"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
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.
Don't be deceived by the seeming respite from blog posts recently. The band has been doing much progress. First off, we will admit though that we still can't finish the song 'Violet'. Still as stubborn as pulling teeth. We don't want to force it too much at this point lest it become as painful and as messy. But we've made headway in other areas.
Firstly, we are finally releasing a pressed version of 'Manipulator', our third album. We never released it in mass owing to our lack of funds then as much as our lack of enthusiasm. It had been such a low point for the band, which in retrospect seemed ironic coming from the success we had reaped in Manila.
The dark experimental sound of 'Manipulator' speaks volumes of the band's heavy undercurrents. People had been surprised why we had broken up not knowing the differences that had grown sore and wide over jaded years. Hearing the songs in 'Manipulator' brings back memories of the frustrations I had then suppressed like unwanted nightmares. The one agreeable trait of the album for me was that it successfully captured a dark episode in the band's life, which although ugly, had to be acknowledged. A frozen snapshot of the band at a crossroads in its life, what albums essentially should be.
So unlike the pretentious stylistic experimentations of other bands, this album is an honest chronicle of a band on the verge of breakup. Dark, heavy, and precarious. I hated our recording sessions then so listening to the album now, I sense my angst and bitterness then that I otherwise could never have faked. Maybe that's why the album really kicked.
A new cover plus additional live tracks gives this album edition more value. Sis Chona is helping with the funding so we are ever grateful. Sometimes, I suspect she believes in our music more than we do. Which is to say her support has been nothing less than monumental.
The new edition 'Manipulator' should hit the stores by next month barring unexpected problems. An important release and a fitting prelude to our 4th record.
Speaking of which our fourth album's been coming together rather well. Recently, we penned a new song very likely to make the cut.
It was after a typical session last Tuesday. We, except Boobop who left early, decided to go to C24 for a few drinks. We didn't plan to work on anything except to hit our weekly liquid-diet dosage allowance, but Ian had his guitar and the night was good. So he let us in on a new song he'd been working on. Since it didn't have lyrics yet, he played it with mumbled words. As an afterthought, I decided to show Ian my unfinished lyrics which I had promised to email him weeks ago. Ian gave it a try but after a while, he decides the lyrics didn't fit the syllabication and music. But, just for kicks, I gave it a try myself and surprisingly, had something distinctly workable on the second or third run.
After rapid lyric revisions and insertions, and by hour's end, we had an exciting new song. Totally spontaneous yet very catchy, we three agreed. We'll be working on this one song for the next few sessions. In fact, we just might be able to play it for our gig on the 18th. I suspect this will be an important song for this album. So much so that we might title the album after this song. That's how good it sounds.
Yes, another self-serving claim from me but not entirely exaggerated if only mildly biased. This is, after all, my blog. I don't worry much these days what I claim or do not claim in my entries regarding our new songs. In the end, it will all come down to what the music fans and critics will think about our record once it is finally out. And albums being, I earlier surmised, frozen snapshots of the band at a crossroads in its life, this should be one exciting release if not our most important one. A snapshot of the new, and improved Sheila and the Insects.
We're hoping this will be the start of something for the scene in Cebu. For too long, the local scene has languished in the anonymity of back alley gigs and poor exposure.
Every little thing counts. Yes, we’ve got local TV exposure with IndieCulture’s ‘Idiot Board’ airing in RCTV. Plus ‘Amped’, another local TV show to be aired on rival Cebu 28. Radio leaves much to be desired for but at least we’re already getting airplay from NU107 and other local stations.
All these help but we still lack what should be the foundation for any scene to thrive. And that is a strong live band circuit. Cebu, the supposedly future indie capital can’t seem to sustain an indie venue for long enough. Or maybe that’s just the normal cycle of things.
Back in the mid 90’s, there was Morrissey and Artist Dais where many local indie bands, including ours, had regular gigs. The former closed after just about a year. It had become a vice haven. Rock ‘n roll, what can I say. The latter though, flourished for a time and spawned a generation of bands that carried the local scene through the rest of the insipid decade that was the 90’s. Bands like Roots, Frank, and of course, Sheila and the Insects.
Later on came the Ribo’s Party Central in Lahug, a high point in the local scene. RPC was the only regular gig I can recall where the place got packed hours before the show time. And I mean packed. RPC was the wild weekend destination of Cebu’s party crowd. Those we’re heady times for the band and for the scene.
All these places died, eventually. So if there is something we can learn from all these, it’s that any one place can’t survive for long. It’s just the normal life cycle. It’s been said that if you own a restobar, if you don’t redecorate every two years, you’re dead. Such are the vagaries of the entertainment scene that is so dependent on trends. And no one single place can stay hot for too long. Nothing scientific about it. Purely public whimsy.
So Cattski and SATI is coming up with a nomadic event that we can stage regularly but not necessarily in the same place every month. Could this be the answer? Only time will tell. Like I said there’s no way to predict public whimsy.
