"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
Suddenly and without warning, they invaded the concrete lot. Garbed in (so unoriginal) black, they celebrated their ten seconds of stolen attention from bystanders with cocky and purposeful strides. Feeling like they owned the place, they nonetheless came across as almost pitiful rather than menacing. They were trying too hard I guess.
Fancy hairdos and trying to make a statement with sweaty shirts emblazoned with meatless slogans and clichéd logos, they only made me stifle a laugh. And they all looked so young and the same. Especially from where I was seated, enjoying a late lunch of sticky pizza and fancy iced tea more to alleviate the unusual heat wave, they looked like cheap clones of each other.
And they were arriving in droves. They probably understood the concept of safety in numbers, which probably explains away their misplaced arrogance.
We had come all the way to SM Fairview to play in an outdoor show at the mall’s open-air parking lot and seeing the growing black horde before us now gave me a slight sense of unease. These lads were typical of the pubescent hormones that frequented free outdoor concerts. Wild, pretentious teenage rock fans who consider watching shows more a physical sport than a sonic experience that they actually mosh more than they listen.
We, as a band, in all our years of existence, never could make a connection with them. Partly, this explains my disdain for them, which I hold at level with my disgust for faux socialites. But more than that, I’m only now beginning to understand, it is their utter lack of substance that really ticks me off.
“They are poseurs and that’s all they are”. That’s how Pao succinctly put it.
We were cooling down after our gig that saw our audience made up mainly of ‘the black horde’ show little enthusiasm if at all. We were strategizing how to tailor our set list next time so we’d do better before such a typical audience.
Then this young lad, he wasn’t dressed in black thank goodness, walked towards us and asked if we were Sheila and the Insects. That’s how we met Pao. Apparently, he had only listened to the show from afar and so liked what he heard from us that he sought us out to buy a copy of our album right there and then. Luckily, we discovered one stray copy in the trunk of Boom’s car when we tried to fish it for its contents, which was made up mostly of our stinking t-shirts and guitars.
So we made a quick sale and new friend. Also, Pao’s comments slowly made me realize there may have been more people out there in the fringes of the ‘black sea’ who had actually braved the scorching afternoon sun one unusually hot Sunday in Fairview for the music and not the moshing. So although the main body of the crowd hardly showed enthusiasm for our set that afternoon, who’s to say we didn’t gain a few more ‘believers’ in our music other than Pao who had had the energy enough to actually seek us out in the parking lot near the backstage.
Flowerfish isn’t for everybody’s consumption anyway. I’d certainly hope not. So why bother ourselves with appeasing a clueless horde. We should strive to please a much more discerning audience. The type who do not need to look to their peers to make up their own minds.
We ought to look to the strong, intelligent, and independent-minded few. They’d understand our music much more than a whole battalion of ‘black shirts’ ever could on any given Sunday.
I have made some insinuating statements here regarding the collective taste and intelligence of the warm bodies making up the typical mosh pits here in Manila. Probably unwise of me yet I offer no apologies nor hold caution, their numbers notwithstanding. I’m guessing it would be so unlikely they’ll ever know what I think of them. Surely, It would be so uncharacteristic, or too much, to expect of them to read blogs. Or read if at all.
So you've decided you want to be in a rock band? Maybe you've always felt you were different and you didn't belong in greek-letter fraternities or alibata-activist organizations? You've always wanted to stand out so you think playing on stage in front of screaming fans is the way to go? Okay, if you think you've got what it takes to be the next rock icon take your best shot at it.
If you're good and end up the next big breakthrough band, the whole scene benefits. If you suck and end up as the most painfully annoying band in your barangay, you still make the rest of us look better. Either way, welcome aboard.
Before you start practicing your autograph signature though, here's a quick checklist of what I feel should be the minimum prerequisites to make it in the scene:
1. TALENT. First is you must have some. Obviously. Most contend that with talent, its either you have it or you don't but with rock bands, who needs a lot when you can do with just enough. And since you're not joining the Manila Symphony Orchestra, you don't have to be formally schooled in music although that certainly helps, but you should at least know your instrument well enough to play convincingly. If you don't know enough yet, practice until you do but don't wait too long to start a band. You'll learn more playing gigs than you ever could playing in your garage.
