"I didn't like the name but it doesn't matter. They played great band music." - Nina Araknida Sunstar, Flip / September 15, 2002
"Few rock bands in town could stand at the crossroads of a dynamic and evolving music scene and knock down the high walls that divide music genres and audiences with as much success as Sheila and the Insects. " - Ronald P. Villavelez Yup!, Issue 1.03 / November 2001
"Sheila & The Insects’ music is new wave-influenced post-punk rock music that is considerably heavy yet still melodic " - Cris O. Ramos Jr. The Manila Times / May 31, 2003
"What does an indie band do with the oft-maligned mix of rock and new wave? In the case of Cebu-based Sheila and the Insects, plenty." - Ganns Deen PULP , PulpReviews / Issue 13, March 2001
What we are seeing now is the fallout to the atomic explosion of the current band scene. We are seeing so many brands endorsing bands or the other way around, whichever way you see it. From strong beer to roll-on antiperspirants to twister fries. Not surprisingly, band contests are everywhere now. Even the local town fiestas are following suit. Gay beauty contests couldn’t last, thank goodness for that. Out of tune guitar strings are hugely more bearable than out of place g-strings, forgive the ugly pun.
Just last week, we were involved in one of the many big band contests this year as our band was invited to play as guest performer. The Nescafe Soundschool had held its Visayas finals in three venues for three consecutive nights here in the city.
As I looked at one of the competing bands play one night, I couldn’t help but see in them our band ten years ago. Outwardly confident, I could plainly see the stage attitude disguising nervousness. Their haughty stances were betraying self-consciousness and uncertainty. To me it was louder than their distorted guitars. I could see through them because ten years ago, I was in exactly the same place.
In 1996, San Miguel Beer put together the “Battle of the Bands”. It was, back then, the biggest band contest for amateur bands held nationally. Of course, us being young and not too bright, we didn’t see it for what it was – a rare opportunity. Our natural instinct was to snub the contest. We were already playing regular gigs in Artist Dais, which in retrospect was Cebu’s version of the famous Club Dredd of Manila, so naturally we thought ourselves above joining such a folly. Like I said, we were young and not too bright. Fortunately, we were also malleable. So when people, including the organizers, started egging us to join, we conveniently changed our minds and readily judged band contests as not uncool anymore.
We joined the first round with little enthusiasm. But when we won that round and the next, we decided to take the contest seriously. We invested in longer rehearsal hours and put more focus in our playing. We also put in a lot of effort into arranging our contest pieces. In short, we polished our act.
We ended up winning the Visayas round together with PG-18 as runner-up. We then flew to Manila to play against the other regional champions. A day before the finals, all the bands from out-of-town were given studio time to practice their pieces. It also gave all of us the chance to size up each other. We quickly realized then that the Cebu bands were the strongest contenders. Even the other bands said so.
But on the day of the contest, our fortunes changed. At the outset, we sensed that the Cebu bands were being discriminated against. The first sign was the order of contestants. The order slots were supposed to be drawn by lots but the organizers simply “handed” to us the first and second playing slots. Not exactly the best slots to play in a contest. What’s more, the organizers automatically awarded the last playing slot to a band that didn’t show up for the drawing of lots, which gave them the automatic advantage.
Worse, when the suspiciously late band arrived at the venue, their manager openly socialized with the judges and the event organizers, which puts in question their collective impartiality. Skipping the details, when the winners were announced later that evening, everyone, especially the audience judging from their astonished reaction, was surprised that the top plum was awarded to Make Your Mama Proud or MYMP, the last band to play. The whole event seemed scripted and stunk.
Whether the conspiracy was real or imagined, we as a band were dealt a painful blow. Personally, I felt cheated. Since then I viewed contests with disdain and suspicion. We had played our best set that night: our song “The Preach”, plus we covered The Bible’s “Crystal Palace”, and The Church’s “Under the Milkyway” only to be beaten by a band that played, among others, the theme song to “Power Rangers”. I’m not kidding.
