The landscape of the local music scene has shifted since The Camerawalls went on hiatus four years ago. Bands in genres that have once been niche like math rock are playing at major music festivals. A new generation of electronic producers working from their bedrooms are garnering international attention from fans and labels. The line between indie and the mainstream is hazier than ever, and, truth be told, is mattering less and less. What’s on the radio’s top 10 chart always changes, but a good pop song lasts forever. Clementine Castro, the band’s chief songwriter and guitarist, knows that this much is true.
The hiatus has been a whirlwind for The Camerawalls prolific vocalist and chief songwriter, who embarked on tours around the United States and Southeast Asia as the solo troubadour Dragonfly Collector. His debut solo album, The World is Your Oyster, is a collection of chronicles of his adventures, which are more introspective than The Camerawalls, but still has Castro’s unmistakable lyrical poetics and melodic sensibilities that have sustained his career for decades.
The Camerawalls’ comeback single “Boys in the Backroom” is another change in direction again for Castro, guitarist Venj Gatmaitan, bassist Law Santiago, and drummer Bach Rudica. I sit down with Castro to talk about their upcoming concert, Above the Clouds at The Music Museum, and the shape of things to come:
Clementine Castro, vocals
Why did The Camerawalls go on hiatus?
During that time, my bandmates had family obligations. We couldn’t stay as a whole time working band. The pressure of being a fulltime musician was very imminent, and we were having personal and financial problems in maintaining our schedules and everything.
I decided after our SEA tour to go on a break and I went to the States for 6 months. It was a difficult decision but it was meant to be because I want them to take care of their families and find work so everyone wouldn’t be relying on the band as means of income. You know, the pressure of looking for gigs every month--every week, I can’t deal with that. Also, burnout. Hintay lang ako ng tamang timing for it. Nagkaroon ako ng time for a solo project. [It was a matter of waiting for the right timing for it. I also had time for a solo project.]
Law Santiago, bass
Four years is a long time. At what point did you agree that it was time to reunite?
I check on them from time to time. Last year, I called them because of this prospect for a concert.
Namiss namin yung music also. I think it’s about time; after 4 years stable na lahat. [We missed the music. I think it’s about time; after 4 years, everything’s stable.] 2017 is perfect timing for three of us. And we added a new member.
Are you planning to go back on the regular gig circuits and bars?
I don’t think so. Special shows, special projects, something like that. After the concert we’ll do a short tour: Baguio, Cebu, Davao. Just a short tour. And then probably by invitation only, and then we’ll work on the album. Ayoko ng working band. [I don’t want a working band.] It’s hard.
Your new single "Boys in the Backroom" takes off in a grittier direction compared to your past songs.
Actually mahaba ang song na iyan eh, but I don’t want it to be obvious. [That song was long, but I don’t want it to be obvious.] It has a dancey feel to mask the political note of the song. I think it’s timely din for what’s happening on both sides. Everyone is conniving, doing something. That affects the political climate of the country. So it applies to a general aspect of what’s happening here in the Philippines.
Listen to 'Boys in the Backroom':
Most bands seem to be apolitical these days.
Gone are the days when the artists sing about what’s happening. Bihira na eh. Di katulad noong panahon noong mga 70’s o 80’s rock. And maybe the 90’s. Pero ngayon parang ang hirap especially with the fusion of sound, tapos gagawin mong relevant yung song. Parang ang hirap magconnect sa masa.
[It’s rare. It isn’t like the 70’s or 80’s. And maybe the 90’s. But now, it seems difficult, especially with the fusion of sound, and making a song relevant. It seems harder to connect with the masses.]
What do you mean by ‘fusion of sound’?
Pag sinabi mong rock, wala na. Parang ang hirap na i-genre tag yung mga sounds, especially with what everyone’s putting up right now. Dati kasi pag sinabi mo Pinoy rock, alam mo na kaagad yung tunog. Ngayon, parang pumasok ang electronic.
[What we used to call rock is gone. It’s hard to genre-tag sounds, especially with what everoyne’s putting up right now. Before, a sound would immediately come to mind when you hear “Pinoy rock”. Now, there are some electronic influences coming in.]
What was it like recording Boys in the Backroom?
Very easy, surprisingly. The amount of time we spent jamming it, from writing, to rehearsing, to arranging, to recording actually only took us around 24 hours. It’s very spontaneous. Nandun na yung excitement. Kaya iba rin. [It’s different because the excitement is there.]
Venj Gatmaitan, guitars
What does your new guitarist Venj Gatmaitan bring to the table?
