Sunday, November 16, 2014

Different Strokes

6:38 AM

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The creative process is a tricky beast, but there are many ways to tame it. Some musicians prefer to work in a band, with a group of mostly like-minded musicians who strive to achieve a particular sound, a culmination of everyone’s tastes and experiences. There are some individuals, however, who every now and then prefer to take a break from that process and take on the job of songwriting by themselves, and on their own terms.

We call these endeavors “side projects,” which is convenient, but insufficient. We say “side projects,” as though the energies at work behind a separate, sometimes solo endeavor and the successes reaped from one are marginal—and therefore, less important—compared to whatever came first. But after interviewing the likes of John Pope, Voyager, Like Animals, TheBGNR, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, it becomes all too clear that their projects, though sound-wise are far from the acts they’re associated with, are forces to be reckoned with, with their own stories and motivations.

Origin stories
All musicians draw their inspiration from a vast array of influences, spanning a wide range of styles and genres. But working in a band requires that each member strive towards one sound, and sometimes another outlet must be conceived for these other influences to come to light.

“I guess I wanted to do something which went beyond the limitations of what I could do with my band,” says JP del Mundo, who was first known as the guitarist of Never the Strangers before forming John Pope as a member of the Logiclub collective. “There's a lot of stuff that I wanted to do that wouldn't fit the band stylistically.”

For Paco Santos, who plays guitar for metalcore outfit Mad Hatter Day and moonlights as Voyager, his new project became not only a new outlet but acted as a sort of refuge for his creative drive. “It got so bad that playing music felt like a chore and nothing more. At that moment, I knew that I needed to do something to reinvigorate my passion and drive for music.”

For Luis Gutierrez, AKA Like Animals, a beatmaker and a member of the BuwanBuwan Collective, conceiving another outlet didn’t mean that one project was an escape from another. “[It’s a] great feeling telling your private personal story through loud ass speakers. With the band it's like hanging out with my best friends and having the conversation turn into music.” Luis also drums for jazz outfit Chocolate Grass, and used to also drum with a pop punk band called Good Morning High Fives.

Andrew Florentino, who sings and plays guitar for Actually Not Here, has recently been focusing his efforts on TheBGNR. “As a professional musician, I think it's important to keep myself interested and informed about different sounds and genres, tasteful or otherwise. Actually Not Here is a great outlet for experimentation and for serious songwriting, but there were other things I wanted to pursue.” He elaborates that, on an organizational level, it seems that pursuing music on one’s own terms is much easier. “Having a solo side project is infinitely more convenient, logistically. Set up time is shorter, no one is ever late for practice, and rehearsal space is free.”

But for Andrew, TheBGNR wasn’t meant to be a space where he could work completely on his own. “I enjoy collaboration when making music. This stems from my always being in a band and never being alone when performing. Because of this, I try as much as possible to get people to perform on my songs.”

There’s a tendency for the general audience to look at a musician’s experimental attempts with a little apprehension. Musicians who try to strive for a different sound risk losing a part of their fan base. There are cases, though, where experimentation is met with praise.

“It was really heartwarming to see that people actually liked what I produced in my bedroom,” says Paco. “A lot of them were surprised as Voyager was a stark contrast to MHD and no one saw it coming. Friends and fans reacted positively, they asked me to produce more and ‘keep it up’. That's what I've been doing ever since.”

There are tangible benefits to pursuing a solo project as well, which prove that striving towards a different sound can be lucrative. “I get a lot of client work! Scoring commercials with artists,” says Roberto Seña, AKA St. Vincent & the Grenadines (also part of the Logiclub collective), who sings and plays guitar for She’s Only Sixteen. Seña not only writes his own songs as SVATG but produces tracks for other musicians as well.

“The craziest reaction I got was when an astrophysicist asked me if he could buy my tracks and use it as background music for his lectures,” says Paco, whose forthcoming album as Voyager, entitled Crystal Children, tackles “quantum physics and science fiction,” according to the BuwanBuwan Collective’s Facebook page.

The biggest difficulty, however, of maintaining a solo act, is bearing by one’s self responsibilities that would usually be spread out among members of a group. “The main challenge in going solo is that you account for everything you do on and off-stage, you are your own brand,” states Paco. “If you make a mistake or miss your call time, people will know exactly who to blame and that can really leave a bad taste in your mouth. When I fail or disappoint an audience, the pain is infinitely greater because I know it's all my fault.” He continues, “You will make friends, and you will definitely make enemies. I had to suck it up and accept that I will inevitably lose friends in the process of venturing on my own and that was the greatest disadvantage.”

The artist within the scene
Many side projects in the local scene now are electronic in nature, with several musicians moonlighting as DJ’s, beatmakers, and producers. There are a lot of factors that seem to draw creative individuals to go down this route, with collectives like BuwanBuwan and Logiclub hosting gigs in spaces like Black Market.

“I believe it's the ‘convenience’ of just messing around on your laptop that people are drawn to. You don't have to physically know how to play the drums to get a beat going in Ableton or wherever,” says JP, who also attributes the emergence of such projects to how widely available free music has become, thanks to various websites and streaming services. “Everything is out there so everyone gets exposed to more kinds of music.”

Seña, however, holds a slightly different view on the matter. “I think that’s the perspective of [those] just looking at people with bands, because a lot of people have electronic projects not coming from a band background.”

He does however admit that context does play a part in the emergence of these types of artists. “I think it just so happens that electronic music is really part of the modern sound. I guess like, maybe a few years ago, people started doing solo acoustic projects,” he states. “But yeah, I guess that it’s a trend.”

Notes from the margins
A view commonly held of side projects is that these are temporary fixations. But like any creative endeavor, these projects have their own stories, fueling and sustaining them.

Paco, for one, sees Voyager as something he can dedicate his life to. “It is more than just a musical endeavor, it is the amalgamation of my beliefs, philosophies, and creative energy. It is the manifestation of an alter ego and the purest projection of my inner self.”

Sometimes these pursuits aren’t even sustained primarily to appeal to an audience. Sometimes, creation for the sake of creation is the only reason one needs. “I just let the gigs find me if they want me! I guess I haven't been concerned with performing live often because I just want to make music like this, period,” says JP. “If I didn't have gigs but I made a lot of music that I was really happy with, I would still be happy! For me, nothing beats the joy of creating for the sole purpose of expression and not just to get exposure or get famous or whatever.”

It seems as though it is a key characteristic of this generation to pursue multiple projects all at once. The existence and emergence of these multi-talented musicians is, if anything, a celebration of variety and experimentation, and a testament to how doing what makes you happy for as long as you can is probably the best decision anyone can make.

Article by Jam
Art by Tamika
Jam is an artificial intelligence still getting the hang of feeling, and is currently a Creative Writing student. He sings for a band called Imelda and sometimes performs spoken word poetry.

Tamika has been around some 18 years and now she's an art major. Loves salmon sushi and has a dog named Taco.