“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.
A Positive Outlook for…
I met Vin when I was 19, which he occasionally brings up, because I’m 27 now and he’s forty-something-old. His band Twisted Halo had not yet split up (only to reunite a few times in the past couple of years), and he was delivering CDs to Nella Sarabia’s optical at the UP Shopping Center, where a lot of independent releases used to be sold. I was in the audience when he played his supposed last gig with Twisted Halo, and I was also there when he first performed with his current band, Peryodiko. I can sincerely say that Vin is largely responsible for my interest in the local scene and what its musicians have to say.
Despite the “angry rock star” reputation, Vin was cracking jokes and laughing at his own answers throughout this interview. He is actually sunnier than a handbag full of rainbows.
I can trace my current taste in music to the first time I heard the Beatles. My kuya was into the BeeGees, which is probably why I don’t like the BeeGees. We both liked the Beatles though. My earliest memories of listening to music all had the Beatles, standards like Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, and Perry Como. My aunts were also great pabasa singers, so I really enjoyed that. The first soundtrack I really liked was the Grease soundtrack. And then the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton starred in a movie based on The Yellow Submarine, so we also listened to that a lot.
If I really want to listen to music, it’s on a long drive, because I love driving and I love being alone. I think the first album I bought with my own money was either Beatles for Sale or Help! (one of the early ones). I remember asking for money to buy a Beatles cassette, but if it was my money we’re talking about, my own baon, I think it was a breakdance cassette when I was in high school. I was a breakdancer before I was a musician. I put the dance in Dancel…
Anyway, so yeah, I was a Bboy in high school. I just started playing music in third or fourth year, pero tang ina, yung unang album na binili ko breakdance na soundtrack. I first started out as a musician by dancing. That’s where I learned rhythm and counting and melodies. I remember my dad teaching me a Beatles song in grade school, but the guitar was just too much for me, so I just got into dancing instead. I formed my first band in high school, kasi fourth year na kami, at parang ang cool magkaroon ng banda. First song I ever learned was George Harrison’s “Got my mind set on you” and Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” and Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69”. But I started out as a songwriter in law school because I was going nuts, and George Barreno (internship director back then) said, “Alam mo, magaling ka magtula, at magaling ka maggitara. Pagsama mo kaya at magsulat ka ng kanta?” And since then, I figured out that I like writing songs.
In the live scene now, kids are spoiled. They expect to be spoonfed and to pay only 150 pesos, or they expect the gig to be free. It’s all about the latest hangouts, and whatever Miss Meiday says is cool (HAHAHAHAHAHA, I’m kidding Mei! I love you!). Ten years ago, when Twisted Halo started, I guess it was different. It was about discovering new music, putting out new music, and the D.I.Y. ethic of coming out with your own recording because the labels aren’t going to do it for you.
I sound bitter, but I don’t mean to be bitter.
I think of it as a cycle. Ten or twelve years ago, the Eraserheads were shunned by the rock crowd, which felt they were too cool for the Eraserheads. No one really wanted to listen to the music and the scene was kinda down, but some fans stayed on. They were more about finding music that they wanted, getting in and having a relationship with the independent artists because they loved their music. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen now, but now there’s also a lot of, “Hey, everyone’s jumping around, so let’s jump around with them!” Sana pinaguusapan lang ng mabuti kung, halimbawa, “Ba’t ang Ciudad nandyan pa rin?” At sobrang astig nila. And they never really cared about whatever scene, they just kept writing and putting out music. There’s just so many bands today, and there’s just so much talent coming out, pero yung suporta sa eksena, hindi ko masyado nararamdaman—with the exception maybe of Bgy. Tibay, because those guys have been around since…1994?
Feeling ko nagcycycle siya. Walang nanunuod mga 98-99, tapos dumami ulit, tapos nagplateau kasi nagsasawa yung mga tao. Pakiramdam ko, para sa kanila, may mga banda na wallflower, background music. There are a few exceptions, like Dong Abay can just go onstage and just blow everyone away: full-body listening yung lahat ng tao kay Dong Abay. With Sandwich, you have the same thing.
…Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.
With our audience, some of the Twisted Halo fans don’t like Peryodiko, and apparently some Peryodiko fans–when they discovered Twisted Halo–could not connect the two. I find that the people who like my music have been steady. They’re not a horde, they’ve always been there, and I love that. They always made sure that I knew they were listening.
