Hear it is

Katwo Puertollano

“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.

Discussed were:

Ongoing projects
Rock music as a family affair
Smart girls and sensitive boys
A generation of Forever21 mannequins
Claire Miranda as an icon
“the Industrial Revolution for the brain”
Fostering a culture of creativity

Katwo Puertollano used to sing for a band called Narda, which played a lot of the same gigs we played or went to when I was in high school. Everyone I knew had a huge crush on her because she was adorable, so of course I wanted to hate her–BUT I DIDN’T! And after meeting her, I found that I couldn’t, because not only is she adorable, but she’s also insightful and articulate enough to crack herpes jokes and get away with it. 

I’m Katwo Puertollano and I’m…an artist…of some sort? I’m a graphic designer for Flux Design Labs. I used to be with a band called Narda, and I’m now with an ongoing project called Duster (laughs). Some of them are pregnant and giving birth as we speak, and they’re taking care of babies, so we’re letting motherhood take the reins and wean itself out.

I can trace my current taste in music to the first time I heard (as cheesy as it sounds) – it’s really The Eraserheads. The first album I purchased with my own money was The Eraserheads’ Fruitcake, and I remember buying it with my friend, Jean Jean Madrid, when we were in grade six.

But I can pinpoint the first non-Eraserheads song that I really liked, which is Spacehog’s “In the Meantime”, which is really lame, because that’s the only song I know of theirs. There’s nothing else, except for the fact that the singer married Liv Tyler–God, I hope they’re still married! That’s the first track that really jumped out at me.

I can actually trace the day when I sort of said, “I’m gonna be a rocker.” It was January 1, 1995, when I decided “I’m just gonna listen to rock music.” So I promised myself, I will just listen to NU, I will just listen to rock. 1995 was the time that grunge was big, and my eldest sister’s boyfriend (who’s her husband now) was really into Soundgarden, and I remember my eldest sister (we’re four girls) calling us all to come into her room and saying, “Listen to this song,” and she played Juliana Hatfield’s “My sister.” And the first line of that song goes, “I hate my sister, she’s such a bitch.” And I thought, “WHAT IS THIS? WHAT IS THIS FUCKERY?!”

But if you listen to the song, it’s about a cool sister, and I guess those are the most primal things about rock music that I really liked. It started from a family experience and grew from there.

It’s interesting, I told my husband (Nico Puertollano), “You associate stuff with movies.” Like, at the department store, we can pass by those movies showing for 30 seconds on loop, and in two or three frames, he can tell what movie it is and the kind of movie it is, the characterization, etc. I’m like that with alternative music. I’m not too keen with my memory, but music helps me reminisce more easily. I can track my life according to the music I listen to and I don’t listen to. When we have to work overtime, I make everybody listen to Aegis, just to make a point that this is the stuff you don’t do and don’t listen to. It’s really an association with the feelings that go on in my life. The way I associate my husband with movies, you can associate me with alternative music–I mean, I’m going on 30 and I still listen to mainstream alternative because that’s me, and I don’t have to change that.

One of the people I hung out with in college was Kakoy (Legaspi) from Peryodiko, and we had a band called Bent on Crickets. I was 17 or 18 then, and I sang for them. We covered Ivy and The Sundays, and that was my first band. I met Vin and Ebe through that band, and Narda happened after that; so that’s how it all started, through Kakoy.

I think the live scene is the same, but my friends (at least Ryan and Camyl from the Techy Romantics) still gig actively now, and they say nauubos na siya. The interesting thing about our friendship is that, collectively, we’ve known each other for about ten years. Ako naman, I can say that the people who listened to me when they were younger, the people who listened to Narda I mean, they now have jobs—and they now are so respectable. And I like to tell people that my audience—people who listened to either Duster or Narda–are either sensitive boys or smart girls.

I have a client now who used to listen to Narda, and she bought all the CDs; but she didn’t recognize me, she just bought all the CDs. And then I met her two weeks ago at the meeting, and only then was she like, “Oh my god, you’re from Narda!” And she had her picture taken, which never happens when you’re meeting your clients. So I feel that our audience has grown up. They now have jobs and they’re pretty cool.

