“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.
An older sister who played the piano
A father who liked getting lost around Manila from time to time
Radio and other possible arbiters of taste
That fat, round sound you get when you have an adequate supply of electricity
Taking risks with marketing and promoting local music
The Elements Music Camp
I was lucky to have grown up in households where insomnia wasn’t treated like a disease, because I would be so messed-up right now if that had been the case. Nevertheless, I still felt bad whenever Zach would come on (the now defunct) NU 107 announcing the time check, and I’d feel even worse when I’d still be up as he closed out his 2 to 6am shift.
When I met him at Radio Republic for this interview, Ron Titular, who also worked with NU back in the day, happened to be there, and Zach was gracious enough to introduce me, adding that “she used to listen in when she was 10.” I’m 27 now. I’ve graduated from grade school, which were the years of sleep being for the weak; then high school, when I was rising early to catch him with Joey on the morning show, alongside the festivals and smaller concerts where he played with his band, Imago; then college and my first job, which was at a network where he did the voice-overs.
NOTE FROM ZACH LUCERO:
Alice interviewed me November 2012, it was a ‘what are you doing nowadays’ interview, with queries on my views on OPM and the like. I mentioned there is so much out there, such great talent untapped and undiscovered. I mentioned a Fil Am artist for her to check out. Alice comes back to me days later and says, ”Zach, I can’t seem to find anything on Vanessa Del Bianco except for her affair with John Estrada and Janice de Belen being really pissed”… Oops. I long since cleared that up of course. It’s JENNIFER Blair Bianco. She’s a theater actress from Illinois, and as of this writing is affiliated with Repertory Philippines. I first heard about her from Anna Sobrepena Ong (B-Side). She was recommending her when she heard I was looking for a singer/songwriter for a project band I was cooking up. Thing is, I never got to meet or speak to her till recently. I got to hear Wayfaring Stranger after which I made it a point to meet Jennifer and hopefully do some sort of collab/project band with her. Wayfaring Stranger just makes you do that. It sucks you in, makes you curious about the mind that made it and make you wanna know more. Her singing is dead on, and the harmonies she chose gave a pleasant chill to the tune- “the wow goosebumpy kind”. As more songs come out, and as she tries new things in her journey with music, I don’t think she will be a stranger to us for long.
I guess I can trace my current taste in music to the time when I heard my sister play the piano. She was taking lessons, and I guess nainggit ako. I wanted to play also, then it turned out she wasn’t even interested in it, so I ended up taking her lessons. Oh! But in terms of current taste (sorry, I read that as “how I got into music”), ang dami eh! It just changes seasonally. I can’t place one particular time. What I listen to now is not the same as what I listened to 3 or 5 years ago. Ang dami, iba-iba lang talaga.
First album I purchased with my own money was the Batman soundtrack–tapos fake pa yung laman. This was in Raon, I was on this Batman thing in the early 90’s (or late 80’s ata?). We were there to buy some stuff for the house, and my dad has this thing where he just likes to get lost in Manila from time to time. And when I bought the album, iba yung laman. So it’s piracy in a rotten way talaga.
I associate music with vacations, food, past loves, almost everything—except when I have to study, because I have to kill the music, otherwise I’m just not gonna be able to concentrate. I started out as a musician by—going back to the story with my sister, ayun. Nag-feeling na ako. I started out with the keyboard, piano, organ, then it became the guitar, then it became the drums.
With the live scene (at least from my perspective) it’s the people (audience) that change. Folks grow up, priorities change, and next thing you know, it’s the next generation that’s in your gigs. You see new faces, but the same zest, the same love, the same excitement—it’s all there. It’s just a different group. In terms of audiences: it depends too, case-to-case basis, with Cynthia (Alexander), I’d see the next generation still appreciate her and then you still have the old ones hanging around. With Imago naman, it’s a bit less of both sides – with the newer ones, you see a bit less, as well as with the older ones. I guess the reason behind that is we just take forever between albums. When you take four years to record, you realize that’s an entire high school batch you just missed out on.
Music itself is about sharing, and how do you share?
You have to relate to these things. If you’re still relevant in people’s lives, it’s about yung relationship na yon, it’s how I can relate to another person.
Recording is more efficient now. Songwriting-wise, we just pass songs around by emailing each other…in terms of sound? I don’t know why, but the Philippines still has this sound (I can’t really put my finger on it…). Since I dabbled into mastering before, in the studio, and I’ve had talks with other engineers, they said it could have something to do with the electricity (which can cause a lot of RFI if not shielded right). If you go to the U.S. just by listening to the radio—-just the radio station itself, not the songs coming out of the radio, but listening to the DJ’s voice itself–it’s nice and juicy and compressed and fat. It’s everything, it’s the whole system that has to be changed.