It was funny really, thinking about it now. But back then, I remember it was a searing experience. It had become a turning point for our band. Our attitude towards musicianship and showmanship would never be the same again and although we had lost, we quantum-leaped in maturity. Of course we also became cynical and jaded but that’s ok. A little angst never hurts in songwriting.
So now, looking at these young bands playing their hearts out, I wish I could tell them that, win or lose, the experience itself is the biggest reward. Among a lot of valuable lessons, you learn that winning in contests isn’t about playing a technical set as much as it is playing a tight set. You learn that choreographed moves will always look contrived, even funny and that it’s more important to be confident and comfortable up there. You learn that it’s not about performing rather it’s about having fun. You learn that in a band, you’ve got to support each other to bring out the best from your music. The lessons are endless and invaluable.
Contests may not always be fair as judging performances will always be subjective. The important thing though is that you do not dwell on how you are judged by others. For in the end, it is how you judge yourself that determines how your band will fare, not just in any contest but throughout the band’s career. How a band sees itself and how it views its music determines its attitude and character. It is this attitude and character that will eventually reward you with future successes.
Well, it’s official now. I finished relayouting the Flowerfish design onto the regular CD configuration. For those who bought copies of Flowerfish in the digitray version, hold on to those dearly as the next reprints will be in the regular CD case format. Same retail price mind you.
It’s like having bought the same book for the same price in hardcover edition. The ones coming out from now on will be paperback. Forgive the crude comparison but it’s the best I could think of.
Officially, Daybreak records will be distributing Flowerfish now and we’ll be doing it through EMI’s distribution network. The good news is we finally get to distribute to the provinces where our CD’s never reached like Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Bacolod, etc. At least that’s what we’ve been assured.
I found myself happily feasting on sushi. We had taken a break after playing our first set during the wedding reception where we played as the wedding band. Mark Ladanan was sitting in for Jerros who was out of town for the week. Considering that we had only been able to practice for two sessions prior to playing tonight, Mark did an impressive job.
The thing I struggled with though for the whole week was my voice. I was suffering from a bout of stubborn flu and persistent coughing which made my voice hoarse, my throat stiff, and my nose runny.
For the longest time, this has been the worst condition I’ve been in playing a gig. Normally, I could sing through a small cold but this bug I caught was different. I really sounded sick even when just talking. If this wasn’t an important gig, I’d have begged off but it was. This was a gig booked several weeks in advance and we couldn’t back out.
Maybe I’ll feel better after I finish my plateful of Japanese. Eating is supposed to help you salivate and therefore should help moisten your throat. When we do the first dance in a bit, I’ll soon find out.
We’re still debating what to do with Flowerfish now that we’re in the process of getting released from our distribution deal with V3/Viva. The main issue is whether we do a reissue of the album to include new previously unreleased tracks or do we just reprint it and improve our distribution nationwide which was our main problem to begin with.
One of the things Ian suggested over our online discussions, online being the only way we get to discuss issues sometimes on long stretches because of our busy schedules, was that instead of a new track, we could simply include additional items with the album. A few things he suggested were a postcard, a SATI sticker, a chance to win a SATI T-shirt, and (in jest) a certificate for a one-night-stand with a SATI member.
Purely for abstract discussion, would that last item be of value for fans? Who gets to choose who and who approves who? Will we need to issue priority numbers or not at all and just work faster. (Dream on, yes, I know what you’re thinking, but hey, this is exactly that) And where and how to arrange the deed and who pays for the bill? It’s a logistical nightmare. So I guess it is just best to drop the idea no matter how original.
The killing moon
Will come too soon
Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him
- Echo and the Bunnymen, The Killing Moon
The killing time has come. The local band scene will struggle against another coming dark age. Bands will slowly find themselves pushed into corners unwillingly, like a trapped boxer, forced against the ropes. Blinded by the fleeting glory of being in the spotlight, they will all too soon realize that they are losing out at the scorecards. The next well-landed straight jab could very well cause a knock out.