Recording now is so much more accessible. Ten years ago, it was a little bit easier for just a few—us included, because we had Buddy and Raimund. Buddy, Raimund, Rico Blanco, Ciudad, and a few others bought their own mobile multi-track recorders. We just had to record drums in a studio, and vocals, everything else you could record on a computer. Now, you can do everything on any laptop or desktop. The drum plugins sound so real. If you listen to a Carlos Castaño record, you wouldn’t think that he didn’t record real drums.
Feeling ko ang problema ngayon, sa sobrang dami ng mga banda at musikero, nagsusuffer ang songwriting. Dati ang kaunti namin, pero feeling ko—feeling ko lang naman, kasi feeling ako eh—in terms of percentages, maraming marunong magsulat nung panahon na yon, tapos ang daming magagandang kanta. Ngayon, sobra nilang dami, at ang dali-dali para sa kanila magrecord kasi andun ang YouTube: you don’t even need a studio, you just need a camera then you upload it, and you have a recording. Dahil sobrang dali magbuo ng banda at ang dali-dali magrecord, ang daming napapadala sa akin na demo sa PinoyTuner. Madaming interesting yung songwriting at arrangement, madaming mahusay.
Actually, sobrang astig na so many people have access to video or sound recording, and I think it is helping the scene. Marketing and distribution is still run by dinosaurs though, and tri-media is still king, pero unti-unti ay emerging na yung internet. Musicians are becoming more aware of the possibility and potential of marketing and distributing online. iTunes is available in the Philippines, and it’s available to independent bands. OPM2go is as well. MyMusicStore is medyo suplado, but they still make it possible for local musicians to get distributed online.
The major challenge is changing people’s attitudes to music. When I say people’s attitudes, I don’t mean the people who go to Saguijo, I mean the people who’re not part of whatever scene and would read an article called “OPM is Dead” and be like, “Holy shit, OPM is dead! Oh my god, oh no…” These things affect people’s attitude towards music. But you can’t force change. it needs a lot of work. and the internet so far is an awesome tool for musicians and fans. There are 100 million Filipinos and 30% are online, so that’s 33 million. Out of that 33 million, 97% are on facebook, so ang laki, laki, laki ng possibilities. Twisted Halo’s yahoogroup had 2,800 people at the most, but they were very active. Peryodiko, I think we’re up to 10,400 likes on facebook. And then you have bands like Parokya ni Edgar who have 1.6 or 2.4 million fans online. So ang lakas ng potential ng online marketing at distribution sa Pilipinas, lalo na sa hip-hop scene. Flip Top gets 10-15 million views—I’ve seen King of the Dot (yung rap battle sa states) which is supposed to be one of the biggest, and they only get 150,000 views.
So nag-iiba na yung mindset ng mga tao, at dahil nag-iiba na ang mindset ng mga tao, napapagusapan namin ni Robin Rivera kung ano ba talaga yung halaga ng CD o plaka. Mas mahalaga pa nga yung vinyl because it’s a relic, and it’s a really cool relic; unlike the CD, which is like trash hahahaha! Pag nakakita ka ng mga nakakalat na CD, parang wala lang, pero pag nakakita ka ng mga nakakalat na vinyl, parang gusto mong linisin. I think musicians have to rethink that whole concept of an album, even of a producer, a single, and a video; because the traditional channels are rotting and run by dinosaurs. And it’s corrupt—I mean mainstream media is corrupt.
This is my personal stand: I told Leloy (Claudio) and Don (Jaucian) that we need hope and their articles are misleading. Kasi pinagsama nila lahat ng pag sinabi mong “OPM”, ginawa nila yung buong industriya. Eh pag sinabi mo OPM, madaming aspeto yon: there’s the creative process, there’s marketing and distribution. You have press and publicity where you need to give Filipinos hope, because it’s not easy being a Filipino and it’s even harder to be a Filipino musician. The whole “OPM is dead” thing, I just feel that it’s irresponsible. Especially when I found out that it was because someone said, “You all go and write an article about why OPM is dead.” Parang meron na kaagad judgment. Meron na kaagad bias. I mean, why not go out and write something hopeful?
Ang corny ng “There’s good news here” na campaign ng Manila Bulletin, but there’s a lot of positive things happening in the music industry. And just because the mainstream media say so and the dinosaurs are going extinct, it doesn’t mean that OPM is dead.
