I was invited to write a piece for SunStar Daily. Although they liked it, it wasn't published because it was too long. Rather than bother with editing it down to the acceptable length, I'm posting it here instead. I felt it elegantly explains why Sheila and the Insects
is back, hence, I opine, a perfect opening entry to this weblog.
I HATED SHEILA AND THE INSECTS
I hated Sheila and the Insects. If you don't know what I'm talking about, they were the band from Cebu that burst through the Manila music scene circa 2000. Getting noticed with new wave sounding ditties and topping the Manila rock charts with two singles culled from a well-received independent album, SATI was for a time the toast of Cebu. I should know. I am their frontman. I still am.
I’m the lead vocalist for the band, and I have been for close to ten years now. I didn’t always hate playing in the band. In fact, when I first started, I absolutely enjoyed it.
It was different before. I was still in college then when the norm was that bands played cover songs during gigs. Although there were bands that broke through with their original songs particularly during the “Local Ground” era, that scene, although now legendary, did not last long. We had emerged during the mid-90’s at the tail end of that short-lived local band scene explosion. The momentum, although meteoric, had quickly ebbed. We found ourselves riding a dying wave.
But we went on.
And we had to survive. So without knowing it, we evolved into a band that played covers. Yes, we had original songs but nobody really appreciated them. Not when radio didn’t really support local bands and musicians. Radio had myopic play lists back then. (Not to say that it’s great nowadays.) Myopic in the sense that they never noticed talent right under their noses. I’m not saying their program directors didn’t have taste in that they never took notice of our band. That would be saying too much. After all, as I recall, we sounded awful years ago. Not to claim we sound great nowadays, but at least now I think most will find our songs palatable.
So going back to radio, their play lists had to be mostly foreign acts (read: top 40 hits) with a sprinkling of OPM (read: Martin Nievera ballads and other similar-sounding tagalog songs). Never any songs from Cebuano artists. Never!
Okay, I may be exaggerating, but only to stress a point. The point being that Cebuanos back then, never really took notice of local original music. It’s almost like when you never notice a pretty neighbor and it takes a comment from a visiting cousin from out-of-town to make you take a second look. Bad metaphor, I know.
So anyway, we still went on.
And on our gigs, we played cover songs. Hey, we were really enjoying ourselves. We were playing songs from The Smiths, The Cure, and Echo and the Bunnymen. What could be more ‘cool’ than that? Hey, we were young, collectively naïve and I had more hair then.
It was great and I was having the time of my life. We played gigs in small clubs and eventually got invited to bigger clubs, clubs that had more class, much more expensive beer and a spunkier crowd. So every time we’d play for these better-dressed people, we’d throw in cheesy covers like “Ghost in you” by the Psychedelic Furs (it never failed) or that anthem-like “Don’t you forget about me” by the Simple Minds. People went gaga over the “lalala” of that song’s ending. They loved us. And we loved it.
Maybe we loved it too much that we fell for it. It was the lure of bigger crowds, and bigger bank checks. We took it all in. Shamelessly. Nothing like fame and fortune.
I think we would never admit it then, but I think we got greedy. We wanted more, so we went to Manila. We we’re getting noticed in our neighborhood now so we figured the next natural step would be to get noticed in a bigger neighborhood. So we quit our day jobs, against our parent’s sane advice, packed our guitars and clothes and tried our luck in the big city. Like I said, we were young and naïve. We knew in our hearts we’d make it.
And we were right. Eventually.
We couldn’t get gigs in the classy bars, because we didn’t have a sexy female vocalist fronting, our band-name notwithstanding. Audition after audition, we got turned down. Until we decided to do our own stuff and play our own songs. Then things started happening for us. Our band’s self-discovery led us to the right gigs, the right connections and, eventually, the right breaks.
Eventually, we succeeded beyond our expectations. But only because we wanted it badly enough that we persisted for two years and against all odds. Nothing like the hunger for fame and fortune to drive you on. Yes, national radio finally played our songs, we topped the rock chart and we played in the NU107 rock awards as “Best new artist” nominee. I was living my dreams.
But we didn’t enjoy Manila. It was a rough neighborhood. And so we went back to Cebu. Back to the grind of gigs and the tiring band circuit. And we went back to playing cover songs, because sadly, Cebu still generally liked the old, familiar Sheila and the Insects.
That’s when I started to hate playing for the band. I had found my soul in Manila playing songs that I myself wrote only to fall back into the same trap of playing cover songs. The rest of our band’s story here is one filled with constant unease, painful compromise and soul-less existence. At least that’s my version. And that’s my reason for eventually breaking up with the band.
I wanted honesty in my music. Something that, I’ve come to realize, means more than the weekly bar gigs, chanting party people, and the regular talent fee. I sold my soul for a song and I have had enough of it so I quit. There.
But were back now. Sheila and the Insects is back in the band scene. We’ve got a new sound, new songs, and a new album in the works. I’m playing with Ian Zafra, the guy who recruited me in the band years ago plus Boobop and Jerros, two new talented members who share the same ambition for the band.
So what’s different this time around? Our songs are for sale but not our souls.
I know I may sound presumptuous but at least I’m being honest. Something I’ve been unable to claim for my music for quite a few staggered years.