MUSIC

Itchyworms on music streaming, making records, and the state of OPM

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

Kelvin Yu, Jugs Jugueta, and Chino Singson of Itchyworms have roughed it out in the local music scene for ten years, but remain as lighthearted as when they formed the band 20 years ago. Photo by RENNELL SALUMBRE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In a tweet dated April 8, 2016, Eraserheads frontman and OPM legend Ely Buendia declared that “IMO [in my opinion], Itchyworms is the true heir to the Eraserheads tradition.” The tweet came at the tail-end of a discussion — in 140-character bursts — of why OPM is not dead. Implies Buendia: anyone who believes that OPM is dead should get an education and listen (among others) to the Itchyworms, crowned heir to the brand of psychedelic pop-rock that propelled the Eraserheads to superstardom.

The Itchyworms-Eraserheads connection goes way back. Itchyworms has been a constant presence in OPM ever since the band released its sophomore album “Noontime Show,” co-produced by former E-heads Buddy Zabala and Raimund Marasigan, in 2005. It was “Noontime Show” that made Itchyworms a household name, what with “Akin Ka Na Lang,” “Love Team,” and “Beer,” among others, bringing back a kind of 90s pop musicality that does not take itself too seriously. Like their songs, the band itself is a playful bunch, answering questions with comedic timing and thoughtful fluidity typical of an overdue reunion with boisterous friends.

While the band is yet to release another album after 2014’s “After All This Time,” they have been busy performing the Philpop 2016 winner “Di Na Muli,” written by Wally Acolola and the band’s drummer, Jazz Nicolas. There’s also “Pariwara,” the inevitable collaboration with Buendia, released just this month.

CNN Philippines Life sat down with Jugs Jugueta, Chino Singson, and Kelvin Yu, three members of the band, and tried to uncover what they think about local music, the new bands in the scene, and going digital. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

You’ve been in the industry for 20 years, right?

Jugs Jugueta (JJ): Hindi, 20 years as a band. Sa industry, parang since 2000, 2001.

So technically you’re a young band.

JJ: Actually, nakilala tayo 2006, so parang 10 years pa lang.

Ten years is a significant period of time. Would you mind sharing your views on the state of Philippine music from that time you started up to today?

Chino Singson (CS): On what terms? Madami kasi yun e.

JJ: Ikaw, bahala ka!

CS: Kasi if you say na, ‘yung quality of music, iba siya, definitely, kasi iba na 'yung life experience ng mga nagsusulat ng kanta. Pero buhay siya. Kasi andaming bands underground na sumusulpot, and magagaling sila ah, hindi lang sila basta ‘yung may instrument tayo, try natin. Sila halatang pinag-isipan kung ano y'ung musical direction nila. Diba before, 'yung banda, parang, ‘May gitara ka? May drums ka? O game banda tayo’.

JJ: Noong 90s, diba? Kaso ngayon, nasanay na yung mga tao na free 'yung music.

Because of Spotify?

JJ: Not just because of Spotify. It started with Napster, actually, or Limewire, kung ano man yung naabutan mong digital downloads na illegal or semi-illegal or whatever. Dati noong 90s…’di naman kami tumugtog noong 90s, college pa kami noon [laughs]. Pero noong 90s, nagbabayad 'yung mga tao to watch bands. Ngayon nasanay na 'yung mga tao na free, everything is free, the concert is free, the song is free, the album is free, everything is free.

Kelvin Yu (KY): Spoiled.

JH: Oo.

CS: So 'yung industry, if kung business ang sinasabi mo, ibang-iba na siya sa from before. Kasi ‘yung palakad na you sell records to make money, wala nang ganun ngayon. Bihirang-bihira. Kunwari gagawa ka ng CD, hindi ka kikita. Kikita ka from…siguro sa ibang gigs mo, o sa merchandise.

At least naabutan pa namin yung nagbabayad ‘yung mga tao, 'yung bumibili pa ng album. Pero it’s really, really difficult for the new bands right now. So if you like a particular band, a particular indie band, suportahan niyo sila. Manood kayo sa gigs nila. Sa Route 196, maganda dun. 'Yung Route 196 doon tumutugtog ‘yung mga kids eh. Natatawa nga ako ‘pag sinasabi ng mga tao na OPM is dead. It’s just dead because you don’t watch.

Jugs Jugueta

You mentioned that before, people sell records to make money. What’s the motivation now?

