Ang Bandang Shirley Wants Their Latest Album to be Your Favorite
by Lex Celera. Photos by Danica Condez, styling by Grace de Luna, assisted by Tristan Tamayo and Aaron Silao
It’s been a long time coming, but finally, Ang Bandang Shirley is coming out with a new album entitled Favorite this March 25. Call them old-timers or veterans, but the band has drawn a cult following that has grown in numbers over the past few years. Witness them perform live and you will get their appeal—an undoubtedly familiar but unbounded perspective on the dynamics of love, loss, and the things in between. Let them draw you in with their distinct vocal blending or their tagos lyrics; their sound is an experience in itself.
One late weeknight, in preparation of their album launch amid their day jobs, we brought all the members—Owel Alvero, Selena Salang, Ean Aguila, Joe Fontanilla, Zig Rabara. Kathy Gener, and Enzo Zulueta—to our office to go into detail about their much-hyped album release, their thoughts on the current music scene, and how they managed to live so long as a band, cult following and all, in a mostly unedited interview.
My first question is, kumusta? How are you guys holding up while preparing for the album launch?
How come? What’s up?
Kathy Gener (KG): ‘Yun, stress. Ngarag.
Selena Salang (SS): Parang buzzer beater na siya ngayon, like always, as in the past.
KG: Because we’ve been planning ever since last year pa, eh.
SS: Noong Feb last year pa nga eh. . .Pinost pa ‘yung tracklist two years ago.
KG: Pinost ni Ean ‘yun…nag GIF na nga siya, eh. Sobrang kinain namin yung pride namin.
Ean Aguila (EA): Sorry guys!
KG:‘Yung schedule namin eh.
But way back then, plantsado na ‘yung mga tracks, or…
EA: The demos were already there, kailangan lang i-execute ‘yung production and arrangement. But the basic demos were there. We knew how many songs we would include and which songs. Basically we just had the details that we had to iron out. Inedit ‘yung lyrics, mga two weeks before the deadline.
KG: And ‘yung recording, ‘diba? Mahirap ‘yung schedule namin with the studio. And ‘yung producer namin, bigla siyang nag-migrate sa States.
ZR: Hindi naman bigla, plinano niya talaga ‘yun.
SS: But he’s still in the album.
Let’s talk about the album. What made you decide that March 25 is the date?
EA: Feeling ko pag hindi kami nag-set ng deadline, hindi na siya mangyayari.
KG: So dapat November, hindi siya natupad. Sabi ko February, tapos hindi…
SS: It lit a fire under our asses.
KG: Parang o sige guys, March. Four months. Mahiya na tayo sa sarili natin pag hindi pa natin nagawa ‘to.
SS: And it’s Earth Hour on that day. So are we going to stop for one hour? (laughs)
What can people expect in your upcoming album launch?
KG: ‘Yung event namin, it’s not just us performing, it’s also Outerhope and Musical O. ‘Yung CD namin, ‘yung physical CD, ‘yung idea ng physical packaging namin is make your own album cover. So basically kapag nakita mo siya nakalagay lang “Favorite.” Tapos may mga sticker sheets inside of our favorite stuff. ‘Yung mga tao na bahala kung paano ididikit in relation to the word “favorite.” Sa album namin mismo, it’s co-presented by Chamtamaria which is Rob Cham and Apol Sta. Maria and sila ‘yung nag-curate ng artists, comic illustrators–si Hulyen, si Manix Abrera, si 8-bitfiction, si Rob, and si Apol. Each of them will make a set of stickers na based on their designated favorites. Kay Apol, favorite album covers. Gumawa na siya ng mga 2×2 stickers na album covers na Shirley-fied. Tapos we’re going to sell it ng mura para idadagdag nila sa mga nakalagay pang stickers sa album namin.
EA: ‘Yung stickers sa album, favorite things namin.
KG: ‘Yung mga stickers magiging event exclusive.
SS: So you have to go.
