In a burgeoning indie music scene where it’s so easy to sound like everyone else and follow the popular genre and aesthetic at the given moment, there are few bands that become part of gig line-ups not because of how well they go with the flow, but because of how they stand out.
One such band is The Strangeness, a sextet of musicians and songwriters coming from opposite points on the map, of different ages, contrasting behavior, and varied musical preferences, but with similar Tumblr viewing habits, who came together to create their personal brand of alt-country-rock music that’ll give any classic southern-belle-meets-rogue-cowboy flick a run for its money. They're one of the best reasons to kick one’s boots and just relax one’s nerves on a Thursday night.
The band recently released its album, Scorned as Timber, Beloved of The Sky, an 11-track album named after a 1930s painting by Canadian artist Emily Carr. While the title of the album exudes an air of refined artistic taste, the basis of the band’s name is, in contrast, rather prosaic.
The Strangeness is named after a 1985 B-movie about a bunch of spelunkers who explore and are trapped in an abandoned goldmine. The name of the band came from a long list of B-movie titles shared by friends Francis Cabal (lead vocalist/guitar) and Jayme Ancla, Jr. (guitar), who are founding members of the band.
There have been a few line-up changes since the beginning. There were five members when the band’s first EP, Jesus Camp, was released in 2010. Guitarist Ivan Brosas joined the band only in 2013. It had seven members for some time, but the ones that remain have managed to stay intact amid their hectic lives to release the second album.
Francis, Jayme, and Ivan, along with the band’s drummer Erwin Hilao, vocalist and keyboardist Paolo Arciga, and bassist Bijan Gorospe sat down with this writer to answer questions about themselves, their new album, and why the hell they only released it several years after the songs were written. Here’s what transpired in between recollections and anecdotes, playful insults, and side jokes.
How long did songwriting and recording for the album take?
Jayme (J): The songwriting two to three years. Recording process took like five years.
Quite long. Was there no pressure on you to complete the album?
Bijan (B): There was a lot of pressure, but we were laid back. Plus, at the time, there were seven people in the band with different schedules, different ages, and different living situations.
J: Imagine getting seven people together. Also, it took five years because of logistics problems, laziness.
Paolo (P): We each also had our own individual projects.
B: Each member of this band has 2 or 3 other [musical] involvements.
Walk us through your songwriting process.
J: For the songwriting, madalas yan inihahandog na sa banda.
P: One person will come forward with a written song, either a demo—a full band demo or a solo demo, kahit gitara lang and the band will work around it; that is, if the band approves of the song and thinks, "Ah, this is a Strangeness song."
J: Except for the song "Josephine" and "Liliw."
Francis (F): "Josephine," we stayed in my apartment and wrote it. "Liliw" was written during a jam session sa studio.
J: The usual process is that we compose it ourselves. If the band likes it, then we deconstruct it and make it our own.
F: Actually yung songs that we perform live, nabago pa siya in the process of recording. Nababago yung arrangements.
B: Reconstruct and deconstruct.
Ivan (I): Pero walang usual formula for songwriting.
B: Before, like six years ago, we would lock ourselves in Francis’ apartment and come up with a song or two a day. Parang before we’d leave Francis’ apartment, he would improve the song.
Are you that comfortable dissecting each other’s songs?
B: Yes, parang conversation siya among musicians.
J: And it’s a crucial part of our process.
B: And a lot of us are songwriters. Kasi si Ivan, before he joined the band, he also had a different project. So nung ininvite namin siya sa band, yung contribution niya, talagang kasama na sa sound.
J: Actually we can credit Ivan for honing our sound.
F: Siya yung mahilig mag-himay.
J: It goes back to the idea that we are our own audience first, basically.
Isn’t it hard working with this many people?
F: Hindi, actually. Nagulat din ako. Logistically yes, schedule-wise, but pag magkakasama na kayo okay na.
J: Tsaka may mga cases kasi na, for example, sa gigs. May gigs na okay andun kami lahat, pero may times din na okay lang kung wala yung isa.
So what then makes a Strangeness song?
B: Na sa context siya ng album eh.
F: It's a song by song basis thing.
J: Lyrically and sonically. Kasi marami ring demos na hindi pumasa. Ha ha!
P: The first songs we recorded were "Josephine" and "Rambling Man." Once those were settled, every demo that came after it, we listened to it and we wanted to hear if it would be coherent with the initial songs that we recorded. So that’s how we decided.
So if a demo wasn’t accepted, it’s not because it's necessarily bad. Baka nga sobrang astig nila eh. Having recorded an initial number of songs for the album, settled on the theme, eh. Kahit hindi spoken agreement, we know na ito bagay, ito hindi.
Why did you decide to name the album Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky?
F: It speaks of our belief that every art has value.
B: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
F: If someone doesn’t appreciate our songs, there’s bound to be someone who’ll listen to it and appreciate.
P: So even if scorned siya ng timber...
B: ...beloved naman siya ng sky. (laughs)
Erwin (E): Not just for our songs, for any kind of art.
J: If you think you’re worthless, most likely there’s another person out there na para sa kanya, importante ka.