KY: It’s just that the records serve as your calling card. It legitimizes your being an artist na may album ka, tapos ‘yun ‘yung ipapang-benta mo sa sarili mo, parang calling card mo nga siya, and other than that, to make money solely out of that…

CS: Di na nangyayari 'yun.

JJ: The album now becomes the marketing tool. The product now is the band, the artist. So dati kasi double income ka, meron kang income from the CD sales or cassette tape sales, then meron ka pang gigs. Ngayon it’s just the gigs.

KY: Kasi nasanay na yung mga tao sa… actually kapag tumutugtog kami ng gig, sa provinces, ‘yung setup, ‘yung business model ng mga gigs doon, ng mga shows, it’s kunwari fiesta, tapos yung mga tao they can watch for free.

JJ: And then either the local government or a company or a brand sponsors the night.

KY: Hindi siya 'yung show na parang magbabayad 'yung mga tao para manood. So in that sense… dati ‘di ganun eh. Dati people are willing to pay to watch.

Considering that, how hard is it now to get people to watch gigs?

JJ: We were lucky na nakilala kami, ‘yung Itchyworms, before nangyari ‘yung ganyan.

KY: Oo,’ yung digital thing.

JJ: At least naabutan pa namin yung nagbabayad ‘yung mga tao, yung bumibili pa ng album. Pero it’s really, really difficult for the new bands right now. So if you like a particular band, a particular indie band, suportahan niyo sila. Manood kayo sa gigs nila. Sa Route 196, maganda dun. 'Yung Route 196 doon tumutugtog ‘yung mga kids eh. Natatawa nga ako ‘pag sinasabi ng mga tao na OPM is dead. It’s just dead because you don’t watch.

KY: True.

JJ: Go watch.

CS: Ano ‘yung pinapalabas sa TV? ‘Yung mga K-pop.

JJ: Oo, tapos puro covers.

CS: Tapos ‘yung mga foreign, mga galing sa US, kasi ‘yun ‘yung hinahanap ng mga bata. So parang dahil ‘yun ‘yung hinahanap, ‘yun ‘yung fini-feed sa kanila ng Myx, ng MTV. Pero kung tumingin ka under the surface, sobrang buhay ng scene eh.

JJ: Totoo. ‘Pag pumunta ka lang sa Saguijo, Route 196, 70s Bistro…

CS: Kahit yung mga lumang banda, tumutugtog pa rin ngayon, sina The Dawn, True Faith, 'yung Youth, tumutugtog pa rin 'yun hanggang ngayon.

Itchyworms recommends a handful of new, old bands, in the likes of Sud, Autotelic, Farewell Fair Weather, Cheats, and Apartel, for those looking to explore OPM. Photo by RENNELL SALUMBRE

Which new bands do you listen to?

CS: Sina Sud, Autotelic, Farewell Fair Weather, Cheats, magaling 'yung Cheats. Apartel.

JJ: Apartel!

CS: Apartel, parang old band siya. New old band.

JJ: Sige new bands… lahat ng tumutugtog sa Route 196, magagaling, promise, Read Between the Lions.

CC: Peso Movement.

KY: Old band na rin 'yun eh [laughs].

CS: Earthmover, ang gallng ng mga’ yun, pero tumutugtog ba sila madalas?

JJ: Bullet Dumas! Magaling ‘yun. Hannah + Gabi.

CS: Lunar Lights.

JJ: Tanya Markova, Davey Langit, Jazz and Chino and Mikey… [laughs]

You mentioned K-pop, so let’s go into foreign influences. If you’ve heard of EDM (electronic dance music) — which kids are into these days — how hard is it now to get people to listen to Pinoy rock or Pinoy pop considering these foreign influences?

JJ: What a very good question [laughs].

CS: Good question 'yun ah. Na-stump kami ah.

JJ: Why don’t you ask them [the kids]? [laughs]

CS: Kasi siguro ngayon, kung ‘di sila mahilig sa Pinoy rock, parang mahirap sila i-convince eh. Para sa amin, gagawa na lang kami ng product na maganda. Kung maganda siya enough, hahanapin siya ng tao. Parang reverse siya.

KY: It’s the chicken or the egg.

CS: Gumawa ka ng maganda, and pupuntahan yan. ‘Di mo na kailangan hanapin 'yung customer mo, kung baga. Kasi ‘yung song, product din yan eh.