2. ATTITUDE. You must have a certain pride in what you do. With pride comes the discipline and the determination to keep going no matter what. Like they always say, any band is 15 minutes away from selling a ton of records but you wouldn't know that if you can't even keep your band in circulation long enough to finish playing one potential hit song. Market yourself like crazy. There's the local circuit and there's the Internet. Play in both arenas as much as you can. If no one liked your band the last time you gigged in the local bar, odds are someone eventually will. Maybe not this town, this year, or your current e-group but chances are it will eventually happen if you stay the course.
3. LOOKS. Sadly, show business is show business and if you don't have the looks, natural or enhanced, you've got something of a problem. You need the x-factor to stand out. Don't despair though if you feel you're no Adonis. Even Keanu Reeves couldn't get his band to take off. You don't have to have a perfect mane or well-chiseled features to look the part. In fact, only in the realm of rock can you find the ugliest celebrities. Fashion wise, anything goes so you can't really make a mistake in that department. In fact, who needs a good top if halfway through the first song it gets thrown at the mosh pit packed with screaming fans anyway. Just remember that there's usually a genre fit for whatever look you're stuck with. If you've got a pretty face, you can join a boy band. Unkempt? Go reggae. Scary? Go heavy rock. Geeky? Go indie. Watch enough MTV and MYX and you'll get the drift.
4. LUCK. Alas, this last item is difficult to quantify much less acquire. In fact, its just one of those things you can't control directly. Some bands are just blessed with luck to be in the right place at the right time to end up the icon of a generation. Others have just enough of it to end up as a perpetual opening act for all the other meteoric bands. But like all things, luck follows a cycle and favors the prepared. So pool all your connections and send out as many band profiles and demos as you can afford. Do it twice over, and then again. You'll never know if the next kit will strike the jackpot and land you a multi-album record deal and a savvy band manager.
I could have listed six more items to make it a top ten list but then there's a limit to my article length so I'll keep it at four. Just remember you don't have to have all four under your belt. You can compensate for lack in one by having more of the others. In fact, you can surely make it big with just one item if you've got tons of it. Tons of talent never hurt anyone. Unyielding drive gets you there too eventually. If not, who needs attitude and talent if you've got looks that could kill. (Okay, you might need a stylist plus a sharp dance choreographer and probably a dedicated publicist). If all else fails, lady luck just might favor you even without the other three items because like justice, luck wears a blindfold and doesn't care who she strikes on her next swing.
So to be famous, you don't have to die when you reach 27 like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, or Kurt Cobain, bless their souls. If you plan to kill yourself anyway, why not by throwing all your energies into your band. Just remember my TALL order: Talent, Attitude, Looks and Luck plus the rule of compensation if you're lacking in one or more departments. If you still fail, take heart. There still are ways you can get rich without getting anything actually done. Like working for the government. But unlike the music business, you'd do well to avoid, by all means, getting a recording out.
The place was called Dish. Located inside the ABS-CBN compound, it certainly was large. Maybe even a little too large for our purpose. No surprise since the place was a traditional showband party place. The interiors evoked a certain classy aura. One we were not used to.
We we’re launching ‘Flowerfish’ and the ‘8-Track’ albums. The latter was a compilation of 8 songs from various unsigned bands, which included our song ‘Lemerson’. But I guess the highlight that night was the formal press launch of ‘Flowerfish’. Finally, fresh copies were being given out to the press representatives together with a press kit that Boom and I had put together. The kits came out quite impressive, even eliciting a comment on how we had come up with the money to produce such a professional-looking kit. If I didn’t know better, I might have said I overdid the layouts because our materials looked more major label than indie, which really isn’t a bad thing. In any case, you can never go wrong with smart and clean layouts which was what I was aiming for when I did the CD jackets, posters, and presskits. Kudos of course goes to Nicolas Aboitiz for the top-class photograph for the cover and of course to Kathy Zialcita for the superb band pics.
