"I didn't like the name but it doesn't matter. They played great band music." - Nina Araknida Sunstar, Flip / September 15, 2002
"Few rock bands in town could stand at the crossroads of a dynamic and evolving music scene and knock down the high walls that divide music genres and audiences with as much success as Sheila and the Insects. " - Ronald P. Villavelez Yup!, Issue 1.03 / November 2001
"Sheila & The Insects’ music is new wave-influenced post-punk rock music that is considerably heavy yet still melodic " - Cris O. Ramos Jr. The Manila Times / May 31, 2003
"What does an indie band do with the oft-maligned mix of rock and new wave? In the case of Cebu-based Sheila and the Insects, plenty." - Ganns Deen PULP , PulpReviews / Issue 13, March 2001
For the first time to my memory, I actually dreaded hearing the clamor for "more!" from the audience yet there it was. It wasn’t like the ‘Veranda’ patrons were on their feet eagerly demanding an encore, but you couldn’t help but hear the distinct requests within earshot. Sadly, these we had to ignore as we quietly went about our business of packing our gear with sweaty hands and moist brows.
As much as we hated disappointing the audience by not playing more, we would have probably disappointed them anyway had we given in and extended our set. Having only prepared just enough songs to do a one and a half hour set and nothing more, we simply had to say goodbye. We could have winged it and played anything we hadn’t already from our limited repertoire but then again, we’d probably have ended up playing an awful improvisation. Hence my unusual dread.
This situation wasn’t unexpected, so why the lack of preparation? For the last few months, our focus had been to write songs. Building up our repertoire was a far second on our priorities. Beer sits within the top five and recently, food-trip particularly ‘ginabut’ a new entry.
Anyway, we felt euphoric playing our closing set that night, never mind the fatigue that was by then starting to set in. Even the bar owners respected our decision to play all originals except for a couple of covers we threw in plus a remake of an original Cebuano hit. We got paid and we get to come back and play again. For many bands, that would have been all that mattered. But for us, we’ve loftier goals and we’re getting there as sure as our last closing note that night that ended a satisfying evening marred only by the Sinulog-induced traffic that was absolutely horrendous.
Earlier that night, we played our set at the Ayala-FGU grounds where the stage was bigger than the entire ‘Veranda’ club. Of course the feel of the performance, expectedly, was entirely different owing the larger scale of everything. But what remained the same was our enthusiasm in playing our songs. There’s something to be said about performing up on the stage. The experience is elevating in more ways than just literally. Tonight we felt it in our bones.
We’ve been doing all original sets ever since this new lineup debuted during the Idiot Board concert last year but I still cannot get over the euphoria of enjoying my time up there. The feeling is no less than liberating. After years of suffering cover songs during packed concerts, out there, I’m no longer ashamed. And that’s all I ever wanted being in a band – to be proud of what I do.
We ended after an hour and a half, tired and with a mix of uncertainty and excitement. We would have wanted more practice minutes but ours and the studio's schedules made it impossible. This was the last of our series of practice sessions we devoted to getting ready for our long Sinulog gig at the Veranda where we're supposed to play an hour and a half. Exactly as long as our just ended practice session. We're not too worried about our gig at the Ayala since we'll only be playing a half-hour set there. Then again, the crowd there would be definitely larger. Hundreds, I'd say.
Already, the Sinulog festivities are beginning to gain momentum. Go around the city and you'll know what I mean. There's electricity in the air, aside from the very visible corporate banners hung from every possible overhang above shoulder level. Our Ayala gig will be a two (or is it three) - night event that starts Friday. The lot is within view from our office window just across the street so pretty much, I've witnessed the transformation of an open grassy lot to a flashy and overly conspicuous outdoor concert venue.
I'm trying to cut down on my alcohol and nicotine consumption this week on the days leading to our gigs. Coming outside after packing my guitar and gear, I see the guys gathered 'round a table already enjoying a few drinks and with a few friends from Manila who're in Cebu early. Mong of Chicosci and a few other buddies. And the beer looks tempting. Hmmmm.
Before the new year really gets its momentum going, allow me to settle the question on how we came up with our band name if only because I’ve heard more than my share of totally inaccurate and sometimes absurd explanations as to who Sheila is and why 'Insects'?
