Hear it is

Yagi Olaguera

“Hear it is” is a series of interviews with musicians, transcribed here as oral histories. We talk about what they do and what they’ve done, and what has changed since they started making music.

Every Band Mentioned in this Article

Cog and Baathis
Faith No More
Wilson Phillips
Guns ‘n Roses
The Flaming Lips
Death Cab for Cutie
The Clash
Tame the Tikbalang
Pus Vomit, Down from the Wound, and Sauna
Loads of Motherhood
Kabaong ni Kamatayan and Stela Mariz
…And a lot of bands that didn’t make it

I was never really introduced to Yagi Olaguera, but he may have taken my order at some point when he was working at a cafe called Baci (formerly encomium), on Katipunan. I recognized him from the rare times that Cog would play tamer sets for tamer lineups at friendlier venues, and somehow we ended up following each other on Livejournal (which is awesome! LJ! LJ! LJ!!!). Since then, we’ve worked together on New Slang and Geek Fight, both of which are a far cry from what he does in the metal scene. This is why I wanted to hear him talk about this other side of himself.
This interview was recorded on July 28, 2012.

I am Yagi Olaguera and during the day, I teach English to foreigners, I write and I edit, and I’m now a financial adviser for Manulife (which is one of the weirdest jobs I’ve ever had). I’m also the vocalist for Cog, a metal band. I don’t know what kind of metal we are. I never figured it out. I’m also involved in a bunch of other weird projects, like a black metal band called Baathis.

I can trace my current taste in music to the first time I heard Faith No More’s Angel Dust. I heard it when I was probably in 6th or 7th grade, at a time when music for me was pretty easy to categorize. Back then I was already listening to stuff like Guns and Roses, but when I heard Faith No More, I was like, “What the fuck is this?” And it really didn’t sit well with me for some reason that there were all these things going on that didn’t really fit in together, but afterwards I learned that I enjoyed it. And to this day, I think that’s what I enjoy about music – it’s ability to both surprise and disturb us, to say something different. And I think it also helped that I felt it was one of the most bitter and hateful albums that I’ve ever heard.

I’m not completely sure about this, but one of the first albums that I ever bought with my own money would be the self-titled Wilson Phillips debut album, which I can sing along to, to this day. I know it totally removes whatever cred I have in anything, but I am not ashamed to say that.

Probably around the same time, I also bought Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction. Everybody was listening to it then. I’m not sure if I’ve ever bought a New Kids on the Block album but I bought an MC Hammer album! I actually bought the other MC Hammer records before, but it wasn’t with my own money.

The songs and albums I’ve always loved are best enjoyed with…BITTERNESS AND FEAR!…No. I find that some of the albums I really love, I enjoy listening to at very specific times. I remember when I first listened to Yoshimi by the Flaming Lips, I was on the train. So for me, that’s always been a train album. I find that when I listen to certain albums, they get stuck to certain situations.

One of my favourite albums of all time is Isis’s Oceanic, which I first heard in its entirety when I had a hangover. And I was listening to it, and I was like, “Wow, I can finally listen to a metal album with a hangover.” There’s a lot like that, like some Squarepusher songs that remind me of Antipolo for example. That’s also the reason I can’t listen to a lot of Death Cab for Cutie, because I always heard a lot of Death Cab for Cutie when I was fighting with my ex.

Music has always been a solitary thing for me, unless it’s at a concert. When I listen to some songs, I don’t necessarily enjoy them as much when I’m listening to them with other people. It’s a very…lonely thing to know. I would have just said “pot” if you asked me this question when I was in college, though.

I don’t really think I’m a musician, but I started out as a musician with my first band: a ska-punk band when I was in high school. This was in 1997 or 1996, and we covered a couple of Rancid and Operation Ivy songs. I always wanted to play bass, and I still kind of want to, and I still have a bass lying around. And I still have to really learn.

There weren’t really a lot of bands in our batch, and I had a couple of friends who also wanted to play. We were joined by one of our Math teachers who liked The Clash, but he was also a really horrible guitar player and he never learned the songs we wanted to play, so he just kind of solo’d over them. We never really had a name though. We had two gigs, both of them were high school gigs in Ateneo, and we had different names for each one which included whatever pop culture references were relevant at the time. We had a really long name that included Jojo Veloso and Bananas and Pajamas, stuff like that. But that was really short-lived…

I really had no clue what the scene was back then. I really didn’t, until I started going to Dredd in 4th year high school because my cousins were in Cheese and I’d met the people in Greyhoundz. I started hanging out in Dredd a lot because of that, and that’s when I started meeting the people from the hardcore scene. This was also the first time I got exposed to bands like Skychurch and Loads of Motherhood and a lot of the other bands that didn’t really get anywhere.