In the end, what is packaging without the music. So after the press got their questions answered and the requisite footages shot, we clambered up the stage on cue and played our prepared set. We were expecting to play an hour’s worth of songs but since the affair had started late, we opted to shorten our set. Other bands were still set to play after us after all.
And that was how we spent one rainy Saturday night in Quezon City, playing our best songs to a critical audience made up of press people and fiercely independent yet accomplished musicians. Yet in spite of the situation, it felt good to be up there that night. The music flowed naturally and without effort. Like the rain outside that was punctuating the stillness of Manila’s polluted air. Rain that I hoped augured well for our brand new album.
The music industry is dying. Okay, I exaggerate again. Maybe not in it’s death throes but definitely sick and suffering. Not music, mind you, but the industry in its present form. Music per se can survive revolutions and world wars, even flourish. But the industry, mainly the record companies, if it doesn’t smart up pretty soon, will soon follow in the footsteps and sudden demise of the cinema industry in the Philippines, now extremely emaciated and probably permanently so.
The record labels like to blame music piracy for their woes. Quite naturally. It’s all too easy to stick an accusing and dirty finger at the shameless pirates who sell CD’s at absurdly low prices and at lowly places. But who would want to buy the real deal when you get the exact same sound from a sidewalk hawker for one-tenth the price?
Labels, I surmise, are either too proud or too dumb to admit that their own downfall is mainly their own doing. I mean what business would survive long selling crappy overpriced products. The way I see it, piracy had to happen. Karma for all the years the labels had been duping artists with cheap contracts and cheating the buying public with too expensive CD’s.
I mean how expensive can a thin disc of plastic be? It’s the cheapest material invented on the planet, right? P450 for a thin plastic wafer? I think not. The likely argument would then be that the labels do shoulder the production cost of the music. Baloney! Let’s not get too technical and serious and keep this thing candid. I don’t have the patience for that today. So lets not even begin to discuss the pet pop artists of the big labels and how much their music is worth because they’re certainly not worth listening to if you ask me.
Crappy stuff sold far too expensive for far too long. That’s some serious negative karma accumulating for many long years. It’s amazing how they’ve managed to dupe everyone this long. So now it’s all coming back to haunt them. Revenge in the form of unfair competition. No wonder when pirated CDs started coming out, many bought frantically and proudly. Everyone wanted to get back at the labels for their exploitative pricing.
Speaking of exploitative pricing, the local oil companies could learn a thing or two from this. With the way they’ve run their businesses, the national government, and the national economy for that matter, the day a viable fuel alternative comes will be a day of revenge for everyone. Just like Microsoft and every other exploitative monopoly. Their time will come as surely as death and taxes. And just like logs, the bigger they are the harder they’ll fall. But enough about the pump powers and Bill Gates for now.
Like the cassette tape, which had its time, so too will the CD, as a format, live out its usefulness, and reach the end of its life cycle. And near its end it definitely is. The signs are present. In the United States, a most telling statistic is slowing sales: as formats age, overall revenue has declined 13 percent since 1999. Not helping is the fact that the cost of a CD has risen 16 percent since 1997. In terms of CD titles, new releases have gone down 14 percent since 1999. A few factoids I shamelessly copied off a year-old issue of Wired.
Anyway, many are predicting MP3s will be the next big winner. I-Pod’s success certainly is telling. Or maybe peer-to-peer distribution, legal or illegal. If record labels are slow to recognize the wave of the future, and if they’re slow to catch up, they’ll be left behind and lose their usefulness. In business, if you can’t offer anything, you’re dead.
So what’s the future for the ‘old school’ record labels? Well, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings, or maybe until her song finds its way in Quiapo or Kazaa. When that happens, my dear friends, we’ve got ourselves a whole new opera.
Why Flowerfish? People will eventually ask without doubt. But like any other album title or band name for that matter, that is just it. It’s just a name. Nothing more and nothing less. No hidden meaning or underlying profound kernel of wisdom hidden at the end of a labyrinth of lexicology. It’s just an invented word. I offer no apologies if some of you find that disappointing.