E: It reflects our vision as a band.
J: These are songs that we have created and loved. So it doesn’t matter if lalabas siya ngayon or lalabas siya in ten years’ time.
Your music is unlike that of most bands active in the indie music scene. What do you think contributes to the uniqueness of your sound?
B: What makes the band interesting is that we all come from different musical sensibilities. Like these two (referring to Francis and Jayme), they came from the punk/hardcore scene.
E: Ako, indie pop.
B: Iba-ibang musical tastes.
J: The sound of the album is basically the common denominator.
P: It’s the sound of everything we all like.
B: We have influences na common. Hindi naman tali sa iisa lang.
P: It also factors into the songs.
J: Conscious in the sense that kilala namin ang isa’t isa and alam namin yung gusto namin. We tend to make sure that the songs or the way we write complements kung sino yung nasa banda. We don’t really go with the trend and all, kasi it’s them. Sa amin, kung ma-please namin yung isang member ng banda. Oh I like that riff, that drift, I like that chord, I like that whatever the fuck it is, then that’s it.
P: For us it’s better that we are able to appreciate something ourselves, kesa na kailangan magustuhan ng iba.
B: Ang main point naman kasi we made this ourselves, eh. Yung roots kasi nitong bandang ito is we used to hang out as friends and just played music.
E: I think it also perfectly ties in with the title of the album. Individually, I guess walang gusto ng fame sa band. We’re free to put out anything without pressure coming from others.
J: And it sounds unique kasi wala kaming hinahabol na sound. It sounds so cliché, but when you’re there and you see how we write or dissect songs, wala naman talaga kaming hinahabol na you should sound like this.
Could each one of you name a track that is special to you?
J: "Twist the Knife" because it’s fun to play. It was fun to write and fun to play.
P: It was fun to make it work among all of us.
J: Kung ano yung pinaka-leftfield sa album, I would say it’s that song.
F: Ako yung last track "The Devil Did Me Wrong." Kasi yung start ng nag-e-explore na ako ng songwriting and I was exploring different subject matter, it’s sort of the first song that came out of that phase. Proud ako sa song na yun.
E: "Maybe That’s Just Love." Ganda ng lyrics. When Francis made that song, it was one of my early favorites. And up to now, I love how it evolved, and at the same time, shoot na shoot siya sa musical sensibilities namin.
I: For me it’s, "Liliw." Kasi frustrated ako sa isang riff ko dati pa, tapos there are times talaga na meron kang music or lyric tapos hindi mo siya maipagpatuloy from thereon. Na-justify siya when I introduced it to the band.
B: Actually nasulat yung "Liliw" ng isang araw lang. In a span of two hours. Yung riff was introduced by Ivan, tapos si Francis, nag-yosi lang saglit; pag balik niya, may lyrics na.
F: Parang we were rehearsing for a gig, and we had some free time and nabuo namin siya. So, ‘Sige, tugtugin natin mamaya!’
B: Ako, "Twist the Knife" kasi gusto ko yung lyrics and yung maraming layers ng instruments. Yung instrumentation ang ganda eh. Also gusto ko din yung "Nuance" kasi...
F: Explain mo ba’t yun yung title.
B: Sige. Remember when we said yung "Liliw," we wrote it within a day? Meron pa kaming isang song, which is "Nuance," kasi kaya naging ‘Nuance’ yun, kasi nung wala pa kaming title, "new one," tsaka "new two" yung titles. "Bago one" and "bago two" actually. Nag-stem siya from a joke. And then it made sense, lyrically.
P: Actually favorite ko din yung "Maybe That’s Just Love." Isa yun sa mga favorites ko sa mga sinulat ni Francis. Pero dahil sinagot na siya ni Erwin, yung sinulat ko na lang, "Easy Boys and Easy Girls." Yung thing about it is sinulat ko yun kasi heartbroken ako dun sa prom date ko. Ganun kabata ako nung sumali ako sa banda—17.
Nung unang ginawa ko siya, hindi ko in-expect na darating siya sa point na where it is now. Sinulat ko lang siya kasi sad ako, galit ako sa prom date ko. And then nung pinarinig ko siya kay Francis, napakinggan siya ng banda, naging kanta siya ng Strangeness.
I remember nung sumali kami sa Jack Daniels Battle of the Bands, yung video nun, it was screened in front of so many people. Na parang isa yun sa mga bagay na hindi ko makakalimutan about The Strangeness, na nangyari ito kasi nandito ako sa banda. Meaningful yung kantang yun sa akin.
B: Itong mga kantang ito, they grew with us eh. Kasi basically ilang taon, five years na rin namin silang tinutugtog live.
I: Parang hindi naman namin masyado iniisip yun.
B: Kung may maka-connect, if they feel the same way or a certain way about the song, then it gets them some form of contentment...
E: It’s not that we don’t care for our listeners...
F: Pero hindi lang siya yung priority.
I: Parang bonus na lang kung magustuhan nila.
P: Parang...magugulat pa kami kung may magkagusto sa kanta.
J: Which rarely happens. Going back to kanina nga—we are our first audience.