The most common is that there really is a Sheila in the band and I only do the fronting duties in her absence. I remember I'd jokingly apologize on my concert spiels that Sheila couldn't make it but that the Insects were all present. Apparently, I didn't sound funny enough and maybe a few spectators actually believed me.
On conversations, I'd remember getting weird faces when I'd mention I was the lead vocalist for Sheila and the Insects. For a time, many thought we actually were a female-fronted act.
There was another time long ago I remember someone remembered our name wrong and referred to us as “Samantha and the Butterflies”. An interesting iteration, I thought. Just thought I’d mention it.
Another story I heard, and I’m not joking, is that Sheila is actually Ian’s closet name. Now if Ian does have one, I can assure everyone it is not Sheila. Then there’s the story that Sheila was a Fine Arts undergrad in USC who hung out with her barkada of mostly Chinese friends, “Insik” in colloquial, which morphed to Insects. Then there’s the scandalous story that Sheila was a girlfriend that we ‘shared’ within the band. A girl-pet of sorts if there ever was one. All untrue.
The real story though is really unremarkable which is why we try to avoid narrating it. Sheila is a real person and she used to hang out with the band back when we still had a different name. She’s not the type who’d impress you with her wit and grace. In fact, her enthusiastic attempts at humor were nothing less than pathetic, but we’d still be game enough to laugh, but only because we still had some tact intact. We we’re many things in the past but brutal is not one of them. Despite our behavior, she still was slow to catch on that we were actually laughing at her and not at her jokes. Anyway, one time, this Sheila made a casual reference to Blair’s fidgeting, which, unknown to her, was because at that time we were giggling about a private joke. She commented that Blair probably had insects in his shirt. A comment that amused us for its staleness. So much so that it became a sort of an inside joke that stayed with us for quite some time.
Anyway, to continue the story, our band used to be called “The End” but when another group from Manila emerged with exactly the same name, we decided to rename ourselves. So we brainstormed and after much debate, decided tentatively and not unanimously on “Toilet Ducks”. Don’t ask me to explain and I know it’s not as funny as it is tasteless. What can I say? We we’re young and unrefined. So anyway, just as we we’re raising a toast to our new name, Blair jokingly suggest the name “Sheila and the Insects”. We all laughed remembering the story behind it. Then after the hilarity of the moment ebbed, it dawned on us four – why not? So there.
Everyone hated our new name and told us so. And for those who showed a bit of tact, you could still sense they we’re laughing their guts inside. Hey, It’s not like you could blame them.
Anyway, we stuck to our name in spite of it all. Personally, I had stuck to the belief that a band name is not as important as the music that you will eventually make. I had always believed that whatever name we would have decided to use mattered less than our songs and our sound.
I trusted that our music would eventually define our name and not our name defining our music. Looking back at the years and albums past, I’m proud to say I think we’ve come to achieve that.
Apparently, only Ian fails to realize that Sinulog was less than 2 weeks away. Cebu's biggest festival, the most colorful and the best attended is a weeklong celebration with the culminating parade on the third Sunday of January. And with the traditional festivities come lots of events and, yes, gigs. So instead of arranging our new songs, we agree to review our set instead. Rightly so, we all agree, if we were to put up strong performances. Sinulog shows are traditionally the grandest, so there.
For now, we've been booked for three gigs on the 15th, which is the eve of the Sinulog. The first is a short set at the Baseline Complex where we do a gig for "Amped", the local TV show. The second is an outdoor concert at the Ayala-FGU grounds with River Maya. And the last is a set at the "Veranda" which is, for the moment, the "in" hangout in Cebu. A small but cozy place that is always packed on weekends. Should be fun.
This will be the first Sinulog for the band with the new lineup. Which brings me to recall with some amusement the last gig of the old Sheila and the Insects.
This time last year, Ian and I finally got around to agreeing between ourselves that we had to quit our band and build a new one. We had gotten tired of playing the same old covers. Who wouldn't? Okay, half the band didn't but there's more to it than that. But lets not go into the painful details. Anyway, Ian and I got around to realizing that we both wanted to play and promote our own songs primarily instead of just throwing in one or two every set. Sometimes, none at all. How could we build a name for the band that way?