Imagine that, Narda would play with Bing. Nowadays, it’s not like that. I mean, Bing has his own scene, Duster has its own scene. It’s more fragmented now, but only because people have been more keen on their tastes, and artists are beginning to realize that there are really niche markets. There are people who will pay and drive to your gigs, people who will make the effort just to listen to your songs. So dumami lang yon.

When bands say that audiences have gotten smaller, I think it’s just that scenes have gotten more specific. Before, say with hip hop, you could have a band like SVC (Sun Valley Crew) playing the same gig as Sandwich. The audience has just become more fragmented not because we’re disassociated or disunited, it’s just that there are more interests now.

If you perform in schools though, which I’ve done consistently, the audience hasn’t really changed. People react the same way, they still get excited that you’re there, they still look at you like you’re the best thing onstage. The way they appreciate the music is more or less the same, especially with young kids—which is my target. Hahaha! Young kids…form their minds…

Recording hasn’t changed. People are switching to digital now, which has changed a few things. I think Spongecola recorded synthetic (synthesized? Parang ganun HAHAHA!) drum tracks for their album, and it works great! For me, going digital has made the songwriting so much easier because I’m not a musician. I’d rather press buttons. Although with some new artists—whose names I don’t know, but I listen to them on Jam (88.3)—hilaw pa. I also hear that, but that happens regardless of whether it’s digital or analog; I mean, ito din yung comment sa akin nung nagisismula pa ako sa Narda. For me, it doesn’t really matter if you record digitally or analogically (which is a word!), people will hear if you’re passionate or not, or if you have any content or substance even worth recording.

And I kind of like Skrillex. So kill me, now!

Marketing and distribution are areas in which people have been really savvy. Before, you’d just get your stuff recorded, then bahala na! Social media has really changed the game; even from crowdsourcing the funds to make albums – I think that’s fantastic! It’s changed it, meaning people can just be on facebook—on the ­facebook! (Ganda no? Old age, eh.)

Sa akin, triumph talaga nung nag-endorse si Sarah Gaugler para sa Globe Tattoo. She’s one of us, and she made it without sacrificing her identity or her music. I’ll also be my own devil’s advocate—my own devil’s avocado—and as capitalist as it sounds, I knew they were just using certain scenes to try to get a bigger audience and try to get more money. But this also validates that what you’re doing as a community is culturally relevant, and that it has potential. Ten years ago, people like Sarah Gaugler would not even be accepted. That runs much deeper, because you’re talking about how people are becoming more tolerant of other cultures. And all this is the result of really smart marketing over the years.

I remember before Pulp lang naman talaga yung press, because the people from Pulp would also be the people from MTVInk, and the people from MTVInk would also be the people from Hinge Inquirer. Ngayon, dumami yung press at yung media outlets, and they’re all very intelligent. Like, you have the blogging community, you have Rogue and Esquire. That also validates it, because all these writers and all these artists come from the same community which thrives on mutual admiration and respect for each other.

Although what’s also changed with social media is that you have a lot of haters just out there. It’s amazing that even I have haters—which validates my existence, HAHAHAHA! That to me is the double-edged sword, but it could be healthy and it needs to be there.

This is a comment on the younger generation, meaning the 18-21 year olds. And this is not just me talking, but a lot of the focus is on individuality. Everyone talks about individuality and still, everyone looks the same. They’re coming from that Forever21 generation, where they all have short shorts, long hair, and daddy issues! And I think press has done a lot to influence this change. I mean, before everyone was a little awkward, but they were uniquely awkward; now, they’re all the same kind of unique.

That’s one thing that’s changed – people want to be different, but to be different, you still need to be acceptable. Before, it was okay to be weird or strange, awkward and uncomfortable. Now, if you’re going to be awkward, you need to be with the awkward community: you can’t be awkward with people who aren’t awkward—does that make sense? There’s a superficiality behind the weirdness.

