancies for paying gigs and record deals.
I don’t mean to scare anyone here. But imagine a life where instant mami/ramen is part of your staple diet. You go weeks…possibly even months…without a paying gig. Only to work your ass off for a paltry sum when you are LUCKY enough to catch the eye of some club owner. The muses, gentle reader, are a jealous bunch. You sacrifice a hell of a lot just…well…just because the alternative of NOT expressing yourself is unthinkable. You give up lucrative salaries. You give up creature comforts. You give up relationships. Normality. And…yes…you give up a large chunk of your soul. “A long and fruitful career in the arts” DEMANDS, first and foremost, two things: a strong enough stomach to handle rejection…and a large enough ego to brush off the naysayers and just KEEP FUCKING GOING.
The reality is bleak enough to stagger even the bravest of hearts.
The universe, however, has a way of correcting itself. Personally, I have always thought that there is a certain poetic justice in that which we call existence. We reap what we sow. We only ever get as much as we put in to whatever endeavor we undertake. And when the wheat is separated from the chaff, the few…the happy few…that God or Buddha or the fates or destiny have called upon stand as testament. Evidence that hard work and perseverance DOES pay off eventually. What you get are bonafide demigods. And, let me assure you, there are only ever two kinds. The first are the “shooting stars” who burn the candle at both ends. You know the names. Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain and their ilk. They die young but leave behind a catalog that ensures them immortality. The second are what I like to call the “slow-burners.” People like Tom Petty and Lou Reed. Artists who, while never becoming household names, gain respect through large bodies of work…sheer chutzpah…the foresight to party just hard enough without pressing the “self-destruct” button…and the mind-boggling ability to make themselves “valid” to each generation of patron and performer. Simply put…you CANNOT imagine the scene WITHOUT them.
Samuel “Sammy” Faith Asuncion falls into this latter category.
For more than three decades, he has established himself as the undisputed “musician’s musician.” With Spy. With Pinikpikan. And, lately, with Kalayo. I’ve heard a lot of stories that scared the holy hell out of me but, let me tell you, Sammy is a living legend…perhaps second only to Joey “Pepe” Smith in terms of interesting anecdotes.
From his beginnings in the idyllic countryside…to Marcos-era Metro Manila…to the furthest reaches of Europe…and back again. Sammy is, quite literally, the ultimate template of a “working musician.” How appropriate it is, then, that his middle name is “Faith.” Because that is PRECISELY what his life can be summed up as. He is the living personification of an act of faith in something greater than himself…music. And I consider it a privilege to share with you a conversation with one of the great, unsung heroes of the Filipino music industry…
1. Chris Carlos: You know, Sammy, people are quite curious about your early life. Can you tell me a little bit about your past and whether music played a part in it?
Sammy Asuncion: I was born in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. It’s a beautiful province in the middle of Mindanao and perhaps the only plateau in The Philippines with deep canyons. I emerged from my mother’s womb on December 6, 1953. I breathed music every single day as nature enveloped my soul. I was also lucky enough to have parents who were very musical. As early as 4 years old, I could remember walking down the road with music in my head ringing clearly.
2. C.C: Kind of a far cry from a lot of our other artists who are born and bred “city folk.” But how do you get from THERE to here? Was there a definitive moment when you said…”O sige. Gusto ko maging musikero. I want to make it my life.” In other words, what led up to the decision that you didn’t want a so-called “normal” job?
S.A.: Well…I was always very active in music during my grade school, high school and college days at Ateneo de Cagayan (Xavier University now). It was only after I graduated Management that I decided to pursue the arts as a way of life. I spoke to my friend John Gaston about it and, without hesitation, he told me that I should just go on and play music.
3. C.C.: Pardon my presumption. But, these days, you are known to create some of the freshest and most original sounds in the Filipino music industry. No mean feat considering there are certain bands out there that have made entire CAREERS out of copying foreign acts. I mean…yeah…covers are important when you’re just starting to find your identity. But where do you draw the line?
S.A.: I was already composing songs while still at university. It made me feel good. Yeah. I was mixing up my lineup and we would do BOTH originals and covers. Thing was…I would put a different treatment when I played covers. Nothing wrong with it so long as your own personal style comes out. I enjoyed improvising. In other words, the young bands now are free to do other people’s material…as long as they make it their own.
4. C.C.: Alam natin lahat na mahirap ang buhay ng artista. Lalo na sa Pilipinas. Kaya nga tawag sa atin “struggling” or “starving” artist, diba? I wonder…just HOW BAD did it get for you? Getting steady gigs is difficult…much less gigs that pay a lot of money. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence. Was there EVER a point when you looked in the mirror and asked yourself: “Shit…why am I even doing this anymore?”
S.A.: You bet. I struggled to keep afloat. I even left my first family and wondered a lot if I had done the right thing. To survive, I began to do session work with other artists like Lolita, Pepe, Edmund, Ram Lopez, etc. I even ventured into doing jingles! But despite these hardships, I was still very determined to proceed with my music. Of course I was bothered when gigs weren’t coming around. I believe so much in music and I was (and still am) confident with my abilities…making me more decided. Music is my food. My happiness.
5. C.C.: And yet you left the country. Along with Mike Hanopol, you are well-known as someone who has travelled and gigged abroad extensively. What informed this decision to leave The Philippines and seek your fortunes elsewhere? Was it the political climate at home? Or was the emigrating thing something that just happened?
S.A.: To be honest, I felt so bored with the music scene here AT THE TIME and kept longing for Europe where the real thing was happening. Of course, there was martial law. But what it was, really, was that I was looking for greener pastures. I wanted to be CHALLENGED again. Why? I already travelled all over The Philippines and saw that nothing special or new was popping up locally. Elisabeth Luquin, my French girlfriend, was the conduit for my voyage to Paris (my first landing). That was January 1st, 1983. A new year and a new beginning.
6. C.C.: The language barrier (in addition to the fact that we LOOK different) must have been difficult to overcome. Did you find that people in other countries had a hard time “accepting” you as a peer…or indeed…as an equal?
S.A.: Wherever you are, language barriers will always be a problem. Especially in countries such as France. What I did was to enroll at a French school and I studied the language. Problem solved! Plus…as a musician…it was a lot easier for me to bridge small gaps in culture and general differences. Honestly? I didn’t care much about their reaction and (somehow) I got through.
7. C.C.: So what was the BEST city you’ve gigged at abroad?
S.A.: It’s hard to choose but I really enjoyed Berlin and Amsterdam. The people are so tolerant and friendly. Those cities offer a lot and you can pretty much do your own thing.
8. C.C.: And the worst?
S.A.: I can’t remember having a bad gig abroad except that I almost got into a fight in a small town in Alsfeld, Germany. This one spectator was insisting on only Reggae tunes from us. I let it go but came back to him AFTER the gig…grabbed his beer mug…and poked something sharp close to his face. I guess he got scared and the (club) owner interceded.
9. C.C.: Would you recommend our younger musicians do what you did? That is…do you think it’s a good idea for them to emigrate abroad for a time just to see what’s “out there?”
S.A.: Living in Europe for a long period of time and swimming in the music scene enables an artist to be very creative. There just no other way to go. Every aspiring band or musician has GOT to be original in her or his approach to music. Limitless genres flourish (there) and, logically, you can invent any form of music you want to express. So yes…I advise the serious ones to travel and see what’s outside their territory.
10. C.C.: You must have missed home, though…
S.A.: In the beginning, I didn’t miss The Philippines. I was having such a good time. But after 10 years or so, I started to miss our kind of hospitality and our organized anarchy…hahaha! In other words, our being Filipino.
11. C.C.: The first time I (and many others) ever saw Spy play was during the 1998 NU107 Rock Awards…remember that? “Let’s get high and be peaceful!” As a balikbayan performer, what did you feel about the Pinoy Rock Explosion of the 1990s? Nahirapan ka ba tanggapin na iba na talaga ang “scene” sa Pilipinas? Especially since the 80s were so difficult?
S.A.: I was actually happy that there was such an explosion and more widespread acceptance in our country. As a musician, though, I noticed we still had to give in and cater to the “average” listeners. Moreover, the music was old and about a few years behind compared to what was going on in Europe. We lack originality. But it’s still satisfying.
12. C.C.: Whether you know it or not, your bands are known primarily for the energy of the live gigs. Do you find it difficult to translate/transpose that into an album? Do you think that music SHOULD be kept live and that albums are merely something for fans to consume while waiting for the next gig?
S.A.: I wish ALL albums are done live…and do extended versions of all your compositions. But we need good equipment and good sound engineers to do that.
13. C.C.: Spy’s music contains very clear influences – most obviously Reggae. Was that a conscious choice on your part because you were playing to a (largely) non-Filipino audience? Did you go down that path because it was more accessible lyrically and sonically? Or was it just a “language” you felt like speaking at the time?
S.A.: I love all forms of music. We decided to inject the Reggae flavor because I sensed that particular genre was yet to be accepted in The Philippines. On the other hand, I started playing Reggae before I even went to Europe. This was in the late 70s. Back then, I was with Rene Santos, Rico Velez, Popong Landero, Lolita Carbon, etc. I always thought that doing something that others hadn’t touched upon yet was cool. Plus, I was mixing it up with elements of Funk and Rock.
14. C.C.: Conversely, Kalayo (Pinikpikan) is very…for lack of a better word…”rootsy.” “Native.” Your band implements indigenous instruments previously unheard in modern Pinoy music. If you compare Spy to Kalayo, though, people are always surprised when I say: “no man…that’s Sammy LEADING on both.” What led to you using such different…mediums…of expression?
S.A.: With Kalayo, that’s actually called World Music. It was a genre I learned while still in Europe. It was new at the time and working its way towards The Philippines. But in Europe, it was all over the place. It’s a hybrid music to me…fusing our roots with the present. And it’s interesting. I thought that in experimenting with it, we would be presenting the REAL Filipino music to the world without pretensions that we are ENTIRELY original. Instead, we deliver (music) in a diversified way because…let’s face it…that’s what we are as a people anyway.
15. C.C.: One thing older relatives always tell me is this: “Christopher…when ‘seekers’ like you decide to live abroad, they are forced into a decision. Will you choose to ADAPT and ABSORB the personality of this new country you are living in? Or do you become more nationalistic as a Filipino?” Was this a dilemma that YOU had to face, Sammy?
S.A.: Musicians and artists are an exception, though. You are not OBLIGED to adapt. You only have to express and be heard. That’s what I did. No compromise. It’s nice to mingle and adapt to some of their ways…but it isn’t necessary. In the end, people will only notice your work and accomplishments.
