Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chillitees return with the sounds of summer

Chillitees return with the sounds of summer
by rick olivares

It isn’t a mirage.

If your last sight or sound of R&B band the Chillitees was their sultry beach video for “You Make Me Juana” from their second album, “Espasoul”, the band returns after a nine-year hiatus with a new album that has the summer sound feel.

“Summer” as in a reggae and dub-influenced album that is tentatively titled, Cute Sinta, and is due in a few weeks’ time.

Lest you think that the Chillitees have gone Jamaican like Snoop Dog did a few years ago with the album, “Snoop Lion”, the trademark sweet soul and smooth grooves are still very much evident. Except they are wrapped with the ephemeral vibe that the late great Bob Marley popularized. And the result is a delectable mélange of genres. Think Thievery Corporation or Hed Kandi circa Nu Cool 1 meets OPM-inflected R&B.

More than a slight deviation to their sound, the Chillitees have entered Swing Out Sister and Workshy territory as they are now a duo featuring vocalist Uela Basco and multi-instrumentalist, Dan Gil. With all the other members opting to either migrate or move on to other projects, the two constants in their two albums, 2006’s Extra Rice and 2008’s Espasoul, are Basco and Gil.

How does that affect live performances? For now, Gil makes use of Ableton beats while Uela sings.

“The new album has this summer sound feel,” volunteers Basco who is bursting with excitement over the new album. The 32-year old singer released her first solo album, That Room, on iTunes (that was produced by Gil) in 2015. Her solo effort which is being eyed for a physical compact disc release, was a progression of the Chillitees’ sound. The new Chillitees’ offering take their music to new soundscapes. “Besides -- who doesn’t love reggae and dub?”

Basco was trained in classical music before switching to jazz and R&B. “I think classical music prepared me for the changes in my singing,” says the soprano. “Reggae and dub have a different intonation. Change, I guess, is constant for the Chillitees.”

Gil on the other hand grew up in the 1970s and 80s and soaked in everything that has come up since. “Our music is the sum of what Dan grew up listening to,” says Basco lovingly of the Chillitees’ music man.

“Espasoul” that had a 70’s music vibe Manila sound, was recorded live. “Cute Sinta” reflects the changes Ableton and all.

Working out of a studio owned by legendary OPM composer Charo Unite (who wrote songs for Nora Aunor, Rico J. Puno, Dulce, Asin, VST & Company, and Sharon Cuneta among many others) in the Gallery, Makati, Gil marvels at all the hardware and recording tools at his disposal. Gil holds up a Neumann microphone. The gadget is one of the best and perfect for vocal use.

I remark that it is what Joe Jackson used for the recording of his classic album, “Body and Soul”. Gil’s eyes light up. “To use these and all these equipment was used for classic OPM… it’s rich,” he gushes.

The changes aren’t only confined to the new album. There are plans to re-release “Extra Rice” either in CD or vinyl form. “Something to reward our old and new fans,” says Gil. “Something too in our bucket list.”

More to that, the duo is thinking of doing a re-make of the video of “Ikaw” (from Extra Rice) reflecting the physical changes.

“When we recorded that album and shot the video, well – totoy pa ako,” laughs Basco. Since then, the vocalist gained massive dosages of confidence by taking up pole dancing as well as penchant for exploring the great outdoors (surfing, skateboarding, and riding big bikes among others). “I’m far from that teeny-bopper look,” she says. “When I started out my career singing at 17 years of age for the Sun Valley Crew, I didn’t really know what to do. People just said, ‘go up and sing.’ I was shy and well, unsure of myself. I’ve come a long way since. And I’d love for our new material to reflect me. Well, it’s not the new me. It’s certainly me.”

“Me” is the sexier look that matches the mood of her music’s grooves. Basco teased that with “Espasoul” and carried that look with her solo album. “Looks aside, it’s never about that. It’s always about the music. Music (and her day job is a music producer) is my life.”