Okay, arguably, things were different for us here in Cebu. In Manila, we did all original sets, practically all the time. Cebu, it could be argued, had a different crowd. We had fallen into the trap of thinking that's just how things were, forgetting in the long run that if things were to change, it had to start with the us and not with the crowd.
It wasn't all for lack of conviction though. In fairness, we had started out and built our band from obscurity up to our current status by playing covers. Our own songs had to take the backseat. The conditions back then when we had started just weren’t right.
Anyway, after long talks between beer sessions, Ian and I discovered we both wanted to end it all and start anew. This was last year. Secretly, we agreed to just stay on with the band only until the Sinulog, quit, and then just take it from there. We played our very last set at the Fuente Osmeña, Cebu's most popular converging point and a landmark in itself. It was a huge crowd and packed tightly towards the stage. The thrill of playing for a huge crowd is totally indescribable. You get such a kick out of it; I'll admit that much. But walking away from the big stage with my guitar slung on my back with Ian was the biggest thrill for me that night. After all the pent up frustration, we were finally walking away from it all and into a, then, unknown future. But a much more exciting future however uncertain it had been.
This year, things will be decidedly different. Our last scheduled show this coming Sinulog weekend is the one at "Veranda" which is a very small place. One that, I estimate, can only pack in less than 50 people at any one time. A far cry from the thousands that had watched our last gig at the Fuente Osmeña. We'll be playing our own songs, and maybe throw in a cover or two just for kicks. The complete exact opposite of our 'final' set last year.
I will be playing my own songs to a packed room instead of old, tiring covers to thousands in a packed oval. Yet for all the disparity, this is exactly what I chose. And I’m completely thrilled.
Same as everyone, we're celebrating the holidays and enjoying the respite. Personally, I'm looking forward to the coming year and what we are bent on achieving. If our efforts this year augurs the year to come, then I’ve much to look forward to.
We can hardly call ourselves workaholics this year almost past since if we tally the actual hours we spent together as a band, more minutes are chalked up to long talks and beer sessions, so alcoholics maybe, but not workaholics. Only a fraction of our time is solidly spent actually practicing in the studio and/or writing songs. Of course, downtime is part of the creative process.
Be that as it may, we all put in the requisite effort to put out what we can in what time and opportunity we had. And unlike the band’s previous generation on its waning days, we, the current iteration, have a definite plan. Not rigid and all too comprehensive, but clear and with defined targets. We may not be professional managers but in our own ways, we’ve acted as though we were, keeping the band busy. Keeping the band moving forward. To stand still for too long is death. Stagnation is death is stagnation.
Life and growth is all about taking in and spewing out. Constant flow. To stop is death. This is true at the cellular level as much as in the larger level of complex life. As in life, as much so in art this is true. All is a constant flow that if stopped means creative death.
So we face the future with promising prospects. Assimilated influences from four differing personalities wrought through work and pain spew forth a collection of songs that hopefully communicates as much as it fulfills our craft. Ahh, to finally see the new CD on the racks, a sight to behold indeed. I’ve waited for far too long.
May 2005 bring forth a giant step of sorts and, for our band at least, may 2005 be a leap year. Soaring. Inspiring. Momentous. I make these pronouncements as a prediction as much as a declaration of deep yearning. A thirst, which I shall channel as fuel in my work. All for the drive towards a tall but reachable goal for the year. I wish you all just as much. And more.
"Nice gig", we said to each other as we clink our bottles in the air. I've always felt raising bottles and glasses for a toast was never a truly Filipino practice. This is the land were the 'tagay' is more revered. But it felt good to celebrate. I just wish my beer was colder.
Ian, Jerros and I shared the bar facing Cattski who were now playing their last few songs. Boobop had already gone ahead. Our set earlier that night wasn’t a perfectly played gig, we acknowledged that to each other, but we did great up there and the emotions we’re all too real. We had played a much tighter set than our last gig, which I remember absolutely hating. And we had fun up there tonight. So did the crowd.
So our ‘Post no bill’ series kicks off successfully. Attendance was solid and the ‘indie’ visibility was definitely strong. Cattski’s videos on a projector screen glowed in the night, figuratively and literally. Streamers and posters festooned the frontage while Lighter records took the chance to sell CD’s at the lobby including ours, and our SATI T-shirts, debuting that night sold a few. Not bad. Probably the only major hitch was that ‘The Ambassadors’ didn’t play as billed. Good thing ‘Happy Days’ was available. And they played a strong opening set. I also wasn’t able to do the video titles for Post no bill as I had promised. I couldn’t fit it in my work schedule because of the holiday rush of jobs. Maybe we can have it for next time, if we still have a projection screen then.