KY: Ano rin, double-edged sword din ’yung on-demand setup…like yung Spotify. 'Yung positive side niya, pwede kang makinig sa kahit anong gusto mo anytime. Pero 'yung other side naman noon is, 'di ka na makaka-explore ng bagong music. Like halimbawa kung radyo, makikinig ka sa radyo, marami kang maririnig na bago, not necessarily na gusto mo, madi-discover mo na, okay pala itong kanta, sino ‘to? Pero halimbawa, kung on-demand lang, may mindset ka na, heto lang papakinggan ko, mga ganoong klaseng kanta…

JJ: Oo, mga “Sunday Chill.”

KY: ‘Yun lang hahanapin mong mga kanta, so hindi ka maka-explore. Although on-demand siya, na malawak ang reach, nakakapag-kitid din siya ng reach in the sense na, you just choose what you want, na ‘di ka nakakapag-explore.

CS: Pero tinry ko rin 'yung Discover ng Spotify…magaling siya ah. May mga katunog siya based sa preferences ko…

KY: Magaling yung algorithm niya.

CS: …May mga katunog na, maganda ‘to ah! Pero ‘di ko kakilala.

KY: Maraming ganun, based sa preferences mo.

JJ: Pero okay din ‘yun. Pero kung gusto mo ng sobrang iba…

CS: Kung baga ikaw nagbuo ng playlist mo, ‘yun na rin ‘yun.

JJ: …Kasi yung “Others” ng Spotify, based pa rin siya sa gusto mo eh.

CS: So hindi siya 'yung out-of-the-box in terms of what you like.

JJ: But don’t get us wrong, well 'yung Spotify…

KY: Magandang tulong siya.

JJ: Magandang tulong siya, pati 'yung Youtube, malaking pinagkaiba from ten years ago, ngayon meron nang monetization. So kahit paano natutulungan ‘yung mga artists.

How would you describe Filipino music culture? For you, is it valid to say that Filipinos gravitate towards songs they can sing along to, notwithstanding the popularity of EDM, or K-pop, for example?

KY: 'Yung mga Pinoy gusto nila ng mga songs na madaling tugtugin, at madaling kantahin.

JJ: Kaya gusto nila 'yung Michael Learns to Rock.

KY: Madali lang siya kantahin, yung tugtog niya madali lang eh, yung chords ‘di siya super complicated. Tapos accessible yung mga kanta. People on the street can pick up a guitar and play it, kung may karaoke, kakantahin nila.

CS: Actually marami rin sa Pinoy gusto ‘yung mga mahihirap kantahin. Gusto nila ‘yung birit songs sa videoke.

KY: Para kasing sa sampung tao, mas marami dun ‘yung mas marunong kumanta kaysa tumugtog. So okay din na mahirap ‘yung gusto nila. Mas singers 'yung Pinoy kaysa musicians.

JJ: Tama.

KY: Sa isang kwarto lahat naman kaya kumanta kahit papaano.

JJ: Pero yung sinasabi mo kasi parang EDM versus OPM, diba? Something like that. Kasi yung OPM, or kung mas maliit 'yung gusto mo, 'yung rock scene na OPM, it will always be there. There will always be artists, there will always be kids who will like OPM and who will go to the gigs, it’s just the media, or the masa…kunwari uso ngayon ang reggae, reggae lahat ng tao. Uso ngayon ang ska, diba dati uso ‘yung bossa? Di lahat ng tao nagbo-bossa nova, lahat ng tao nag-a-acoustic, lahat ng tao…

CS: Lahat ng tao nag-u-ukelele [laughs].

JJ: Kailan lang! Kahit yung hindi marunong mag-ukelele, nag-u-ukelele. EDM, so lahat ng tao, EDM. Okay lang, ganun talaga eh. Kasi ang music sa Pilipinas, ano siya, usu-uso. Pero as long as may kids, mga batang mahilig sa OPM, nanonood ng gigs, nandito pa rin ang OPM. 'Yung challenge namin sa mga tao na nagbabasa nito, punta kayo sa gigs. Punta kayo sa Route 196, punta kayo sa 19East, punta kayo sa Saguijo, sa lahat ng mga maliliit na bar na tumutugtog ‘yung mga magagaling nating local artists, kasi marami eh. As in marami. Hindi siya parang dalawa, tatlo lang, ang dami. Meron pang Tago Jazz Café. Puro jazz lang ang andoon. Diba. Meron pang BKB, puro metal naman. Or 'yung B-Side, puro reggae. Ang daming options.

CS: May underground hiphop scene din.