KG: Ginawa namin siya para maging special rin ‘yung CD. Ngayon ‘diba gusto lang nila marinig sa digital. We wanted something na they want to treasure.
Why is the title of your upcoming album Favorite?
SS: It’s our favorite. Personally, favorite ko siya of our albums.
KG: Teka lang ah, may sagot si Owel dito eh (reads from her phone). We have this sort of tradition where our albums take their titles from songs. For this one, we have a song called “Favorite” and we thought it would be cool to call it the album title because then it would be the favorite album. Parang subliminal message.
SS: And it follows the title of our previous albums na song title siya.
Enzo Zulueta (EZ): That we get one of the titles of the albums from the songs.
Selena, how come it’s your favorite?
SS: Well, ano, the songs are really amazing. I think peak ng songwriting namin ‘yung album na ‘to. And may addition ni Enzo, who is a very good bass player, and it really, really elevates the songs. It’s just something that we’re unanimously proud of.
How different is it from the previous two?
EA: Mas hands-on kami dito sa recording and production. I guess in terms of production and quality, mas polished ‘tong album na ‘to, mas may attention to detail. Basically, mas malinis siya na album. Songwriting wise may nakita kaming trend na nakita that we try to get out of. Kung ano man ‘yung ginawa namin before, very conscious kami ‘dun na let’s not do the same things. Owel may idadagdag ka pa?
Owel Alvero (OA): What’s different is also how we’re more conscious what it’s place is in terms of our friend bands, their releases this year and in previous years. Hindi namin anticipatory ‘yung writing in terms of eto ‘yung kailangan gawin, but more of… I don’t want to call it reactionary, but we’re learning so much from these bands that we play with—Oh Flamingo!, Ourselves the Elves, all these guys—we were forced to push the envelope also. Hindi lang siya consciously trying to get out of the space we were in, but also a struggle to stay relevant in a scene na madaming nangyari. That’s it for me.
“…We’re learning so much from these bands that we play with–Oh Flamingo!, Ourselves the Elves, all these guys–we were forced to push the envelope also. Hindi lang siya consciously trying to get out of the space we were in, but also a struggle to stay relevant in a scene na madaming nangyari. That’s it for me.”
Ang Bandang Shirley has been here for a while in the music scene. Have you guys noticed any changes from the past few years in terms of the audience or the musicians?
EZ: I’ll let the older members of the band speak.
ZR: I guess that means me. Let’s start with the audience. The audience now is more demanding. On social media, they ask for more, and they’re not afraid to ask. It’s different when I first started playing around 15 years ago. Everybody has access to all these things and they can see what’s happening everywhere. In terms of other artists in the scene, andaming sobrang talented na lumalabas ngayon. The bands and musicians. Or maybe mas madaling lumabas ngayon. Say, 2003, 2004, there weren’t that many places to play in. Ngayon, there are so many places na puwede ka tumugtog. We haven’t played in certain bars na popular. There are more opportunities for people to play and get heard. That’s what I’ve noticed these past few years.
“The audience now is more demanding. On social media, they ask for more, and they’re not afraid to ask. It’s different when I first started playing around 15 years ago. “
KA: With regards to the changes, because of the internet and the easy access to it, if you’re in a band or if you’re an artist, hindi na necessary to go through the major record labels for your stuff to come out. Marami na ngayon ways for you na ikaw mismo dumiretso mismo sa Spotify, sa iTunes, sa Bandcamp, yung mga ganoong tipo. ‘Yung mga bata ngayon, ‘yung mga fans, you don’t have to be heard in the radio, lumabas sa ASAP o Eat Bulaga, for you to be known. May mga bata sa amin na tinatanong namin “bakit alam mo ‘yung kanta?” Kasi narinig nila sa internet, sa mga online publications. Marami na ngayong ways for kids to get their music. In our case, meron kaming fanbase even if wala kaming major record label. We get to play in UPLB or may mag-message sa amin from Davao or Cebu that would ask us to play. Parang kami, paano mo kami nalaman? It’s the internet. It’s a big difference from the past years na through the internet nagkakaroon ng music fans.