Come December 18, check out the very first ‘Post no bill’ at Casbah at the Rivergate Mall in Gen. Maxilom Ave. Only 50 bucks to get in. SATI, Cattski and The Ambassadors will be playing.
The posters for the gig coming out this week proclaim “No show bands. No cover bands. Thank goodness.” If I weren’t in the band, I’d be watching the gig myself if only for the statement made. You should too.
It has been said that money is antithetical to indie rock. Well, its been observed than when an indie band becomes even mildly successful, the band's coolness factor degrades in direct proportion to the number of noontime-show appearances. So there’s probably some truth to that.
Then there's the proposition that indie rockers are supposed to be clever cynics with little regard for hair hygiene and authority figures. I know a few who are like that, only their cynicism is more from stupidity than cleverness and their unruly hair only appears so by meticulous minutes of styling in front of the mirror. Which makes them not just poseurs but stupid poseurs. The worst type. Which probably explains their disdain for authority being obvious targets of their contempt what with their attitude and issues.
Its also been said that indie rockers are musical snobs. I know a few people who are like that. The more obscure the bands they claim to worship the cooler they think they are. The more useless trivia they can blabber about bands with the weirdest names like Hüsker Dü or The Elephant 6 Collective or The Flower Fish Syndicate (okay, that last one I made up), the more impressive they think they are.
The way these perverted musical elitists talk, you’d think that the coolest indie band is the one you’ve never heard of. If such where true, maybe Sheila and the Insects should move to Alaska. Nobody’s ever heard of us there. Would that make us the coolest? Probably the coldest, yes, especially this time of the year.
When I joined the band, indie wasn’t the cool word then. I think back then it was post-punk. I never really understood the rationale behind such a label. I keep mistaking post-punk for outgrowing Mohawks, leather pants and metal studs.
Later on, the cool name became alternative. Alternative to the pop drone we were getting from the radio, that was the idea then but when alternative became mainstream – blame it on Nirvana’s Nevermind – indie sprang to life.
Indie - a label borne of the need to label music that doesn't sell as much as R&B.
To hell with R&B. We’re R&R – Rock ‘n Roll. The third element in the sacrosanct triumvirate next to sex and drugs. Ok, so I exaggerate sometimes – we’re hardly the stereotype perennially stoned-out junkies much less S & M sex maniacs. In fact we’re pretty normal. And we look normal. Most indie rockers actually do blend in the crowd as much as the nerd who frequents the library. In fact, some bands do actually take pains to look like nerds, but that’s another story.
Okay, so what is indie but just another name that will run its course and become passé with the eventual coming of an indie band breaking into the mainstream? Hey, it is bound to happen. History reminds us of that and statistical probability makes sure that it does.
So if us indie bands want to keep the ‘indie’ name cool, we best avoid getting hot. The day indie becomes ‘in’ is the day indie dies. But don’t despair on my morose predictions. We can always invent another name to call ourselves.
On the one hand, Boobop thinks a bottle of beer can help loosen his creative potential when jamming with the band. Well if he think it helps, I'm all for it. Lord knows we need all the help we can get with the song 'Violet' which has proven to be one helluva stubborn song.
On the other hand, Ian downs quite a few bottles of the brew while waiting for our turn at Handuraw, and later on after the session admits to feeling lost during the jam. Beer's been known to make you lose, among other things, your creative bearings, of course. Which is why I keep my pre-jamming consumption to a minimum.
Beer or no beer, the sober truth stings us like a serious hangover -- we're collectively lost. But we can't quit on this. Even though we've spent hours of studio time for just this one song, it's too beautiful to just let be. If and when it finally comes out, I wouldn't be surprised if the song would somehow capture some of the frustration that went with its birth.
Beer or no beer, we've chipped in quite a lot already -- this is turning out to be one expensive song to finish. This Tuesday, our session will be acoustic. We're staying away from the studio for now. The gung-ho live and loud jam isn't working so we've decided to revert to the convenience store sessions we haven't really devoted for this song.
Whether we can jam this song better half-drunk or dead sober, to be sure, when it is finally done, we'd have good cause for some celebration. With beer.
After about 45 minutes of jamming 'Violet', we had to face it. It wasn't working. We took a break at that point and somehow all felt, without openly acknowledging it, that we were forcing an arrangement that absolutely wouldn't click. Like we had reached a brick wall at the end of what had, just a week ago, been a promising and exciting fork in the road.
And just like that, our spectacular creative momentum from the last session evaporated like it never existed, my brilliant calculations notwithstanding. It turns out, my crude physics, however ground-breaking, could not long bear the brunt of the cosmic forces of the ultimate universal axiom long acknowledged by man since he first crushed his big toe after inventing the stone wheel: shit happens.
I've learned it many times over through painful experience that what might initially seem like a wildly exciting idea can quickly become pallid, wither, and die, after a time.
