“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.
Mentioned and More or Less Discussed at Length
Tame the Tikbalang,
Feet like Fins, because “Ron pissed on the people!”,
Sunday Grabe Sunday,
Major Label Demo Girls,
And why Erwin Romulo had to review your record
I began picking at Diego Castillo’s brain over a decade ago, when I was 13 or 14 and didn’t go out at night. And thus, would default to spending Saturday nights at home, listening to Not Radio (which he co-hosted with Myrene Academia, then later with Quark Henares) on NU 107.
The time I conducted this interview was the first time I actually met Diego, and before he even began with the actual questions, we had already recorded over fifteen minutes of him just talking (he was actually talking even before I hit record). I tried my best to preserve the moments where the drunken wave of enthusiasm propelled by beer and soju would crest and dip, but I may have just ended up making him sound “nutty”. At least he was sober enough to pause a couple of times and ask if he was “making sense, or do I just sound…nutty?”
I was just thinking about Tame the Tikbalang who were–and still are–my favorite band, growing up. They were a hardcore band band I used to follow who used to cover 24/7 Spies and Bad Brains. They also had their originals, which were super, super, super good. And they’d always be like, “Oh our album’s coming out! Our album’s coming out!” But it never did! They came out with an EP and then after ten years they had another EP.
So I understand that it is incredibly hard, because they weren’t The Eraserheads. They didn’t rake in hundreds of thousands of bucks. They’d play, and about twelve kids would be watching–including me, so that’s thirteen. Pero super galing nila, and then those thirteen kids all went on to do a lot of their own stuff. So that was me, Mike Dizon, Jerome Velasco of Teeth – mga ka-batch ko yan eh: We were all the South kids who went to see these bands, and formed our own respective bands because of them. But we got lucky. And as cliche as it sounds, that’s part and parcel because of bands like these.
And I can’t help but feel a tad bit guilty. Nung Aga Muhlach (Experience) pa ako, okay lang, kasi we were still all playing at the same crummy clubs. But then Sandwich became Sandwich, and we got signed, and we weren’t playing with them anymore, we’re playing with Rivermaya na bigla. So you’re going farther and farther away from that old scene–I mean, I still watch their gigs and try to show up, but then you’re not really booked at those venues anymore. And so you lose track, and one day you wonder, “Nasaan na kaya album nila?” Sad no?
One of the movers and shakers of that time, who was the manager of Feet like Fins and eventually Teeth, was a guy named Richard Tan–who became a dear friend (and I’m very fortunate to call him that). House of Beth was another good super great band! Grade school pa ako nito, and Richard Tan was always super cool. Every Creation and Factory Records release, alam niya lahat yan. He also signed Parokya (ni Edgar).
But the great thing about Richard was that he never changed Parokya. He never said, “You have to dress up,” or you have to look a certain way. Or with The Youth, parang “Tangina, ganito lang kayo. Don’t change that fucking thing. We’re gonna sign you to a major. You get to do what you do.”
And to me, that was the breakthrough for bands like us: The Youth got signed. Parokya got signed. I’m sure the A&R were trying to interfere. I mean, I worked for BMG Records for six years, so I’ll bet the A&R person said, “Oy,favor, baka yung mga boys mo pwede natin damitan ng kaunting ganito. Have them made over, and maybe they can have a single na parang True Faith.” I mean, of course! True Faith was selling at that time! (No offense to True Faith, I love them. They’re my friends!)
But I’ll bet Richard said, “No, you take it or you leave it,” because he really believed in his artists. And then of course it worked. But do you remember Tribal Fish? Kanya din yun eh! He got them signed! Three girls, punk rock, dirty, maingay–and it didn’t sell. But you have to remember that this was 1994, and na-sign yung ganung banda. Richard also managed Feet Like Fins – which was like the holy grail for me. Tikbalang and Feet Like Fins were two of my favorite bands, and I kind of merged them to create The Aga Muhlach Experience. That’s Richard, and he was like that, and only he could sell that to the A&R people and get them to pay for that. They paid for the recordings.