16. C.C.: I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here. But why do you think it is so heartbreakingly difficult for our local musicians to make it…here AND abroad?
S.A.: The problem is that we don’t push harder on originality. Plus, our local recording companies don’t really cater to our kind of music. It’s the same old play-it-safe thing for the masa. We have great players and composers here waiting to be discovered. We need to believe some MORE and care LESS about instant fame or glory. After all…choosing music as a passion should be 120 percent optimized.
17. C.C.: In your opinion, WHAT IS MODERN FILIPINO MUSIC? WHAT DEFINES IT? As we have discussed, we are…for better or worse…influenced by foreign art forms. But what makes a product uniquely OURS? Ano ba talaga ang “original” sa “OPM?”
S.A.: To me, original Pinoy music is Kalayo. Very much mixed…and no pretensions. There are tribal, Spanish and western favors. Why should we PRETEND that we didn’t absorb all of these? We grew up this way…so let’s deliver it this way too. You may also want to check out Grace Nono, Bob Aves and Cynthia Alexander. I like what they’re doing.
18. C.C.: You have had a long, colorful career. Any regrets? Any advice to the younger bands out there? What are you up to these days?
S.A.: Regrets? None really. To the young musicians, just keep on playing and composing songs. As for me, I am teaching music at the European International School. Kalayo is recording new material. I am also beginning a new solo album. A lot mellower… but richer. It’s still guitar –driven but I’m trying to inject the World music context to what I’m cooking now. We will see what the outcome will be.
19. C.C.: And finally…how have you remained “fresh” all these years? How do you keep growing? Do you have any parting words for the performers and patrons reading this?
S.A.: I had several broken families and relationships already. My woman and my two kids are gone. At the moment, I’m trying to move on. What else can I say? I believe in music…that’s all. It heals and comforts me. And it saves me in the end.
-Christopher A. Carlos-
|DECEMBER / 2009
THE UPSTART SVENGALI:
A CONVERSATION WITH TOTI DALMACION, FOUNDER OF TERNO RECORDINGS
“No great deed is done by falterers who ask for certainty.”
-George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Anne Evans)-
I’ve said it before and I will say it again:
I love our country.
But for all of my adoration…bordering on zealous fanaticism as it may be…I am not blind to certain facts that continually hinder our development as a people. It may be a bitter pill to swallow. But we are all well aware that we live in a nation besieged by self-defeating attitudes of ambivalence, compromise and outright complacency.
We may bitch. We may moan. But ask yourself this. How many of us have REALLY taken the steps to change anything? Particularly those of us who were lucky enough to have been born from the so-called “elite” that continues to rule this country with an iron fist?
But, of course, this change hasn’t happened. Yet. Why? Because we settle. We make excuses for ourselves. We say, “but who am I really in the grand scheme of things?” We mutter, “the system is too powerful.” We moan, “people who try to buck the establishment end up poor. I need to eat.” Or…more disturbingly…we throw up our hands and exclaim, “but that’s just the way things have ALWAYS been done. Sino ba ako!?!”
Understandable arguments. But does that make them right? The thing is I know…I KNOW…many of you reading this are still too young to have any inclination of what you want to do with your lives. What I want to show you, my beautiful Guijo kids, is that there ARE options out there. People HAVE gone out on a limb. Mavericks who have taken a chance on something they BELIEVE in. People, like you and me, who WANT to change things for the better.
On nothing but a wing and a prayer.
- Chris Carlos: In the course of my research, I’ve seen you labeled as many things. “Collector.” “Connoisseur.” “Music Impresario.” “Guru.” Tell me…how did your passion for music all start? Was the development “organic?”
Toti Dalmacion: Both my father and my mother are into music. My mother is the sister of Rene and Dennis Garcia of Hotdog (originators of the “Manila Sound” and not given much credit for it, by the way). She also used to manage them. So music was everywhere from the beginning. From my grandparents and their love for the standards of the 1940’s and 50’s…down to my parents’ love for The Beatles, Elvis, Rock & Roll baby boomer music… onto 60’s psychedelia. Early 70’s Pop and Rock from my uncles. All these obviously influenced my love affair with music.
- C.C.: An extensive background, to say the least. So what was the first album YOU ever bought? With your allowance…and with money you made yourself?
T.D.: I’m not so certain as my memory is failing me lately…but with my allowance (it wasn’t even that…I used to just ask my folks to pass by a record store in Cubao or Greenhills supermarket). It’s a toss-up between “Peter Frampton Comes Alive” and Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” in 1976 and some Disco too til’ around 1978. It was a mixture of Rock, MOR, Top 40 and Jazz Fusion albums after that UNTIL I discovered I was drawn to Punk and New Wave. I bought what was locally available…as well as what was being sent by my tita…cassettes and LPs from England like Original Mirrors and Lene Lovich.
Around ’79 or ’80, I PERSONALLY bought my first imported records in Hong Kong through the kindness of my parents. Third World. Kraftwerk. Talking Heads. Madness. The Specials. As you can see from the last two bands, I was heavily into 2-Tone Ska back then.
First album I bought with my own money was in ’86…when I had my first and only 9-5 job (punching numbers on a computer for some firm). It could have been anything from a live bootleg of XTC or an old album from ’81 by the Teardrop Explodes.
- C.C: An interesting anecdote that people tell me is that you have a MONSTROUS record collection…literally THOUSANDS of albums. God forbid that this should ever happen. But if your house caught fire and you could only run in to save one…which would it be?
T.D.: In all modesty, I don’t think I have that many compared to other collectors I know in the U.S. who have 40,000 onwards. Perhaps here in The Philippines, what I have can be deemed a lot. It’s not the quantity that counts but the quality. Rare stuff as opposed to the more general. I don’t understand why some people try to hide what they listened to in the past, though. I have quite a broad selection aside from my area of expertise being that I love music in general…and I’m an observer of Pop. I have my preferences but I don’t close my ears to what’s going on in a “commercial” way. I don’t necessarily have to buy EVERYTHING…but with regards to the ones I have, good OR bad, it was an era. They reference a time and place in my life and helped define what I really like by improving my knowledge and tastes. Some were crap but they’re good for posterity.
To answer your question, that’s a thing I truly dread apart from me (or someone close to me) dying. But if I were put in that awful position, I’d try to save as many records as I could because a lot of them are irreplaceable and out of print. Just choosing one is IMPOSSIBLE. I wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s like asking me what my favorite song in the world was.
- C.C: Fair enough. I know I’m being disturbingly morbid now. But let’s say you died in this fire and you got to pick THREE songs that would be played at your funeral…which would they be?
T.D.: This is so difficult. There are thousands of songs…but I’ll give you three just for the heck of it:
a. “Wish Me Well,” “Easter Parade” or “Let’s Go Out Tonight” by The Blue Nile. Those are three so I’m cheating already. They are depressing, wrist-slashing beauties that have been with and guided me throughout. I love sad, depressing songs all the more when they’re grand and cinematic – like you’re the main character in the video.
b. “Journey’s End” by Montgolfier Brother. The title alone is self-explanatory and the mood of the song just fits – it’ll make even the hardest gangbanger cry.
c. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. As far as I know, it’s about heroin. But, again, the melancholia that surrounds it and the descriptive play on words on how something could be perfect MAKES it one for that last goodbye.
- C.C.: This passion for music…Toti…you took what was, essentially, a hobby gone out of control and turned it into a LIFESTYLE! Was there a point that you ever considered toning it down in favor of a “normal” corporate day-job?
T.D.: Most people think I would completely abhor a 9-5 gig but that’s not necessarily the case. If it paid well and it’s something I could get into...with the emphasis on being “paid well,” of course. Fate has given me that opportunity only once. Apparently, I seem to be destined for medals and critical acclaim – but not so much for bling and loads of money via what I love most. Music. Not exactly a bad thing. I’m quite proud of it, in fact…until my wife reminds me I now have a family to provide for and that’s when I suddenly wish I was a salary man. As to WHAT that job may be, I have no idea. Luckily, it hasn’t reached that point yet. Music is my life. It’s all I know and it’s what I’m good at.
- C.C.: Let’s shift gears here. Did you ever play in a band?
T.D.: Yes. I did in high school with some friends who eventually became Violent Playground around the time my family moved to the U.S. When I got back in ’95, I formed a “joke” (as in “banda-bandahan”…nothing serious) group with Myrene Academia, Diego Castillo (my then-intern at my record store Groove Nation for his thesis), a balikbayan vocalist by the name of Mario Alipio and Lexi then Zulueta who was my salesperson. I named it the Aga Muhlach Experience. Aga was everywhere at the time…hence the Pinoy flavored, unassuming and slightly humorous name.
I played the drums. I’m not a professional nor am I even a serious student…just better than a complete amateur. It was fun. We did mostly American Indie-Rock covers (which I wasn’t that into because I’m more of an Anglophile). I never took it seriously despite the buzz we got. One thing led to another and the band broke up. They revive it now and then for reunions with a more dedicated drummer in Mike Dizon.
- C.C: You also DJ at certain clubs, right? What’s part of your “usual” setlist?
T.D.: I HAVE guested at WhereElse, Mars and Limits to name a few but I was never a “resident” in any club in The Philippines. I, along with a collective of friends that went under my store’s “Groove Nation” moniker, pioneered the “rave” scene in this country. We brought in the likes of Alec Empire (Atari Teenage Riot), Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Laurent Garnier, Doc Martin and MANY more (mostly HOUSE and TECHNO DJs and producers). NO Trance and Mickey Mouse dance music peeps. Just originators and innovators. I was the main resident dj for my roving club/rave called CONSORTIUM.
My setlist? I can be eclectic – meaning I can go from Funk to Disco to Synthpop to Drum & Bass. But I’m a “house head” and a “technofreak.” Those two are pretty much the foundation of modern electronic Dance music. It only varies in style and mood. For longer sets wherein I’m DJing the entire night, I usually start off really deep and slow with the moody type of Deep House. Progress onto a more funky “deep tech” vibe which then leads to Techno…then back to jazzier Deep House and/or Downtempo depending on how the night goes.
- C.C.: THAT ‘club’ crowd is obviously different from the habitués of Rock venues like saGuijo. Pardon my presumption but you seem like the type of guy who is comfortable in BOTH settings. To your credit, I believe this belies an eclecticism rarely found in our compartmentalized music industry. How do you reconcile that?
T.D.: Because I love all sorts of music. And these two worlds? I’m passionate about them both – nothing contrived here. I may talk the talk but I also walk the walk. I back up what I say because I have a firm grasp of the foundations for real Dance music and Indiepop/Rock.
