Everyone knows Ben&Ben. With their performances aplenty in and out of the metro, their songs used in movies we have known to love, and their new and (literally) out-of-the-box album coming out soon, this nine-piece band has the whole country’s eyes — and ears — on them.
But despite all these and the numerous social media accounts made for and by them (and their instruments), every one of them still holds many untold stories. These tales have not only shaped their musical journey as a band, but has also let us see the individuals who have made Ben&Ben the folk-pop outfit they are today.
We at Bandwagon sat with the gang one afternoon to talk about where their passion comes from, how they started with their craft, and what lies beyond what is seen in the public eye through doodling:
On choosing his instrument. “I didn’t choose it. It chose me. [With singing and playing the guitar,] ‘di siya ever naging dahil gusto ko mag-gitara. It was always because ‘yun ‘yung way kung papa’no ko malalabas yung mga songs. It’s because...I write songs. That’s my thing. And because I want to express it, that’s why I play the guitar and I sing. It’s really because I want to share the songs in my head to people.”
On his favorite Game of Thrones character. “Ako siguro si Brienne. I resonate with the underdogs and people who come from nothing and make something out of themselves. Si Brienne 'yun.”
“Grabe yung Season 8 Episode 2, ‘no?” “Ssssssssshhhh!”
On the unlikely way he joined the band. “One day I was watching Miguel and Paolo at a gig then they said, “Hi, we want also to have percussions to play with us. Do you know how to percussion?” And I said, “Yes, I know how to,” even if I did not really know how to. So I bought one. And that’s how I joined.
“[I’m still learning] up to now. I’m learning on the go; I’m learning on the job. Okay naman. I’m still here so I guess I’m doing okay. If I wasn’t doing a good job, I don’t think I’d still be here.”
On liking non-music stuff. “I like cooking. I did theater before. I play a ridiculous amount of games. I go mountain biking when I have the time and friends. […] I like making coffee now and I used to like to do handiwork, like anything with tools and making furniture. I just don’t have the time and materials. I used to work a lot on guitars, disassemble them and then fix them up and repaint them, but it takes a while."
"And I like drawing carrots."
On reconciling with the keys. “Yung dad ko kasi is a musician. So if you grew up with a dad who’s a musician, mapipilitan ka rin eventually. So napilitan ako mag-piano lessons. I used to hate learning this instrument kasi ang sungit ng teacher ko. Tapos lagi ako napapagalitan but mostly because hindi ako nag-practice. Then eventually nung high school when I realized na playing this instrument can bring so much joy to so many people, tinuloy-tuloy ko siya.”
On enjoying longboard rides. “I learned how to ride a longboard this year pero dahil natuto kami ni Jam and ni Keifer mag-wake board. Tapos dahil hindi kami masyado nakakapag-wake board, parang one day nagkita kami ni Keif tapos may dala-dala siyang Cruiser na board tas nung triny ko siya parang “Uy! Super fun!” I also had this other friend na may longboard tas triny ko din siya tas sobrang na-enjoy ko siya so I got a long board. So that’s what I enjoy doing."
“I don’t know if I’m good at it. Hindi, I am good at it. I get things done. I enjoy getting things done, and making timelines and organizing."
On how being great in school pays off. “According to my parents, I started playing drums at the age of 4, but from my memory, I think I started [at] 7. Ever since, sa drums talaga ako na-attract. […] They bought me my first drum set. I was [in] Grade 3, I think. Because I perfected a computer exam.”
On loving beyond music. ”This is my second love. Film. Siguro kung hindi ako nag-music nga, eto rin yung papasukin ko. I like watching and thinking about things and the aesthetics of it all and hopefully one day, I can do something with film.
“[Saying what my favorite movie is] is such a hard question, but Edgar Wright [is my favorite director]. He’s the director that actually got me into film. So I saw Hot Fuzz and […] when I watched that film, sabi ko, ‘Shit! This shit is so cool! What is this thing? [What is] film?’”
“'Yan na yung dream drum kit mo?” “Hindi kulang pa ‘to.”
On the importance of chilling. “'Pag wala kasing gigs, sobrang precious yung moments na 'yun at least alone at home or people na friends, na hindi bandmates. Haha! Na-realize namin na okay yang parang mag-chill-chill lang. That’s why I drew yung Netflix kasi masaya manood.