How does the band feel about Buendia telling his Twitter followers that Itchyworms is "heir to the Eraserheads tradition"? "Binayaran namin siya to say that," says Yu. "Saan mo yan nakita? Sa internet? Hindi ‘yun totoo," adds Singson, laughing. Photo by RENNELL SALUMBRE

Recognizing that OPM is alive and not dead, there are still points for improvement, right? What do you think are those points?

KY: Actually more of the audience eh.

CS: Kasi yung mga nagsasabi na OPM is dead, sila yung nakikinig lang sa, the usual channels. They listen to the radio, kasi sa radio, kahit andyan na 'yung law na, magpatugtog ka ng OPM, ilan lang 'yung stations na nagpapatugtog ng maraming OPM. ‘Yung mga nagsasabi nun, they’re not looking in the right places. Tapos siguro the government can help. Kasi 'yung K-pop, kaya sila naging ganyan, kasi tinutulungan sila ng gobyerno. Sina-subsidize nila 'yung culture sa government nila. And after K-pop raw, next na raw 'yung J-Rock. Japan naman 'yung magtataas ng rock sa buong mundo.

Kausap namin ‘yung Guico twins [Paulo and Miguel] – kasi they went to Malaysia to represent the Philippines in a songwriting conference. Sabi nila, no doubt talaga na Pinoy ang pinakamagaling sa region natin. Kasi ‘yung mga kasama nila, mga veterans na, pero okay lang 'yung songs….pero sa Malaysia, tinutulungan sila ng government. So dito, andito na 'yung talent. Siguro kung i-push mo lang ng kaunti, nasa world stage na rin tayo. Kasi tayo, kilala na tayo as musicians sa barko…

KY: Buong mundo, may Pilipino na tumutugtog dyan.

On the part of the music industry, how can they give support to artists who are good, but just not “marketable”?

CS: I think the industry as it exists now, sinu-support nila as much as they can kahit hikahos na sila. 'Yung mga label, nagsa-sign up ng artists para masulong ‘yung OPM.

JJ: Malaking bagay ‘yung culturally, mahilig pa rin tayo sa ibang bansa.

CS: ‘Di mo maalis ‘yung colonial mentality. ‘Pag sinabi mong galing sa US, maganda yan. Galing Japan, maganda yan. Meron pa ring knee-jerk [reaction] na, OPM, yuck. ‘Pag gawa sa Pilipinas, pangit.

Ely Buendia said in a tweet that you were the heir of the Eraserheads tradition.

KY: Binayaran namin siya to say that [everyone laughs].

CS: Saan mo yan nakita? Sa internet? Hindi ‘yun totoo [everyone laughs again].

KY: Binayaran namin siya to say that [everyone laughs again, but adjusts to a serious tone]. Siyempre flattering siya, sobrang flattering. Actually di ko nakita 'yung actual tweet, may nag-screen cap lang, pinadala sa akin. So natuwa naman kami, he thinks highly of us.

CS: Parang mahaba na litany 'yun ng tweets eh, kasi may nagtanong sa kanya…

JJ: Is OPM dead?

CS: So parang siya, ano ba kayo…then napunta na sa amin.

Let’s go back to your music. Do you ever get tired of playing?

All: No.

What motivates you to continue?

CS: Pera. [everyone laughs]

JJ: Limpak-limpak na salapi [more laughs]. No, ako ‘eto [in a serious tone], natatawa ako, kasi kaninang umaga, naisip ko lang ‘to. The band is ano, buti na lang sumikat kami kasi may excuse akong maki-hang-out kasama nila [laughs]. Kasi kung hindi, hindi na kami papayagan mag-hang-out [laughs]. Pero hindi naman ganun, but we will be busy with work, we will be busy with…kunwari 'yung mga high school friends ko nakikita ko na once a year, mga ganun. Baka maging ganun na kami kung hindi kami nagi-gig. So buti na lang nagi-gig kami.

CS: 'Yung banda parang sanctuary yan eh. Parang sa lahat ng ibang kinabi-busy-han mo sa buhay, ‘pag may gig na, eto na kasama mo na 'yung lifelong friends mo, tapos tutugtog kayo.

KY: And we get paid, so for us win-win yan. Kasi we get paid to do something fun.

JJ: So pay us [laughs]. Right now! Pay us now! [bangs the table, more laughs]

CS: Dapat may singil na tayo sa interview no? Ang galing natin sa interview.

JJ: Pay us now! Come on! [everyone laughs]