In the face of the sudden wave of band ‘commercialization’ sweeping through our pop culture of late, you won’t need to study societal trends or statistics to predict that the bubble will soon burst. Yes, it is a natural cycle but helped along just the same by negative forces like Echo and the Bunnymen’s metaphorical “killing moon”. Bands won’t realize until it is too late that the biggest killer of the music scene isn’t the media, or the critics, or the tasteless and faceless ‘masa’. Funny enough, all too often, the reason why the band scene gets killed is - drum roll please - the bands themselves.
History repeats itself yet the problem isn’t that history is a poor teacher; it is that musicians are poor learners. And what does history teach us? Plenty.
Bands are born in clubs and they live off clubs. Deny him that and he starves, musically and financially. The biggest bands no longer need the quintessential club. They play for much larger audiences and gigs already. But nevertheless, most of them will have started playing in the small clubs. Even the biggest bands still sneak a quick bar gig every now and then not for the money but for the fun of it. A venue where music can be regularly showcased is absolutely essential to a scene.
But the bands themselves are killing the clubs, or at least some bands are. By allowing themselves to be exploited by club owners by agreeing to play for free or for measly fees, they set an ugly precedent that slowly erodes the quality of gigs. This, since decent bands typically never play for free. Audiences never come back to the same venue to watch bands that suck. Why should they when they pay good money for a good show. Keep putting out bad shows and the audience will be a no-show. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve seen this cycle many times before with the big clubs and venues of Cebu’s famed old band scene. Not surprisingly, none of them are around anymore by the way.
Aside from clubs, radio can also provide that essential venue for showcasing music. But as local musicians here know, radio sadly is rarely trend-setting. Blindly relying on billboard charts and other dictates of the pop culture, radio rarely takes the driver’s seat in supporting genres or movements and will often be content to ride on the latest wave. The usual cycle is that a music form will start underground and will slowly permeate pop culture. When it becomes too big a scene to ignore, radio will play it and claim it as its own.
Radios often claim you “heard it first here” when really all they can claim is they broadcast it ahead of the other stations, if at all. More often than not, you really only “hear it first” in the small clubs and venues. Like I said, bands are all born in clubs. In any case radio is still radio and although bands aren’t born there, they grow there.
But the bands themselves are also killing radio, or at least some bands are. By submitting substandard music to the stations, either awful recording or just plain awful songs, which still makes it awful recording since you’re not supposed to record crap, they set an ugly precedent that slowly erodes the quality of radio. You know the rest.
Bands that don’t put value into their music or their performance will end up being exploited. A band has to define its worth. If not, a band ends up being worthless. A band’s value then is dictated by the band itself. Not by the promoters or the club owners nor the audiences. Let them dictate your value and it would be like letting go of your end of the rope in a tug of war, you lose by default.
As a closing message to all bands, whether newcomers or the more-established ones, it is not a question of knowing your place. Really, it is a question of choosing where you stand.
Frankly, I’m tired of answering questions about why our name. I think it’s a pointless exercise. A name is just a name. Why fuss about such a trivial thing? But many people still just don’t get it! Ian related to me once a story he read that Sting, yes Sting himself, was once ambushed by an overeager if not clueless media writer here in the Philippines (hardly surprising) with the same question. Yes, Sting himself, whose moniker is probably the most famous in modern rock was asked “Why the name Sting”? He quickly answered with a stinging, pun intended, reprimand. Quite rightly, in fact, the erring interviewer probably deserved to be tied to an anchor with rusted barbed wire, and be thrown into the polluted Pasig River.
A musician, any musician would rather talk about his music. So when the interviewer now in front of us four started asking questions about how the band adjusted to each other’s different musical backgrounds, and about Flowerfish, but nothing at all along the lines of the dreaded why-Sheila-and-the-Insects question, we were genuinely pleased. So much so that our responses came out very naturally. Even animated in some instances. You don’t get that often by the way. Kudos to the ‘Overdrive’ production team especially their interviewer Matt Teves, a neophyte by the way from what I heard afterward, which makes it an even more impressive feat.
Lucky though we were that night, a few days after, I was asked the dreaded question again by a friend of mine while hanging out at the bar in Outpost while our band was waiting for our turn to play. I quickly struggled with the sudden urge to turn green and expand 6 sizes bigger. Luckily, I wasn’t wearing my purple spandex boxer shorts.
