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Suffice to say, a lot has changed in the two years since we last talked with Filipino-Canadian duo Manila Grey. Conversations in the flesh are swapped for email threads and brightly-lit screens. Like most exchanges these days, ours transpired in virtual space.
But with forced isolation comes a creative’s need for a long-lost muse. And from what I’ve learned, the R&B duo is no stranger to it.
“Before lockdown, our lives were going a thousand miles an hour. Now, the vibes are slower, more zen and they’re treated with much more care.” This is how Soliven responds when asked about Manila Grey’s creative process today. Neeko, the other half of the group, says that the time spent on lockdown helped them improve as artists. “Being at home actually made us more creative. It’s just more time to reflect and reinvent.”
While the world has never been more different, the resounding beats from the group’s new tracks “Blue Vegeta” and “Shibuya” echo the same energy when cities were alive. A few “No Saints” records later, Manila Grey has grown from the duo’s initial start as budding creatives in high school, into a name known in two distinctly different corners of the globe.
The group’s latest music video for “Shibuya” is a testament to that, where a yellow Lamborghini sits as the centerpiece of visuals constantly sliding onto the next shot. Despite the duo claiming that they’ve settled into a slower tempo, their vision certainly hasn’t. For Manila Grey, the pause button seems close to nonexistent.
Two years since our last conversation, we virtually sat down with Manila Grey once again, talking about its latest project “No Saints on Knight Street,” the Filipino musician they’ve been playing on repeat (Hint: It’s literally unique) and the one anime series that sums up what Manila Grey is about.
For listeners, “Blue Vegeta” and “Shibuya” set the stage for “No Saints On Knight Street.” Before it hits the stream, how would you describe your upcoming project?
Neeko: “No Saints on Knight Street” is a lot more potent. We brought it back to Vancouver’s moods. It’s definitely more tied to our personal lives. Back when we did “Palm Shade” we had nothing, we were plotting heavy. Now on “Knight Street,” we’re just in our bag. [laughs]
Soliven: On the music side, we made it a point to be a lot more honest. We wanted to capture certain moments in our lives, the tours, the constant work, the deep cut nights, the energy we gave our city. We just wanted to paint that whole vibe from the somberness to the aggression to the blissfulness.
Is there a common thread or theme that runs in the “No Saints” universe?
Soliven: It’s the concept of a “gray area.” “No Saints” means all of us are sinners, and we wanted our music to reflect that. We’ve always wanted all the songs in this era of ours to have a feel of imperfection. At the end of the day, that’s what we all have in common.
In contrast, how does “No Saints On Knight Street” differ from your previous projects?
Neeko: While our past projects were more about endless nights in the east, Knight Street is more about the west side and our mood in the Grey—Vancouver. We grew up with all our day 1z here in Vancouver and we’ve been developing our own type of music for the city. We put all those creative discoveries into “No Saints On Knight Street.”
We’ve always wanted all the songs in this era of ours to have a feel of imperfection. At the end of the day, that’s what we all have in common.
Is it a conscious decision on your part to always fuse the influences of two localities—the Philippines and Vancouver—in your work? Have you ever experienced an identity struggle because of these vastly different locales?
Soliven: It’s a part of who we are, so fusing the two worlds just happens naturally. While growing up as first-generation immigrants, both places simply merge into one.
Neeko: I feel like the teachings of our parents at home and what you learn outside of that create your identity. There’s never been a struggle for us because we embraced both sides and what they have to offer.
What advice would you give to creatives who are part of the Filipino diaspora?
Soliven: Don’t be afraid of progression. Push for it. Let creativity lead you to places you wouldn’t dare go. Maybe it runs within our team culture but we just think playing it safe is lame. Push yourself, make art that makes you nervous.
We wanted to capture certain moments in our lives, the tours, the constant work, the deep cut nights, the energy we gave our city.
Is there a Filipino artist you’d hope to collaborate with someday? Any tracks of theirs causing you to hit replay lately?
Neeko: Unique Salonga is dope, it would be cool to do a record together and just get experimental. “Sino” by him has been on the playlist since our tour. It’s such an honest record.
If Manila Grey’s journey could be summed up as an epic anime series, what would it be? (Also, do you have any anime series or movies you’d consider as must-sees?)
Soliven: Let’s go classic and say “Yu Yu Hakusho.” The colors, the retro music, the spiritual vibes and just taking challenges head-on with the gang.
Neeko: “One Punch Man” is what I would recommend. I love how it just shows how absurd anime can get. [laughs]
In time when we can freely explore the world again, where do you want to take Manila Grey next?
Soliven: We’re going everywhere. Trust that we’ll be globetrotting when that time comes. Honestly, we just miss seeing and performing for the fans.
Listen to “Shibuya” here:
Photos courtesy of Manila Grey
Header art by Yel Sayo