Crwn on the unlikely inspiration behind his quarantine music

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The electronic musician talks about the repetitiveness of time in quarantine, missing the energy of live music, and just who his K-pop bias really is. Photo by RALPH MENDOZA/Courtesy of CRWN

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — When everything else failed, musician King Puentespina turned to something that felt safe: K-pop. This was in the earlier days of quarantine, and Puentespina, who performs under the stage name crwn, realized that he was stuck in a rut.

“My outlet at the time was just music, because during that time we weren’t allowed to go out,” he says. “I was holding onto that positivity, because during that time, I tried making music but it felt off. I think everyone’s head space got to me. Seeing everything online, seeing how everything was… it was just so hard to look for inspiration at that time.”

Instead of pushing himself to create original music, he decided to pay homage to one of his favorite K-pop groups, Twice, who released an EP last June. The result was a crwn remix of “More and More,” in which Puentespina transformed the EDM-inspired, tropical house track into something with a heavier bass line. It still felt true to the original song’s spirit, but the remix made it funkier, more heady, more suitable for a 2 a.m. DJ set.

The crossover was well-received by fans of both crwn and Twice. One commenter said that while they weren’t a big K-pop fan, the remix was “fiyah.” They added: “Can’t wait for you to release new prod,” punctuating their sentence with fire emojis.

It would take almost five months for Puentespina to follow up this remix with something that was truly his own. On Nov. 6, he released a new single “Moment to Moment,” with the accompanying B-side “From Time to Time.” Self-described as more “house-y, dance-y” than his usual fare, Puentespina says that the instrumental track was his way of expressing nostalgia about life before the pandemic.

“It’s sad that a lot of the venues that I usually played at are closed now,” he says. “I guess… relating it to the song I have now, it’s sort of an ode to the memories we created [in these places.] It was just something I had to get off my chest.”

Puentespina thinks about nostalgia a lot, because he feels like he’s been “stuck in a time loop.” But he’s also been thinking of the future a lot. He was set to release his first full-length album this year, but found that he was both logistically and creatively challenged. “It was super hard to book studios, obviously,” he says. “I couldn’t book the artists that I was getting for the album. All the artists were all over the place na, just stuck. Physically stuck, and mentally stuck. They couldn’t write so much, so it was hard for everyone.”

It was enough for him to step back and recalibrate — to think about what he really wanted to do with his work. It was a departure from the King Puentespina that he was when he was just starting out: no stage alter-ego yet, just curious, without a clue on how to make his own sound come to life. When he started getting into the music scene in 2013, he had no prior interest in a professional career in music. Back then, he was already the drummer for She’s Only Sixteen, while he was pursuing a management degree at De La Salle University Manila.

Photo by RALPH MENDOZA/Courtesy of CRWN

Things changed when he began attending Bakunawa, a then-monthly gig by record label BuwanBuwan Collective that attracted local beat-makers and electronic musicians. “My mind was blown,” Puentespina recalls. “I only knew about band[-related] things. I was only in that lane before. When they showed all that, I was mesmerized by what you could do on your own. And I always wanted to keep making music. And I guess being a drummer sort of limited me on what I actually wanted to make.”

“[It’s] super 180 to what I’m doing now,” he adds, when he explains that apart from his business school education, he never fully pursued any work outside of music. But with the changing times, he’s been forced to confront the reality that music may not be the only thing in store for him. His family also owns and manages a heritage chocolate business, and he’s had to consider what role he should play in it — or if he should play one at all.

“I recently had a succession talk with my family, na I have to… my family’s business is Malagos Chocolates. So we have a farm in Davao, we have a plant there. Just in case something happens, my brother and I, we have to uh, buhat,” he says with a laugh. “[But] they support my career.”

It was Shakespeare who said that uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Yet it seems that Puentespina has two crowns to consider: the persona he chose for himself, and the one that looms ahead of him. He isn’t quite ready to decide what to do, and in a year that feels suspended in time, he finds himself at a crossroads.

“I don’t know,” Puentespina says, when he considers the daunting future of a life in music, or the safety of their family business. “I just don’t want to look back in my life and say na hindi ko ginawa yung music full time. I think that’s holding me back.”

