Life After Life (PULP Magazine Interview)
Article from September 2009 Issue – PULP MAGAZINE.
Words by Joey Dizon / Photography by Paolo Seen
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Clementine (Clem Castro) shows good form after having been through the proverbial meat-grinder, and proves there’s more that’s worth the squeeze after Orange & Lemons. With a new band, a successful debut album and an undeniable buzz about them, PULP finds out just who the bloody hell are THE CAMERAWALLS, and why so many people have only the best things to say about them.
I’m guessing it seems rather peculiar for the people within the vicinity of my desk at the office to hear jangly guitar chords, Brit-style vocals and much less-chaotic arrangements and song structures smoothly making their way out of my Mac’s external speakers. After all, it’s never been much of a choice through the years that my seatmates would be subjects to either ultra-Satan-approved-metal, Sunday-night-style slow jams or, well, more metal and hardcore. Plus I was never a Beatles fan, a fact that disturbed quite a handful of musician-friends… not that I hated them, but I felt that I just couldn’t relate quite as easily as most other musicians did.
So it was an irresistible challenge to write a piece about a band and a genre that wasn’t necessarily up my alley… not only was this going to be an all new learning experience for me, but an attempt to understand what exactly fuels the kind of musician and music fan Castro and his all new cohorts are. Though there are undoubtedly similar strains to the music The Camerawalls create with Castro’s former, commercially successful outfit Orange & Lemons — which recalled the traditional strains of British groups like The Beatles, The Smiths, and even The Cure – Castro’s present (and finest, personally speaking…) work logically seems to be the more rebellious, musical black sheep of the family, or the bastard offshoot of his former group, that has taken on a darker, angrier, and more hedonistic vibe compared to his former outfit’s knack for, well, making songs geared towards the fame and money route.
Not to say that the music or band is elitist, hell no, I wander one rainy evening into famed Jazz joint Ten02, and just as I’m making my way through the busy throng of scenesters who show up that night, I peer into the window and see a band that’s freely pulling out the stops and seemingly harkening back to the fateful first day of jamming together as a group: Castro is jumping up and down, howling indecipherable truths with guitar raised triumphantly in the air, as drummer Ian Sarabia pounds away on the skins and bassist Law Santiago gives in to an irresistible groove he’s been holding on to for the past few minutes. It’s a fans-day for local Bossa Nova artist Sitti, but this oddly pared and fired-up outfit seems to have won over the crowd of “Sitti-zens” as applauds and screams reverberate between the small area just off the stage.
And on goes a little review of not-so-recent events before I sit down with Castro and company: not too long ago, Castro – alongside the rest of Orange & Lemons’ camp explode into the local club scene as a unit that appealed to the Brit rock and somewhat New Wave sensibilities of the more purist music pundits and fans, with the help of then-newbie label Terno Records, established by music personality Toti Dalmacion. The music is well received and not too long after, the band enjoys its first taste of success via singles like “Just Like A Splendid Love Song,” which earned major label attention and soon produced the major label disc. The band follows up with yet another commercial success in the form of “Strike Whilst The Iron Is Hot,” which produced the massive Tagalog hit ditty “Hanggang Kailan,” but its coming up with the ridiculously overplayed theme to local reality TV show Pinoy Big Brother “Pinoy Ako” that spells major adjustment to the group and its members, the question being whether they will stick to their guns and pursue their natural musical direction, or do they take on a more commercial, financially rewarding direction and come up with more radio hits? The answer was “Moonlane Gardens,” not so much a commercial success but a release that found Castro taking up the reigns as songwriter and producing noteworthy yet grossly underrated material. Next thing music fans know, Castro is booted out of the band, and not too long after, O&L disbands, while former cohort Mcoy Fundales one-ups the Pinoy Big Brother experience by actually joining the television series in one season.