At eto pa hah, back then recording equipment wasn’t cheap. Every time you went into the studio, you were spending 250,000 pesos (6,000 USD). Now, if I load the right stuff into your laptop, we could record anything you want. So for that to happen was pretty incredible. So Richard was a pretty big reason kung bakit na-forward yung eksena. He also had Soft Pillow Kisses and Aspirin and Buzz Night–OH! BUZZ NIGHT! Buzz Night was Richard Tan’s idea, by the way!
First gig of Buzz Night: us (Aga Muhlach Experience), Sonnet LVIII (super good band! “Treasure Heaven” punyeta, what a song!), Tribal Fish, Aspirin, and Skies of Ember. Anyways, it was that, it was that, it was THAT! And then you had another bracket run by Jing Garcia. Jing was the tech editor of The Manila Times, but he also started a zine called Herald X (which inspired us to start our own zine, called The Scenester) and managed Color It Red, Tame the Tikbalang, and Alamid. He had less success than Richard Tan with major label signings, but he was still able to sign Color It Red–not that they were a hard sign, they were a straight-up pop band and they were also very good.
So, those were the only two managers back then, more or less. On the weekends, basically every band at Club Dredd, Timog, was either a Jing Garcia or a Richard Tan band. Eraserheads came from that same time–and oddly enough, I did not like The Eraserheads when I first saw them (but that was a mistake, because The Heads were a great band). They would mockingly do a version of “Two Princes”–remember this song by The Spin Doctors?–in half-time, so this was Ely’s voice *sings “Two Princes” in Ely’s voice*.
But then of course, six months later, I was like, “THIS IS THE GREATEST BAND EVER!” I was like, “OHMYGOD, THIS GUY CAN WRITE!” I didn’t really see that then, having been into Tame the Tikbalang – first time ko makakita ng ganun kadaming tattoo eh!
And then there was Ron Ruiz, the singer of Feet Like Fins. He’d do this crazy dance, he would jump on the cymbals–I’d never seen shit like that! I saw them play at UP, and Ron pissed on the people! I was fifteen and I was like, “WOOOOOOOWWWWW!!! WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?! THIS IS THE BEST BAND EVER!!!”
Of course, you could say I wasn’t paying attention to the songs per se, but I was, and they were great. And then the Heads came, and then Yano at isa pa yun. Putang ina, ‘di ba? Yano?
So let’s get to this…My name is Diego Castillo and I play guitar for a band called Sandwich. I also DJ as part of a DJ-ing duo called The Diegos, with Diego Mapa. I also moonlight as a video director, which I haven’t done in the longest time. I did the music video for “Divisoria”, by Cambio. I also co-wrote the script and co-directed a great film called Rakenrol. WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
I can trace my current taste in music to the first time I heard, 1) Violent Playground’s “Never the Bright Lights”, because I was in high school, and that was the first time I heard a Filipino band doing a song which I thought was, if not better, just as good as everything else I heard on the radio, or just as good as any other band I liked at the time. And it was a Filipino band doing it, so that sort of skewed my current taste towards the same things I look for in local bands now.
My all-time favorite band though would have to be Pavement, because even though I love the Stones, The Kinks and all the British rock, Pavement was my band. Those were my parents bands, but Pavement came up in ’91 with their first album. I grew up listening to that and I still look for all the nuances and the Pavement sort of sound and the lyrics in my current music taste.
The first album I purchased with my own money: EASY! COMBAT ROCK, 1984! THE CLASH! ANSON’S, 30 PESOS! It was the first Clash record I heard because my brothers were listening to it. Because I knew that “Should I stay or should I go?” was on it. I am the youngest of five boys, so dinaanan ko yung music nila na yan, tapos sabi ko, “Gusto ko din ng kopya nito,” because they had one, but they never lent it to me.
