Isn't it ironic that O&L's breakup shares a handful of similarities to when The Smiths, one of their biggest influences, called it quits?
Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce, and Alex Rourke were the poster boys of the British independent music scene when they parted ways in 1987. On the other hand, Clem Castro, Mcoy Fundales, and Ace and JM del Mundo were collectively at the peak of their musical prowess as one of the more prominent local bands before disbanding in 2007.
Orange & Lemons established themselves as pop-alternative rock figures in the OPM industry with chart smashes like "Hanggang Kailan" and "Heaven Knows (This Angel Has Flown)," and as NU107 2005 Artist of the Year, they went full-on mainstream with solid covers ("Blue Moon," "Yakap Sa Dilim") and that infamous reality show theme song (Kuya is forever grateful).
Both four-piece groups had a short yet sweet five-year run—the Manchester quartet dominated the airwaves from 1982 until their disbandment, while the Bulacan ensemble were active from 1999 to 2000, before hitting their stride in 2003. Their untimely demises also stemmed from band infighting. And just like The Smiths, O&L's music lived on in the hearts of fans, even when they thought a reunion seemed like a long shot.
Those parallels between the two acts stood strong, until late last year, when Clem, Ace, and JM announced what listeners starving for their signature sound have been wanting to hear for the past decade:
Amid fanfare, it didn't take long before Orange & Lemons addressed the elephant in the room. The comments sections of news pieces about their comeback were filled with people asking: "Where's Mcoy?" And not even the straightforward explanation on their official website FAQs section could sate the uneding queries.
"He's a vital part of all the recordings," says Clem, who was already expecting the burning question even before him, Ace, and JM got back together. "But we both knew that, if one of us was part of the group, [it really wouldn't work]. May repellent factor kaming dalawa eh. So, hindi siya [O&L] mabubuo if I'm not there, the same way hindi rin mabubuo kung nandun siya. Someone had to give in."
The statement on their website read: "When relations between Clem and Mcoy unraveled to breaking point, O&L officially split in September 2007. The mutual disinterest to work together remains to this day and the creative difference and direction is evident in individual works. The collective interest and decision to reform is solely between Clem (chief songwriter), Ace and JM (rhythm section)."
So far, reception to the new trio has been great. Fans freaked out over stories of Orange & Lemons doing an impromptu gig at Mow's—a week before the crowd overflowed outside 70s Bistro during their actual comeback show. After a decade, those who missed out had a chance to experience their performances again through a series of intimate bar sessions called "Three Imaginary Boys Tour."
You can credit their successful return not only to their loyal following, but also to the new blood present during their recent shows. It's enough for Clem to know that their love songs transcended generations. "Kaya nakakatawa," Ace shares. "Anak sila ng mga nakikinig sa'min dati. 'Ah, sila pala yun. Pinapakinggan sila ng kuya ko dati eh.'"
A beginning of something wonderful
The original plan was to just re-record O&L's underrated album, Love in the Land of Rubber Shoes and Dirty Ice Cream, as their way of giving back to the fans, who are clamoring for a re-release of the first record. At the same time it would function as a chance for them to fine-tune their raw output. Clem admits that back then, they "weren't really that good as studio artists," which is why they have this desire to do everything all over again and see the results.
According to Ace: "Nag-iba lang yung ihip ng hangin. Tumutugtog na kami ngayon sa labas," to which Clem jokes, "Nag-align yung stars and schedules, ha ha!"
It's quite remarkable, considering the three almost had no contact with one another while on hiatus. Ace and JM briefly stayed with Mcoy as Kenyo before venturing into record producing (the former owns the independent label Darkus Music) and project bands (Popseeds). As for Clem, he busied himself with The Camerawalls, taking on the pseudonym Dragonfly Collector, and founding Lilystars Records.
The disconnection was part of a conscious effort to detach from anything related to the old band. "I refused to sing Orange & Lemons songs for many years after we disbanded," Clem reveals. "Ganun ka-kitid ang utak ko, na kahit nire-request sa gigs, hindi talaga. Pero dahil tumatanda ka na, shit. This is also my work, why am I depriving myself of the joy to perform it?'"
True enough, when they picked up their instruments and played as a unit again, the thrill of performing their old songs together was palpable. "May kasamang gigil talaga," Ace admits. "Nung nagkasama-sama kami, parang kating-kati ka na."
As O&L 2.0, their maturity, both in their musicianship and outlook on life, was revealed.
It's about time
Orange & Lemons joins a wave of local acts that have churned out new material and have become active again in recent years (like Parokya ni Edgar, Sessionroad, Kamikazee). Clem cites music, brotherhood, and business—the last one particularly revelant for big-name bands—as reasons for this sudden OPM renaissance.
Neither one of them has a career outside of music, which is why Clem isn't shy in saying their reformation is partly a big business decision. "We cannot deny that. Hindi kami hipokrito." Not to mention the perks that go with it, like travel and taking their music with them, he adds. Ace interjects, "May narinig ako, 'We're just doing this for the art.' Bugok! Ha ha! Kasi nga tumatanda na rin."
The current music landscape, which is reinforced by the digital revolution, is kind to former indie artists like O&L, making it easier for them to re-establish their familiar brand. Their sound, bright guitar work, and dreamy lyrics are strikingly distinct to begin with, so Clem and Co. don't have to worry about saturating the country's soundscape.
Not that they aren't bothered by the volume of competition in the independent scene. But for Clem, Ace, and JM, all they care about is performing old Orange & Lemons tracks and writing new ones, regardless of whether the listeners will like it or not. If anything, they are relishing a less stressful and more relaxed setup, being in control of what they want to do, and when and where they will play.
Strike whilst the iron is hot
The group recalls a time when they were booked for the whole year save for two weeks. This was back in 2006. The tight-lipped JM shares, "Usung-uso call center nun, umaga yung gimik nila eh." His brother Ace continues, "Five times a day, merong tanghali, hapon, gabi, pati madaling araw. Totoo! Di kami umuuwi nun. May taping, tapos tugtog, from north to south."
While O&L is still taking it one step at a time this time, the trio has also set definite and long-term goals that will hopefully be attainable in the future. This year alone, they're thinking about releasing an EP before embarking on a nationwide tour and heading to the rest of Southeast Asia, Australia, and then North America.
How sure are they that this won't end up like their initial run?
"Before we got together, meron kaming mga kondisyon sa isa't isa," says Clem. "We had everything in black and white. Nung nag-agree kami, it's a go. Unless there's a change of heart, wala namang problema. If I want to leave the group, pwede naman. Pareho rin kung may gusto umalis o magdagdag ng new member."
Adds Ace: "Tsaka dati kasi pag nagtatalo kami, dahil lagi nang magkakasama pati dala ng kabataan, siyempre di ka na makapag-isip. Ngayon may edad na kaming lahat, pag nagkaron ng problema, pag-usapan dapat. Ayaw na naming dumating sa ganun."
A few years ago, the idea of an Orange & Lemons reunion and seeing them live again sounded too farfetched. But, through time and experience, they were able to eventually work it out—although not without sacrifice—like adults. Which is also why, unlike The Smiths, Clem, Ace, and JM are back to prove that their music is sweeter the second time around.
Producer Khatrina Bonagua Co-Producer Ian Urrutia Sound Director Aeus Reyes Multimedia Producer Lian Dumas Art Director Echo Antonio Photographer Andrea Beldua Styling Loyal Interns Patrick Papa and Eli Valdeabella Special Thanks To Anya Ong, Antonette Maniquis, and Lui Cornelio Shot On Location At Venice Grand Canal Mall