“And then we were influenced by Andrew to buy the Switch. Kasi may time lang na parang na-stuck kami sa airport for seven hours tapos lahat kami parang…imagine, kung [stuck ka na ng] seven hours, ano na lang yung mood namin. Pero si Andrew, okay lang sa kanya kasi nung time na yun kakabili lang niya ng Switch. Tas after nun pag-uwi namin, parang biglang, ‘O, bat di na lang tayo bumili ng Switch?’ Kaya may Switch kami ngayon.”
On how four strings can be so similar yet so different. “I started kasi talaga sa guitar. Tas may time lang nung college days na they asked kung kaya ko rin mag-bass. […] Tapos sabi ko, well alam ko yung guitar tapos same strings naman yun; yung apat sa guitar so sabi ko, 'Yes.' Eventually, kumalat sa buong school — sa isang music school kami, tas walang nagbe-bass masyado sa 'min eh. — tapos yung mga tao pag sawa na sila sa classical, they wanna play sa mga band. Uso yung 'pag may mga event sa school, tumutugtog sila ng banda. Lagi nila ako kinukuha ever since na mag-play ng bass kasi nga nagpanggap ako na marunong ako mag-bass kasi I thought it’s the same thing sa guitar. Pero hindi pala.”
“Feeling ko, sa parallel universe, kung hindi ako naging musician, baka dun ako sa field na [graphic design]. Arts pa rin, pero nasa kabilang side.”
On his first love. “Hindi ko talaga siya [music] love nung first kasi love ko talaga ang sports. Soccer (football). Wala [ring nangyari]. Sad. Painful for me when I see a football field. Like, we’re driving papuntang gig and I see a football field and…(sighs) first love. […] I don’t get to play na so much. Pati basketball, siguro mga once a month na lang or so. But I crave talaga physical activity.”
On guitars, both acoustic and electric. “I learned the acoustic guitar when I was 9 kasi yung mom ko gitarista din […] Nung 13 [ako], I wanted to learn the electric guitar songs — mga Guns N' Roses, mga Greenday, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, mga ganun. I got my first electric guitar when I was 14 and yun.
“I kind of stopped [playing electric] nung fourth-year high school and first-year college kasi I played acoustic and tried writing my own songs. That’s where I met Miguel, at a songwriting camp. And then si Clara Benin was my schoolmate. She asked if I can play guitar for her and from acoustic, I transitioned to electric and then I see them (Miguel and Paolo) sa mga gigs, playing their songs. And then yun, they asked me to play electric guitar for the band and the band happened, and since nun tuloy-tuloy na.”
“I like watches, so I put it there. And super love ko rin yung Rubik’s cube.”
On journeying toward percussions. “'Yung parents ko, sila talaga yung tipo ng parents na 'O, anak! Gali-galingan mo! Gusto ko mag-piano (ka)!' So nung bata ako, piano talaga yung unang pinaaral sa 'kin. And I hated it so much. And I think the piano also hated me so much. As in pag malapit na ko mag-lesson, umiikot ako ng maraming marami tapos mahihilo na ‘ko tas sasabihin ko, 'Mama, nahihilo ako! Hindi na ko magpi-piano!' Pero totoong nahihilo ako, ha! I didn’t lie!
“Nung high school, napunta ako sa music school. That’s where I learned the music stuff that I know. [There,] parang merong major na music pero performing arts siya. So yung performing instrument ko talaga dun nun is yung guitar. Pero na-realize ko na parang hindi talaga para sakin yung performing so I took up composition as a major sa UP. […] Yung minor na pinili ko [ay] percussions kasi yung hindi ko pa ever nata-try. Nag-try ako na mag-take ng classes na percussions, and Philippine instruments din. Dun ko na-realize na sa lahat ng mga na-try kong instruments, dun ko pinakanakahanap ang voice ko: sa rhythm. Parang iba yung expression ko through performance and iba yung expression ko with arranging or listening to songs. So kung baga, parang reading and talking: yung talking ko is through rhythm pero reading ko and listening through melodies.”