- C.C.: Back before you founded Terno…let’s say a major label asked you to become their head A & R guy. Would you have jumped at the chance?
T.D.: That was one of my dream jobs. More so if it was in the U.S. Personally? I think I have an eye and ear for spotting talent…and I can sell them. What I mean is that I can convince people to like them in a genuine way because I am a music fan first and foremost. As opposed to just some suit looking for the next cash cow. With that said, however, CONTRARY to what most people think that I don’t care if an album sells or not - I DO. But I’m more concerned with the music.
- C.C.: When exactly DID the idea of Terno start percolating in your head?
T.D.: Even before my family got back from the ‘States. I was so exposed to the whole Indie thing (in the UK sense…not mainstream Rock…and fell into a dizzying array of subgenres and movements like jangly, guitar-driven Pop, “Post-Punk,” “Shoegaze,” “Twee,” “Dreampop,” etc..). I followed and discovered bands through the various Indie labels, taking in strategy, style, image and direction naturally. It was fascinating how some of my favorite labels (Postcard, Creation, Factory, Rough Trade, Sarah, El…) had their own world. They had their own sound and were FAR from the usual “cock-Rock” and mainstream “Alternative.” These labels offered more challenging music. It was inevitable I’d start my own given that most of my inspirations were “mom & pop” operations…some even operating from their bedrooms!
- C.C.: Back to the majors, though. Forming an Indie label (much less one that SURVIVES) is UNHEARD of in our country. It’s a ballsy gamble that rarely ever gets past the “planning” stage. And it’s a big “fuck-you” to these established giants. Would you say you have a problem with how the majors conduct their business? Do you have an axe to grind? What informs this single-minded determination that makes Terno “work?”
T.D.: I don’t really have that big of an axe to grind but I don’t agree on how these labels manufacture and market music. It’s all about money and what gets pushed is usually crap that’s accepted by the majority – being that the audience/market here is passive. So most producers/financiers’ mentality is to give the people what they want and not provide them with options to broaden their horizons…or develop their taste. “Why fix something when it ain’t broke,” so to speak. What happens is the people get to be ignorant and behind with regards to the rest of the world.
Sure we’re up to date with the more commercial Pop stuff…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But we limit ourselves to what’s being fed to us by the machinery that is business and media. It’s not something one can change overnight and, of course, this has been the model for the longest time. It’s all about business – except that now, the model has changed. The majors are starting to suffer from their greediness.
Having said that, being an independent label DOESN’T mean it’s NOT about business. It is. But things are done differently from the pre-existing mold or template. In Terno’s case (as it is with the foreign labels that inspired me), it’s about music FIRST. So if Terno has proven something, it’s that you don’t have to put out crap for people just because they’re used to it. You can give them options and there IS also an audience out there who want change. People who want improvement from what’s considered the “norm” in our society with regards to music and the arts. The other thing is that we can really be on par with what’s out there. We can be global.
- C.C.: So when WAS that moment where you decided to transform “ambition” into “reality?”
T.D.: The funny thing is that there wasn’t a grand plan. Initially, the idea was to get tracks from bands worldwide and do compilations featuring the universal sound of Indiepop. One thing led to another and I ended up with interesting local bands instead. I suppose I love the idea of being in control of the direction I want to take – opposite of where most people would go. I have this thing for developing and nurturing something. Creating an image…a persona…a feel…a statement that is “individual.” It’s a bit of a fantasy in a way but it was NOT an ambition to become this record mogul (it ain’t happenin’ here in the Philippines anyway). If I was in the U.S., I’d probably be rich by now where the bands are given more recognition since the “minority” over THERE is HUGE.
Anyway…it’s also unfortunate that being it was not a planned thing, we’re learning as we go regarding the business aspect. How the game is played in the local industry. Being a small player like us, the big guns really try to squash you and it’s really passion that keeps us alive.
- C.C.: Not to be crude…but an undertaking like yours requires a LOT of capital.
T.D.: That’s the problem. There was no capital from the beginning. We’re not rich. We’ve somehow managed to make it work but it’s catching up on my wife and me. We’ve been dipping into our personal money which is bad and clearly shows you that I’m no businessman. We’re trying to rectify that problem to keep Terno afloat but we could use some financial help/donations just to keep going…and to put out more interesting music from our own local artists.
- C.C.: For bands, what do you see is the FUNDAMENTAL philosophical differences between being signed to a major versus an Indie? THOSE giants have the financial firepower. But, let’s not forget, that THEIR end-goal is making a profit. Even if it means neglecting deserving bands in favor of the more insipid, “marketable” crooners.
T.D.: Being signed to a major these days (especially in the Philippines) doesn’t mean they’ll shower the band with money unless they know they can make a lot more. That money, by the way, is recoupable so stupid bands who think it’s free should think twice. They’re looking for an act that will appeal to the majority. To ensure themselves, these labels make sure they own you or at least your music…in most cases forever. I can’t blame ‘em considering what they spend on your album, promotions, transportation, trainers, publicists, etc. You and I refer to it as an “investment.” So that’s an advantage…so long as your albums are selling like hotcakes. Those who are signed to a major whose sales aren’t so rosy usually end up getting dropped, ditched and forgotten…more often with debts OWED to the label.
Those who are signed to an independent may not have all the perks. But these bands DO have more control over what they want to put out (at least in Terno’s case). There’s no pressure for a follow-up. Or to tailor-fit your product to what the market wants. On the promotional end, they may not have the advantages being that the market is monopolized by the majors (who have, for years, cultivated relationships with record stores, TV, radio…erm…”payola"). That’s where Indie bands lose out but…as far as their craft, dignity and credibility are concerned…that’s what the good independent label provides the band. Let’s not forget the “cool” factor and the respect.
- C.C.: Let’s be realistic, though. There is no shame in our bands wanting to make at least SOME money. People need to eat. When, in your opinion, does that become TOO much, though? At what point does “aspiring” become “careerist” or “sell-out?”
T.D.: DEFINITELY no shame in that. We all need to make some money…or better…LOTS of money. But not to the extent that you sacrifice your art for commerce. The ideal is to balance both. It becomes too much when you adjust and tailor-fit it too much to appeal to a particular audience or THE market. What I mean is that you cannot throw away the identity of the band…making yourselves sound like something you’re not. To appeal and be accessible by doing whatever it takes to the point of overexposure and being so freaking everywhere? You’re just going with trends and jumping the shark.
- C.C.: But what about commercial endorsements that so many “rockstars” rely on?
T.D.: I have no problem with it…as long as it “fits” the band or artist. And it brings in good money for everyone. Or, at the very least, good exposure which could lead to other things.
- C.C.: Over the years, many bands have come and gone through your roster. Your first breakthrough act was, undoubtedly, Orange and Lemons. Let’s put the matter to rest here and now. What REALLY happened there that soured the relationship?
T.D.: It’s like this. No label touches you with a 10 foot pole. I take the risk and help on certain aspects like image and stage presence given that they are on MY label…and the first act, at that. Then, 3 months into the release (with some worthy buzz work on my part)…their manager tells me they’ve signed with Universal already for the next album. I don’t think anyone would be happy about that. I’m not angry anymore and I’ve always been diplomatic with the band. But that manager, however, can go to hell. I don’t get angry. I get even.
So I shelve that album for 5 years. Terno could’ve taken advantage of the brouhaha surrounding the plagiarism of “Pinoy Ako” as other record companies would do. They would put out older material (in my case, the first album). But I didn’t. That was it, basically. Just 1000 or 2000 copies released and that’s it. I don’t care if the pope wants a copy. I did NOT replicate it again and their contract with me was for 5 years. So I let it rot. They can reprint it again afterwards but, as you know, they broke up. So I don’t know who has the rights and who’s going to replicate that now given the ugly spat they had.
- C.C.: A rather unfortunate turn of events but it is what it is. Pretty sad considering they even went on record saying you literally took them to the ukay-ukays and TAUGHT them how to dress. Do you consider yourself an “image-maker?”
T.D.: Not really. I don’t do that for every band though I always stress that image IS important. You could be wearing a t-shirt but if it’s the “wrong” one, your band suffers. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re in a Shoegazer-type band. Your music is deep and moody and atmospheric. So you’re on stage and the music’s incredible. You remind people of bands like Slowdive or Ride…and you’re wearing a “Billabong” shirt. That kinda kills it for me if I was a fan watching you. I want the WHOLE package. At least wear something that’s somewhat odd. Not just something that makes you look like some college kid in a dorm. Unless you’re sponsored by Billabong and getting the stuff for free…but do SOMETHING that gives it a connection to the music. It’s no different from being in a Mod or Ska band and you’re in tie-dyes and dreadlocks. It’s just off. So I address that with my bands. Not everyone listens, though, so next time you see a Terno band you’ll see for yourself…
But in the case of O & L? When I met them, they really were kinda provincial. No offense…it’s a fact. They were mostly doing New Wave covers too which was a turn-off. I’m Mr. New Wave myself but there’s something not so good about a band that just copies it down to the (British) accent. That is UNLESS you do it with some swagger and attitude which you could never pull off if you don’t even look the part. Hence the trips to the ukay to find clothes that would work for them. Not necessarily to copy down to the last detail…but just to give them some bite. We also had sessions of watching music vids to compensate on other areas…and to show confidence onstage. So hats off to Clem, for going with what he learned.
- C.C. and T.D.: I know it’s oversimplification but, in lieu of space, let’s play a game regarding some of your stable. Give me ONE word to describe the following bands:
- The Radioactive Sago Project? CLEVER.
- Musical O? DEEP.
- Encounters With a Yeti? MOODY.
- Sleepwalk Circus? MESMERIZING.
- Swissy? SIMPLE.
- Ang Bandang Shirley? FUN.
- Up dharma Down? ENIGMATIC.
- C.C.: People have said that you accept demos. But what DOES a fledgling band have to do to really catch your eye? With regards to signing them, how do you recognize when the group has a certain “IT” factor?
T.D.: First and foremost, it’s really the material. They have to understand what Terno is about. I’ve been given demos of Emo, Heavy Metal, Christian Rock bands, etc…and you KNOW that’s not what I mean by eclectic and variety in terms of the label. Also, the bio should be written well and not like it’s for a high school yearbook. Pictures too would be good…and should be clear, at that. Image – the look must ft the music. But all of this would be nothing if the material’s no good so…
- C.C.: I’m sorry to keep harping on the issue…but it IS such a big part of our industry. Marketability. How important IS it when you sign bands?
