Musicians Should Learn To Laugh At Themselves For Having Crappy Influences

One time, I left my music player’s speakers on low while I was dozing off. I heard this one electropop-style song there and wondered, “What kind of shitty band is that and why is that shitty song on my playlist?” Turns out it was one of my old songs. I don’t remember which one, though.

Moral of the story: Musicians should learn to laugh at themselves and make fun of their own work from time to time. A good sense of self-deprecating humour keeps inflated egos in check. I am not special, I am not that good, I can only play chords with my left hand on the piano, but I’m just artistically stubborn. That’s how I keep making music over the years even if very few people listen to it, or even when I think it’s not that good.

The other day, I was reading this Noisey article called “EVERY INFLUENCE YOUR SHITTY BAND ISN’T ALLOWED TO HAVE ANYMORE“. While there is some truth to what the authors are saying (that many recent bands since the 90’s claim to have been influenced or inspired by the same books and ideas), I saw it as a humorous way to look at famous bands that this generation have given sacrosanct value.

Some people got offended for having their favourite bands made fun of, because said band XYZ cites ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and Orwell’s ‘1984’ as influences.

It’s like you can’t make fun of bands or artists for saying contrived things during interviews. As far as I’m concerned, overly-serious artists eventually get tiring and boring if they cannot even make fun of themselves. This is why I love Weird Al and the fact that Nirvana’s members found his parody of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ hilarious.

To tell you the truth, most of my influences are not the ‘right’ ones. I tried reading ‘Dune’ but found it too slow and dragging. I tried to like Fugazi because you’re supposed to like them if you’re a ‘real’ punk rock kid, but it felt forced because my ears enjoyed Minor Threat, and found Ian MacKaye’s DIY philosophy more attractive than his post-MT music. I was the punk kid who liked U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ and underrated prog-rockers King’s X. I learned more about guitar music theory from listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins than Johnny Ramone.

Not that people care about it, but some of my influences are:

1.Sound Of Music

2. KC & The Sunshine Band

3. early Air Supply songs

4. The Beatles when they started getting weird

5. an old mixtape of death metal bands whose names I did not bother to find out (but played loud for kicks in college to drown out the neighbours’ horrible karaoke)

6. every pop-rock song that is a version of Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’ (those chorus-y ringing guitars are ear candy)

7. 80’s Super Sentai music, especially the Choudenshi Bioman songs sung by Takayuki Miyauchi

I’m like that gourmet chef who prefers to just have an egg sandwich at home. In fact, as a longtime cook who has worked in fine dining in the past, I’d be a happy Filipino with lugaw and ginisang mais at home.

Every other musical or artistic influence is either minor or secondary. 😉

CERUMENTRIC is now 9 Years old, and I forgot all about it

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As my wife knows about me, I have a terrible sense of time. I’ve been so busy editing the new song, making some art, and doing an outline of my next write-up, alongside preparing meals and making sure the kids don’t get into any trouble, that I forgot yesterday’s significance:

September 26, 2015 is the ninth year since I took a few drumloops, cut samples using the free audio editor Audacity, decided to make electronic music and call this bedroom act CERUMENTRIC to deal with a painful tinnitus that lasted for two months. I was never expecting anything except to amuse a few friends and entertain my wife and son. Two full lengths and a some EP’s and singles later, I did not anticipate it getting nominated for awards, getting positive reviews, or performing alongside some of Manila’s best indie musicians. We even did self-financed mini-tours across and outside the Metro. It was a lot of fun being on the road.

To be honest with you, there are times when I wish I could just throw in the towel, call it a day, and make my life less complicated. Not that I’ve stopped finding joy in making music under this moniker, but it has its own blessings and curses.

I will reiterate: Off-kilter experimental synthpunk songs with English lyrics about existential dilemmas are not supposed to come from a stocky ‪#‎Filipino‬ stay-at-home freelancing artist dad from the southern outskirts of ‪#‎Manila‬. If it doesn’t follow the ‪#‎OPM‬ blandplate and there are no ‪#‎hugot‬ romantic lyrics about young love or nationalistic ‪#‎Tagalog‬ lyrics set to a danceable beat, then it doesn’t and shouldn’t exist because it will be ‪#‎burgis‬ and ‪#‎sosyal‬ and ‪#‎antiFilipino‬ and doesn’t contribute to ‪#‎FilipinoCulture‬. Your music career in the ‪#‎Philippines‬ is practically screwed unless you have external funding. As the pedestrian creature would tell us, “Walang mass-appeal ‘yan!” (That doesn’t have mass appeal!)

But I’m not doing this for money. I earn a living as a freelance writer and graphic artist. There are easier ways to make money. I’m doing this because it gives me meaning. There are still tons of musical ideas in my head that I haven’t tried. My gear is still slowly falling apart, but we’ve managed to get this far with this makeshift musical contraption despite the odds.

Perhaps I’ll quit next year on CERUMENTRIC’s 10th anniversary. Just maybe, I’ll change my mind again, like I do every other year, because something comes up and another strange circumstance grabs me by the collar and shakes me, telling me to stop being a fool. But I’ve been on this fool’s errand to a musical rabbit hole for years now, and I’ve somehow gotten used to this, that I just can’t imagine life without it. Thank you for reading, thank you for listening to the music, thank you for believing, thank you for riding along with the changes, and you know who you are because there’s not a lot of you, really.