I’ve always seen people like Raimund Marasigan to be…steady…I mean, ever since Duster started, he’s always been there for us: whether it’s recording or travelling abroad, he’s always there to help us. And he’s always been one of my icons, but he’s never really changed. They all stay the same, as rooted as before. It’s the same way with Myrene (Academia), who is also one of my icons.

But one of the icons who I really, really, really love is Claire Miranda. Now, she’s actually out of the scene. I met her a couple of months ago, and I told her, “You know what, if it wasn’t for you, I could literally say that I wouldn’t be here right now, at this moment. I wouldn’t have married my husband. I wouldn’t be doing art or commercials. I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for the music that you chose.” So para sa akin, that’s how an icon should be – not a person who’s always on the social radar. Claire was the station manager for NU 107 at the time when I was still listening to it. And music to me is my definitive whatever, it shaped everything about me. Music was the first thing that told me that I had taste in anything—hahaha! I will not listen to The Corrs! I refuse to listen to THE CORRS—it’s just not gonna happen!

That to me is a legacy that I see and I understand and I appreciate and I respect so fervently—and I told her this! I told her, “I will not be here if it weren’t for you.” If you did not think that Spacehog should be on that playlist or Helmet, Rage Against the Machine, The Beastie Boys, or Smashing Pumpkins should be on Philippine airwaves. Other people will tell you it would have happened anyway, but she just happened to push the play button. That, for me, merits icon status. That is what makes history.

And she is just the coolest, nicest, most humble, down to earth person you will ever meet, you know, it’s hard not to literally be religiously in favor of her. So for me, she’s an icon. NU 107 was iconic. It changed, but that’s how things should happen. You should change. You should adapt. Pero hindi nakayanan eh.

Who else…My bandmates are my personal icons: from Duster to my Narda days. I really respect them: the women I play with in Duster are just incredible. They are the best, the nicest, most humble, hardworking, and talented people. My bandmates from Narda put faith in me that cannot be measured. They gave me a chance and that is incredible.

Where we are in history is so interesting and exciting. It’s like the industrial revolution for the brain. It’s crazy. Imagine we have YouTube! You know, I only discovered The YouTube in 2006! HAHAHAHA! It’s amazing! I really hope that everything grows and changes, and by growing, I hope that there will be more genres of music. And they will all find their audiences—even if it’s just three people! Even if it’s such a strange genre, I hope they continue doing it. And even if they only did it for two months, I hope they always remember it. I hope this imbues the sense of creativity that people need, because the potential for creating music is in there—and not only that, but for sharing music. And I hope the people who need it will have access to it. That’s my dream.

For me, personally, I’ve been trying to work with Niles Chong, who is one of my good, good, goodest friends. We’re working on a project where I sing and he sings, and it’s just two people singing about break-ups and heartbreak, hahaha! Kasi parang tama lang yung emo-ness ni Niles. I’m learning to play…hehe, not to play…to program the instruments I’m using, like tabletop and Garage Band. But generally, I just hope that the world becomes more creative, and they understand that creativity is a need, not a want.

Every person, whether they listen to music or not, whether they’re visual or musical, I hope they have the sense to put their mark in the world. Because number one, it’s so easy; number two, it’s not a fifteen-minute world anymore. It’s more like thirty or fifteen seconds. That’s all you have, put your mark there. It doesn’t matter if no one sees it, but put your mark there, because putting your mark on something is a sign of dignity and respect for yourself. And I feel that for a person coming from a third world country, having that dignity enables you to go beyond your needs.

Recorded on November 5, 2012,  at Flux Design Labs in Makati, Metro Manila. Duration: roughly 30 minutes with all the chit-chat edited out.

One thought on “Katwo Puertollano

  1. Claire actually was not our station manager but our Program Director. 🙂 But yes, she was indeed directly responsible for everything that went on the air. Cris Cruise (Hermosisima in real life) was our Station Manager. I remember 1995 well. I went on the air for the first time there on August 1 that year.

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