Monday, July 28, 2014

Straight, No Flair: An Interview With BP Valenzuela

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 “Sorry if I’m rambling,” says electronic musician BP Valenzuela over a plate of Pomodoro pasta. “I just like to talk.”

And BP enjoys talking (in the manner of expressing herself), just as long as there are people willing to listen. She has her own beliefs, and isn’t afraid to voice them out. Her social media accounts are teeming with her opinions on things (just look at her, but it’s in her songs that we get to see the side of her that only she knows.

In fact, if you listen to any of the tracks off of be/ep (her EP) and read through any of her interviews, you'd probably already feel as though you know her personally. And not just in a casual sense, but in the way you'd see a close friend who's entrusted you with many of her secrets.

After a quick listen, you would probably get the impression that her personality is just like the wispy quality of her voice—that she is that timid, introverted girl who makes music alone in her room. When I invited BP (which may stand for beautiful princess, bacon pizza, balyenang pink, and beanut putter, depending on her mood for the day) over for an interview and DIY (do-it-yourself) day at my house last May, I knew that the conversation would be a long one.

At our shoot at the park near my house, she befriended an 8-year old named Isabel, introducing herself as Ate Beav. They got along pretty well, even bonding over loom bands and Disney Princesses.

Each of her songs surely gives us a look into her entire “personhood” (as she likes to call it). Her lyrics provide her own little insights about herself (“’Cause I’m the cautious kind, a flight risk personified”), her observations of her surroundings (“Watch the world move…from my window”), and the relationship between the two (“I’m just a speck here in the general scheme of things”). She's had quite a year, with gigs coming up left and right (the most recent being Sofar Manila), joining the Logiclub Collective (a music producer’s collective started by Rez Toledo), and being featured in a number of publications which include Young Star, Vandals on the Wall, and Her song General Scheme of Things received airplay on Jam 88.3.

Music authorities like to focus on the unique way she translates her thought process into songs—a process that can be very much likened to that of writing a journal entry. A musician writing about her feelings isn't anything new, but she finds a way to make her musings deeper and more contemplative of life and love. It's in the combination of this with her style and her execution that makes her such an interesting artist. I got to chat with her about how she found this style, her first gig as a solo artist, and why she thinks girls shouldn’t be considered a novelty in the music industry. All of this as we sat casually in my dining room, snacking on much coveted chocolate-chip cookies (she had just gone through a period of cookie fasting).

Hi BP!

So you've talked a lot about how you got started in the industry. How did you get your first gig?
My first gig... I got my first gig through AMP (Ateneo Musician's Pool). They just offered it to me like, “Do you wanna perform for fellowship night at Canaan?” and I was just like “Okay.” But I never really performed alone. I have a band, we're called the Kinder Friends, and we don't perform as much as we used to anymore. I never had the confidence to perform solo except in O-Idol where...

You won!
Yeah, it was weird because it was just a prank, and before that I never really sang solo. So when I did that, I was like “Alright, better do this.” Then I started with a looping set and that's where I caught peoples' attention 'cause they were like “Where is that sound coming from? How does she do that?” And that's when I started getting other gigs um, through AMP. From then on it just became a thing.

What moment in your life do you consider your actual debut in the music industry?
Probably Gold Soundz III. That's where I finally got to play at Route for the first time. Route 196 is one of those legendary gig places. One of the few in the North. Most of the staple gig places are in Makati—Saguijo, B-Side, places like that. Route, as a solo performer. And it’s weird because when I played in that gig [Gold Soundz], I was with a bunch of bands. I was like a weird, quiet intermission. It's funny, 'cause I dunno, it's not acoustic, [and] it's not electronic so I wouldn't know what to call it. And it’s... how would I do this visually (gestures with hands to demonstrate levels) it's like the loudness level just kinda... 'Cause I played with bands like Perkywasted and Imelda and She's Only Sixteen—they're like hella loud. Ever since then, I've been getting more gigs. Before it would be once every two weeks and now I guess it's weekly.