I asked for a guitar for Christmas when I was 14, so my dad went out and bought–you know where Raon is?–a Raon Stratocaster. Basically it’s like a fake guitar, it was like 600 bucks. And I didn’t know what an electric guitar was–I’d never really seen an electric guitar before!–so I plugged it into our little sound system and I assumed it would sound distorted–and I was like, “WTF? This just sounds like a loud acoustic!” And within a year, my first live performance was at the basketball court in our village, doing “Ang Himig Natin” and “Laki sa Layaw”.
But my first real band was The Aga Muhlach Experience: that was Myrene (Academia), Toti Dalmacion, me, Lexi (Zulueta), and Mario (Alipio). We were all Muhlachs, that was our schtick, like The Ramones. Myrene was Poly Muhlach. I was Thurston Muhlach (AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, right!) Zach Lucero was the first guy who booked us. He had heard that we were forming a band and he booked us for this gig sa Jusmag called “Planet Not For Sale”. My guitar was borrowed from Myrene’s brother, so were my effects, and I never really knew how to play guitar. Up to this day naman eh, I don’t really know how to play.
The first time I ever played live was in 1995. Back then, what you see at B-Side or Cubao X now didn’t really happen–unless you were The Dawn or AfterImage, or Eraserheads at this point or Rivermaya. But at least in terms of me playing, madami na yung 40 people at Club Dredd to see me play, which was super exciting as well. Now, in the live scene there’s a lot more kids coming to the shows, because a lot more kids are knowledgeable and can sing the lyrics to our songs.
Then when I did Sandwich, again the audience became bigger and bigger, but I understand it’s also because Raimund (Marasigan) is part of the band, and Raimund was with The Eraserheads. But in fairness to Raimund, he never really publicized any of this shit. He also wasn’t really singing back then, it was Marc Abaya doing the singing.
We also started off with a small audience: because we could never get a gig on a Saturday or on a Friday. So Jing Garcia (who I mentioned earlier) said, “Oh, I’m gonna get Sunday sa Mayric’s, because that’s the only night they will give us,” which was pretty cool. We cultivated this little audience, and Ciudad first played there, Blast Ople first played there, Boldstar played there, and a young Imago also played there. That was our night. And the audience was yung talagang maliit. There were nights na kami lang nga eh. Also, radio never played any of our songs back then.
But that’s fine though, because obviously now that’s changed.
When Sandwich started recording, we still had to go to an actual studio, because technology was not that far along that you could record at home. That’s why it was so important to be signed, because if you wanted to be heard, you had to be on a major label–unless you were rich or you had an independent producer who was willing to give you a quarter-of-a-million bucks to record god-knows-what.
We first recorded in Tracks (which is still alive today and Rico Blanco still records there) on a 2-inch reel, and it was tape, meaning it was super expensive. Nowadays, if you have a laptop, you can do everything. Our records now are done at home. I just go to my room to track my guitars, and plug and play, and that’s what comes out on the record. But we didn’t have that until three or four years ago–and we’ve been around since 1998. Which is a good thing! It’s a very good thing, and that’s why you have all these young bands right now, putting their stuff up on soundcloud and bandcamp. Remember, wala kang bandcamp nung 1999, so you could put up your site, pero wala kang music doon!
There was also no such thing as marketing and distribution back then, unless you were on a major. Here’s the difficult thing about understanding how the recording industry works here, because I worked for BMG Records for a long time. You can’t just get in the Odysseys and SM Record bars. It has to go through a major label because may mga demo girl–you see the girls coming up to you who go, “Ma’m, may ganito-ganito-ganito?” They push the records. Your space, your point-of-sale marketing – that’s paid for. And of course you have to get in line. So let’s say, your new record’s coming out, you have to schedule that three months in advance, tapos pipila ka with everybody else who wants the same shelf space.
So therefore, if you were some independent band, even if you did happen to get all the money to release the album, say about 100 or 200,000, what do you do with it? I mean you can sell it at gigs, fine, but remember in 1998-99, you played, what? Once a month? How are you gonna recoup the 200,000 bucks?!