ZR: Also, bands nowadays are very good at marketing themselves. Dati, we would just sit around and hope someone would notice us and hear our shit.
EZ: May culture of quality na tumataas with the industry. A few years ago okay na kahit basag yung cymbals mo sa recording basta rak. Even before that, kahit tunog whatever na ‘yung gitara mo basta may music and may puso okay lang. Nowadays, aside from the artistic merit of the songs, a lot of people have heard quality stuff over the internet, marami nang puwedeng i-compare, kaya mas mataas yung goals sa quality ng music na gusto ma-achieve.
EA: And mas marami na rin silang access sa software. Actually, nagulat ng ako kinwento sa akin na may nag-aaral sa high school ko na part ng curriculum nila ‘yung GarageBand. So gets, as early as high school meron ka nang basic music production.
SS: High school natin? May GarageBand?
KG: Science naman ‘yung music production.
EA: Computer science class may Photoshop rin.
What do you guys feel about being categorized as “indie” or “underground?” Does it apply? What are your reactions to these labels?
OA: Feeling ko hindi kami totoong underground ever. Hindi in the most literal sense na hindi kami signed to a label. Before, puwede, when we were starting out. Then we got signed to Terno [Records] and Wide Eyed [Records] now. In terms of underground, medyo mahirap to claim that kasi from the start naman may connections na kami. We didn’t build a scene out of nowhere. We built a scene but we didn’t build it from scratch. It’s because we were already fans of these bands, we already knew some of these people who would turn out to be bar owners pala or who would go into music production themselves. I respect the idea of DIY, I respect the whole underground scene. As much as we have some of that shared values–we strive for authenticity with what we put out or puso sa music—it’s a stretch to call us that.
“We didn’t build a scene out of nowhere. We built a scene but we didn’t build it from scratch.”
KG: Tiyaka lumabas na sa commercial ‘yung kanta. Nag Paulo-Maja na kaming pelikula.
SS: Wala kaming hinahabol na cult status or whatever.
EA: Dati kasi ‘yung definition ng underground, hindi ka pa signed. Basically, indie nga. Dati ‘yun ‘yung sukatan ng success, when you get signed. Ngayon, hindi na ganoon eh. The major labels still exist, but…
OA: There’s help, there’s machinery dedicated to help you in certain things. But you don’t need that anymore to succeed.
SS: Also I feel that indie, underground, ewan ko lang pero iba ‘yung vocabulary dito, iba ‘yung use na ina-assign dito and outside sa Philippines. I feel like it’s a different language here in the Philippines or behind sila on the vocabulary. Like they just attached their own meaning to those words. When labels like that are given to us, kebs. I don’t think writers who use those words when talking about us know what they’re talking about.
SS: Same kami ni Zig, 15 years na kami tumutugtog. From the beginning, ‘yung mga interviews, ganyan, iba-iba na rin nakita kong gamit sa mga words na yan. Magbasa kayo ng music magazine. Pero wala eh. It’s become like a different language here.
So basically you refuse.
OA: If they welcome us into like an underground event, sure. But if we claim it for ourselves parang ang kapal naman ng mukha namin. To say that we represent them…
SS: It’s a falsehood.
KG: Nag-iingat rin kami sa mga ganiyan. We’ve been fans and musicians and all. For the people before us, meron talagang nag-cultivate ng ganoong scene. Mahirap i-claim ‘yun tapos hindi mo siya naiintindihan. Regardless, wala kaming cine-claim. We make our own music.
SS: When people ask me what we play, we play pop rock. It’s broad, and people understand pop and rock. So they just put it in together.
“When people ask me what we play, we play pop rock. It’s broad, and people understand pop and rock.
KG: Para sa akin lang ah, may certain sound parin ang indie-rock.
