"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
We spent the last three successive sessions arranging the song ‘Happenstance’ and I will admit to myself, I think it has come out to be one killer of a song. Not bad for one we had basically put together during a drinking session in C24. An accidental arrangement. A marriage between Ian’s song he had written without lyrics, and lyrics I had written without a song. The marriage was a bit tricky owing to the awkward syllabication, at least at first. But we managed to pull it together before our next round of beer then.
By now, after our series of sessions we had started since last week, the song sounded very distinct. Boobop thought the arrangement was ‘intelligent’. I think he’s right.
It starts out with a strong first verse with a second voice for the vocals. Sweet and sharp. Then, it quickly segues to a snappy chorus. Solid groove and catchy rhythm. It’s becoming my favorite among all the songs we had already done.
Come to think of it, every new song we finish arranging, quickly becomes my new favorite. It’s like we keep outdoing ourselves. I know I’m not in the position to objectively rate our new songs being neck-deep in the arrangement work but just the same, I can’t help but feel our songwriting process is getting sharper each time around. Should be a good sign, if anything.
The band now knows we had to move fast. Together with Boom, we had set a broad timetable for us this year, which included, among other things, a target schedule to go in the recording studio by April, which was basically, just two months away.
So where did we stand for now? Lets see, we now have four completely arranged songs and a fifth one almost done so that makes five. We had 4 songs lined up for arrangement, all of them we had started work on. Two we shelved for the meantime. The other two, we we’re planning to work on next thinking they’d be easier to arrange as we had gotten stuck on the first two.
That makes a total of nine. Still not enough for a full album. Of course, we had other songs we were holding back for one or other reasons. Mainly however, I felt we’d be better off writing more songs together during our full sessions. In any case, we had a schedule to catch. And in any case, we had to put in more time. So in conclusion, we all decided to go for a four-times-a-week schedule for arranging/jamming. Pretty hectic for our band, any band for that matter.
I guess that means we’d all be spending more time and money on more days, actually, nights, of the week. Swell. We comforted ourselves with the thought that this would only be a temporary arrangement. True, for obviously, once we had all the songs arranged, recorded and released, we’d only then have to devote time for reviewing done songs.
Our first order of business after our Sinulog gigs was to go back to writing and arranging songs. After the long break from the habit, we we’re all eager to get back at it. We had decided to come back to working on ‘Happenstance’, the last song we had been working on.
The break afforded us the needed space to develop fresh insights on how to arrange the song. Personally, I had wanted this piece to be one were I did not do any guitar work. I had always wanted to be able to sing a song without having a guitar slung over my back. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do such very often considering we were only a four-piece band, which meant we had to maximize whatever instrumentation we could muster.
By the middle of our arranging session though, the guys coaxed me to consider putting in guitar parts anyway. We needed to explore a wider soundscape, no big deal. So I played a few improvisations in the arrangement. Very simple parts were all I could develop and add. Through all this, the song kept evolving. Kept emerging. By the time we were winding down to our closing minutes, the song had really shaped up more.
Obviously, my minor guitar contribution made a difference. Ergo, it’s staying in. O well, we still got other songs to work on. I’ll get another chance I’m sure.
After a while of cooling down with beer, Ian and I decide to go back inside ‘Veranda’ and finish packing our gear. Jerros and Boobop had, minutes ago, already gone ahead for other places. It was after all the Sinulog weekend. There was a lot happening all over town.
We on the other hand, had made other plans. We were to meet up with Boom, a friend of April’s. April arranged the hook-up to discuss a possible band management arrangement. We desperately needed a strong contact in Manila if we wanted to achieve even half of what we set out for the band this year. Broadly speaking, Boom fit the bill. Based in Manila, Boom was in town together with a few of the bands she was working with. Managing even, if you could call it that. Typecast and Chicosci were two of the acts in town she was with.
Arriving at the Rivergate Mall after a brisk drive through Cebu’s uptown nightlife clearly charged with the festive spirit, we immediately noticed the crowd spilling out from the ‘Casbah’ gig that had just ended.
Quickly enough, we hook up with April. I do a quick scan around and try and guess which one was Boom. Half-expecting someone with a flamboyant air, I was nowhere near in my guessing. I kept thinking of Don King, the eccentric boxing promoter, for some unknown reason. Anyway, she was there just in front of me sitting quite relaxed, and almost unnoticeable. I almost doubted by her looks if she could handle such a job of reigning in varied egos as only rock music attracted. After some drinks and a few hours of half-serious chat, which saw us into the wee hours of the morning in C24, I concluded this could work. Finally, we got ourselves an agent.
Before dropping her off with Gabby of Urbandub at their place where she was spending the night together with her wards, we agreed to meet again before she left for Manila a couple of days after. We had much to discuss.
Thinking to myself through the alcohol and building fatigue on my long drive home, I told myself this was going to be a big year. How big remains to be seen.
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.