Now, a lot of independent bands get to go into Odyssey. Vin did it–I think they were one of the first. We did it with our third record which was on our own label (because the major label dropped us). We had a record called Thanks to the Moon’s Gravitational Pull, which we produced and paid for. And we met with the Odyssey people, who were nice enough to put it in the store. But the truth is they put it in some fucking section where nobody can see it, because all the nice spots are paid for by the majors. And then if you’d ask, there was no demo girl for independents in 2002. So no one would know where the fuck it was, it was just somewhere tucked away!
A great thing also is you could go to the venues themselves, like Big Sky or Saguijo, and sell it sa bar. Back then kasi, limited yung venues, so limited din yung places where you could sell it. You also didn’t have the option of selling online.
The internet has a lot to do with all this. Before, Erwin Romulo had to review your record, because if not, then who’s gonna know it’s gonna come out? 1999, when we first came out, may internet na, but I doubt it was anywhere near what it is now. Like even at BMG, we had one computer dedicated to internet, na pipila ka to email people. So I don’t think that many people even had internet in their own homes. You had to have authorities. You had to have people like Erwin Romulo or Bert Sulat, but now you have so much more, even a person like Quark Henares who could just post in his Livejournal and people are gonna know about it. Now you have twitter and all that shit, and you can post that “this is a great fucking record!” And that helps!
I guess when I hear history, I understand I’m part and parcel of this whole line of things that’s happened. And I’m very respectful of where I belong in it. That’s the truth. That’s why I was telling you everything I told you earlier.
I still buy all these obscure 7″ records from these 70s funk bands, because I understand how incredibly hard it probably was to do these things, and how much they love the music that they still churned out such great shit. I can’t believe they did that through these fucking hard times–and they’re like us din: Pinoys in a third-world country, and I don’t think they made even a single fucking centavo. So I feel like it’s my obligation to remember them–I know it sounds so cliche, but it’s true for me. So when I say something like, “Love ko si Dong Abay.” Tangina, love ko talaga siya. Rinescue ako niyan eh. I told him how his record helped me–it saved me–but he was be like, “‘Stig man! Inom muna tayo!”
But the funny thing is, I get it now from kids as well, like they’d come up to me and tell me about “Jetlag”, na ang ganda, ganda. And then I understand that, shit, that’s fucking awesome. Because I wanted to pattern the stuff I do after those who went ahead of me. And I feel guilty. Because I’ve made such a good living off of the things I do, and somehow I owe it to those who came before me–I owe it to their hard work that I get to live the way I do now.
Raimund frames it very well though. He always mentions that we put in a lot of hard work. And I understand that. But I don’t discount that they also did the same thing.
I did put in a lot of hard work. What you see is the end result of what Sandwich does. But anybody who gives this a cursory look could be like, “Eh tangina, swerte kayo eh! You get this and that…” But I really worked my ass off–I went to work from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening, go to shows at 10, go to bed at 2, and I can’t be late because I could get fired.
But I do understand that luck played a large part. I understand that there was a roll of the dice involved. So we got little bit of swerte, and a lot of the bands I like didn’t get the same swerte. Did they put in the same amount of hard work? Fuck yeah. They were there. I saw them. They were also doing what they had to, but they didn’t quite get to the same place we are now. So any chance I get to thank these guys, to talk about what I owe to Feet Like Fins or Tame the Tikbalang, I will. Because that’s the least I can do. Especially with Juan dela Cruz, Anakbayan, Binky Lampano–who was a real icon, Dean’s December were another great band, Chikoy Pura…they’re all part and parcel of what I’ve done.
I just want to reiterate what Violent Playground did for me. When you hear a song like “Never the Bright Lights”? Punyeta, iba na, advanced level of writing. But where are they? Where are Violent Playground? Have you heard of Violent Playground by any chance?
For the future bands, I think we’re about to break through. You have Taken by Cars playing South-by-Southwest–INCREDIBLE! You have Ciudad playing CMJ. The Benedictos (Outerhope) got to do New York Popfest. We got to play in the States! If you’d told me this three years ago, I would not have believed you.
Duration: 44 mins. Recorded on September 17, 2012 in Pasig, Metro Manila
Illustrated by by the lovely Joanne Tong