EA: Again, ‘yun nga ‘yung sinasabi ni Selena. Iba ‘yung language ng indie dito.
SS: Pag indie-rock, konti lang makakagets. Kaya pop rock.
KG: I’m sorry I’m being limiting.
EA: Ikaw kasi, alam mo eh. ‘Yung ibang tao hindi nakakaalam, kaya nagiging problem.
Can you guys list down any musical influences that have touched your music?
OA: Kahit ano? Death Cab For Cutie. Isa-isa tayo.
Joe Fontanilla (JF): Ang hirap.
OA: Steve Reich.
KG: Tom Waits.
OA: E-heads? Oo, tangina.
KG: Rivermaya, Rico Blanco, Bamboo.
SS: Broken Social Scene. The Radio Dept.
KG: Yo La Tengo.
SS: Wilco. Versus.
EA: Jaco Pastorius?
OA: Oo, ‘yung bass playing ni Enzo sa album.
EZ: Miles Davis?
OA: Chopin, chopin.
EA: May impluwensiya kami ng Sugarfree.
OA: Ciudad, Itchyworms.
KG: Mga pinapanood namin dati.
ZR: Sa akin White Zombie. Kasi dancey parin.
KG: ‘Diba dati nagco-cover kayo ng Metallica?
ZR: Oo, ‘yun.
ZR: Inimpluwensiyahan ko ‘yung sarili ko.
Let’s talk about the mushpit. How did that happen? And why mushpit?
KG: ‘Yung nag-coin ‘nun si Charles Dumaraos sa isang Attraction! Reaction! gig.
SS: Honestly it’s been happening even earlier sa mga UP underground music community. Sumasayaw sila sa mga sets natin eh. ‘Nung Mayday!, lumaki ‘dun, lagi tayong sunod sa Pedicab. People were dancing to our sets, weirdly enough, matagal na. Noong Attraction! Reaction! Naging regular thing ‘yun.
KG: ‘Yung Outerhope, tumugtog sila tapos nag moshpit ‘yung mga tao. Gets mo, Outerhope! Tapos nadugtong [ng audience], tapos Shirley na. Cinultivate namin sa mga tao na safe place ‘to, na hindi kayo iju-judge na tumatalon kayo sa mga love songs. Kasi gusto niyo tumalon. Kasi gusto niyo yung kanta. Kasi may image ang moshpit sa mga metal. Heto, promise, kapag may nalalaglagan ng bag, nahuhulugan ng gamit, sobrang, ganito (gestures) may mga pumupulot, pag may nalalaglagan ng salamin, pupulutin nila.
EA: Tulungan moshpit. Nice moshpit.
SS: Hindi ‘yun deliberate.
EA: Sobrang naalala ko, tumutugtog kami ng “Di Na Babalik” sa Route 196 tapos hindi saya ‘yung na-feel ko agad eh, parang “what?” Makikita mo talaga, may video noon, ‘yung mukha ko parang “Anong nangyayari?”
KG: Umiiyak na tumatalon.
SS: Feeling ko therapy siya eh.
OA: Catharsis. It’s a sad song for me so I’m going to feel my sadness.
EA: Gusto ko rin lang sabihin na it may be a sad song for you, as Owel said, but hindi namin in-intend na gawing sad.
KG: ‘Yung “Siberia,” masaya yun.
EA: Before everybody thinks “Di Na Babalik” is a sad song, it’s not a sad song. Kaya kami nagugulat na naa-attach sa amin ‘yung senti tapos kapag mag post kami sa Twitter ng lyrics sinasabihan kami na “sinasaktan niyo kami,” mga ganoon. Hindi talaga ganoon ‘yung purpose, eh. Hindi namin in-intend gawing hugot. We hate that term. Pero gets, natural lang na masiyadong nakaka-relate yung mga tao. Hindi namin kailangan paiyakin yung mga tao.
“Hindi namin in-intend gawing hugot. We hate that term.”