T.D.: I think you know this is not the first thing that comes to MY mind. Just think of Encounters With A Yeti, Musical O or Sleepwalk Circus. Good bands in my book. But are they for the local market? Not really. So in response, marketability is not something I consider right away. It’s really more about the sound and material.
- C.C.: You’ve been around the scene long enough to have witnessed the various ebbs and flows. The 70s were held up to be the “Golden Age.” The 90s…a Renaissance of sorts. Where do you think we are NOW?
T.D.: The LAST frontier if I’m being cynical and jaded. The NEW frontier if I’m being optimistic about it.
- C.C.: The catchphrase for OUR brand of music is “Alternative.” I think that word is bullshit…but it DOES hold some level of truth. Let’s face it. The mainstream and the establishment see us as a blight. We have yet to be accepted as a significant facet in the Filipino cultural identity by the powers-that-be.
T.D.: To be honest, even the “Alternative” has become mainstream…and “Indie” has been overused and misused. Here, anyone who releases on their own is considered “Indie” and that’s more about the process. But I’m talking about the “music.” Music that challenges and pushes the envelope outside the norm. Yes…we are definitely the minority and not given the much-needed support.
- C.C.: Of all the musicians and critics I speak with, one thing we keep coming back to is the NEED to “mature” the scene. It sounds idealistic…but MY personal dream is that our industry becomes a bit like Japan’s. Their bands WANT international exposure…but they don’t necessarily NEED it because they are so well-loved locally. What do you think needs to change for that to happen for us?
T.D.: Japan is different because they hold their artists and musicians in high esteem – equals to what’s out there in the western world. It’s not looking so good for the Philippines because music here is not really taken seriously as art. It’s seen as entertainment (hence the passiveness that comes with that). There’s not much support from the people and government for artists…even IF they are really good and have the potential to become international ambassadors within the field. We need more substance and less of being trendy. That’s why it’s only once in a blue moon where you come across a band that really has something to offer. Most bands just go with what’s “uso”…so they sound this way for a year and then another way the next. But when you point out these things, their defense is always “crab mentality.” That’s the easy excuse but there wouldn’t be any of that if, as a people, we are more critical of our work and NOT allow mediocrity.
If everyone strived for excellence and not merely copy outright, there wouldn’t be any negativity involved. These are the factors WHY we cannot give our all-out support. Our definition of what’s “good” can be so conflicting and confused.
- C.C.: Not to get too abstract…but WHY music? What is it that you love about it?
T.D.: I collect furniture too and other artifacts from yesteryears (favorite periods being the 50s to the 70s). I’m a film buff and was something of a clotheshorse. But yes. Music is my first love. I love it because it is sentimental. Inspiring. Celebratory. It has given so much to me and…corny as it may sound…gave me my main purpose in life.
- C.C.: Parting words for the patrons and performers reading this?
T.D.: Be an individual. Decide for yourself what you want and why you like it as opposed to because 20 of your friends say so. Have an open mind to new ideas. New sounds as well as the old. Explore and don’t just rely on what’s being fed by society. In the age of the internet and limitless information, one must take advantage of knowledge. Be inspired. Go paint your painting. Climb that mountain. Make your own music. Express yourself. Don’t just settle for mediocrity…that “pwede na” mentality. Push the envelope. Improve yourself. Spiritually. And musically.
-Christopher A. Carlos (C.C.)-
NOVEMBER / 2009
CONFESSIONS OF A PINOY ROCKSTAR LIVING ABROAD
What do we aspire towards when we become artists?
Money? Fame? Commercial and creative viability? Are we really striving for that loftiest of goals – articulate self expression that we can turn on and off?
What, then, do we do when we have achieved all of the above?
Sebastian “Basti” Artadi, lead singer of Wolfgang, is one of those rare birds. He has done it all. He is someone who has, as Fleetwood Mac once sang, “climbed the highest mountain just to turn around.” And yet at the very apex of his band’s career, he did something NOBODY expected. He chose to walk away.
Like many long-time fans, I thought that was the last I would ever see of him. Little did I know that when I started a less-than-lucrative corporate day job at a San Francisco-based clothing company, Basti would be one of the first people I would see walking around. I am in a unique situation where I bump into him almost every single day. And yet I could never bring myself to even manage a simple “hello.” What was there to say? I was too intimidated. Until now…
- Chris Carlos: First things first: how the hell ARE you, man? We get random snippets on websites and shit…but how has your life in the Bay Area been thus far?
Basti Artadi: I’m fine. Just like the rest of us abroad…taking things one day at a time.
- C.C.: Emigrating to the ‘States. What can I say? Medyo malungkot ang buhay dito at times. Personally, what I miss most about home are the creature comforts. I mean…here…whenever I tell my relatives that I have to pay 7 to 8 bucks for a plate of tapsilog, they laugh at me! Ikaw? Is there anything from home that you miss the most?
B.A.: My family, friends and RAZORBACK!!! They would be what I miss the most. I used to go and watch Razorback play all the time back home and they would just jam for hours and hours. Everyone would get drunker with time…and the drunker everyone got, the longer the jams became. It was fucking epic, man! I think their record is 4 straight hours. Can you imagine? The beaches too. I used to always be in the beach. Here…when you go…for one, the wind and water are fucking cold. Two…you can’t do shit. You can’t drink. You can’t smoke. You can’t light a fire. ‘Tang-ina, nag beach ka pa! Supot! I think I just went to a beach here once and that was it.
- C.C.: Let’s talk about the early days in Kalye, Weekends and the original Dredd. I can’t tell you how many aspiring bands ask me how to move from point A to point B…meaning how to move from the practice space to getting a halfway “regular” gig. How did it happen for you guys? Is it really just a matter of “who you know?”
B.A.: Well, who you know helps. But, in the end, if you suck…even your best friend won’t keep you at his place. The most important thing is the practice pad. It’s always tempting to jump straight in and play a gig right away. But you really, REALLY need to hone your skills. If you are a sharp, well-oiled machine coming out of the practice place, you WILL NOT get turned down. We just practiced and practiced until we felt comfortable with each other musically. During this time, we also started collecting our cover material until we had enough to put together several different sets with different moods. I think we compiled over 40 covers that we could do on a whim…and then when we had all those pieces together, we went about looking for gigs.
- C.C.: Okay…so what was your timeframe? How long did you have to practice before you went and did that first gig? Speaking of which…where WAS that first gig?
B.A.: 3 or 4 months. Maybe longer. I really couldn’t tell you for sure now but it was a while. First gig was at a church, if you believe that! We walked onstage with our long hair and burst into “Welcome To The Jungle”…hahaha! I could have sworn I saw a couple of priests cussing under their breaths.
- C.C.: The “covers” issue. My usual response to struggling musicians is, “pwede rin…pero make sure you throw in a few originals now and then. Kung gusto mo maging show band, play at Strumm’s.” Ikaw? Why do you think it is valuable to cut your teeth (in the beginning) on other people’s songs? Why not just do originals from the get-go?
B.A.: People need to get attached to you and you do that by playing something that is familiar to them…in this case, covers. Think of a time when you were at a bar and a band you’ve never heard of comes on and plays a rocking version of a song you love. Diba, you’re like: “UY!!! Sino ito?” And the rest of the set, you’re listening. If a great band just went up and played songs no one’s heard of, they would have to be really, really great songs and musicians right off the bat. Or the band has to have some sort of “gimmick” that gets the crowd interested. Me…I’m not a fan of gimmicks. I’m more into the music. Once you have that connection and they come to hear YOU sing, you can slip in an original. As you progress, you slip in more and more of your shit. Now with covers, don’t just play whatever is on the radio. You need to find a niche or style that is near yours. Make sure you do it justice. And, although this will be hard at first… try to make it your own.
- C.C.: So what was in your repertoire? Sabbath, Zep and Metallica? Early on, some moron critic even tagged you a “Grunge” band. Did you ever venture into Pearl Jam territory?
B.A.: All of ‘em! Ozzy, Free, Maiden, AC/DC, Guns & Roses, Megadeth, Cream, The Beatles, James Taylor, Cry of Love, Hendrix. The list goes on and on. Shit, we even did “Plush!” Although we did do Grunge or Alternative covers, the bulk of our material was centered on the Classic Rock era.
- C.C.: Was it hard for you (and Manuel), as a Spanish mestizos/tisoys, to win over a largely Pinoy-looking metal/rock crowd in those early days? Would you say that singing in Tagalog was a way for you to overcome those barriers?
B.A.: Well it WAS a bit of a challenge. People would judge us right away because of how we looked and we would hear remarks made from the audience. But the thing was…we would always just soldier on and let the music speak for us. By the second or third song, people were into it and nobody was saying shit anymore.
- C.C: The first time I even heard of your band, I must have been 12 or something…riding to school with Angelo when “Darkness Fell” came on the radio (probably on LA 105 or NU107). Big bro’s exact words were “world-class, no?” I agreed. Any particular memories of that song and WHY you never really played it in later gigs?
B.A.: We just simply had more songs to choose from. I tell you…one of the hardest things is making a set list. It’s an art-form in itself with so many things you need to consider to make it “work.” I guess with us wanting to keep the momentum going all the time, “Darkness” just got kinda got lost in the mix. We pull it out of our bag every now and then. And people don’t expect it which makes that a special moment we have with our fans. When Manuel starts plucking those first few notes, you just hear this loud cheer followed by a shitload of singing.
- C.C.: Speaking to the older generation of gig-goers (meaning you guys who were there in the early Nineties), they always seem to say the same thing: “Chris…dati okay na ang crowd when we played Pearl Jam covers. Ngayon? The kids are more discerning. They’re not as easily impressed. You have to really PROVE to them that you’re an artist with your own songs.” Do you agree that the Nineties crowd was…well…less “demanding?”
B.A.: Honestly, I couldn’t say. I would think that if a rendition of a song sucks, then it sucks. And that’s that that regardless of what the song was. With the internet the way it is, though, people are exposed to so much more things. They’re more discerning of what they like and what they don’t like.
- C.C: It’s no secret that Wolfgang’s songs (most obviously the early ones from the debut) were very…shall we say…”rooted” in feelings of anger, alienation and distrust. As the band’s lyricist, was this a conscious choice on your part? Do you find that singing about abstract emotions is “easier” than singing about everyday experiences?
B.A.: Ya think? Hahaha…yeah. I was going through some rough personal stuff at the time so I put everything down on paper. Nothing was done with the intent of anything. It was all just me pouring out my emotions on the paper that was in front of me. With regards to writing, I don’t think ANYTHING is easy. It has to be honest and real and…shit…in the end, it has to be GOOD. I always try to make my writing as abstract as possible. That way, it can mean different things to different people.