On photography. “Nung high school pa lang, na-addict na ko sa photography and ever since, I can’t live without it. As in, I can’t live without taking photos. Parang nagiiba-iba lang yung klase ng photography, before digital or whatever, pero basically sobrang constant ng photography for me, especially now sa band, kasi parang yun yung outlet ko to do something different outside music. So always I bring my camera, sometimes even onstage…wala lang, di ko naman siya ginagamit, basta andun lang siya. Hahaha! It’s my long-time companion.”
“Tambourine, shakers, djembe, congas. Blocks. Microphones. Sticks. May camera, siyempre. Always a part of me. Ears. And heart. Kung di niyo yan alam, brain ['yan].”
On learning the violin. “My first instrument was a piano. I really wanted to play the guitar, so I asked my mom to enroll me to guitar [lessons]. And then she tricked me. She enrolled me to a violin [class]. […] My tito who plays in a band also told me, ‘You know what, just play the violin. Not everyone gets to play the violin.’ And so I listened to that advice and still pursued the violin even if it was really hard. It’s so hard! It’s so hard to play the violin. It’s super hard to play the violin. It’s like, so expensive to maintain one, to buy one, to…everything! The strings are so expensive! But I believe it’s really worth it. In the end, I found another part of myself in this instrument.”
On saving the world, his way. “I delight in talking [in] the invisible things. I love people. And most of all, I [would] love to save the world. But I can’t do that. But I love doing it through talking to people, conversing, arguing and debating, but in the end, you know, agreeing to disagree. Or agree basically. ‘Cause that’s how you really start to do the real work is when you engage with people. Really know them genuinely. You know, kinda see their vision. Believe in their vision. You know about those conversations really.”
“I love deep talks. That level 8 conversation. It’s like my home. I love people. I love talking.”
On video editing. “So nung college kasi, when [we] stopped doing music for a while, we each had our own thing. My thing was, I joined this org called Green Media Group [and] I was assigned to the video editing team. […] When I joined, I didn’t really know much about it pero I just wanted to learn something new about myself na hindi as taxing as performing or music pero it ended up na ganun din or mas malala pa. (laughs)
“[I still do it] When I have time. Minsan. Saka natuto na rin ako ng mga kahit Photoshop ganun. So minsan pag may mga simple lang na mga poster, announcement, ako na yung gumagawa. Actually, super [useful skill] lalo na pag mga tipong emergencies […] kasi mga tipong 2AM na, ganun.”
On their history with guitars and bands. Nung high school kami, [electric guitar] yung pangarap kong gitara. Hindi, promise talaga. Oo, kasi nasa rock band kami ni Paolo nung high school. Pangalan nung banda namin nung high school Deadline. Meron pa kaming band shirt na si Dad yung nagpagawa. Black siya tapos yung text, shining na silver. Tapos Comic Sans yung font. (laughs)
“So anyway, this is where I actually started. Electric guitar. I really loved playing it pero nung nag-college na kami, wala namang time to do band stuff 'nun kasi we took up Engineering. Pero nung nakapasa kami ng Engineering, nirelaguhan kami ni Dad ng acoustic guitar. I hated it at first kasi…rockers tayo eh!
“Pero very providential kasi years later pa after kami niregaluhan ng acoustic guitar nung dad namin, that’s when we fell in love with folk music. Well, it was mostly also because of the camp that we joined. Nakilala namin si Poch saka si Andrew. We discovered yung mga […] artists like si Bullet (Dumas), si Ebe (Dancel), si Johnoy (Danao), at maraming marami pa na brilliant singer-songwriters. Dun namin na-explore talaga creating music with the acoustic [guitar] but not really in the way that it’s often used, […] not the typical way of using it.”
"Naniniwala [din] kami na with great music comes great responsibility. Ang nagsabi nun ay si Uncle…" "Ben."
Check out more photos from our interview here:
Stream the new album here:
Physical copies of Limasawa Street will be available at booths near the concierge from May 10 to 12 at the following Ayala Malls: Abreeza, Alabang Town Center, Ayala Center Cebu, Ayala Malls Legaspi, MarQuee Mall, Solenad, and Trinoma. Limasawa Street is now available via their official Shopee store.
Don't miss the band's nationwide album tour which kicks off on May 17 at Marquee Mall in Pampanga. Ben&Ben are also set to return to Singapore with a performance at 1MX Singapore on May 26.
Interview by Madeline Castillo
Photography by Iya Forbes
Special thanks to Sindikato Management