Sandwich stands strong at 20 years

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The band has gone through a series of evolutions over a two-decade career: changes in band members, being dropped by their label, and the changes in the music industry at large. In photo from left: Bassist Myrene Academia, guitarist Diego Castillo, lead vocalist Raimund Marasigan, guitarist Mong Alcaraz, and drummer Mike Dizon. Photo courtesy of DIEGO CASTILLO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Twenty years. When one does the math, that’s four times longer than The Smiths’ lifespan, and 12 years longer than The Beatles were together. It’s also the shift from cassette tapes to CDs, to archaic iPods with touch wheels, to the online music cloud. Whole careers for other musicians have soared and crashed, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Sandwich were the last left standing.

Their first show in February 1998 was notorious for hijacking Raimund Marasigan’s talk to young musicians in Ateneo de Manila University, where they punctuated his lecture with a raucous riot of a set. It was an education in itself, and a portent of the things to come: immense riffs, a headstrong defiance against the odds, and a sheer enthusiasm for playing music. It’s taken vocalist Raimund Marasigan, bassist Myrene Academia, drummer Mike Dizon, and guitarists Diego Castillo and Mong Alcaraz all around the world, to shows in Hong Kong, London, and the United States.

Five years ago in 2013, when a press conference for their 15th anniversary was concluded, I distinctly remember Raimund remarking about how nobody asked about his band before Sandwich. It’s hard to imagine that said band may have cast a shadow over Sandwich’s early years considering the stature they've achieved today as living legends of the music scene.

6.jpg Their first show in February 1998 was notorious for hijacking Raimund Marasigan’s talk to young musicians in Ateneo de Manila University, where they punctuated his lecture with a raucous riot of a set. Photo courtesy of DIEGO CASTILLO

Behind that is a wide constellation of peers and artists that the band was a part of. Sandwich doesn’t exist in a vacuum, they're part of a thriving community that constantly evolves.

Even from the very beginning, Sandwich met their first vocalist through a common friend. Abaya was a young Ateneo undergraduate with a taste for grunge, and a magnetic stage presence, who Marie Jamora introduced to Raimund at her birthday party.

Jamora attended their first jam as a band, and witnessed the creation of their first song: “Marc came up with the word ‘Butterfly’ and Raims suddenly pointed to (my fave NU107 DJ at the time) Myrene Academia for another word for the title, and she said off the top of her head, ‘Carnival.’ Marc had his verses, and Raims had his choruses, and I saw a mashing up of their amazingly different styles into a seamless and totally unique kind of music.”

5.jpg Sandwich went through a major shift when vocalist Marc Abaya decided to leave the band, and Raimund stepped up to the mic. Abaya parted ways with the band in order to focus on his other band Kjwan and a career as actor and an MTV VJ. Photo courtesy of DIEGO CASTILLO

Sandwich started off strong. Diego Mapa of Pedicab and Tarsius, who first saw Sandwich live at Sunday Grabe Sunday at Mayric's, was an instant fan. “At first, I would jam only to a song, until the next thing you know it, I’m already playing guitar for full sets and joining them out of town? I could be their first sessionist?” But then, Diego laughs as well when he recalls that they realized he was unreliable, and got Jason Caballa to session instead.

“I consider them to be one of the rare bands that gets better with age. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” says Caballa.

Sandwich went through a major shift when vocalist Marc Abaya decided to leave the band, and Raimund stepped up to the mic. Abaya parted ways with the band in order to focus on his other band Kjwan and a career as actor and an MTV VJ. “I was more hands on with Kjwan [...] I barely had time for Sandwich [...] Myrene was the one who gave the first statement, which was all positive, that they loved me, that they always supported me, and I just had to do my thing. It was that simple … it put me at ease,” says Abaya in an interview with Radio Republic. “Since they were always older, and always wiser, and always forgiving, and always patient, they knew I was a child.”

The addition of Mong Alcaraz lent the band’s guitar interplay a deceptively jazzy bent, which complemented Diego's anti-guitar hero feedback-laden blitz perfectly. Also, Raimund took over on vocals, lending the stage a frenetic energy. He's probably the man who has crowdsurfed the most in all of the Philippines.

1 (3).jpg Raimund Marasigan, with a lifetime’s worth of gigging and making music, often gives this advice to younger musicians: “Play like it's your last gig.” It’s an adage whose meaning shifts over the course of one’s career. Photo courtesy of DIEGO CASTILLO

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Over the years, they’ve shapeshifted from grunge to post-punk to garage rock, all as clear as day. That’s why making a list of Sandwich’s quote-unquote greatest hits is a daunting task. The band has gone through a series of evolutions over a two-decade career: changes in band members, being dropped by their label, and the changes in the music industry at large. In full concession of that, instead, here’s a list of songs that have come to be emblematic of certain qualities of Sandwich that have gotten them through the years.

“Sugod”

When Sandwich takes the stage, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Here, they’re set against a wall of blinding Hollywood lights and swimming neon through electric blacklights. Marie had shot the band going bowling, but decided to leave the scenes out after realizing that the band’s performance was strong enough in its own right.

“Masilungan”

Director Quark Henares recounts the video: “Urban depression. Alienated youth. Mumblecore music videos. Disaffection with appliances. Emo in Sa-gee-joe. Driving down the empty wasteland that was known as BGC. This was ‘Masilungan.’” It was his first professional music video for Sandwich, featuring a Jim Jarmuschian montage of teenagers, including cameos from actor Ping Medina, director King Palisoc, Mikey Amistoso of Ciudad, and director Dan Villegas, all when they were back in college. “It also [is] still my favorite, setting a style I’d use over and over again for bands like Sponge Cola, Taken by Cars, and even in the movie Rakenrol.”

“Procrastinator”

How many musicians today have spent their childhood emulating the band’s arsenal of stage moves in Procrastinator? In this music video, Henares tapped into the age-old desire to be larger than life, and Sandwich was there to lead the way. For that, among other things, it was awarded an Awit Award and a MYX Music Award.

Yet behind the shoot, Henares wrote on his old Livejournal about the internal turmoil each of the band members seemed to be going through at the time. “The painful part of it all was that most of the people involved were in front of the camera, so when we’d shoot it was fun and jumping and ‘performance level’ and all that. Then the playback would stop, and people would let go of their instruments, sit down by themselves and just get lost.” It's one of many stories that show why to local musicians, Sandwich stands as the exemplar of professionality. To play music is fun, but it’s not to be taken lightly.

“Back for More”

The band has not been one to rest on their laurels. They always find ways to push themselves musically, even 15 years on with “Fat Salt and Flame,” where they recorded live. It’s a daunting task. While the possibility of making mistakes is a reality, there’s a certain energy and organic quality to a recording of a band playing live. It’s a challenge that Sandwich stepped up to on this album. Their years of playing hundreds of shows have made them a tight unit, absolutely in sync. “Fat Salt and Flame” is a testament to that, and “Back For More” is the song that exemplifies it best.

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Raimund, with a lifetime’s worth of gigging and making music, often gives this advice to younger musicians: “Play like it's your last gig.” It’s an adage whose meaning shifts over the course of one’s career. When one starts out with a new band, each show is something to savor — Raimund calls it "the gift.”

Perhaps the saying is also the backbone of a 20-year career, where every show counts whether it’s playing to five people in Saguijo or 75,000 in Tuguegarao. It’s a combination of dead hard work, undeniable talent, and cosmic luck, and a certain spirit that evades words. At the end of the day, Sandwich’s music speaks for itself.