“I am glad that people appreciate the music more than anything else because that’s the way it should be,” sums up Basco. “And it’s the sound of summer – carefree, fun, summer lovin’, and breezy.”

It’s good to see the Chillitees back and it’s a brand new day.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ang Bandang Shirley to release their “Favorite” album

Ang Bandang Shirley to release their “Favorite” album
by rick olivares

In these challenging days, Ang Bandang Shirley, that band whose good cheer brightens your day with tunes that leave an indelible mark in your heart and mind, arrives with their much-anticipated third album titled, “Favorite”.

The band is set to launch “Favorite” this coming March 25 at the Blue Bay Walk Garden, the Metro Park, in Pasay City.

With the singles and videos for “Umaapaw” and “Siberia” released a few months ahead of the new album, Ang Bandang Shirley have teased a refined, tighter sound without sacrificing the sheen and harmony that have defined their music.

If “Themesongs”, their debut, had a raw vitality to their songs with the influence of Broken Social Scene all over them, their sophomore release, “Tama Na Ang Drama” found them more introspective and soulful. With “Favorite”, the album exudes the confidence of maturity and experience in facing life’s challenges and these turbulent times we live in.

As an added tidbit, the band continues their tradition of selecting an album track as the title of their album.

The true collective nature of the band expands. Just as the band did with “Tama Na Ang Drama”, “Favorite” is also a collective effort in terms of songwriting with various band members contributing. And speaking of confidence and collective, the band is confident enough to allow different producers -- from Modulogeek, Big Hat Gang, Nights of Rizal, the Ringmaster, and Mikey Amistoso of Ciudad and Hannah + Gabi – to take stabs at putting together those thoughtful and intuitive songs that have been their trademark. Despite the eclectic ideas, what the band has teased during the pre-launch shows is a seamless weaving of more provocative pop nuggets to fill your soul.

“Favorite”, from Wide Eyed Records, will be available at the launch in compact disc form and on iTunes. The CD will be available soon after in selected outlets that will be announced on the band’s website and social media.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Philippines is Shinji Tanaka’s musical nirvana

The Philippines is Shinji Tanaka’s musical nirvana
by rick olivares

The Man from Japan must be crazy. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, for most passengers riding one of those – famous or infamous depending on your perspective – jeepneys that sped across Manila’s traffic choked streets with the music of Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses, and other guitar-driven hard rock bands playing at ear-splitting levels, it wasn’t exactly fun ride.

The Man from Japan? Why he was in absolute nirvana. He was so happy that one time he saved enough money to have his own jeep manufactured! He caddied as a conductor and on a few occasions when his driver didn’t show up, plied the Caloocan route himself while speaking pidgin Tagalog. Crazy, right?

“Yes, it is crazy. Never in a million years did I think I’d get to do all these,” laughed Shinji Tanaka when reflecting from his first few years in the Philippines. In addition to owning his own stainless steel Philippine jeepney replete with its blaring radio, Tanaka, through his recording studio, Sound Creation, has become one of the Philippines’ most sought after sound engineers and has worked with an eclectic and virtual who’s who in Original Pilipino Music – APO Hiking Society, Asin, Brownman Revival, Cynthia Alexander, Dong Abay, Eraserheads, Fuseboxx, Imago, Joey Ayala, Jim Parades, Narda, Noel Cabangon, Pedicab, Ryan Cayabyab, the Dawn, and Taken By Cars, among many others.

“And to think that I grew up playing air guitar and air drums to Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” or “Black Diamond” before going to school,” added the bespectacled Tanaka with a laugh. “I loved Kiss, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and the bands of that era,” he shared of his growing up years. “Kiss was massively popular in Japan and I was a big fan.”

The young lad eventually fell in love with the drums that he would also pretend he was the Who’s Keith Moon or Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham (the respective drummers for both English bands). He eventually got his own drum kit where he would practice at home. However, one time, a neighbor complained and there went the drums.