Often, it is good practice to drop a project midway and, after a time, come back to attack it with a cleared head. Sans the rush of the initial excitement of creative breakthrough, one usually sees the project in a different light. Many times, one will be surprised one came up with such lousy crap. Which was what we had come to realize last night, albeit slowly. What were we thinking?
It would have been a total waste though if we had given up right there and then. But we stuck it out and decided to keep trying.
In desperation, we went back and reviewed the original ‘acoustic’ arrangement for the song. Back to the basics. We played it in its barest arrangement to get a feel for the song, which we may have somehow lost in the long, tiring process.
At one point, we were tempted to quit and just play our other songs if only to shed the bad vibes we had accumulated being stuck in a nasty rut. But we still kept to it. Just when we had just about run out of time, a flash of inspiration came to me. A Eureka moment. “Why not play it like this,” and I proceeded to strum the bass strings of my guitar repeatedly and in continuous rhythm, a complete departure from the original arrangement that had the basic rhythm in an unusual stroke pattern of two-two-one.
Keeping to the original chords, the new slower but more consistent guitar attack made for a more sensible sound that lent well to improvisational play. It was a definite improvement. Heavier. Easier groove. Definitely packing more power.
Finally, ‘Violet’ was emerging. Or is it, finally? Come Thursday, we'll know.
I cannot go against the truth of the axiom “shit happens”. Too potent to ignore or debate. I will try to soften the bluntness of its reality by offering another: “Though shit does happen, in time, it dries up, turns to dust and is blown away”.
Sis recently posted a comment and revealed a flaw in my computations. (refer to previous entry) Yes, we finished 2 hours worth of work in only 1 hour and might I add, velocity is distance multiplied by time. So therefore, velocity was 2x1 and not 1/2. Okay, so even my genius can have lapses. Isn't that comforting to know for those of you who are less than perfect.
Let me also point out another overlooked fact. Our collective mass, expressed at 4x should not be so. We we're playing as a band and as such should be taken as one unit. And since the average band has 4 members, then the original 4x should be multiplied by 1 band/4 members, the universal constant, which then comes out at 1x.
The new values then are velocity or v = 2x1 while mass or m = 1x
Since Rho = mv, then Rho = (1x)(2x1), making Rho = 2x.
There, the answer still is 2x! I had felt our creative momentum was running at twice normal and now, my computations prove it. My apologies if I had initially presented calculations aimed at proving my suspected and estimated values. At least on further examination, I still got to prove myself right in the end. As a footnote, even Einstein made such a similar mistake when he attributed the unexplainable to a universal constant. One of his rare mistakes. Well genius does have limits and I am humble enough to admit that. At least I don't have his dorky haircut.
I'm not too sure how it happened but just into the first few minutes of our jamming session last night devoted totally to arranging ‘Violet’, we knew we had something going. As if by instinct, Ian had started playing a totally reworked riff floating on a digital delay effect. Before long, Boobop finds a perfect bass line. And Jerros' heavy and solid beat fit nicely in. Me, I finally found the guitar hook that I had long wanted this song to have. Pretty straightforward but it sure did work. It all reminded me of an acronym I'd come across before: KISS - keep it short and simple.
Without a reliable timekeeper, we ended up using more studio time than we had planned. A case of creative momentum pushing us on. Something that doesn't happen often. Tonight I think we all felt it.
Its uncanny but, from my high school physics, I still remember the equation describing momentum: rho (the Greek letter) = mv. Where rho is momentum and m is mass and v is velocity.
Now lets attempt a quick exercise in computation. If I we're to ascertain the mathematical value of our creative momentum basing on the formula, I need only multiply our mass with how fast we we're going.
Let's see. There were four of us in the room most probably accounting for our collective mass, which we can conveniently value at 4 times the average weight of a healthy Filipino adult. So, mass or m = 4x.
Now for velocity, which is how fast our creative process was running. Hmmm, a bit tricky. Should I express that by a crude estimation based on our heightened sensual acuity, linear floor movements, exaggerated speech, and etcetera? No, too complex. Maybe if I state the average time it takes us to finish arranging a song and relate that to the amount of work we actually achieved. Seems workable, so ok then. Off the top of my head, I’d say on average, we need about 4 full sessions to finish arranging one complete song. (To simplify my computations, I will disregard detailing and polishing work because in essence, it never stops therefore its value is infinity)
From the start of the session, we had agreed to arrange the song only up to it’s halfway point just before the chord pattern changes. So, roughly, we we’re able to arrange half a song in one session, a work that would normally take us 2 sessions basing on the average. So in summation, roughly one hour of actual jamming achieving a work that would have taken 2 hours on average. That’s 1 over 2. So velocity or v = 1/2.
Since Rho = mv, then Rho = (4x)(1/2), making Rho = 2x.
So, our creative momentum then was running at twice the average value. No wonder it took us half an hour longer to end our session. I guess it all adds up.