Are they just offered to you now?
Yeah! People randomly get my number. Like they text me but then I forget that I have my number on Amplify for bookings and blah. I'm trying to get used to it but I don't really text a lot so when people randomly text me I'm just like (whispers) “How did you get my number?” I'm very private so it's a shocker, I guess.

Do you feel that your musical style has evolved this past year? You started off with classical guitar, and eventually went on to use an 11-year-old Yamaha electronic drum kit and loop pedal. What made you decide to use those instruments?
Oh. I used to have a really small loop station. I bought it when I was 12, and I used it to write music because I didn't have band mates. So I would hook something up to this loop station, like my old Yamaha keyboard and just write music from there. It's small—an RC-2. It's like, so old. From there, that's where I kinda picked the whole thing up. Like ever since I was younger. Mostly 'cause I was alone when I wrote music. I was in my room just messing around with random instruments. I'd just hook like the weirdest things up to the loop station, make music. That was before I knew how to use a computer.

Oh, when was that? When you were...
Yeah when I was like 12 or 11. I was so happy because I was like “Oh my god! Two hours of loop time.” So to write new songs I'd have to erase other songs. It was so lame. It was such a weird analog way of writing songs.

Given the subject matter of your music (it's based on personal experiences, right?), have you ever had doubts about releasing it to the public?
Yeah, oh my god! It started in high school. I think I have like five notebooks filled with lyrics. Most of my songs started with arrangement and not lyrics. Like, that's how I write most of the time—I lay down a track according to how I feel but not with words with... yes, music. Yeah I was very wary—when Soundcloud wasn't a thing I used to have PureVolume. Purevolume was where you found the obscure pop-punk bands when you were like, 14. I had one, and I used to make like really shitty post-rock and glitchy tech stuff. I used to have a USB soundcard from CDR king and I would just hook my guitar up to Mixcraft on my gaming laptop and just post that, post covers. And nobody found it. A few close friends, yes, but that was it. So I kind of gave up on writing music for myself. I wanted to write music for other things. I was in the instrumentalist club. I just focused mostly on playing guitar.

I've always had doubts because no one really paid attention. My SoundCloud, when I made it, no one really gave a shit. I was pretty wary about it, but I released Building out of nowhere, and I guess that's where it picked up. I didn't have a defining gig, but if I had a defining song it would be Building because when I released it, that's when I found my sound. When they would say, “listen to her,” they would play Building. All of my songs from them have been described as introverted electropop.

You describe General Scheme of Things as sad and contemplative electropop. You also describe how it was written “at a weird place” in your life. What else inspired you to write it?
General Scheme of Things was inspired by EDSA, 'cause I literally live right next to EDSA. Actually, you can hear the rumble of the MRT from where I live. There are so many people....You know, everyone—most people—pass by EDSA everyday, and I feel like hundreds and thousands of people pass by my building everyday and they have no idea who I am. When you see all the cars look like Hot Wheels go through the road and you kinda look at the window to see if anyone's looking up, you kind of feel helpless but I guess...I dunno that's why it's my favorite song on the EP. It opened my eyes a lot.

The whole EP is about college—the first year of college. You know how you make the transition from high school in your little bubble to college, and that bubble pops and then everything just kind of wakes you up. So you feel that your music style has evolved this past year... It's not like a sudden jump. I've been doing this for like, seven years, but usually on my own. Now that I'm with other producers, I just really kinda eat everything up when they teach me things. I'm still very obsessive when it comes to making my music obsessive and personal and solitary. But I'm getting all of this influence again... Now I've been working with Nick Lazaro from Moonwlk in producing some stuff 'cause I'm working on a new album.

When are you gonna release that?
I'm gonna release it again in an event with CDs. I just love CDs. 'Cause I feel like the release of an LP (which can be either a CD or a vinyl record) is another art form because you can have a single that you download online but then when you have the album in your hands and you see the work of the visual artists and you just kind of feel it and you put it in the CD player... it's different. It's like you know, eBooks and books. It's gonna be traditional-ish like that again. I've been working with him recording vocals in the studio and he helps me produce some of my songs.