- C.C.: So do you think it is bullshit when people come up to you and say, “yeah pare…I feel like I really KNOW you from your lyrics.”
B.A.: I never get that. What I DO always get is more of, “your lyrics meant something to me.” Like in a personal manner. Which goes back to people interpreting my lyrics in a way that relates to them.
- C.C.: In a Iong-ago Inquirer article, you and Wolf were quoted as saying that while the ‘Heads sing about the “teenybopper lifestyle,” you guys were there to sing about “dark,” or “demented” stuff. Why did you choose to go down THAT path? Would you say that you went around (at the time) as a twenty-something na “galit sa mundo?”
B.A.: I think that was Wolf’s quote. It sounds like him anyway. I just always felt that people tend to pay more attention when your topic is dark. Plus it goes with the music. I don’t know but I can’t really see myself singing about flowers with the music of “Bought and Sold” in the background…haha. Can you imagine? Hahaha!
- C.C: Let’s talk about ’98 – ’99. Few will dispute that this was the moment when the ‘Heads started to fall apart and Wolfgang took ascendancy in our little pantheon. Do you feel that there was a reason WHY kids were choosing you guys? Was it just good timing or do you think we were just...angrier…as the millennium approached?
B.A.: I dunno. Did the E-Heads ever really lose their spot? I don’t think so. Even after they broke up, they already had cemented their status in the history books. I’m guessing that maybe kids were looking for something a little less accessible – it’s probably just good timing. A lot of what happens in this industry revolves around that. Although I wouldn’t say naman that we reached that level of success where EVERYONE knew our name. But I also think that’s a good thing. The best place to be is just under the mainstream radar where people know you…but you’re not on the level where their moms and lolas know you.
- C.C.: The high point, many people have said, was that gig at Music Museum where you had the U.P. choir backing you up. Was it difficult for you to move from sweaty rock clubs to…essentially…a “safe” environment?
B.A.: I don’t think you classify them as “high points” but as “milestones”…and that was definitely one. A year before Metallica, we also did a couple of songs backed by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. But Acoustica was a great, fun night. No. It wasn’t hard making that transition. For me, it was just another gig. I think the important thing is that you put your mindset in “let’s just have some fun” mode and run with it. If you have fun, the audience will have fun…and so will the rest of your band.
- C.C.: With regards to the last question, do you feel that you were losing your “edge?” Or was it just a natural progression in your band’s evolution?
B.A.: Nah, it was just something new to try. We were always looking to attempt different things and see if we could pull it off. If we could, then good. And if not, then move on to something else. By the way, “acoustic” doesn’t necessarily translate into “soft.” An acoustic song can be as heavy as God’s foot on your face if done right.
- C.C.: It’s been said that the reason you left was that Wolfgang had peaked. I mean…really…where do you go AFTER that Music Museum gig? I don’t think anyone blamed you for your decision to emigrate. Pero WAS that the real reason?
B.A.: Actually, it was because Sony had this plan for us to hit the ‘States and see if we could do some damage there. They were gonna set us up in this house and we’d start gigging. I just said, “Ok…well, I’ll go ahead and meet all of you there.” Mon got denied his visa and everything fell apart. I guess that’s when we all had our “talk” and said, “look…if something ever comes up that warrants our getting back together, then we’ll do it.” You see for me, personally, it just felt that there was nowhere left to go. We kinda had done it all and just kept returning to the same places and rehashing the same ideas. It became, “well…we did that already so what’s the point?” And then it would be, “ok…now we have to release an album.” And this was less than a year after releasing the last one and so on and so forth. It just got really hard to keep that momentum and still maintain a certain level of quality.
- C.C.: When you got to the ‘States, did you say to yourself “that’s it…ayaw ko na maging musikero. I just want to live my life normally now.”
B.A.: Well I had a shitload of culture shock to get over because it was a completely new environment for me. I had to adapt. But, after a while, the itch started and that’s when I went looking for a band. Enter Kitaan.
- C.C.: Many of us are still wondering WHY you left that band when you did.
B.A.: Haha! Yeah…I get a lot of flak for that name. But they named themselves already when I joined and were kinda stuck on it. It was actually called “Kitaan Club” which I REALLY didn’t like so the compromise was made that it would just be “Kitaan.” It was good. Those guys were all great people and musicians but I had this “go-getter, time’s-a-wastin’” mindset. And they were more steady and take things as they come. I felt that it wasn’t going anywhere. So I left.
- C.C.: I recently watched a Stateside-based TV show (Adobo Nation). The host asked: “Are you still trying to break through here?” Quite deadpan, you replied, “no…I’ve given up chasing that dream a long time ago.” My question is simple. WHY? Do you feel we, as “foreigners,” have a harder time gaining artistic success here?
B.A.: Well…I just got tired of the system. Everyone is a dirt bag who is looking to have their fingers in the pie. Everything feels like it’s a scam. Even playing some clubs is bullshit (pay to play). It just got to a point where I wasn’t looking forward to playing a show anymore. Everything that was fun in the beginning had gotten sucked out somehow. And that’s why I said, “fuck it.” Now, I’m not concerned about all of that. If I gig, it will be for the fun of it and that’s all. When you do it that way, it is always so much better.
- C.C.: When you go home, you are immediately recognizable. That’s a given. Was it hard for you going from THAT to HERE where people don’t necessarily know who you are and what you’ve achieved? It’s not an ego trip. But it must have taken a period of adjusting.
B.A.: Nah. I’ve always been pretty steady when it comes to that. It’s not something I look for.
- C.C.: Again…you go home once in a while. Any particular “new” band that has caught your eye? Why? I’m sure some newbie out there will appreciate a plug from “Basti Artadi.”
B.A.: I don’t really get the chance to see many bands when I go home. Most of my time is usually spent catching up with my family and friends. The rest is spent practicing. I really like Up Dharma Down and Pupil’s new albums though (I know they’re not new bands but…)
- C.C.: When Wolfgang INFORMALLY disbanded, many people thought that it was the death knell for Pinoy Hard Rock/Metal. And yet you still have Razorback playing their brand of balls-out Hard Rock. You have Queso and my beloved Greyhoundz keeping the torch YOU lit alive. Even Chicosci has made sure that the teenyboppers were listening to SOME sort of “harder” music. Do you think Pinoy Metal/Hard-Rock will ever die?
B.A.: I don’t think music…whether it be Rock, Metal, Punk, etc. will ever die. It is ingrained in every one of us. Even IF there isn’t a single person who supports a musician playing a certain genre. As long as that musician is breathing, he will play that type of music because HE loves it…it lives inside of him. And, man, the music that lives in you always, ALWAYS has to get out.
- C.C.: In “Weightless,” you chose to use two VERY loaded characters in Icarus and Eros. Icarus, in particular, flew too close to the sun and crashed to the Earth…mainly because he wanted to experience something “artists” have always identified with: the need to do something GREAT. In your own words, “I’m gonna touch the sky much longer than that.” You wrote that song more than ten years ago, dude. Do you STILL feel that same “hunger?” Do you STILL feel that you have something to prove? If not to others…then to yourself?
B.A.: Every single time I walk onto a stage…no matter how big or small…is a moment where I have to prove to myself and to others that I’m worthy to be up there. Every single time I sing or write a song, it HAS to meet my expectations. Not just for the moment, but for the long run. I need to be able to play a song I wrote 3 or 4 years ago and still like it. Every single time I make an album, it has to be better than the last…at least in my opinion. If you get on stage and you’re not going to be great, then what’s the point? I don’t need to chase the gold ring anymore…but I still have my personal expectations that I have to hit.
- C.C.: Among the many songs that you and your bandmates have penned, was there any particular one that you were proud of? I know the question is unfair as I see everything I write or paint as my “children. Pero you MUST have a favorite. Care to clue us in and why?
B.A.: We were always about albums. The album, as a whole, WAS the story…not just the individual songs. Right now, as far as albums go, my favorite is Villains because it was the last one we did. And it wasn’t the easiest to make. In fact, the odds were stacked so far in favor of that album being a total stinker that it’s a miracle it turned out as well as it did (in my humble opinion). But to be fair to the question, if I had to choose a favorite song, then it would be the FIRST I ever wrote for the band that made the cut. It’s purely for sentimental reasons - “Left Alone.” Because that’s where everything began. Another favorite is “Halik Ni Hudas” because that was the first time I read Mon’s lyrics and realized he had a gift for writing.
- C.C.: When I first got in touch with you, I made no secret that I thought the two greatest bands of the Nineties were the ‘Heads and yours. Tell me…does it bother you that, more and more, your two bands seem to be mentioned in the same breath? Does it piss you off that, in a manner of speaking, Wolfgang is considered the “Stones” to THEIR “Beatles”?
B.A.: Well I’ve never heard that before (the whole Stones/Beatles thing). But I think that’s cool. If someone compares you to the Stones, you take it. No…why would it bother me? I actually like that band. I’ve got most of their albums.
- C.C.: Finally, do you have any parting words for the Wolfgang faithful? People like me who have never quite forgotten your band and what it meant (and still means) to us?
B.A.: I guess the only thing I can say is thanks for keeping the fire alive. And I hope to hear you screaming at the next show. Ingat kayong lahat…bow.
-Christopher A. Carlos (C.C.)-
Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say
Waaaaay back in the 90s…before the “Inter-webs” had taken over life as we know it…there was a newspaper column called “Twisted” written by the loquacious Jessica Zafra. This great dame of the acid wit toiled, week in and week out, bestowing loyal readers with her thoughts. Her meditations. And her oft-browbeating opinions on that which we call “THE FILIPINO EXPERIENCE” (notice I used all caps there?). I do not believe, however, that she EVER knew what she unleashed on the unsuspecting masses (and in case she’s reading…yes Jessica…whether you like it or not, you HAVE procreated). She helped give birth to what we NOW call the “blog”…only she was publishing hers on paper. And a virtual legion of Pinoy smart-asses (like me) has followed in her wake.
On June 1997, she wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece on why we Pinoys live…even thrive…in a country that so many foreigners consider a perennial disaster zone. Here’s one particular gem:
“It’s easy to be mistaken for an intelligent being. Just speak in English, in an approximation of an American twang, and you’ll get by, even if your speech may be summed up in two words: ooga booga.”
Indeed, I laughed heartily. But what I never admitted…what I could NOT admit to myself…was that this little passage has plagued me for more than ten years. Why? Because it has always struck a little TOO close to home.