In a video interview, we talk to the electronic musician about the repetitiveness of time in quarantine, missing the energy of live music, and just who his K-pop bias really is.

Hi, King. What are you up to right now?

I was just watching Twice compilations on YouTube.

Oh, cool. Which ones?

Just the new ones from the new comeback.

Love it. I think the last one I saw was the choreography video.

Oh my god, that was so good!

Who’s your bias?

I’m Jihyo. But right now I feel like Nayeon and Sana are killing it. Grabe. Ada’s [Laud, Puentespina’s girlfriend] been telling me that you guys have just been talking about EXO.

Oh, yeah. Ada is my EXO spirit guide. When I also interviewed her, she told me how she likes to de-stress over K-pop choreography. And I said, “I kind of like this group. I’m into some of their songs… they’re called EXO.” And she’s like, “Oh, my god…”

(Laughs) Ang ganda.

Speaking of K-pop, you did a remix of Twice’s “More and More.” How did that come about, and how did you add your own “voice” to the song?

I feel like during that time, when was that… I think March? I forget. But during that time, I [felt] like [the] lockdown was just starting to sink in. And that comeback just revived me somehow. It put positivity in whatever I was doing.

What is it about K-pop that resonates with you as an artist?

The marketing side and the training involved is insane. I super respect their craft. I respect the journey towards debuting as something I can never achieve. Jihyo had to be a trainee for 9-10 years before she debuted with Twice. And I think that’s how they get anxious. Because I feel like they don’t have a safety net, like friends or school.

You mentioned bouncing your energy off things that inspire you. Is this a core philosophy that guides your work?

Yes. Also, live shows. I love the energy. And it’s sad that a lot of the venues that I usually played at are closed now. I guess… relating it to the song I have now, it’s sort of an ode to the memories we created [in these places.] It’s not my first time making, but it’s my first time releasing something house-y, dance-y. It’s sort of a longing for the past, I guess.

When you came up with those two songs in your new release, what did you want to say with each of them?

I called it “Moment to Moment” because during that time, there was an inside joke in our house that we were caught in this time loop. We were always just doing the same thing, just talking about the same things. It was a joke that we needed to “break” the time loop with random stuff. I sort of related it to living moment to moment. And “From Time to Time,” the B-side, it’s sort of the same story. They complement each other.

When you talk about how time felt repetitive at the start of quarantine, is it different for you now?

I really… don’t remember now. Cause I made these songs after “More and More.” I was getting back into the groove of making again. I think that was a way to break that time loop.

How’d you get started on it? Like, one day you woke up, and said, this is the time to do it. You mentioned that you did try making me music, but it didn’t feel right.

I think it was just a matter of working towards it, making a habit of even just opening my work station, and making sure that I work on something. So it was a gradual thing that just happened. And it got me out of that rut of not being able to make things, just being creative in general.

Photo by RALPH MENDOZA/Courtesy of CRWN

Do you still remember the first song you made?

Yes, it was trash. (Laughs)

Have you listened to it since?

Yeah, I think a few months ago. It was horrible. It was a bunch of sounds… I was just trying to emulate what I would hear at Bakunawa. But after gradual practice, practicing the software, actually like building things, you just get a hang of it. The learning curve is super steep but, yeah it’s just about practice.

When did you feel like you were getting better from what you call your “trash” song?

I feel like Soundcloud was part of my growth, for sure. I feel like it gave me confidence to just keep putting music out.

What was your first song on Soundcloud? Can I stalk you on Soundcloud?

(Laughs) No, please don’t.

I was gonna do it anyway, but I wanted to get your permission.

That’s true. Well, it was called “New Yorker,” and it was just a sample and drums. But people started playing it and commenting on it. And I was like, “What, you guys like this?” That motivated me na, wow, I could do something with this. So I just kept building.

When you were improving your skills in producing music, did you have a mentor?

I have YouTube. (Laughs) Well, I didn’t really learn everything by myself. There were a lot of people who… the group is called Logiclub and it was just a bunch of friends and musicians that just wanted to learn the craft. We would just share ideas and technical secrets and software. And a lot of it was really just listening to music. All kinds of music. I think it was more on that aspect. I tried to absorb as much music as I could.

What is a sound from the outside world that you miss the most?

I guess concerts. And probably the beach. I wanna go to the beach so bad.