Also, one of the things that was pivotal in high school was when I watched a very early incarnation of Badburn—at the Miriam High School fair of all places. And Marben scared the shit out of me! He was getting mad at the people for sitting down, as he still does now. And that really made an impression on me, and I thought, “Wow, we can play that kind of stuff.”

The scene was very small then, so not only were there just a few bands playing music, there weren’t even a lot of places to play…Well, there was Dredd, but they were very selective about who got to play there; until the pay-to-play thing, which I think was one of the things that killed Dredd. It started becoming pay-to-play, I think in the last year.

I remember though that there were always gigs in Marikina, like at Killa John’s…from Tame the Tikbalang, his place had a rooftop and there would be punk gigs there. Aside from that, I think people just made do with what they had, making it very difficult. I heard a lot of things about the mid-90s, like how a gig could just be a couple of amps in a basketball court, and they’d always get stopped.

In terms of the audience, it’s a bigger audience now. There’s more people listening to a lot of different kinds of music. I think, in the 90s, there would only be few people who had the kind of access to music that we have now. A lot of the stuff that I wanted to hear or wanted to get a hold of, parang pupunta pa akong Recto para bumili. So it was a lot more difficult back then. People were a lot more elitist back then. They weren’t as open-minded with music: a lot of people who listened to certain things were like, “I like this…but you don’t know this” which still exists right now. There’s a lot of that in the punk scene. I still meet a lot of people in the punk scene who like to name drop a lot.

When we’re booked in the provinces, it still surprises us how active the scenes in these places are. I remember we played in Baras (which is in Rizal, I think two towns down from Antipolo), it was crazy, because I think a lot of the bands that came from around the Rizal area came to play. And it’s not like they’re all from the same neighborhood or anything, but they were all very well-connected and they all knew each other. It’s been very interesting to meet all the small pockets of metal and hardcore scenes, and a lot of it has to do with greater access, where people get to download and connect. There’s always been a lot of zines and tape trading, especially in the punk and metal scene, and I found I got to know a lot of the metal bands through there.

A lot of them would disown us now, but when we started out, bands in the hardcore and metal scene were very supportive. Exchange with different countries was already active then, but now I think it’s more pronounced. It’s easier to get stuff from the Philippines now, which also makes it easier to get signed abroad – like for Pus Vomit, a grindcore band from Davao, also Down from the Wound: both are signed to labels in the States. Sauna, from Batangas, are also signed, so there’s a lot of that. Also, some of the older bands now are more accepting of the younger bands. And there’s probably 5 times as many more bands now, which also makes it difficult to make any sort of dent.

Over the past twelve years or so, recording has just become so much easier. When we started out, the way to go about it was to record a shitty demo, which you could do easily because there were a lot of studios that had a mixing board where you could just record straight to tape, or to a four-track. You could also do that live…although it will still sound shitty. A lot of the demos you hear recorded now actually sound better than a lot of what were actual recordings of bands in the 90s. I always notice how, especially metal and hardcore bands, always sounded shitty in recordings, like they mixed the bass and the bass drums wrong.

A lot of the demos done by kids right now sound a lot better because it’s a lot easier to record. The thing is, if you know what you want to do, you have no excuse to not do it. Not that it’s right, or legal, but you can just download some recording software and make a pretty decent sounding demo with some tutorial video off YouTube. It’s also so much easier to cover up your mistakes with autotune, which everybody uses right now, not just R&B musicians.

We were actually able to record in analog before, in Tracks in Pasig, and it was such a nightmare. It was so difficult to track, you had to go back and forth. Now, all you need to do is just play it, and if you’re too lazy to play it, you can just manipulate it digitally, and everything would still sound tight. At the same time though, since everything can just be manipulated digitally, it’s also easier to make bad bands sound good. Like a band could sound really good on record, but when you watch them live it’s like…uh…they suck. So there’s that.

I remember the first time we went into the studio people already told us–because it was analog–to make sure we practiced all our parts, make sure you get everything down pat, because you’re gonna waste time. You paid by hour, and 900 an hour back then (about 20 USD), with the inflation rate, was no joke. Now you don’t need that. You don’t need to be that great. You can have as many takes as you want without worrying about the tape screwing up, which makes it really interesting to watch a band like Skychurch–who recorded two albums back in the analog days–when they record, because they get everything done so much quicker. They’re used to having one take and they’re done.

I’m not sure if anybody knows how to market and distribute…everyone’s still trying to figure out how to do it. Distribution’s easier, you just put it out on the internet, and then everybody has access to it. But marketing it and actually trying to make money out of it though? That’s a bit more difficult and I think everybody’s trying to figure out what the answer is. What’s interesting though is you have places like bandcamp—because to get on iTunes you have to go through so much stuff—which make it relatively easier for the artist to actually monetize their music. I try to stay away from that part because I don’t understand it. As far as I’m concerned, and I know the boss from our label would not agree, I just want the music out and if they download it for free, then that’s fine with me.