Truth is I just came up with the name from out of nowhere. Two random words that may as well have been picked out from a book of first words for growing babies. Fished out from a sea of ordinary terms representing very ordinary, er, stuff. Joined together to form a wholly different word and hopefully define a wholly different world.
A collection of songs as pretty as a flower yet as elusive as a fish, half hidden in a forest of colorful rocks. Okay, I may have overdone it that time but truth be told, I’d rather that the listener build their own meaning of the word from listening to the album.
Emotions, after all are hard to define and given that each of our songs in this collection evokes a different mood or mix of moods, to pool them all in a collection, it helps to give them a name that hopefully embodies the meaning that should filter out from the sonic experience proffered.
The name had come first before the imagery. I had suggested the album name many months before we even started recording. The band seemed to like it and we all eventually came to adopt it. It was by sheer chance that the album photograph surfaced.
It was from a collection of photos taken during a photo shoot I had done as part of my day job. I was taking pictures to represent the pool facility for a school that was a client of our ad agency. I had experimented with underwater shots using a small, handheld, waterproof digital camera. After I had taken enough photos for my satisfaction, I lent the camera to one of the kids who promptly played around with it.
Weeks after the shoot, I unintentionally browsed through the pictures that the kids had taken. This one photo stood out. An accidental shot evoking an eerie mysterious mood. Those glassy expressionless eyes told stories as varied as could be imagined by anyone. I had found our album cover.
It took me almost a month to trace the boy in the self-portrait and just as long to get a written authorization from the boy’s mother, Robin Aboitiz, who was very kind and accommodating enough to allow us to use the shot.
This is without doubt our best album cover yet. Hopefully, the printers will do the picture justice. Come August, we’ll know.
Fantastic! Other than a few very minor tweaks that need, um, tweaking, ‘Flowerfish’ sounds really good. We we’re listening to the first study mix that Mikmik had burned for us to evaluate and comment on. We all wrote down our concerns but basically, they were all very minute details we thought could be corrected easily enough.
Mikmik had done another brilliant job and to think this mix was done in so short a time. Ideally, a couple of weeks would have been standard but because of our tight production schedules, we could only give him a few days. Still, he came through with a brilliantly flattering sound for Sheila and the Insects.
The album layout was already sent ahead to Boom last week together with the poster layouts and the press kits. Even our music video for ‘Quick to panic’ is shaping up rather well. As a preview of sorts, I’m posting a few of the images that were provided by Alan Parma of the Madbanana team who are even now hard at work. I should say the stills look fantastic. Can’t wait to see the moving animation clips. The video should be done by August also.
It’s all coming together and things are finally looking up. I still can’t post details though on our album launch until the date and venue firms up. The target is still August 5 but a lot of things can happen before that: production delays, venue problems, etc. Still, we’re hopeful we can meet the targets.
The audience had me entertained more than the other way around I surmise. This is probably an exaggeration or another oversimplification. In any case, what happened during our gig last weekend warrants describing if only to explain a point on what I’ve always thought SATI’s music meant for me and maybe for our audiences.
We we’re playing as part of the evening’s entertainment for an extreme games contest being held at a mall parking lot in Cebu. It was a huge corporate sponsored event that saw in-line skaters, skateboarders, and BMX riders competing against each other. Naturally, our audience that night consisted mostly of extreme games enthusiasts and like-minded teenagers. And as a natural consequence of the demographics of the crowd that night, their obvious affinity to loud and fast music came to the fore.
The bands playing ahead of us employed roaring vocals and screaming guitars played to stomping motions and frantic drumbeats. Unsurprisingly, they were a hit with the crowd who responded in like fashion with mob-like gusto. The faster the band played, the wilder the crowd became. Never mind that most of the time, I couldn’t figure out the lyrics. It was like a soundtrack to their unbridled lifestyle.
We climbed the stage at 9pm to take our turn and without fanfare, played our set of six new, unreleased songs. The effect of our music was not unlike a mass sedative. The crowd kept their ground but fell silent. A few began to adopt squatting positions where the mosh pit used to be to take in our music in a more comfortable position.
I wouldn’t know if we were entertaining the crowd or just lulling them to passive observation but it felt good to be playing and actually be listened to. There was none of the boos or catty remarks that would not have surprised me given the situation. And we even earned polite applause.