Back With A Vengeance (A Momentary Break More Like) And Some Reflections

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Photo by Brucher Owens of GYHTS

So here I am, last June 6th, 2015. I took a very short break from fatherhood to play in a musician friend’s birthday gig.

It was great to be back, and it was more than exhilarating to see old and new friends and acquaintances. It seemed like it was only yesterday when we were all in our twenties, with big ideas on how to make our small part of the world more creative, more free, more to our liking. Suddenly a lot of us are venturing into more ‘mature’ pursuits. It’s a good reason to celebrate life and its momentary pleasures.

I’m done recording my vocal parts and doing the basic arrangements for the new album, but now here comes the blood-and-guts part: post-production and editing. The extended Manila summer isn’t helping much, and I’m covered in heat rashes daily. As I keep telling my wife, I may be as strong as an ox, but I’m a bunch of allergies waiting to happen anytime.

After hurdling previous tests of patience, here comes a new challenge: dealing with the complex emotions of a 12-year-old son and the explosive temper of a 1-year-old toddler. Good luck, says the career-minded, supportive and patient wife who leaves early every weekday morning to travel to work.

Each day is a reminder about how to appreciate what one has, despite the existential discontent and the temptation to give in to envy and resentment. I’m reminded that I should be thankful to live in a country where I can speak freely and do subversive art without being arrested (to some extent), but I also feel arrested by the fact that it is a country that can do so much more but wouldn’t, a country of complacency, where manicured mansions coexist with shanties within meters of each other, where the ‘have’s’ pass by the ‘have not’s’ with no bother in the world.

That environment, combined with the constant humidity, pollution, horrible traffic jams, commonplace crime, and sleeper subdivisions on the verge of becoming barbaric ghettos, contribute to the art and the music. It’s a world of extremes, both the stunning countryside beauty and the debilitating poverty, that I draw inspiration from.

Having said that, it’s a bitch re-learning Ableton Live after relying for more than five years on hardware samplers. My Roland SP808’s zip drive has breathed its last. Nevertheless, I am back, with a vengeance, with scores to settle, a new musical direction, and plans to make more art than I can possibly handle.

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There is a tiny part of me that wishes to relegate what I love to do to being a mere hobby, to make my life easier and less complicated, but I never really saw it as a hobby. It has always been a personal mission.

I make electronic music to make people nervous, as each snippet of melody is always threatening to explode any moment, volatile, potentially dislikable, especially when the local music scene teems with trendy/hip types who have embraced the irony like a badge of honor. It won’t make for more fans, but I’d rather be honest at this point in my life, even if it means offending sensibilities.

At best, I’m trying to exercise mindfulness, to savor each moment, to appreciate every effort by anyone who give their time to engage me in lovely conversations, and to those who take me as I am, a mass of contradictions, angry onstage but calm and awkward offstage. Thank you for bearing up with me and having me for drinks and company. You know who you are and I really appreciate your effort at going out of your way.

If you’re reading this far, thank you, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. I’ve been doing this since September 2006, and I have no regrets. The quarter-life crisis just makes me hell-bent in doing more to fuck up the status quo in my part of the world. There’s no more looking back, and it’s time to trudge on, mistakes and all, because I’ve survived the worst of times.

(Special thanks to Nono of Names Are For Tombstones for the awesome birthday gig, Glenn Dilanco for the video, Claire for seeing the show and giving me a ride home, and all the friends and bands who made this an enjoyable show. You all rock.)

Not So Ambient, Dying In Obscurity, and Future Nerds

It’s turning out that what I intended as an ambient music side project is becoming less ambient and more like a slasher B-movie music score. I signed up for the RPM Challenge of coming up with ten tracks before February is over and I’m figuratively running around like a headless chicken.

That’s what I get for being a recovering procrastinator.

I’m currently working on loops from really obscure Latin music and Filipino funk/disco records for this side project called Canfreed. It will be the second album that I’ll do for this alternate moniker, and it’s a good break from the high expectations that has turned into CERUMENTRIC.

The idea is to mangle them beyond recognition that only a pedant familiar with the 1970’s Filipino and Latin music scenes, with an extremely patient ear, and a lot of time in their hands, will recognize which original recordings they came from.

I’ve made sure that the samples are from bands/artists that only made one or two recordings from that era, and whose members are either retired, doing other things besides music, or dead.

In a way, it is my tribute to them, as it is also a personal reminder that it is highly possible that I’ll go their way when I pass away — one of those unsung dreamers that only pops up in nostalgic conversations that can hardly recall at least one song.

It will be discovered by the nerds, outcasts, and the other outsiders of the future, and hopefully, they will build up on my work and make my dreams theirs, and reach millions where I have failed.

SUNSET DAYDREAM: A Summer Mixtape

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The CERUMENTRIC track “There Goes The Floor” is featured in this summer mixtape by Ian Urrutia of Vandals On The Wall, a music blog featuring quality indie music from the Philippines. Download for free via this link.

SUNSET DAYDREAM: A Summer Mixtape.