I think that right now the answer is selling merch is the way to go: actual physical stuff that you can’t download, like a shirt. Like with Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor’s always saying, “download our stuff, and buy a shirt.”

What people are also trying to figure out is how to go to other markets, aside from the Philippines. It’s still a small market here, and people have more access to that option now, with some more successful than others.

Photo from Namatay sa Ingay, one of the rare attempts to document the local punk and hardcore scenes: http://www.geocities.ws/namataysaingay/main.htm

It’s weird, because I don’t think there’s actually a big enough music press, locally. For one, you’d think there would be more music blogs, but there are just a few. A lot of the people online are trying to do the same thing, and what’s lacking are music blogs that are actually well-maintained.

The thing is it’s very difficult to do press and publicity–especially in the metal and hardcore scenes–without someone getting pissed off. And saying someone “sold out” because they advertised or got press somewhere is still a thing, but that kind of thinking is fading right now, so that’s good.

I wish there were more places to actually promote stuff, to send our music and give more avenues for publicity. When we release new music, we don’t know where to review it. We don’t know where to go. You have traditional media like Pulp magazine, and their audience still fits into what we do, but there aren’t enough blogs.

What I can say about history and icons, at least in the metal scene, is that for the most part it hasn’t been documented very well. That’s something that I feel kind of bad about because a lot of it was undocumented for very stupid reasons, like there’s a lot of infighting within the metal and the hardcore scene–which is at least a lot friendlier now. I know there have been attempts to film something, like a documentary, or write some sort of comprehensive volume. That’s actually always something I’ve wanted to do and I just haven’t gotten around to doing it.

Not only is there not enough written about it, but it’s also difficult to get access to the music itself. A lot of the hardcore and metal bands started around the same time, 80s or 90s, so there are very few recordings (that are still alive today) of what those bands sounded like–and even if there are, they’re really bad recordings. It was so difficult to record, it was so expensive, and when you did record, you came up with something shitty because people didn’t know how to record heavy distorted guitars back then. It’s difficult to get a grasp of the history because of that. I mean, one can listen to old demos, but I don’t think you’re really getting the experience because that does not capture how awesome it actually sounded.

So a lot of it is oral history, a lot of people learn about older bands from what the older bands say. Which is kind of sad, and hopefully somebody will come around and write something more comprehensive.

As far as icons…depends on who you ask because like I said, the metal scene is very divided. Even some of the best bands around during the 90s, like Skychurch, a lot of people in the underground don’t like them. They scoff at them for being a major label band, but I think (in terms of extreme metal at least) that Skychurch is the only band that is actually considered iconic. They were making music in 1997, and people respected them before they recorded an album, but once they recorded with Star Records, they lost that respect. So in terms of icons, it’s difficult to pinpoint. It depends who you ask.

There are people who’ve been around for years, like Paul Magat of Kabaong ni Kamatayan and Stela Mariz–he’s been keeping that thing alive forever. But at the same time, a lot of people also hate him for other reasons (mostly it’s his old bandmates that hate him). And in the hardcore scene, you have Tame the Tikbalang and Badburn, but a lot of people would consider them sellouts for whatever reason. It’s difficult to pinpoint icons in the scene because of how divided the scene is. Hopefully, that will change, but I don’t know yet.

I’m really optimistic, but my real concern is that the music is out there for people to access, and people are able to get a hold of it and form their own opinions without much help. I’m really happy about that. There have been various attempts for bands to get more press or to actually publish stuff, physically or online, which so far have not been sustainable.

I like the fact that a lot of bands, especially underground bands, are getting attention from different places. For a long time, people did not think of the Philippines in terms of metal and hardcore. Which is weird, because there’s a lot of it here. And there are a lot of bands who are actually really good. And I really think that all it takes is a few people to break through.

I just like the fact that people are making their own music, instead of waiting for someone to release stuff for them. I like the fact that people don’t have to think about changing what they want to play in order to be able to release something. I like the fact that there are so many places to play now. We used to struggle because people wouldn’t let you play if you were a bit heavy.

And I like that there are lots of tiny scenes around. Before, if the old guard (in metal) didn’t like you, you sucked, you were branded as outcasts. Now you have these small scenes, little productions all doing their own thing within their own cities, which allows more variation in the music. And that alone is a lot more encouraging.

Duration: 39 mins. Recorded on July 28, 2012 in Quezon City, Metro Manila
Illustrated by by the lovely Joanne Tong

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