Scanning the crowd, I couldn’t help but be entertained by the looks on their faces showing most of them couldn’t decide what to make of our music. Which brings me to say what I’ve always thought SATI’s music is: more thought provoking than mosh-inducing, more insightful than incendiary, and more cerebral than hormonal.
So we may not start riots but I say there’s more than one way to start revolutions.
A refreshing change it was to practice without having to lock horns with each other and argue on song arrangement. Last night, our studio time was spent just reviewing our songs - our finished songs. We had finally agreed to a final arrangement to ‘Maude’ the song that took us the longest to finish. It was the first song we started work on for ‘Flowerfish’ but it still came in last. From April 28 2004 to July 7, 2005. That’s more than a year and two months.
Now that the song arrangements are behind us, at least for Flowerfish, we can now concentrate on recording the rest of the album. Tonight, barring any hitches, we’ll be recording the drum and bass tracks to the last three songs. After that, it should all be downhill for us.
Like almost everybody else, the biggest problem SATI faces now is money – actually lack of it. For this album, we’ve got a record label helping in the distribution so that takes care of that. But we still have to record the album and pay for the studio time ourselves, with money that is not exactly in quick and easy supply. But we should be ok. Somehow, when in dire straits, money usually just comes our way.
Still our biggest hurdle is seeing the whole thing through to the end. I’ll breath a lot easier when I finally see the CD on store shelves. That’ll really make my day. After all these past odd years, SATI will finally have something new out in the market.
Two of my bandmates hold day jobs in the same company that I won’t name. Everyone there knows they play in a band, quite naturally, since it’s not that big an organization. One time recently, their officers decided to organize a company party of sorts to celebrate a coming holiday. As part of the planned program, I imagine someone must have suggested putting up some entertainment. As it happened, everyone in their workforce that played in a band or some act was requested to ‘contribute their talent’. Nothing wrong with that except that the way the request was relayed was like it was expected of them, them being employees.
Now I have nothing against playing for free. We once played as the wedding band for a friend as our ‘wedding gift’, and we’ve done countless gigs in gratis if we felt like the exposure and the opportunity was worth it. But to play in a company-sponsored party just because half our band was under their employ seemed really comical in its warped logic except to me it wasn’t at all funny.
Some people just don’t appreciate that playing in a band is not about showing off on stage in front of a crowd. We don’t jump at the opportunity every chance we get. Well for some, maybe. But for most, it is a passion, and a job. In our band, such is definitely the case. We all share a passion for making music and to sustain that passion we have to make money on the side.
Like all professions, playing in a band requires very real investment in terms of money, time, and talent. There are the hours and hours of rehearsals, late night recording sessions, instrument upkeep and countless more details that most people don’t get to see at all. You don’t just show up for a gig, slap on your guitars, do the count and play songs.
This pervasive lack of appreciation of the actual work that goes behind every band performance is not unique to corporate officers. It’s as common as the flu only worse since unlike the malady, it is not seasonal.
At parties, I always dread being introduced as a vocalist for a band. Someone almost always has the audacity to demand that I sample him or her my singing voice. If I obliged them, I’d feel like a “show-off”, and if I didn’t, I’d be labeled an “arrogant prick”. You can never win in these situations.
Other times, I’m always amazed at how easy it is for some people to ask for a free CD sample. Worse, some people even have the temerity to ask if they can borrow a CD so they can burn for themselves a copy. Talk about someone asking permission to steal your stuff. That’s almost as bad as a burglar asking you to hold the door open while he carts away your home entertainment system.
Or how about people who shamelessly ask for free tickets to gigs. If they don’t value enough our band’s music to want to pay for it, why would I want to give them a free pass? I’ve done that before many times, and often, they still don’t show up.
So on the scale of playing for a large audience, like the corporate party I mentioned at the start, why do it for free if the organizers don’t value enough our band and our music to even acknowledge that we should be paid for our time if not our talent. I’d rather be somewhere else where my presence is infinitely more appreciated, like with my family. I couldn’t care less if that makes me an “arrogant prick”.