KG: Gusto ko i-connect sa previous question about sa pagkaiba ng mga fans ngayon. ‘Nung time ko, mas bata ako, favorite ko ‘yung Ciudad, gusto ko tumalon sa set nila pero siyempre wala ako kasama kasi hindi pa super expressive ‘yung mga tao maliban sa mga gig na kasama Slapshock na puwede ka talaga tumalon ‘dun. Parang ganoon. ‘Yung mga bata ngayon, mas expressive sila sa mga feelings nila, hindi lang sa how they write online but in terms of the gigs, hindi sila nahihiya.
I saw this post on Facebook, sharing one of your Tinyletter posts, it was detailing how you guys started out…
EA: ‘Yung Tinyletter post? Matagal na ‘yun?
KG: ‘Yung kay Joon ng Outerhope.
SS: ‘Yung matagal na, Multiply!
OA: Seryoso, may ganoong feeling in the band na parang’ yung gigs, like feeling ko recent lang ‘yung Singapore namin na tugtog, pero 2011 pa pala ‘yun? That was six years ago. Wala siyang sense eh. Because of this constant thing that we feel the same, playing new songs but they feel the same. There’s this anchor of sorts like the Tinyletter, you check the date, you find out you posted it two years ago. Or ‘yung Timehop, like what, four years ago na ‘yung gig na ‘yun?
EA: Ano ‘yung tanong ulit?
To what do you guys attribute your longevity?
OA: Di kami nagd-drugs! ‘Dun rin naman kasi masisira. We drink, but we don’t make it our lifestyle. Some of us have day jobs. I started the band when I was in school. I really tried my best to finish college even after how long it took me to finish it. At the end of the day, even while we were doing band stuff, we still had to keep our regular lives intact. Kaya siya may sort of “time capsuleness,” ‘yung band. We started it out almost... basta matagal na. The feeling of doing that is still there, but now I have a kid, and I have a day job, lots of bills to pay. Ganoon. Iba na.
KG: Sa tingin ko hindi lang siya ‘yung band na ginawa mo. Through the years andami na naming dinaanan. Pero magkaibigan rin talaga kami. So may times na na-cultivate na ‘yung gets, time out ‘yung isa, or hindi ko na kaya, hindi kita ma-take, mga ganoon.
EA: Labasan ng issue!
KG: Hindi lang siya band eh, ano siya, friendship. Kung may mangyari, you work it out.
“Hindi lang siya band eh, ano siya, friendship. Kung may mangyari, you work it out.”
EA: And may breaks kami. Hindi namin palaging ginagawa ‘yung music. Kaya hindi kami nauumay.
ZR: In a month, iilan lang gigs natin, ‘diba?
OA: May mga ilang months na marami rin tayong gig.
EA: Pero hindi tulad ng, let’s say, Jensen and the Flips na punong-puno ‘yung…
SS: ‘Yung endurance nila.
EA: Ibang klase ‘yun.
KG: Pero feeling ko pag kasing tanda mo sila, gagawin mo rin ‘yun. Pero nung kasing age natin sila, hindi tayo nabigyan ng ganoong opportunity na tumugtog araw-araw. Na maraming gig. Seryoso, ngayon lang namin naramdaman…the past four years palang namin naramdaman na may demand for us, na meron kaming fanbase.
OA: That’s so true!
Yeah, you guys have your own Facebook group.
SS: When we were starting out nobody really knew about us. Only friends would come to our gigs, although they would be enthusiastic and really loyal. Friends namin sila lahat, pero hindi sila unknown people.
KG: So ‘yung nangyari ngayon na may demand na, mas mature na kami.
EA: Very realistic kami sa expectations.
Zig: Everybody’s priorities are in order.
EA: Priority parin namin ‘yung band, but it’s not the only priority.
ZR: Family, work, band, ‘yun (laughs). Late bloomers kami.
EA: Nakakatawa na bata ‘yung fans namin.