Before the elephant storming across the room threatens to trample me under the sheer weight of hypocrisy, let’s get this out of the way: I WRITE IN ENGLISH. And, if you will forgive my arrogance, I do what I do VERY. FUCKING. WELL. To hell with “false humility.” I am not ashamed to say that I am very proud of what I put down in print. So why the fuck is it that when one of my beloved Guijo ‘kids’ e-mails me, my subconscious reaction is to immediately apologize for being “eeenglish-espookening?” Not to say that any of them (even my adoptive U.P. brothers and sisters) have ever called me out on that shit…but really. Why this guilt?
I mean…damn…it’s not as if I’m alone in my linguistic identity crisis. Watch the news, for example, and listen to these politicians blather on (at length) about some bullshit bill they want to pass. Notice how said “trapo” gets all tongue-tied…taking long pauses…and mentally TRANSLATING his Tagalog thoughts. Why? Because he is operating under the presumption that if he speaks in English (mangled as the end-result may be), his words will imbibe a sense of gravitas and intellect. I cannot fathom how many remote controls I’ve broken, hurling them against the wall as I screamed at the television screen: “PUTANGINA MO! MAG TAGALOG KA NGA! BAKIT KA NAHIHIYA SA SARILI MONG WIKA!?! NAGMUMUKHA KANG TANGA!”
Which is not to say that it’s a generational thing (even though most of our senators DO look like they’ve got one foot in the grave). One of my favorite pastimes during high school was to take the car and “listen” to the conversations at a certain all-girls school based in Pasig. I know…I know. I’m being an insufferable, judgmental prick right now. But I DARE you not to laugh when you hear that familiar: “Hoy…mga bruha…let’s go outside and make tusok-tusok the fishballs! I’m, like, so GUTOM ngayon, pare.” Fucking spare me. Please. And it gets WORSE. What the HELL is: “LOL…k dude. I’ll C U L8r 2day, k? G-ho has gr8 bands 2nyt.” GAH!!! Text-speak! One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
So okay. Maybe I AM getting my panties in a twist here over something I cannot control. But I ask you to remember that, except for Mindanao, we ARE a very young nation. “National identity” is something we are still struggling with. We are no longer slaves to some foreign power. And…yes…we HAVE our own culture, art, literature and music. Ask yourselves, though: “where do we go from here?”
There is no question that Music is universal. But what about the lyrics? The majority of our bands compose in both English and Pilipino with varying degrees of success. So let’s not fuck around here. Let’s talk about, most likely, the GREATEST band our country has ever produced. Let’s talk about The Eraserheads.
I do NOT have to elucidate what Ely, Raimund, Marcus and Buddy meant…and still mean…to Pinoys the world over. But how do you even BEGIN to explain their significance to a foreigner? That the ‘Heads unleashed a wave that crashed on the shores of popular PINOY music…unleashing THOUSANDS of droplets personified in fledgling bands…well…that factoid is fairly simple enough to convey. So why is it that DESPITE an all-English release entitled “Aloha Milkyway,” Ely and the boys never really penetrated the foreign market?
The language barrier…yes. Some of their greatest songs were written SPECIFICALLY for US. Can you imagine trying to explain the significance of “isaw” in “Ligaya” to an American? How “Toyang” or “Tindahan Ni Aling Nena” are THE archetypical love stories? How double entendres like “T.L.” can alternately mean “true love” or “talagang libog” in “Pare Ko?” Or perhaps why the narrative in “Ang Huling El Bimbo” is indicative of a particular place and time in our long slog towards adulthood? That shit just does NOT translate. Believe me. I have tried.
Let’s not forget, though, that Ely was (and is) a rarity. He is that extraordinary diamond of a composer that CAN communicate in multiple languages. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Light Years.” Listen to “Shake Your Head.” Listen to the song that, I have always argued, MADE him a legend – “With A Smile.” All are songs that preached universal precepts of acceptance. Tolerance. Love. And…yes…all are sung in English. Quite articulately, in fact. So much for the language barrier. And STILL…The Eraserheads failed to break through that glass ceiling Filipino artists have struggled so long to break through: world-wide recognition. Because non-Filipinos JUST DO NOT GET IT. Language aside…his subject matter was just TOO SPECIFIC.
And it pains me to say so.
More than 100 years ago, Jose Rizal said: “Ang taong hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay masahol pa sa mabaho at malansang isda.”
Fair play to my soul daddy (my expatriate life bears some VERY disturbing similarities to HIS). But even THAT quote required a loose amalgamation on my part. Before you Rizalistas crucify me, bear in mind that there are more than 10 different versions of this little proverb. Consider this, my friends. What language did our national hero write in? Did you know, in FACT, that he needed his big bro Paciano to TRANSLATE the Spanish manuscripts into Tagalog? Scholars will argue that Jose wrote in a “foreign” language because he was trying to reach a broader audience. Bringing international light to the atrocities that were being perpetuated in his homeland by the clergy. But if YOU were the writer (which he undoubtedly was)…and you had a lot of spare time in your hands (which he did)…would YOU let someone else (even a brother) re-interpret words that YOU painstakingly assembled? For all of his brilliance, Rizal knew his own weaknesses better than the rest of us: I BELIEVE HE DIDN’T THINK IN TAGALOG. What language did he learn to speak and write in? More importantly…WHO taught him? Do you think those friars would denigrate themselves by conversing…much less TEACHING…in Tagalog (or, if you want to be politically-correct about it,”Pilipino”)? These were the tools that his education provided him – the masterful ability of manipulating words with panache, élan and breathtaking elegance. It just so happened that these words were NOT in his native tongue.
And yet for all our laudatory praises, we must not forget that…IN THE END…he spoke to a DEFINITIVELY Pinoy audience. Cite Twain to non-Pinoys and you get much nodding of heads. Mention Rizal and all I ever get are blank stares.
Christ…I feel the shitstorm of e-mail replies coming in now. But I will endeavor to plow on.
I wish I COULD write my shit in Tagalog. I REALLY DO. With as much care, attitude and je ne sais-fucking-quoi. But I can’t. And I regret that with all my being. Because whereas I can speak (and curse) fluently in our mother tongue, I find that having to mentally translate before putting pen to paper slows me down. Should that last statement label me a “sell-out” and a “race-traitor”…well…you are, of course, entitled to your opinion.
It all boils down to the issue of national identity. What does it mean to be Pinoy? Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?
I’m not trying to close any doors here for our musicians who aspire to…who covet… international success. I HONESTLY think our artists are some of the most gifted, talented people that this world has ever seen. But it’s all about RELEVANCE. CONTEXT. I write in English. But YOU ALL understand PRECISELY what I am saying BECAUSE you have the same experiences. POSSIBLY even the same thoughts. Just like Jose Rizal. And just like The Eraserheads.
MUSIC IS JUST ANOTHER WAY OF COMMUNICATING.
The question is…JUST WHO EXACTLY ARE YOU TRYING TO REACH? WHO ARE YOU SPEAKING TO? WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE? AND, ULTIMATELY, ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE ONE THAT YOU CURRENTLY HAVE?
If I have posed more queries than provided concrete solutions, it is because I am STILL trying to hash things out for myself. This is a HUGE subject to tackle. I could write a goddamned book on it. My only real contention? You MUST write, speak and/or compose in the language you feel most comfortable with. Do NOT let something so transitory and silly as words limit your powers of expression. Write in Swahili for all I fucking care. Make up your OWN dialect like Sigur Ros. Language, in my opinion, is a disposable art. It was only EVER invented as a temporary means of getting our point across. You MUST say what you mean. Because only then can you truly mean what you say. Now whether that language is English or Pilipino…well…only YOU can answer that.
…it’s something to think about.
-Christopher A. Carlos (C.C.)
THE SOCIAL CONTRACT OF A GIG or
WHY IT IS WRONG TO THROW A BOTTLE OF MINERAL WATER AT A PERFORMER IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING SONG
So as it was my birthday a few weeks ago, I decided to make a long-distance phone call to Angelo. Among other things, we, of course, spoke about the club. “How’s business?” “What’s the crowd like lately?” “What kind of stuff are my beloved Guijo ‘kids’ into these days?” Typical crap that ANY prodigal member of a community tends to wonder about during prolonged absences. He assured me all was well but for one prickly subject matter.
I asked: “How are the bands being treated by the audience?”
He responded: “Good naman…at least nothing like the Marc Abaya thing…”
Waitaminutetherebub. Ex-squeeze me!?! “WHAT fucking ‘Marc Abaya’ thing?”
Now… I don’t want you Guijo newbies (much less you virgins) to get the wrong idea about our little venue. Trust me. I KNOW what it was/is like to be a young kid trying DESPERATELY to cajole some parental figure into thinking going to a Rock club doesn’t NECESSARILY mean getting into trouble, taking soft drugs, being beaten to a pulp by the resident jologs and having kinky, unprotected sex in the bathroom. Or at least not in that order.
We are justifiably proud that saGuijo has only ever had THREE “incidents” in our more than five years of existence. I don’t know about you but that’s a pretty good track record when you consider some blowhard writers out there continually INSIST that “Rakenrol” is all about “danger.” And these are the so-called educated, “smart” people, right? People who fancy themselves “veterans” of the scene. Imagine, though, what happens when LESSER idiots buy into this self-defeating credo. “Taking risks” is one thing, “bro.” But transforming yourself into some knuckle-dragging Neanderthal out to cause trouble for trouble’s sake is just plain out of order. Fucktards like you should be left in the gutter where you belong. Or at least stay the hell out of OUR place.
I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about Marc Abaya.
Here’s the thing about Marc. We know who he is. We know something of his romantic entanglements. We know what band he USED to play for. We know about the rumors (and they ARE just rumors) that he quit said band SPECIFICALLY because he wanted to be a VJ. We know that it wasn’t exactly a move that endeared him to the Indie crowd AT THE TIME. We know he eventually came back into the fold with a band (or two) of his own. And we know that he is currently an actor in some telenovela. Fair play to him. PERSONALLY, I (not Angelo, not Dan…just ME) was never much a fan of his Music. Nevertheless, I always admired the guy for his sheer audacity. More to the point, I am not arrogant enough to think that MY taste in Music is the only one that matters. Yes he lost a little bit of his street “cred.” He was certainly something of an anathema for a good few years…a cautionary tale of “what NOT to do if you don’t want to be labeled a sell-out.” I DO stress, however…I ALWAYS respected the guy for having the balls to step out of his comfort zone.