Good thing I get that out of the way in my head, though, as I promise myself that this will be an interview about Clem Castro and company 2009, and myself, wanting not to get into the whole “O&L-thing” too much. After all, having taken-in numerous spins of The Camerawalls’ independent debut disc “Pocket Guide To The Otherworld,” I find that the music – and how seemingly Clem, Ian and Law have surfaced above the shit of the past – is way more intriguing and gratifying than having to revisit the past.
PULP: So I guess the first logical question would be how The Camerawalls were formed. Is there a specific story to the band, rather than it just being “Clem’s new band?”
Ian: Well, I had a band before and prior to that I had a bar in Eastwood called Amoeba, and when I first arrived in the country, I was really into Brit pop: Oasis had just come out and I was so into it and when I went here I found out that the musical climate was really different, everyone was very much into the whole rap-rock thing. I was so sick of auditioning bands for the bar who played the same old music, until one time I went to Gweilos and saw a band playing material from The Smiths and it was such a breath of fresh air when I first heard Orange & Lemons. And ever since, there has been a sort of musical connection…
Clem: In other words, we sort of became best friends after that, because he’d always go to the shows and watch. And it had gotten to the point where we hung out more than I’d actually hang out with, well, my former bandmates…
Ian: The first time we met formally, there was a lot of people hanging out at my house, and we just stayed in one room, even though there was a living room, listening to The Smiths and The Stone Roses, watching videos and all that… for three days straight. Just vodka and music… I mean, I don’t know how bands are formed these days – it maybe the usual one guy enlisting the services of all these other great players, but definitely ours was a group that harkened back to the old way of musical friends getting together and creating music out of their common influences. Undoubtedly, The Camerawalls is still Clem’s band and vision, but we are supportive and we believe in what he is doing and trying to create.
Clem: Actually, these two guys (points to Law and Ian) were always sort of the obvious choice I had in my head. When my former group disbanded, I knew I was going to get these two guys because I knew I wanted to work with them musically. It was a choice of getting people really close to my heart, people who I really knew and connect with, not people who were just half-hearted into doing what I envisioned to be the direction I wanted.
PULP: For a not-so-old collective musicians, I can’t help wondering how you all arrived at this type of sound of music you play, as it does sound pretty vintage. How did you end up with this musical product and direction of the band? Why this particular type of music, and how do guys your age recall influences from as way back as The Beatles and the like?
Clem: Well, it’s not like it was planned, because we were estranged for a time, but as soon as we got into the studio setting, we just went for it and started creating songs out of what influenced us. And during that time, what I did was I shelved al of my work in the past, even the unpublished materials, and we literally started from scratch. It was way more interesting for me as a musician to make something new with a new set of band mates; everything on this album is new, and I never used any old songs which were meant to be my old band’s songs. The first song we ever wrote in the studio was “Changing Horses Midstream,” which of course made a reference to what was happening to me at the time, yet arguably had a more different vibe to it than ONL’s sound at the time.
Ian: It’s because we’re NOT young (laughs)!
PULP: Good job then!
Clem: (Laughs) Drugs and alcohol, man.
PULP: But seriously, it wasn’t like Guns N’ Roses and Metallica for you guys during high school.
Ian: It was perfect timing, really. I mean I didn’t get into the whole Gn’R / Metallica thing, but it happened that everyone was just a lot more mature musically.
PULP: So describe how the firt time was when you three got together.
Ian: The nice thing about this band when it was formed at the time was we were like, Phoenixes rising out of the ashes, there was that urgency to get so much shit out, because all three of us had been going through our own levels of shit we had to deal with. It was like having a catharsis, we were sending each other lyrics for songs, we just had something to say to the rest of the world and the people around us in general, and it was there. I wasn’t a drummer originally, but Clem asked me to, and after weeks of jamming, it went from playing gigs, and I was dropping my sticks and months later, we were recording the album. It was fun again, very organic. It was like swimming – you learn by just jumping in. I didn’t even have a drum set. I bought my kit a month after that gig.