Yes, it’s more affordable, it’s efficient, everyone can do it; but in terms of sound parang, nyeehhhh, okay lang.
Marketing and distribution are more do-it-yourself (DIY): you cannot compare our marketing and distribution, let’s say, to the indie guys in the U.S., because our major labels here are like the smallest independent operations in the U.S. It’s just a small market, so in terms of what, let’s say, Universal – what they’re doing is the equivalent of a small operation in the U.S. Ang liit kasi.
In terms of reaching out, although there’s an advantage with facebook and social media and all that, there is still that problem because of all that stuff you see on the internet. What do you listen to? Who is the person who is going to tell you that “this is cool,” or “guys, you need to listen to this.” You go on Google, then what are you going to look for, ‘di ba? So in terms of marketing and distribution, before you even get to that, how do you get your band known enough so that you can start selling something?
So in terms of marketing and distribution: yes, it has improved, there’s a lot of DIY involved, but in terms of getting to know who’s out there, medyo nag-iba. NU’s not around anymore. It’s that focal point na nawawala, I feel, especially for Rock music. For example, you have the pop guys: they have ABS, they have GMA, they have Myx. But if you concentrate on Rock and all that other stuff–not even necessarily Rock, you also have mga Vanessa del Bianco na medyo hindi naman Rock. (Have you heard of her?) I feel she could be Pop, but nobody’s picked her up and championed her.
I mean, where do you go to look? Do you go to Pitchfork? KEXP? There still has to be that place you go to for what’s new. You don’t just randomly look for something. Ang nangyayari ngayon, the audience really has to look and go out. Especially in the Philippines, you gotta go to gigs, you gotta ask friends. It’s the situation: it’s money, it’s business, I wouldn’t say it’s culture. I still believe it’s because of the infrastructure. Advertisers, or these people who buy media or buy spots for media, they don’t have the confidence yet to invest kasi feeling nila “yung tao hindi mage-gets.” There’s no risk, no belief in the Filipino na, “hindi, mage-gets naman nila’to.”
It’s not cultural, it’s more of kapraningan rather than anything else, I think. It’s more of a business-minded thing. Kung cultural ‘to, wala na talaga, wala ka talagang makikita.
It’s really tough to talk about history and icons because you’ve gotta look at it as a cycle. For example, The Eraserheads came out, then everybody wanted to sound like The Eraserheads ’til they all got sick of it. Then we’ve got the Greyhoundz and Queso guys getting really, really heavy–I’m just speaking for the NU scene. So you have The Eraserheads…then wala na. No one can top what they did, and so in comes hardcore. Dami na din gumagaya. Then three or four years later, Bamboo (Mañalac) and Kitchie (Nadal) come up–totally different, at ayan na naman, nag-gagayahan na naman.
At eto pa, Bamboo is from the 90s. If you look at the standard na inabot ng Maya (Rivermaya) at ng Eheads, wala pa atang naka-attain na ganung level sa 2000s…sa band explosion 2005 onwards, they are still some of the guys from the late 90’s.
I can’t really explain it, sometimes you see a band–they have hundreds and thousands of hits on facebook, pero wala naman silang gig. And then you have a band with a lot less hits, and then they’re the ones gigging around.
So it’s really hard to tell. Sino ba mainit ngayon (in terms of making a dent)? I don’t know, mataas standard ko eh. You have to affect everyone across all markets the way The Eraserheads have done. They can make a U.S. tour, everyone still knows them. You put a popular band of the 2000s onstage right now, it’s not the same.
In terms of the entire scene, RadioRepublic.ph has been pretty exciting for us. In less than a year, we were able to produce and showcase over 400 tracks, all performed and recorded live in our studio. We were able to do a music festival in Dumaguete called Dagsa, and we were able to champion OPM in a way never done before.
RadioRepublic can call the Elements (National Singing and) Songwriting Camp “Mommy”. The concept came about when Jun Sy (CEO Tao Corp.) hooked up with Ryan Cayabyab and Twinky (Lagdameo). They started Elements, where they get a bunch of aspiring singers and songwriters, set them off in a resort in Dumaguete for five days, where they get to learn from the likes of Jim Paredes and Gary Granada, Joey Ayala, Raimund Marasigan (to name a few), where they do a lot of music workshops. After finding that much talent around in the camp, the question of how they can be showcased them came up. So much talent–who’s gonna hear them?
Doon pumasok ang Radio Republic. And we’ve played and championed so many new artists that have not seen that kind of attention anywhere else. So in terms of music, for me, it’s not really going anywhere, good music is here to stay. It’s just a matter of giving musicians that push and the attention that they deserve.
Recorded at the Radio Republic studios in Makati, Metro Manila. Duration 15:30 minutes. Illustrated by Jules Quiambao.