Overall, the show did great. We’d do well to make this a regular thing if only to keep the scene from stagnating. Congratulations to everyone involved and our thanks to everyone who came over to watch. More to come.
I would have wanted us to practice our new song to see if there was any chance we’d be able to finish arranging it in time for our gig this Saturday. Would have been cool to do this new song but Jerros made it clear, he’d have none of it. Rightly so. There was no way we’d be able to arrange it to our collective satisfaction in time for this weekend. Prudence dictates that we’d be better off spending our time polishing our set which by the way included some songs we haven’t jammed in a long time. So there, that’s settled.
But man, it would really have been cool to do this one new song we’d done. I just had to ask the guys out of wishful thinking. The new song definitely rocks if I were asked. After much debate between us four, we had finally settled on a song title: ‘Happenstance’.
Although we haven’t gone as far as to think of carrier singles yet, ‘Happenstance’ could be an important track for our fourth record which by the way is already titled also. Yes, we’ve already settled on an album name. In fact, we’ve already agreed on our cover design, which I shall hint, features an underwater shot. Other than that, I won’t divulge the details yet as we all feel it would still be way too early. Besides, since we decided to reissue ‘Manipulator’, our third CD, our promotion efforts should stay focused there.
2005 should be an exciting year for Sheila and the Insects. Firstly, we’ll be reissuing a pressed version of ‘Manipulator’, as already mentioned. And by around April, our brand new album should also be out. Two releases in one year! Should be fun.
Now that we've shelved 'Violet' again by mutual agreement, we've finally allowed ourselves to tinker with our other compositions freely and without guilt. We would have preferred to be done away with one song as stubborn as it is beautiful. A stubbornness probably a curse as much as it is a blessing. For hopefully, when we finally get it done, the creative reward ought to be no less than explosive. Much like orgasm after deliberately slow sex.
Aha, now there’s a subject I haven’t tackled at all in this blog. In a way surprising because many a songwriter have compared the creative process to sex – a most basic human thrust – forgive the pun.
Sex and the creative process. Both involve drawing deep down from welled-up emotions of love no less. So the comparison begins. Should be fun.
One cannot complete either mortal endeavor without passion and powerful emotion. To do otherwise would be nothing short of rape. Which brings me to correct a common misconception about such a sick and dastardly act – that rape is not driven by hate but rather is fueled by apathy. Absolute lack of emotion for the partner or in this case the victim. Hate, after all, is a mere passionate polarity of love, only not as strong.
So sex without emotion is rape. What then is hateful sex? Or hateful songwriting then? How is it manifested and is it common? Quite so, I say. People do it all the time. Masturbation, they call it. A most selfish act done in private. A selfishness borne of disdain for others. Selfish is the word. And so the deed. Which should account for the repressed guilt after the act.
To write songs of hate is to express egotism, a need for self-satisfaction, and greed. Creative masturbation and self-gratification. Hate is such a common undertone in many urban songs. So now I surmise that all those songs espousing hatred and violence are nothing more than ditties written by wimps with a penchant for lonely showers and dexterous hands.
What then of perversions? Exhibitionism is one. Exhibitionism is a psychological disorder causing a compulsion to bare oneself in public. To show all and bare all. Of course, music, being essentially expression, naturally reveals a lot about the author. Poetry in lyrics keeps the translation subjective and exciting, like sexy striptease, while prose or bland language makes for insipid music, like flashing or streaking. Much like the difference between artful nudes and tasteless porn. I would say then that the aim in music should be seduction. To show just enough to whet desires but not too much as to be numbing. So it is not the amount of skin then, but the moves. Ergo, it is not how much you say in your music but how well you say it.
How about prostitution? Is that the equivalent of getting paid to write jingles for cheap consumer products? Maybe if you hated doing it, it becomes so. But if you’re having the time of your life engaging in this oldest of professions, then the money isn’t the purpose but the bonus. So could that be the equivalent of a generous lover?