Clem: (Smiles) I was very patient with them, just like I was with my old band, being the sort of musical director of both. A month after I formed the band, I forced them to play a gig. And I was blown away. We played two original songs and a cover. I had a lot of resources and knew a lot of people, and some musicians were volunteering their services, but I wanted to create our own identity.
PULP: Listening to the songs on Pocket Guide To The Otherworld, even though I’ve never been way into the genre, I could tell that there was a darker, angrier vibe to the songs. Where did the inspiration from the material on your debut come from? Was there a concept?
Ian: Like we said previously, we were all going through bad shit at the time. We were just learning in the process on how to deal with all of that was happening to us individually, so when he called me up, we were all writing songs to find a way out of shit. It’s not to say that the next album will be like our first, because we’re much happier people now (laughs), but we feel that we ditched what we had to and now we’re moving on.
Clem: Yeah, we sort of don’t look at the music like “we want to write a hit!” but it’s more purely out of soul, very personal stuff. Then when we played, everything was shot from the hip. There was no concept to the album, we just did it… Though I did work on a lot of songs on the album myself, I have always been very open t what these two other guys were thinking. Everyone has input in this band, and in the next few albums, we’re definitely going to hear more ideas from them. Even my switching to acoustic guitar was not something we had planned…we figured, “here’s an idea, let’s do it.”
PULP: On the album, I noticed you enlisted the services of Robert Javier again, on production duties as with your released with your former band. What led you to decide that he was the go-to-guy again this time around?
Clem: There’s that connection with Robert kasi, and I trust him, because he can easily foresee and knows the music we like and what kind of sound we’re for. We are actually very lucky to be able to work with people like that, and I know they’re giving their best effort. Basically, they know what we like and it beats having to try to explain what we’re going for. Jonathan Ong, I also love working with. He knows how to make records sound, well…international ‘yung quality. Again, no that we’re we’re un-Pinoy, but the product sounds like it can be from anywhere, not immediately sound local because of the bad mixing or whatever.
PULP: Being a band that plays this kind of music, do you still listen to more mainstream music? Do you enjoy songs that, say, are hits on the radio and stuff?
Ian: Nowadays, it’s almost like “Mainstream? What is that?!!” Because there’s so much out there available…you have youtube.com, so though it sounds a bit old, nowadays independent music IS the mainstream. It’s sort of hard to define what the mainstream is.
Clem: It’s still all about the discovery pa rin when it comes to us listening to new music. We’re not just THAT tuned-in to whatever the music trends are, but we like a lot of current music. We stumble upon music through myspace.com and the like…
Ian: Truth is, for me, not really…I like new bands, yes…I like the new Number Two, but that’s George Harrison’s son so there’s a correlation there, and there are artists like Sean Lennon, I love his shit, but there’s always some of that old shit we’ve liked ever since that’s there. But if you’re asking me I’d get into what Eminem does or what Linkin Park did, it’s not that I have anything against them, but I’d probably not just be able to relate to what it is they’re doing. Plus, when you’re in you thirties, it’s pretty hard to get into Hannah Montana (laughs). It’s a generation thing.
Clem: I also think that this whole “mainstream” thing really depends on geographical location, like in Sweden, what’s really big and considered mainstream there is indie-pop, but that’s not necessarily considered mainstream or popular outside of there.
PULP: So speaking of other countries is the same goal you had in the past to reach out to foreign shores with your music still pretty much the same goal you have for this band? Especially now hat you’ve also established your own label, Lilystars Records, which seems to be getting busy…
Ian: The musicians here in the country are good; I mean have you ever seen the drummer of Juan Pablo Dream? Blows me out of the water every time. But you see, when you have an island mentality, this whole seemingly nationalistic vibe and attitude about you that says “this is exclusively for Filipinos,” it gets kind of limiting. As musicians, I like to think we all would like to appeal to everybody. I mean, it doesn’t make anyone more Filipino by only appealing to audiences here… but I’m happy that Clem still has the idealism he had o reach outside of the country. Music doesn’t have a face, right? I mean, I could look like anybody, but as long as the music is good, it’ll spread, right?
