Updated 22:46 PM PHT Tue, November 29, 2016
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Few bands in the present indie scene have the power to incite a crowd into a mosh pit — the grimy, sweaty, angry kind that merits the approval of headbangers in the 90s. Yūrei is one of these bands. And they’re the kind that the early anti-guitar heroes would be proud of.
Born “out of the ashes” of two metal bands, Yūrei was formed in 2012 when then “pseudo-metal” bandmates Itos Ledesma (vocals and guitars) and Jao Bernardo (drums) wanted to veer away from the hardcore sound to express something with more sentiment and raw emotion. The members of the other metal band in question, Kevin Enriquez (bass) and Jojo Sibal (guitars), who complimented that vision — “I realized that I just really fucking sucked at playing guitar,” Ledesma, the frontman says — eventually joined forces with the former to create a combination of their metal influences plus their punk spirit. Voila, you have Yūrei, and you have grunge.
But being “the only grunge band in Manila” isn’t what sets them apart: it’s what they’re doing about it. The purity of their sound and intention, in the spirit of DIY, reflects in their raw performances and releases. They’re among the few artists who know how to make a rock record that is equal parts haunting, painful, and gratifying at the same time, which explains the usual flood of bodies that jump and sway drunkenly at their shows. With lyrical phrases like “the sunbeams fleeing from the mouth of God,” and “both my eyes in your hands, little vermin,” their kind of grunge is gritty, scrumptious, and it makes you want to eat someone alive.
Music writer Jason Caballa said: “To say that Yūrei sounds like Nirvana is like saying tequila makes people drunk.” Yūrei is aware of this, they don’t care, and they own up to it. “You could sound like fucking, I don’t know, Bush,” says Ledesma. “But we sound like Nirvana, so that’s better than sounding like Bush.”
The resemblance is most uncanny with their 2nd EP entitled “The Problem of Grunge in 2015, or How to Deal with Boredom and Other Stories, or Memoirs of My Nervous Condition, or The Navel-Gazer's Guide to Confronting the Self, or Meditations on Life and Death in Metro Manila.” But in hindsight, “everything [on the record] sounded exactly the same,” which prompted Yūrei to explore more ways to mold and morph their sound. Despite the stereotype imposed upon them, the band has recently strayed a bit farther away from Kurt Cobain and into softer and more experimental modes of songwriting with their newest album, “Random Schizoid Godhead Generator.”
CNN Philippines Life caught up with Ledesma — who may best be described as the offspring of the ghosts of Cobain and philosopher Gilles Deleuze, whom he owes his lyricism to — to talk about Yūrei’s musical growth, the story behind their mysterious album names, and why he thinks indie music is dead. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
All of you guys have been in metal bands before forming Yūrei. Was the band born out of a desire to move away from the metal sound?
Yeah, something like that. The idiom, “I was comfortable expressing myself in 'grunge'” and hardcore … [The band] Refused, that kind of heavy stuff. I didn’t really feel like doing it anymore. Parang, you know, I have feelings too.
What’s the story behind the title of your newest album, “Random Schizoid Godhead Generator?”
We chose that title quite randomly. There’s this book by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari called “Anti-Oedipus” and what we did was … I got the book and [the four of us each picked numbers at random], from one to 712. Each number [we would pick] corresponds to a page number, and [we picked words from those pages], and we just ended up reorganizing them so it would seem like it would make sense. It was really just a random, completely arbitrary, aleatory kind of thing. We were just drinking and we didn’t have a name for our album yet so I said, let’s just play around with it.
As for “The Problem of Grunge in 2015 …” I was writing my thesis, so I wanted everything to sound like it was a thesis. We had those five titles in mind, and we were debating over which one fits perfectly and none of them did, so we just decided to include all of them.
What do you say to people who say that you sound like Nirvana?
We do, man! I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with it. Everything is derivative. Everything sounds like something else. If you sound like Nirvana, fucking sound like Nirvana, man. That’s a compliment.
How about to those people who say that you’re the only grunge band in the scene now?
That’s also true! But I feel like, in spirit, we’re connected to a lot of other bands, like the now-dead The Gory Orgies and The Buildings … Parang neo-90s revivalism but done through very self-conscious methods. Like The Buildings, they’re fucking aware that they sound like Pavement. I think it’s just like, wearing the influence on the sleeve.
Do you think this is born out of a nostalgia or a yearning for those times?
No, we were in diapers then. I think we’re trying to reconfigure it. We’re reimagining a past that we didn’t have. It isn’t our past, it’s somebody else’s past. People in their 30s, that’s their past. Are we guilty of romanticizing it? Potentially. But I think it’s something that’s being refashioned, rearticulated in a very contemporary way. The methodology is what appeals to me, not necessarily the aesthetic. The fact that you can do it on your own, the idea that you don’t have to be technically skilled in order to produce something that could be perceived as meaningful. That’s what’s interesting to me. That’s what I think we’ve been doing.
What’s the best and worst part of DIY?
We have no money. That’s the biggest problem.
What do you think about the local indie scene now?
I feel like there’s been an appropriation of the term, “indie” or independent. [What’s happening now] is very far from its origin, which isn’t a value judgement, it’s just a matter of fact. A lot of people are using that term as a marketing [tool]. It’s co-opted. There are Nirvana shirts sold at Uniqlo now.
It’s kind of like what happened to punk before. “It’s just another cheap product for the consumer’s head.” Indie is dead.
Yeah, indie is dead, or infected … [It’s like] a byproduct of global capitalism and this whole idea that, “Oh if you’re alternative, you’re ‘other’ from the mainstream and you’re interesting.” It’s become an aesthetic category that can be marketed and we’re guilty of it. Everyone is. But I feel like the people who are most guilty of it are people who are appropriating it to make profit out of it. All the money we make from Yūrei shit is dedicated to making more Yūrei shit. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not bad. It’s something that happens naturally, I guess.
You announced during your album launch that you’re going to disband. Now there won’t be any grunge bands left in the Philippines.
That’s cool, the Philippines doesn’t even need a fucking grunge band.