“In Japan, it is forbidden to play loud music in public vehicles, malls, or even at home,” he lamented of his countries’ penchant for quiet, hence, its stringent noise reduction laws. “You can say that unless you went to a live show (as concerts are called in the Land of the Rising Sun), the music couldn’t be heard. It was boring.”

When Tanaka first came to the Philippines in 1987 following some prodding by a Filipino musician friend, he was pleasantly surprised that there was music playing in malls, elevators, jeepneys, and it’s pretty much everywhere.”

“I thought, I died and went to Heaven,” he laughed.

One time, he went to this record bar in Harrison Plaza where he asked if he could buy whatever Filipino music was popular. The promo girl promptly put in front of him cassettes of APO Hiking Society, Gary Valencia, Asin, and other pop acts. It is through these albums that he also learned how to speak Filipino (he still has all the original cassettes he purchased all those years ago). “There were lyric sheets,” he said of those lessons in the vernacular. In fact, he is so proficient and fluent in Filipino that he would rather converse in the native tongue rather than English.

One time, a musician friend brought him to a recording studio in Greenhills. “He told me that this is where many of my favorite Filipino records were recorded,” recalled Tanaka of the visit.

Eventually, he put up his own studio in his home where he could play his drums. It evolved from personal studio to a hangout for fellow musicians and eventually, into a full-fledged recording studio.

“We started out by recording campaign jingles then band demos and ultimately, to recording full albums for bands,” he said of his hobby’s evolution into what would be his life’s work. The first proper album to be recorded in Tanaka’s nascent Sound Creation – the Pin-Up Girls’ “Hello, Pain” followed by Monsterbot’s “Destroy! Destroy!”

Both albums were incidentally produced by Raimund Marasigan, one-fourth of the already legendary Eraserheads.

Aside from the fact that both Marasigan and Tanaka are drummers, they hit it off right away. Since then, Tanaka has recorded Marasigan’s other bands – Sandwich, Pedicab, Project 1, Squid 9, and Gaijin. “Raims,” glowed Tanaka about one of his best friends in the world, “is a genius. That is why he is a busy man. He has all these ideas in his head and he gets them done. Plus, he is very easy to work with. With him, he doesn’t have to be the main man. You can see him with Pedicab, he willingly takes a step back to allow Diego Mapa do his thing. He has so much respect for Diego who is like Raims, a man bursting with energy, life, and ideas.”

“And if it were not for Raims, I would never get to work with the Eraserheads (their two new tracks that were recorded for Esquire magazine in 2014),” added Tanaka who was able to check something off his bucket list.

Most recently, two albums that the affable Japanese sound engineer worked on were released -- Pedicab’s “Remuda Triangle” and Taken By Cars’ “Plagues”.  He’s working on Calalily’s new album and is waiting to work on new material by Olympia Maru, the side project of Taken By Cars’ Derek “Siopao” Chua along with the band’s drummer, Bryan Kong, and We Are Imaginary vocalist, Ahmad Tanji.

Busy much?

“I think that’s the influence of Raims and Diego,” pointed out Tanaka with a laugh. “But it isn’t work because I am doing something that I love. I get to live my rock and roll fantasy by being a sound engineer and also performing with my bands (he also bangs the drums for Marasigan’s outfit, Gaijin).”

And there’s his own Japanese restaurant, Crazy Katsu, that he put up along with Pedicab and Sandwich drummer Mike Dizon and Taken By Cars’ Kong a few years ago.

“Not bad for a kid who played air guitar and drums to ‘Detroit Rock City’ as a kid before going to school, eh?” smiled Tanaka.

“If you told me that I’d one day move to the Philippines and own a jeepney, a restaurant, live in Marikina, and work with all these talented Filipino artists, I’d say you were crazy.”

Yep. That Man from Japan sure is crazy.