Bing Austria searches for his soul (music)
by rick olivares
“Para ako tumatanda ng pa urong,” quipped Bing Austria.
For those who grew up in the 1990s music scene, Austria was the dreadlocked sporting keyboardist of Tropical Depression and later Put3ska. Then he was the Mod revivalist, all dressed up and ready to dance as a frontman for the Juan Pablo Dream. Now, he’s still grooving -- albeit with his head close to clean shaven – to even more soul music with his band Bing Austria and the Flippin’ Soul Stompers.
“When I first started performing music – take note – ‘performing’, I was a punk rocker, revealed Austria over a meal of dinuguan at Rodic’s in the old UP Shopping Mall on a rainy afternoon. But the punk I got into was the Clash and their music saw an infusion of reggae. Eh, saan ba galing ang reggae kung hindi sa rock steady and dub? And saan din galing ng influence ng rock steady kung hindi sa jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul?”
While soul music might sound like a 70s throwback to a new generation of fans; hence, a niche market here in the Philippines, Austria is breaking down borders. “When I think of soul, I think – and it is a dream – playing in Detroit, the whole Motown deal, Philadelphia and its smoky sound. Instead, I am playing soul music in Germany.”
Following the slow demise of Juan Pablo Dream (‘nabangungot kami” Austria jokes of his crowd favorite band that released two bouncing and joyous albums), Austria finally got to form a band that approximated the sound that he wanted. The Flippin’ Soul Stompers performed everywhere from weddings to birthdays to fiestas. And in a case of serendipity, recording a vinyl record release in Germany titled “Rosas Epektos.”
“Basically, it’s me and the band interpreting the poetry of Khavn de la Cruz,” explained Austria. “It’s a weird debut for us because it isn’t our songs but it is a welcome change and very good exposure for the band.”
“Meron ibang parts during the album, feel ko sadyang iniinis ako ni Khavn so lalabas yun sa interpretation ko,” laughed Austria of the process. “During the recording, he would whisper the lyrics of the songs on the head set and I’d sing them on the go. It’s a weird way to record but it’s also something else. It was all part of the process. It was only when we performed in Germany last month that I got what Khavn wanted. Whatever that is.”
“Rosas Epektos”, features 12 tracks of soul music. Although recorded in Manila, the album was laid out, printed, and pressed in Germany. And last May, Austria went on tour in Germany and France (with German musicians backing him up instead of the Flippin’ Soul Stompers) to promote the album’s release.
“It’s different of course,” said Austria of the experience. “It’s an avant-garde, artsy-fartsy show (the launch and the tour that started in Germany). But it’s a wild experience. I wish it was recorded.”
“Rosas Epektos” was released internationally just this month of June. Here in Manila, it is available only by order.
Austria isn’t worried about whether the album will be a hit with local audiences or not. “When I first became a musician, I never did this to become a millionaire although that would be nice,” he cackled. “It’s just making music that cuts deep into my soul. And of course, hopefully, others too.”
“So far there is a soul scene here but it is modern soul. Not the soul I grew up to. There are some but it’s more disco. Late 1990s namin na simula ni (expatriate Englishman) Shane Cosgrove yung soul scene here. Now there are clubs that do soul events. And that’s good.
“My first record, the first one I bought, was the Commodores (their debut album, “Machine Gun”). Then I got into the Jackson Five. Then Motown. After which I discovered punk rock. But after Put3ska broke up, I got back into soul when Shane introduced me to Northern Soul. Sabi ko sa sarili ko na marami pa palang music na kailangan marinig at matutunan. And it got me to dig deeper into records and music.”
Northern Soul is a music style that although was first influenced by black American soul music with an uptempo beat, it later grew to include contemporary styles.
The new discoveries in music found their way into the formation of the Flippin’ Soul Stompers and “Rosas Epektos”. The experience of recording the album for a foreign audience and touring in Europe have inspired Austria to write new songs for “a proper Flippin’ Soul Stompers’ debut. I can’t wait to get started on this,” he expressed.
“Mula noong nahilig ako magsulat ng kanta; mula noong ako nahilig tumugtog, meron mga kanta that have had a profound effect on me,’ underscored Austria by way of summation.
“There’s John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ that is applicable to my journey. Madness’ ‘It Must Be Love’ ay lagging naka-dikit sa aking utak. Hindi nila orig yung kanta na yun. British songwriter Labi Siffre wrote and released the song in 1971. But when Madness released their version in 1981, they made it their own. I guess that is how you do a cover version – you own it.”
“There are also all the songs of soul musician Curtis Mayfield (who has also had a profound effect on one of Austria’s heroes, Paul Weller). Lahat ng kanta niya – I strive for to write for similar effect, relevance, and their beauty. And having mentioned Paul Weller – well, Paul Weller. From his bands in the Jam, the Style Council, and well, now as a solo artist. I feel insecure when I listen to his songs. I wish I wrote songs like him. And all of that plus the new experience, I hope to distill that into our next record.”
For now, Austria and the Flippin’ Soul Stompers (who are Thursday night regulars at Alchemy) will promote “Rosas Epektos”.
“It isn’t every day that you record an album for international release. After two albums with Put3ska, two albums with Juan Pablo Dream, I got to release an album on vinyl!” enthused an elated Austria. “As someone who is also an occasional DJ, it’s a thrill.”