How about group sex, or trying to please as many partners as possible? Is that not the equivalent of the pop tendencies of many writers? Trying to please everyone including oneself?
And what of homosexuality, sex with another of the same sex? Is that not plagiarism? Or would plagiarism be incestuous sex? Guiltless copying resulting in freaks!
Is necrophilia, or the sexual act with dead bodies the equivalent of doing revivals of oldies? That might be stretching it. And what of bestiality?
I could most likely go on but I’ve got other things that need doing aside from staring at my LCD screen and thinking of sex. Of course, who’s to say that that’s not what everyone thinks of anyway? All the time.
If I had a 16-year old son come to me and ask for my help setting up his band, I'd no sooner give him an extended lecture on the ludicrousness of his idea. You can’t be thinking right if you want to make a living out of music. At least not here on this side of the globe.
Scary the way I sound like my father. But in fairness, my father never went against my playing in a band, which is to say I had his tacit approval. I’m sure he had his misgivings. If I hadn’t maintained a day job, he would have probably given me his extended lecture on the ludicrousness of my band every night I’d show my face at home. So there, I am my father’s son. Mendel’s peas prove inheritance indeed. Now I’d like to prove a point.
And now I come to the crux of my discourse today - that to pursue honest music here you can’t depend on it to be your livelihood.
Notice I said ‘honest’ music. Point being there are ways you can actually make good money in music. Let’s explore the possibilities then.
Number one - you can play in a show band - don club wear or flashy retro outfits three times a week and sing “Buttercup” to a similarly geared crowd talking in Taglish between delicate sips of mixed drinks topped with garnishing. Yeah, you’ll have ‘em clapping and screaming and maybe occasionally, you’ll earn a stalking fan if you look and act cool enough or can say “wassup y’all” with the right twang. But would that be honest music? You’re not even a musician strictly speaking. You’d be just a glam, fancy-clothed instrumentalist with groovy moves paid by the hour. And up on stage, it wouldn’t matter if you actually liked what you were playing so long as the crowd does. I mean, who actually likes to play “Buttercup”? I bet you not even the show bands do. So I ask again, would that be honest music?
Number two - you can ride the pop wave - seek out what’s hot and learn the moves, imitate the fashion, and pick out a top Billboard artist you can imitate. Just make sure you can pull it off, fashion-wise and voice-wise or risk making people cringe, which can be good if you plan an alternative career in stand-up comedy. Yes, you may sell a multi-platinum record faster than you can say, “I’m a born diva” and earn endorsement deals with the next wonder product after papaya soap. The money would be all too real but is that what you’d really want? To guest regularly on talk shows hosted by Boy Abunda and promote your album of 12 songs written by 7 different writers plus the standard remake of an old classic made popular years before your screaming teenage fans were born? Can you honestly live with yourself living that way? Okay, maybe you can. Money is everything; never mind what self-help books say. But would that be honest music belting out the high notes of songs you didn’t write for giggling fans holding up placards with your face on it? You’re still not a musician strictly speaking. You’d be just a glam, fancy-clothed song interpreter paid indirectly by the masses. So I ask again, would that be honest music?
Number three – you can write novelty songs – pick out any one nursery rhyme and replace with unbelievably absurd lyrics and sell it to greedy record executives. More points and pesos earned if you can think up a dance move to go along with your song. Anything that involves gyrating body parts is usually a hit. Okay, so now you are actually writing songs and earning money from it but writing songs to please a clueless horde that watch noontime shows isn’t songwriting in my book but shameless prostitution. Nothing more and nothing less, like anything could be lesser than prostitution. Of course, there are people who actually enjoy being prostitutes. Making them as sick as the profession is old.
Number four - you could be a videoke host, act gay or act normal if in case you are gay and make fun of your audience with degrading jokes while hosting videoke parties, or how about number five - a singing telegram, bring flowers to giggling coeds on dormitory hallways while singing cheesy valentines, or maybe number six - a waiter who entertains diners by wearing silly headgear singing birthday ditties in three versions to patrons pretending its their birthday so they can be the center of attention for 6 minutes.
I could go on and try to test the limits of the maximum allowable length for blog entries but I think I’ve more than made my point. You can’t make money making honest music on this side of the globe. But there are alternatives.
So why do I keep doing what I’m doing? I’ll save that for another entry.