Clem: There’s actually a story behind one of the songs on the album called “Canto De Maria Clara.” There was this one time I sat down with this indie film director who asked me “Why don’t you make music for YOUR people?” So I asked him back: “who are ‘my people?’” (laughs) Tinatanong niya kung bakit all the songs are in English daw, wala daw Tagalog, so I gave him the best example I could. I said, “look at Jose Rizal, he’s our national hero, but when he wrote, he wrote in Spanish, and when he studied, he studied in Germany…he acquired his skills outside the country, yet again, he did great things for his country. That gave me the inspiration behind the song, and fueled me to well, head for a niche market outside the Philippines…
Ian: Fuck man, countries were invented by politicians. But if I went to Singapore, nobody would even know what they difference was between me and a Singaporean guy, except maybe if I talked and they heard the language. Music, again, isn’t about the skin: underneath all that we’re all the same, just guts and blood.
Clem: So far, we’ve been getting a lot of attention, especially from Japan and Germany, and I’ve been building connections with independent labels from all over. And they are ordering…just last week I send out a lot of copies to Japan, the U.S., Canada, Germany and people are buying. And weekly, I get sales from amazon.com. It might have been a slow start, but it helps because as an independent band I am not paying for any distribution or outside service other than internet and sites like myspace.com, and it’s something I want to continue doing. And even though it’s niche, I believe niche is king right now, all we have to do is reach out to niche markets outside. So that’s what I’m doing with the label, discovering new bands because I can’t do it alone…you need a team so that it’s a good effort. Like in the 90s, everyone was putting out such great records, and even though they didn’t sound the same, tapping into those individual markets at the same time made it a great period for music. And that’s one ting I’m doubling these days: though I’m a musician, I’m also trying to make myself aware of how it’s also a business, how I deal with certain matters and approach them from a business perspective especially with the label.
PULP: So now that Pocket Guide has been out and that you’ve generally, expressed a lot of your individual/collective emotions with this first disc, what do you think will inspire you on your next release?
Ian: Like I said, I was a vocalist when I came in, so right now, I’m just really dissecting drummers and getting into that. It’s very inspiring for me…
Clem: As far as songwriting goes, marami kasing pwede pagkunan ng inspiration. I’d really like to write something that’s political…politically inclined; there are people who can read the newspaper and write a song, but me, I like so challenge myself as a songwriter and really do something different, not just do what I did on the first album. Like with what I did on this record, I shifted to acoustic guitar, maybe by the time next album in is the works, I’ll play a new instrument. It’s that general feeling of being left of center and not repeating your self that’s inspiring. So we’re definitely taking our time, we don’t want to rush it…it’s not like we’re going to earn thousands for putting out an album anyway. It’s all for the love of playing music.
PULP: That’s actually one of the good things I noticed about the band. It wasn’t created out of spite or to be an outlet for revenge on your former band, even though many people speculate beyond anyone’s control. Did it ever come to a time when you felt your fans and supporters were divided? And how did you manage to get past all of that and focus on what you, love doing?
Clem: Yes, honestly, there was that whole being-separated-and-joining-whoever’s-camp thing, but you know what? I just let the music decide and speak for itself. Malalaman ng tao ‘yan e, once they listen to both albums. I was lucky to retain most of the older ONL fans, the thinking fans. Unfortunately, most of them are guys! (laughs) I want to be known as The Camerawalls though, I don’t want this to be known as the band whose one member is from Orange And Lemons. Gusto naming makilala as The Camerawalls.