Yeah, so it [my style] just evolved like that. Now I'm open to new stuff. Before I'd just make the music I hear in my head, now I have other people to make it better. I used to write really sappy singer-songwriter shit with just an acoustic guitar. I started listening to other stuff in high school... producer-singers like Frank Ocean and James Blake and that's where I started really wanting to record stuff for myself. The only reason why I learned how to record by myself on a computer was because when I was 13, I wrote a bunch of songs and I went to the studio to record them. But they overcharged me and gave me the shittiest output ever. I guess they dismissed me as one of those 13-year-old girls...

Oh that's one of my questions. What's it like being a girl in the electronic music industry?
I'm just tired of being a novelty, you know. I'm a girl, I'm young. I don't want my music to be known 'cause I'm a girl and I'm young but for what it is. I dunno... I just don't wanna be a novelty. That doesn't define my music at all. When I go to a guitar store it's prevalent that they just dismiss me as this girl. Like, when I'm buying stuff they think I don't know what I'm doing. After years of that, I wouldn't say it was my motivation to do my own thing, but it really helped. I wanted to give them a reason to acknowledge and not dismiss me. One of the most satisfying things is going to a guitar store and them being like “What kind of guitar do you want” or “What do you need?”

Just the fact that you're a girl and you're young, and you're an electronic musician...
Yeah, I'm not like a weird outlier. For lack of a better comparison, you have Lorde. She's young, she's a girl, and she has these lyrics. People are always hounding her for seeming older than she really is. And it's like, “What? Can't a girl be a young girl and have smart lyrics and be an outlier in the music industry.” You have these dudes like Zedd and that's no surprise, but you have Lorde and people are still checking her birth certificate to see if she's still 17.

Yeah, I think that's the main angle of all her interviews. Like, “she's the opposite of the girl next door” or “she's the weird one.” I'm just like, can't you just interview her like a normal person? Anyway, so you don't want to be...
I don't wanna be pigeonholed as a young girl. The thing about this is that... [people] interview me about my music [now], but I'm scared that one day they're gonna be like “Wow, you wanna be a role model for girls.” I don't wanna be marketed as a girl, or someone who's young. That's what I am, but I wanna be marketed on the basis of my music. Not to sound douchey, but yeah. I just don't like how (in general, in the global music scene) when there's this kind of thing about girl bands and girl rock. You know? They're just bands and it's just rock. For example, bands like Haim, bands like War Paint...that's the angle of the interview all the time. Like “Yeah all of you are girls and that's cool.“ It's like, why is it such a big deal? We're half of the population, why can't we make music?

Ooh time for the less serious lightning round.
Books: Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner! Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk. Also Middle Sex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Movies:  (Laughs) Oh, you ask all the hard questions!! Almost Famous and Say Anything by Cameron Crowe. Fight Club, that's a given. Wal-E—it's kinda like Orpheus and Eurydice. Annie Hall and My Fair Lady.
Food: Anything that's bad for you. Really unhealthy cheeseburgers, pizzas, burritos, tacos. Anything with cheese and beef in it and I'm good. Bonus na lang kung may tomato. And chili...spicy things. Twix bars, cookies. I have a palate of a little girl (laughs).
Places: I wanna live in a really big city like New York or San Francisco. Not necessarily lavishly, I just wanna live poor in a big city. I love convenience stores. They're my favorite place. And coffee shops. Yay capitalism.

Well then, that's about it. Have a cookie!

Check out the General Scheme of Things music video here 

Article by Gaby
Photos by Arielle and Cine

Gaby is used to working quietly in the background. The Thing is her first big attempt at taking the lead. She isn't sure how it is going to go, considering that most of her time is spent trying to get her dog to listen to her. On most days, you would find her at her computer, excessively bookmarking links to DIY projects and articles about teenage wunderkind.

Arielle is currently a fine arts student (Information Design). She loves taking pictures, watching movies, going to new places, hoarding books and collaborating with other people to make things. She would like to pursue a career in photography, film and design (yes all three) in the future.


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