Flash forward to 2008 and there he was with a semi-regular gig at saGuijo. One particular night, his band’s set was…shall we say…”disturbed” by a drunken cretin in the audience. From what I gather, the moron in question was not your garden-variety cynic. Nor was he just belligerent. Short of storming the stage and unplugging the amps, this sorry excuse for a turd seemed out to RUIN Abaya’s gig from the moment it started. And, unfortunately, he DID. Whether or not well-meaning “regulars” later dragged the heckler out into the parking lot and gave him EXACTLY what he deserved, I am SURE Marc went home that night regretting he ever performed in the first place.
A few days ago, I was surfing through YOUTUBE for Guijo bands when I came upon another such occurrence. Only THIS time, it happened during a large gig in Bacolod…and to a band that I actually LIKE.
That Bacolod is a lovely place full of wonderful people, there is no question. Alas, a band like Chicosci (from what I have seen and heard) has always managed to illicit the most polar of reactions from gig-goers. Some are zealously devoted. Others (like me) are casual fans. And then there are the detractors…the “haters” who, over the years, have grown bolder and more vocal with their disdain.
Now, I’ve only ever met the boys in passing. The first time I was introduced to Mong Alcaraz, he barely glanced in my direction as we shook hands. I mean, who the fuck am I, right? Just another “owner” of a hole-in-the-wall that his group HAPPENED to play in? My last ‘encounter’ (if you can even call it that) consisted of Miggy Chavez and Carlos Calderon flanking me as we watched an At The Drive In-esque band perform from Guijo’s patio area. So nope…we’re not “buddies” or anything like that. Not even close. But I have always kept a very close eye on the trajectory of their career…particularly as pertains to the Music they have chosen to make.
Therein, I believe, is the reason why Chicosci has ALWAYS provoked such a varied spectrum of opinions. Bluntly put, they have an UNCANNY knack for composing songs that just HAPPEN to mirror Rock trends of any given time. When they started, it was Rap-Metal (I ADORE “Amen” by the way, guys…hook me up with a performance next time I’m in town should the spirit move you). A few years ago, their album betrayed (whether they admit it or not) the influence of The Used and (to an extent) MCR. Boatloads of “critics” have accused them of being “band-wagon” jumpers. But hell, I will concede that I cracked a little more than a smile when I saw them playing a cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” Because you know what that proves? They are, without a shadow of a doubt, unapologetic Music fans…and pilyo enough to put their own spin on the current Pop hits of the day.
Hindi sila cover band. They are just savvy enough to have a choke-hold on what the kids want. Wanna know the last band that had that kind of sensibility? Four words: Ely, Raymund, Marcus, Buddy. Sounds like a leap, I know, but I stand by my words. And so what if Chicosci couldn’t give a flying fart about some obscure Pink Floyd B-Side? I love Encounters With a Yeti. But even Ponchie Buenavista will acknowledge that “Populist,” marketable takes on Music are JUST AS NECESSARY if our industry ever wishes to move forward. To each their own, diba?
The Bacolod incident, however, got under my skin.
From what I watched, the gig was going fairly well. The majority of the crowd was vibing. All-around fun. But I DID hear a minuscule faction of the audience cat-calling Chicosci. Doing immature shit like flipping them the middle finger. To his credit, Miggy tried to make light of the situation. “Huwag naman ganyan, pare. Magagalit si Michael Jackson sa inyo. Peace lang tayo dito.” So the show continued. But then it happened. Some anonymous, nano-dicked kupal hurled a water bottle from the audience and nearly smacked Mong dead in the face. Understandably, the boys got upset. The situation steadily deteriorated and were it not for some quick words from Raymund Marasigan, I think it all could have gotten very ugly indeed.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I am an advocate of free speech. I mean, shit, if I had a nickel for every time some cunt of a rival-venue owner took offense at my words, I would be a VERY rich man. But a line has to be drawn SOMEWHERE.
When a gig happens, BOTH performer and patron enter an unspoken social contract. An audience member, by virtue of the cover charge they pay, has the RIGHT to either like or dislike any given band. No harm or foul in standing at the back of the club, looking bored and muttering, “man…these guys suck donkey ass.” The BAND, on the other hand, have the responsibility to ACCEPT this ambivalence and take it in stride (as Miggy and Marc ATTEMPTED to do with their little jokes). As performers, they know well enough that it comes with the territory. When you put yourself out there…when you EXPOSE yourself to the scrutiny and vulnerability that public performance brings…you really have no choice. Ganoon lang talaga ang buhay ng artista. Not everyone will necessarily love you. That shit’s an airtight FACT.
But when does it become something else? When does casual heckling cross the line and become something obnoxious? Or, even worse, harmful?
When is it TOO MUCH?
When you cause trouble at a performance, your disrespect is multiplied three-fold:
01 You disrespect the band. Before you act like a monkey, ask yourself…is it worth it? What purpose could throwing a water bottle at some guitarist POSSIBLY serve? Does it make you more of a man? Does it make you harder? Guma-guwapo ka ba? Astig ka ba dahil gina-gago mo ang mga musikero natin? Will the girls cream their pants and fall on their knees with their mouths agape because you decided to “express” your manhood through a pointless act of brutality? And done from the safe confines of a largely anonymous crowd at that?
Think about it. Do you REALLY think these bands are making enough money to live like archetypical American Rock stars? ‘Chong…nasa Pilipinas tayo. Our bands are lucky to even GET a regular gig…much less one that pays a decent wage. What these musicians do…they do out of love. Yun lang talaga ang hilig nila. They get a kick out of it, you know? Yet you, in your less-than-infinite wisdom, decide to RUIN it for them by acting like a prick out to HURT somebody? Boo all you want. It’s part of the game. But if you can’t keep your ass in check, then at least have the basic decency to step outside and smoke a cigarette while the band finishes its set.
02 You disrespect the audience. I know it’s difficult…I know it’s hard…but get this through that melon you call a skull: none of us paid the cover charge to watch YOU make a spectacle of yourself. Again, you can boo all you want. Walk out in the middle of a song for all I care. But do not…I repeat…DO NOT disrupt the performance. Just because you don’t like something, does it necessarily mean that nobody else can either? Look to your left. Look to your right. Chances are, you are the only morose motherfucker within spitting distance. And if that IS the case, then haul your butt elsewhere. Nobody likes a party-pooper. So why act like a spoiled BRAT and rain on everyone else’s parade by threatening bodily harm? WHY BE SELFISH? Are you THAT fucking miserable? Maybe you should have just stayed at home. Go jerk off to some magazines. It’ll probably be more productive.
03 You disrespect yourself. Hayop ka ba? Violence MET WITH violence is sheer hypocrisy. But should OTHERS in the crowd get sick of your shit and decide to beat your ass in the parking lot, well…whose fault is that? If you don’t want to be treated like an animal, then stop acting like one.
I enjoy a good time. A bit of controlled chaos never hurt anybody. And, by nature, that is PRECISELY what a Music gig SHOULD be. Freedom condensed into a few hours of drink, dance and good-spirited debauchery. The point is to have fun. But NEVER at the expense of others. It’s kinda like old-school politics of Punk slam-dancing. You can be as wild as you want. But when you DO knock someone down, you at least make an effort to pick the poor shmuck back up. A gig these days should THEORETICALLY be no different. Letting loose DOESN’T mean that you are afforded a sense of entitlement. I am not setting rules here. I mean… putangina…ako pa!?! But whereas other venues couldn’t give two shits what you do at their place so long as you fork over your dough, I have ALWAYS cherished the notion that our ramshackle little community at saGuijo is special because it already KNOWS what I am, just now, committing to print.
In Miggy Chavez’s own words: “Pare-pareho lang tayo dito.”
We are all the same. Many people brought together by that most beautiful and indefinable of forces:
Let's keep it that way.
-Christopher A. Carlos (C.C.)-
A Great Notion:
SaGuijo Celebrates Five
Years of Pain, Perseverance and Pandemonium
drawing a blank here.
mean…really…what is there to say when
I have spent the last five years (more or less)
writing down everything I FELT about Music and putting
it out there? Damn the consequences and go at it
"full tilt." I have written down every
little thought. Chronicled every single brain-fart.
And committed every bloody estimation to print…solicited
is not to say that I ever asserted I was ever doing
anything of great consequence here. I mean…really…the
whole messianic complex of certain so-called "writers"
out there is, frankly, nauseating. Wanna know WHY
nobody gives a fuck about what you say? Because
of your haughtiness. Your self-importance. Your
annoying habit of talking DOWN to your peers. Because
you, in that miniscule turd that you call a brain,
have SOMEHOW managed to delude yourself in to thinking
that YOUR opinion is stone-cold fact. A little élan
now and then never hurt anyone. But nobody likes
a pretentious show-off.
you trick yourself into READING your own press?
Buddy, you are in deep doo-doo.
kahit kailan, hindi ko sinabi na ang saGuijo ay
mas maganda o mas importante sa mga ibang lugar
dyan. Kung malakas o ma-angas ang tono ko sa pagsusulat,
pasensya ka na lang. Ganoon lang ang takbo ng utak
this brings to mind a drunken conversation with
Jesus Pernas (one of our intrepid photographers
and a card-carrying member of the O.G.C. - Original
Guijo Crowd) during Angelo's wedding reception a
year ago. 'Sus… perceptive guy that he is…sat
down beside my inebriated best-man ass. Siguro nakita
nya sa mukha ko. Or perhaps my "write-ups"
at the time had just been so utterly transparent.
In any case, he took it upon himself to say:
worry, Chris. That original crowd? That original
PREMISE that you fight so hard to keep alive? It
will all come back. Sooner or later."
know he meant well. But it really got me thinking
about things. Bullshit. It forced me to take a good,
long look…to re-evaluate…what saGuijo
is all about. What it has ALWAYS been about. And
what is has since become.
it is always about the Music."
the years, a battalion of "people-in-the-know"
has tried to poke holes in this humble idea of ours.
Our (or at least MY) usual response has been to
flip them the middle finger. Why? Because these
same people JUST DO NOT GET IT.
we want…all we have EVER wanted…was
to find a way to REPAY our musicians for all they
have given us through the years. What we have ATTEMPTED
to do was to show our gratitude by providing an
open forum for ideas to flow and ebb without fear
of reprisal. Because our Music…our audience…and
our bands…deserve no less.
not our job to spoon-feed you these bands. It will
get messy. It will get ugly. But it will be glorious
all the same. Yes, you may have to prepare yourself
to take this journey…but the rewards far outweigh
the toll. What you get, my beloved saGuijo crowd,
is Music in its purest form. No fancy lights. No
"production values." No fucking elevated
stage, come to think about it. We never set out
to be some showcase….some miniature Music-Museum.