Musicians can now do their own thing: they can write their own press releases and come up with creative ways of promoting their music and their band online. Everything’s online. Remember when facetime and skype were science fiction? Nung bata ako, mapapanoood mo lang yon sa Star Wars, Star Trek, sa mg lumang episodes ng Battlestar Galactica, but it’s all happening now. Hindi malayo yung possibility na we’ll have wifi in our cars, and on our phones it will be free, and the government can figure out the infrastructure to make it fast. Pag nanuod ka daw ng PinoyTuner sa Hong Kong, ang bilis. Parang nanuod ka lang ng TV.
Kasi kasama sa tri-media na radio, TV, at publication yung pagdidicta sa majority na “ito ang cool, ito patay to, ito wag niyo pakialaman to, ito suotin niyo, etc. etc.” Because I disagree with sila Mikey Amistoso and Peavey Nicolas when they say that “Eh ano naman kung ayaw ko i-brand na Pilipino yung music ko? Kasi music yan eh.” Sure. But it does not change the fact that you are a Filipino. I’m hoping na magkaroon ng mas Pinoy na slant ang pagiging musikero, kasi sa akin mahalaga yun eh.
Halimbawa, nung nagsimula kami mag-usap ni Leloy, sabi niya, “I’m not a Nationalist.” Wow. Eh ‘di wala na tayong pag-uusapan, kasi kung ang magiging punto ng debate ang political theory, parang paano tayo mag-uusap. Sabi niya ang daming natatakot sa nasyonalismo, maski yung mga kaibigan niyang Germans na pag kinakanta nila yung National anthem, naaalala nila yung World War II. But we are not German! We were not involved in genocide. We did not try to conquer the world.
Mahalaga ang pagiging Filipino sa pagiging musikero, kasi bago ka maging musikero, ikaw ay Pinoy na musikero. So nagdidisagree ako pag may nagsasabing, “No, I just want to be a generic musician, I’m just nation-less” because what makes you different from all the musicians in the world is the fact that you’re a Filipino musician.
Yung mga icons, unti-unti nilang natatanggap yung responsibilidad nila. Dong will take it to the extreme and say “I’m a fucking icon. I’m your Filipino rockstar.” And it’s awesome! but not everyone can get away with that (haha!) Mahalaga magka-benchmark na icon: people who set the bar higher and did it with no cellphones and no twitter. It’s important for the next generation to have something to look back to. But what I think is more important is that there will be no spoonfeeding; they won’t be told, but will be the ones telling the story of what came before. Kaya ko naisip yung Henerasyon (my mid-life crisis project), which is basically about documenting music history—kasi walang gumagawa sa kanya eh. I would love for my kids to have sources if they want to find out what their dad and his friends were all doing making music while trying to earn a living, and what else was happening at the time.
It’s not going to be easy, but the potential is there. The foremost reason that I haven’t given up yet on making music is that I just love making music. Second is I owe it to myself and to people who are important to me and who believe in what I’m doing. I also believe that the musicians, the writers, the painters, the storytellers etc etc – they make the world a better place to live in. Di ba? Pag nakapagsulat ng kanta, tula, libro, nakagawa ng pelikula, painting, dula tapos ibinahago sa mundo — the world becomes a better place.
I think the evolution of the Pinoy music scene is online. You have a bigger audience and it challenges Filipino musicians to become better at what they’re doing. YouTube is a global market, and we actually have a fair chance at being heard. Nakakatawa kasi nung pumunta dito yung mga New Zealand bands, sobrang saya kasi ang liit ng crowd sa Saguijo, but then Pedicab came on, and they all went in front, and they were all dancing. Tapos naisip ko, “Ayun o, di naman nila naiintindihan eh.” Naisip ko bigla yung K-Pop kasi nagtutulungan yung gobyerno at yung private sector, and it’s a major export. Tapos naisip ko bigla yung pinagusapan namin ni Bobby Balingit. We played a gig together at 70’s Bistro, at mas hardcore sa akin yun na aktibista, but you know what he said?
“What’s our best export, Vin? It’s talent. It’s art.”
So ba’t di natin siya naisip na export? Ba’t yung ineexport natin ay mga caregiver, mga maid, when they can have a more humane job here? Yung mga musikero, yung mga art, yun yung i-export natin.
Duration: 33 mins. Recorded on September 26, 2012 in Quezon City, Metro Manila. Illustrated by Joanne Tong, forever and ever.