Worse, later when we played that night and in the middle of one of my spiels, someone from the audience had the temerity to actually ask loudly “why Sheila and the Insects”? I actually thought for a second about turning ballistic. I settled instead with a prompt reply – “because it works”.
No further articulation and we promptly went on to play our next song.
We appeared in FHM this month. It's not exactly a centerfold but then again, had we done a Brokeback Mountain number, would we have come across as titillating? I guess not. I'd rather eat bugs. Just like that and I got my wish.
This article was forwarded to me yesterday by an officemate. It's from a local daily. Thought I'd share it when everyone here. I had a good laugh with the ending here where our staying power was compared to insects' resilience to a nuclear holocaust. Let the bombs fall! Onward to world domination!
What's behind Sheila and the insects' staying power? By Armor
The Freeman 07/31/2006
Some bands would record a hit song, enjoy instant popularity, but disappear overnight. Some would sign up with a major label, and then become musically confused. But some are simply made of sterner stuff.
Take for example Sheila and The Insects (SATI). The band that gave NU 107 such hits as "Everyday Drive" and "Your Comedy" is becoming bigger and stronger with each release.
Last year, sticks man Jerros Dolino bagged the NU 107, "drummer of the year" award. This year the group was nominated for the "Best Indie Act" category on MYX Channel. With gigs in both Cebu and Manila plus music videos such as "Quick To Panic" and "Happenstance" invading the TV screens, guitarist Ian Zafra, vocalist Orven Enoveso, bassist Boobop and drummer Jerros Dolino are currently running a monster band.
"Flowerfish," the 10-track new CD, is a continuation of Sheila's musical stereotyping. After two years, the insects renovated their hive and added more honey to the elements found in their previous releases - treble melodic guitars, tight drums, low but sometimes crunchy bass lines, inventive lyrics and a predictable song structure that appeals to the hi end audience. The results are atmospheres that send the mind on trips and the soul on a search. And the sonnets are luscious and romantic. If you are a new wave fanatic, owning a copy of "Flowerfish" is a must-have.
"Flowerfish" opens with a mid tempo anthem, "Maybe Only Maybe" which showcased Bisoy's baritone ala Jack Sikat. On the second track "Maude", which has the sad, self-pity fashion of the 90's - he modified Robert Smith's squeaky-throaty vocals. As for the rest of the songs, his incarnation branches out to British - pop vocalists, Ian McCulloch and Ian Curtis, though not losing his low toned voice.
While Ian Zafra's multi layered guitar bloom like flowers on the major 7th intro of "Lemerson"; and after lyrical lines of the Curish ballad "Luna Grace", Boobop's bass lines swim like fishes in between the 3 note guitar support and Jerros' solid drumming.
Fans who have bought the previous CD, "Manipulator" (circa 2002) will be intoxicated again by lyricist Orven Enoveso's lyrical inventions. Phrases like "frantic suicide gone wrong now" (Quick To Panic); and the satirical lines "eyes on the deejay, strobe lights hypnotizing, beg for more chanting, syncopating disco dancing till they die, disco is dead (The Disco Machine); are just on the right tempo and on the right stanzas.
On a recent development, "Flowerfish" will be repackaged and might include new song "Monolove". The band had break management with distribution label V3, which is a subsidiary of Viva Records, and is having talks with Cebu-based indie label, Daybreak Records. A minor conclusion we can glean from this is that indie bands are for indie labels and commercial bands are for the major labels. Unsigned bands and artists therefore must also choose which recording label could cater best to their kind of music.
Backed up by a well planned marketing strategy, loyal fans, and a lifetime passion for music, "Flowerfish" adds a few more years to SATI's lifespan as a pioneer of the country's underground scene. A change in the band's personnel has triggered a positive effect on the group's musical direction. In the chaotic world of the music industry, bands come and go, but Sheila and The Insects are determined to stay and stand firm on their musical philosophy. After all, experiment proves that no one survives a nuclear war. Except of course - the insects.