Quite frankly, we never had the money for that type
really…how many places can you watch a Raimund
Marasigan one moment…and drink a beer with
him the next?
are out to kill the cult of the "Rock-star."
get me wrong here. They deserve to get paid…and
paid handsomely, at that. But our little scene is
so marginalized that all we can hope for, at this
point, is a cycle of self-perpetuation and rebirth.
To infuse the industry with new talent. To HELP
create new bands by inspiring audience members to
pick up a guitar, bass or microphone. Just ask Taken
By Cars, for example. We didn't plant the seed in
Sarah and the boys' heads. But, if they will forgive
my presumption in saying so, we certainly helped
water the blossom once in a while.
mutating into performers. It's a beautiful thing.
it is always about the Music?" Maybe. But I
think I was just too much of a pussy in 2004 to
clarify that. So here it is. SaGuijo is where it
is always about the YOUTH.
are not businessmen (or at least I'm not). But we
are in the business of channeling youthful passion,
angst and glory into popular/alternative Music.
The problem is that our Pinoy Music industry is
dominated by the baby-boomers and older. People
over 40 whose idea of "good tunes" is
frakkin' Tom Jones or Frank Sinatra. Old geezers
who even consider Juan De La Cruz and The Eraserheads
as "flashes in the pan." Trends. Transitory
distractions that we of Gen X, Y and the Millenials
will ultimately tire of. So let's just get this
out of the way.
parents and grandparents? We may adore and respect
them but, goddamnit, they will NEVER think that
we are capable of making our own decisions. WE,
in their infinite "wisdom," just don't
know any better. That's just the nature of the game.
age-ism. Pure and simple. Were it limited to the
"entertainment" industry, perhaps it wouldn't
be so bad. But seriously…have you ever watched
the news and wondered WHY a full 90 % of the senate
and congress are faces we have been seeing since
the Marcos era? WHY the titans of industry and masters
of commerce are ALL old enough to consider the fucking
Beatles' hair to be "too long?" I love
my country but, putangina, NOTHING ever changes.
the people setting the "rules"…the
people preaching a whole system of "delikadeza"…the
people TELLING us the "proper" way of
"how things are done"…NEVER changes.
ask you folks under 40 - aren't you sick of it?
While WE struggle in call-centers or emigrate abroad
to make a decent living, these fatcats are rolling
in the dough… running The Philippines in any
conceivable way they see fit. Politically. Economically.
Culturally. Because THEY have the money. THEY have
the power. And while THEY dictate the terms by which
we live by, all WE can ever hope for is survival.
in the mirror and ask yourself…are you HAPPY
with that? This pathetic excuse of a birthright?
can hear the cynics now. "Will our actions
really amount to anything in the long-run? CAN we
make a difference?" To be honest with you,
I don't know. Because I can keep writing this agit-prop
pseudo-propaganda 'til the cows come home. But when
it comes down to it, there is strength in numbers.
And that's where the saGuijo crowd comes in.
not asking any of you for a revolution.
I am BEGGING for you is to simply realize is this:
IS OUR TURN. THIS IS OUR TIME. AND TO ENACT MEANINGFUL
CHANGE, WE MUST FIRST CHANGE THE WAY WE THINK.
will ever come of us sitting on our hands and mindlessly
accepting every fucking crumb the Establishment
deems worthy to throw our way. The change will not
come overnight. But we can at least make our intentions
heard through two nights of our Music. It's so painfully
simple. Coz' you know what? Our "noise"
has ALWAYS freaked out the straights anyway. In
THEIR eyes, our get-togethers are hedonistic free-for-alls
where we drink ourselves into oblivion.
prefer to think of it as a clarion-call of sorts.
A gathering of the tribes. A simple party where
we declare that we are NOT alone.
Considering that the average lifespan of a restaurant
or bar runs around eight months, five years seems
like a hell of a long time. Let the corporate-sponsored
venues laugh at how we do things in our little venue…but
hey. We've outlasted even our strongest competitors.
And we did it on OUR terms. With OUR system of values.
So here is what I propose. These will be two nights
to let loose. Two nights of music, madness and mayhem.
Style, substance and sound. Carousing, catharsis
and community. Fun. Fanaticism. But most of all…freedom.
It is with these thoughts that we PROUDLY invite
you to "Sometimes A Great
Notion: SaGuijo Celebrates Five Years of Pain, Perseverance
and Pandemonium." On Friday,
May 29, 9PM, unwind with Swissy,
Us-2-Evil-0, The Ronnies, Musical O, Valley of Chrome,
Faspitch, Salamin, Peryodico, Hansom, Join The Club,
SpongeCola, Greyhoundz and Radioactive Sago Project.
On Saturday, May 30,
be blown away by the likes of Good Morning
High Fives, Camerawalls, The Dorques, Sleepwalk
Circus, Paramita, Techy Romantics, Out Of Body Special,
Angulo, Drip, Taken By Cars, Razorback and UpDharmaDown.
Come early. We hope to see you all there.
humblest of ideas can amount to nothing. On the
flipside, it can end up meaning everything. The
important thing is that Angelo, Dan and I learn
to let go. To let "the little venue that could"
fulfill its potential. Things will run its course.
One way or another.
saGuijo belongs to all of YOU…well…the
next five years will determine whether this strange
social experiment has actually worked. You will
ultimately decide whether all this hand-wringing
and theorizing this has meant anything. But you
know what? None of you folks have ever disappointed
us. So really, there isn't anything else I can possibly
say but this:
you production companies. To you patrons. To you
are so very grateful to be along for the ride.
empathy and rakenrol…
-Christopher A. Carlos (C.C.)-
Baby Here Comes The Sound!
Very saGuijo Tribute To My Chemical Romance
what I never got…
exactly did "EMO" become such a bad word?
mean…Christ… it's gotten mind-numbingly
funny how the same exact scenesters who wear "the
uniform" ALSO happen to throw gargantuan hissy
fits the moment someone calls a spade a spade. Or,
in this case, an "Emo Kid." Let's face
it. The clothing style ain't that inconspicuous.
Converse All-Stars or clunky boots? Black. Skinny,
four-in-hand ties or slightly ironic band shirts?
Black. Hoodies? Black. Brushed-forward bangs and
too-tight-for-your-scrotum jeans? Black. Oh…and
don't forget mommy's missing eyeliner. Blackblackblackblack.
Black. Darth-bloody-Vader. Ladies and gentlemen…Mr.
teasing, of course.
I'll let you in on a not-so dirty little secret.
Chemical Romance? NOT an Emo band. I shit you not.
hardcore Punk and Grunge adherents actually believe
that they're something WORSE. Three words, my friends.
Bon. Fucking. Jovi. Yes indeed…MCR is, arguably,
the current authority on all things "Arena
about it. Really. You got the make-up. You have
the flamboyant costumes (particularly during the
"Black Parade" era). They CERTAINLY have
a "semi-safe" image…so much so that
going to their larger concerts has become no more
threatening than your average family picnic. Last
gig I went to, I SWEAR the audience demographic
was split evenly down the middle: half parents…half
children. The theatricality. The pomp. The circumstance.
Not to mention the songs! The infectious, easy to
dance along to guitar hooks. The larger-than life
choruses. The anthemic melodies with lyrics EVERYONE
can sing along to. Sure they're Jersey boys as well…pero…I
find the "Bon Jovi" tag a little…unfair.
guess it comes back to a semi-lucid conversation
I had with Dredd's Hank Palenzuela at my favorite
after-hours haunt…BigSkyMind. It was early
morning. Angelo and I had closed down our Makati
digs in favor of a nightcap closer to the New Manila
home we had grown up in. Having flown in from the
States only a few hours earlier, perhaps my excessive
drinking wasn't the cleverest of ideas. Something
confirmed by the fact that I eventually threw up
all over the bar (I'm STILL really sorry about that
Cindy…I meant no disrespect and I am MORTIFIED
that I don't even remember the incident. Feel free
to ban me for life but I WILL be sad indeed as I
still consider YOUR establishment my forever "happy-place").
to blowing chunks…Hank walks in fresh as a
daisy. At three in the morning, mind you. Somehow,
we got to talking about the upcoming MCR gig over
at The Fort. The free tequila shots had loosened
my tongue at that point, but I CLEARLY recall stating…with
absolute vehemence…the following nugget:
dude. My Chemical Romance? If this generation even
came CLOSE to having a Freddie Mercury and a Queen…THEY
would be it."
Blasphemy! And you have the NERVE to help run a
didn't say that. Not exactly.
man…if you were down to your last twenty dollars.
And Freddie was still alive. And someone gave you
the choice of watching either him or Gerard Way,
look me in the eye and tell me who you would pick."
I stand by my opinion. At least in the loosest sense.
Because much as Queen, MCR and Bon Jovi ALL have
those Arena Rock similarities, there is one thing
that sets Mercury's group and Way's band head and
shoulders ABOVE Jon's crappy little outfit:
are more than welcome to think otherwise…but
I never BELIEVED a word of "oh…whoa…we're
halfway there…oh…whoa…living on
a pray-ah." Not when compared to Freddie's
emotionally strained…yet unbelievably effortless…delivery
when he sang "but touch my tears with your
lips…touch my world with your fingertips….and
we can have forever." And CERTAINLY not in
the face of Way's earnest, heart-wrenching chant
of "I am not afraid to keep on living…I
am not afraid to walk this world alone." There
IS a difference between CORNY and INSPIRATIONAL.
The rub? To be able to identify one from the other.
I don't believe in artifice. Pretense. False sincerity.
I hate fakes. I despise phonies. And so should you.
much for Bon Jovi.
years have been long…unkind for the most part…but
I still remember the first time I heard of My Chemical
Romance. I remember them opening for Green Day…booed
off the stage for their lackluster stage performances.
I remember them double-headlining small clubs with
The Used and subsequently being blown away by the
latter's frenetic energy. I remember their second
album…written entirely in memory of Gerard
and Mikey Way's cancer-stricken grandmother. A collection
of songs Angelo and I have held very close to our
chests. Mostly, I remember watching these five guys
from the middle of nowhere…BARELY able to
play a song proficiently…and yet climbing…slowly…but
surely…to the top of the charts. Conquering
the world as I'm SURE the majority of you in the
saGuijo crowd bore witness to at the Fort. Seriously.
What could be more stirring than THAT? It is in
this uplifting spirit that we PROUDLY invite you
to "Oh Baby Here Comes The Sound: A Very saGuijo
Tribute to My Chemical Romance." Special guests
include April Morning Skies, Turbo Goth,
Stonefree, Danita, Angulo, and MORE...
MARCH 28, 2009 show starts at 9 p.m.
come one…come all…