PULP: So, it’s the slightly longer and harder way you’re going right? (laughs)
Ian: It’s the core of a band. Take away all the people watching, or whatever, and it’s really just about three people getting together in one room and creating music. If you can’t deal with each other in the studio, then it just won’t happen; three friends just getting together expressing what the have and hopefully it works out onstage. There’s noting onstage that can happen without it happening internally first of all…
PULP: So what can fans of The Camerawalls expect in the near-future? Any immediate, plans or hints at what the next batch of material will be like?
Clem: We are actually starting to come up with new songs, but right now, I’m busy putting together a compilation for the label, maybe including five bands and I’m hoping it’ll represent the sound of independent music in Manila.
Ian: The next album will probably be more of us being more comfortable with what we do onstage ad I’m sure it’ll still be us learning new things. An album is always a documentation of how a band progresses and I’m sure there’s always going to be that sort of learning stage with us; it’s like a kid discovering new toys. The possibilities are really endless.
PULP: So with this new found chemistry and friendship in the band, how do you perceive each other aside from the immediate roles you’re all assigned to outside the music and playing?
Law: Kumpleto kami e. ‘Pag ako lasing, nag-e-english na ko e. ‘Pag si Ian lasing, nagta-tagalong na siya (laughs)!
Ian: When we’re drunk, I don’t know where I end and he begins (laughs).
Clem: We do still argue, because it is an interesting mix. But if there was one thing we fight about…
Ian: It’s actually hard to fight at our age. There are disagreements that have occurred, and if it happened to people younger than our age, it could have easily blew me up. But for us, it doesn’t become so personal anymore.
PULP: A lot of people are led to believe that Clem controls the whole band and is the de facto leader, being the most seasoned in the group and the primary songwriter. How accurate is it to say that?
Clem: “Control” is such a big word (laughs). It’s more of leading the band, yes.
PULP: I saved the best question for last, actually. Why name the band “The Camerawalls?” What’s the story behind the band’s name?
Clem: Well it was supposed to be “cinema walls,” which was an anagram of our names, but when I texted Ian to tell him about the name, napalitan ko e. Lasing ata ako nun (laughs).
Ian: He was actually pretty smart about the name, because Clem basically us a choice between “The Camerawalls” and “cock syrup.” So I mean, I was given a choice between our name and “cock syrup.” So naturally, The Camerawalls seemed to be a better choice.
Clem: Wala lang, it was just a name that didn’t have a reference to it on the web or wherever. We had a lot of name to choose from, but they were all taken. Steady lang siya. We’d rather put the meaning behind the name with our music. Like I said, it speaks for itself.
PULP: So, what does the music stand for? How would you describe your music to someone who’s really not into it as deeply?
Clem: Not into music as deeply? We probably wouldn’t be talking to that person! (laughs)
I wrap up the rest of the interview talking to the band over more rounds of beer and smoke, and it occurs to me that there’s nothing really odd about a bunch of fellows getting together and playing the music they love whenever and wherever they can. Yes, The Camerawalls are slowly but surely building a name for themselves and it’s easy to guess that all their hard work is somehow going to pay off soon especially now that the internet age has made things twice as easier, but I spin the band’s debut album for one last time and again, can’t help relate to the music and lyricism they’ve created over a short time from the not-so-distant-past, even though, like I said, it’s not usually the kind of music I’m into. I ask officemates what they think of the music, how to describe it. I get informative attempts to paint clearer, sonically descriptive ideas: how it’s “sort of like The Jam-meets-The Beatles” or this and that. But whatever. The Camerawalls may or may not succeed, or might suddenly find themselves on a quick-paced train with the music they create or take a little longer. But Law, Ian and Clem aren’t really concerned with these so called matters of great consequence for the average band. Though this maybe the second chance for most of them, they are not out to do things any differently than what they already knew how to do the first time around. To borrow a lyric from their music, they are doing it for love… doing it for love and nothing else.
To editor-in-chief Joey Dizon, kudos to you! – TCW.