KG: Nakakatawa na hindi siya sadya. Relatable parin ‘yung ginagawa namin.
“Seryoso, ngayon lang namin naramdaman…the past four years palang namin naramdaman na may demand for us, na meron kaming fanbase.”
SS: Tingin ko malaking bagay ‘yung na-feature ‘yung ilang songs sa movies na geared for young people like Ang Nawawala and I’m Drunk, I Love You.
OA: I always think we’re lucky in terms of the people we’ve collaborated with, like with Ang Nawawala and also kay Direk Malay sa Every Room Is A Planet. Ang ganda ganda ng usage sa song. Maganda ‘yung ginawa sa amin, he made us cover a Sharon Cuneta track. So I think there are these moments of us being in a band that get crystallized in a way that if you watch it ten years from now, may moment in the movie na, “uy! And you look for the band in Soundcloud or whatever. It’s like a calling card na iniiwan mo sa movie.
EA: Hindi lang sa movies, sa art. Sa album art namin, sa t-shirt designs. Sobrang swerte namin sa mga collaborators na ‘yung mga fans ng mga artists na ‘yun, nakikilala rin kami. Of course we do the same for them. May collaboration.
KG: Hands on kami sa everything na ginagawa namin. Hindi lang siya basta basta. Gusto ba namin art niya? Gets mo, hindi siya parang kinuha lang.
EA: May effect ‘yun eh, napansin ko even before I joined the band two years ago.
Everyone: That was two years ago? Whoa.
EZ: Madali mong ma-spot kung Shirley fan ‘yung isang tao, eh. Andali niyang makita sa crowd. Meron siyang quality na iconic Shirley fan. Nakita ko ‘yun sa I’m Drunk, I Love You eh. Sa wall, may Tama Na Ang Drama poster. ‘Yun, Shirley fan ‘tong character na ‘to, based on those small details.
SS: ‘Yung Rakenrol rin, ‘yung CD na pinapakinggan ng bida, Shirley CD ‘yun eh.
OA: Ano ‘yung TVC with Kathryn? May TVC with Kathryn na ‘yung room may Shirley poster.
KG: Ano ba ‘yung term ‘dun? Ayaw ko ‘yung curated. Basta pinagpaplanuhan namin ‘yung lahat. Kahit ‘nung wala pang nakakakilala sa amin.
OA: ‘Yung term ata ng curated ngayon, aesthetic eh.
KG: Mahigpit na kami about it.
EA: Very important sa amin ang artistic taste. Even sa kapwa musicians namin sa scene, important sa amin na kunwari in-invite namin sa album launch namin, gusto talaga namin ‘yung music. Hindi lang dahil malaki ‘yung hatak. Important sa amin ‘yung ganoong conditions.
Considering everything said, what kind of connection do you want to have with the listener when it comes to your upcoming album?
OA: Taking it from the last question where we’re cultivating this aesthetic. I think this comes from the band treating the people who listen to us as equals or smarter than the average listener. I feel like some songs are not that easy to get into sa next album. Not difficult, but you need to listen to them a lot more compared to others. I’ve been listening to the album since we got the master copy. May nano-notice parin ako na details. The connection is like…you know how some movies grow on you. I hope people like the album at the start, but I hope they’ll find something more about themselves the more they listen to it.
“I hope people like the album at the start, but I hope they’ll find something more about themselves the more they listen to it.”
EA: May naaalala akong sinabi ni Selena. Oo, gumagawa kami ng love songs, generally, pero ngayon, gusto namin i-impact, ayan love songs pala gusto mo ah. Parang yumayabang na ‘ganoon. Gusto mo pala ng love songs? Bam!
SS: Kaya niyo ba ‘yan? Not kaya niyo ba yan gawin, pero kaya niyo ba yan gustuhin? May challenge…
OA Gusto niyo ng love? You don’t know what love is. (laughs)
Favoritecomes out this March 25 at Blue Bay Walk. Find more about the event, here.