What he did with "Boys in the Backroom," yung Jimi Hendrix and classic rock influences niya, pumasok don. Ako kasi more of Johnny Marr and 80’s guitar. Siya, meron siyang background sa classic rock. Maganda yung blending. There’s even a section there nag-sagutan kami sa guitar sa lead section. Ako yung fuzzy electric guitar part.
[What he did with Boys in the Backroom, his Jimi Hendrix and classic rock influences really clicked well. I’m more of Johnny Marr and 80’s guitar, while he has background in classic rock. It blends well. There’s even a section there where we trade guitar lines. The fuzzy electric part is mine.]
During the hiatus, you took off with Dragonfly Collector, releasing an album and going on international tours. How did you grow creatively?
Doon ako kasi nagstart mag travel. Doon nag open yung mind ko sa musicians. Before Dragonfly Collector kasi, it was just Orange and Lemons tapos yung bandmates ko sa Camerawalls. I never had the opportunity to jam with different musicians. Iba yung feeling kasi. Iba ang synergy. Nag-enjoy ako. Medyo kaso ako nakakahon noong previous band ko, so ang sarap ng feeling when you’re working with likeminded musicians na may iba na tone, approach, timpla. Tapos you can’t dictate them. Nagiging interesting ang song.
[That’s when I started traveling and when my mind opened to other musicians. Before Dragonfly Collector, it was just Orange and Lemons, and my bandmates in The Camerawalls. I never had the opportunity to jam with different musicians. The feeling’s different; so is the synergy. I enjoyed. I was sort of boxed in with my previous band, which is why it’s a great feeling to work with likeminded musicians with a different tone, approach, and sensibility. And you can’t dictate them. The song becomes interesting.]
A lot of the Dragonfly Collector songs are about your adventures in the US? How is it different from the Camerawalls’ past stuff?
I think mas organic. Less of imagining, more of what’s in front of me. Ganon ang Dragonfly Collector. I wrote about my nephew (“Timothy, My Own Timothy”), beautiful hiking spots, so mas personal siya. Although all my songs are personal, mas iba lang ang Dragonfly. Nandoon ang growth. And siguro because of my age, I’m very old na.
[It’s more organic. I wrote about my nephew (“Timothy, My Own Timothy”), beautiful hiking spots—it’s more personal. Although all my songs are personal, Dragonfly’s a little more different. It has more growth; maybe also because of my age. I’m pretty old.]
How do you decide whether a song is for Dragonfly Collector or The Camerawalls?
I haven’t thought about that. Gusto kong hiwalay yung rock and roll roots ko and pass it on to Dragonfly kasi mas raw yung Dragonfly. [I want to separate my rock and roll roots and pass it onto Dragonfly, because it’s more raw]. Ang Camerawalls, mas pareho siya sa 80’s guitar pop. [The Camerawalls is closer to 80’s guitar pop.] I want to keep it that way.
It’s more about the sounds. Iba kasi bandmates ko sa Dragonfly so mas-iba yung sound, even how they interpret my songs. [My bandmates in Dragonfly are different, and it shows in the sound and even how they interpret my songs.] With Camerawalls, I wanna stay on a plane or genre. Dragonfly kasi mahirap i-genre type. [Dragonfly is hard to type into a genre.]
What is it like working with a string orchestra working for the Music Museum show?
Our first rehearsal is tomorrow. I have an arranger—yung drummer [Bach Rudica] ng Dragonfly. First time ko ito eh, although I’ve tried working with ABS-CBN Philharmonic. They arranged two of my songs para sa Dragonfly. They played with me live, a full orchestra 40-piece. They played 2 of my songs. Ako lang tapos orchestra. Grabe experience, kaya gusto kong gawin itong experience with Camerawalls because of that.
[Our first rehearsal is tomorrow. I have an arranger—the drummer [Bach Rudica] of Dragonfly. It’s my first time, although I’ve tried working with ABS-CBN Philharmonic. They arranged two of my songs for Dragonfly. They played with me live, a full orchestra 40-piece. They played 2 of my songs. It was just me and an orchestra. It was and amazing experience, which is why I want to do this with The Camerawalls too.]
Bach Rudica, drums
Above the Weather, The Camerawalls' first major concert with the Manila Symphony Orchestra, starts at 8 pm on March 15, 2017 at the Music Museum. Also playing are special guests Bryan Estepa from Australia and Jing Reyna-Jorge of Sugar Hiccup, with opening act Meagan Trees.
For reservations, inquiries, ticket meet-ups/delivery and other payment options, contact Lilystars at 09053849495, 09987900125 or 09164004343. Tickets are available online.