Myrene Academia has lived many lives—as the music director of the noteworthy but sadly defunct NU 107, as one of the most recognizable bass players in Philippine local music, and as a mother to her 18-year-old daughter, Atari. The encompassing factor here is she's lived all these lives as a woman.
In the center of an industry congested by men, Myrene took up space and has built a career by making noise. Whether it be through her voice and music choices as a radio jockey or through her bass playing, Myrene has made sure that she is heard and listened to.
In person, however, Myrene leans on the spectrum of quiet but is effortlessly verbose when caught up in good conversation. Bandwagon Philippines sat down with Myrene to talk about her charmed career on radio, interviewing Dave Grohl, being in a high school band called The Dead Fingers, driving through traffic with Ariana Grande, and taking on one’s civic duty—among other things.
ON BEING THE MUSIC DIRECTOR FOR NU 107
When NU 107 debuted on air, there was nothing else like it on radio. It was a time wherein music discovery had a different purview. Radio played a heavy part on music discovery, and as music director, Myrene was at the driver's seat. Having helmed the show Not Radio, she took on music curation at a time where online streaming was not yet mainstream. From showcasing fringe artists, hard-to-find music from outside the metro, the show was a platform for music discovery not just for the listeners but for herself, as well.
Can you tell us about how you found yourself as NU 107’s Music Director?
I started out as a newscaster. I listened to a lot of radio growing up. [I was] a real radio baby. I started listening to AM radio on my lola’s little mono [na] cassette player with a radio on it. That’s like, around 3rd grade. There's always been music around the house, cause my parents played records on the weekends. So I started listening to the radio. There was DWXB and 99.5 RT, there’s Top 40 and new wave and stuff like that.
When I was in college, NU 107 was around… near the end of my college days. And then one of my college schoolmates got a job as a DJ at NU. And he was like, “Myrene, we need a newscaster. Maybe you wanna come in and audition?” Which I did, so that’s how I started. I moved on to become a jock and then later, [I became] music director.
What was that like?
Those days? It was like a clubhouse! It was fun, I imagine it’s kinda like you guys (gestures to Bandwagon team). It’s like - going there, hanging out with people you like, your shift is like… before I started being a music director [which is more like a whole day thing].... Being a DJ was like 4 hours a day, playing stuff that you liked. And then you hang out with the other jocks. That was mostly a lot of fun. And then we put up a lot of concerts as part of our thing for the station. We brought in a lot of bands who played for us - in schools, in bars, in malls also. It was a whole lot of fun. I was there for 13 years. I kinda grew up there. I stayed there until my daughter [Atari Kim] was about 2.
How old is your daughter now?
18! So that was a looong time ago.
Did you ever bring her to the station?
Yeah! A lot of her godparents are from my DJ friends.
Let’s talk about some of the most notable interviews you’ve done. Like, you interviewed Dave Grohl.
Yeah, I interviewed Dave Grohl. Diego [Castillo] was with me. Cause he used to assist me for Not Radio. I used to have a sideshow on the weekend, on Saturdays. We played stuff that really didn’t play on the regular playlist. Newer things, like, Pavement, Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth, and stuff like that. So he assisted me, I talked to Dave Grohl, we hung out backstage at Araneta Coliseum.
The interview is online! It’s on YouTube, but it’s just audio. I’ll send it to you!
Is it? Yeah, cause we did it on the radio… [but] there’s photos! On film… hindi pa din digital yung stuff nun. Thank you! I haven’t heard it since.
I see the picture all the time cause Diego has a copy. It was his camera. So that was memorable. We interviewed Bush. We talked to Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and went to his hotel when we went to interview him, [but] that wasn’t a Metallica gig. He was promoting something else (the band’s new album), that’s why he was in town. And then, I didn’t get to go that night, [but] he played in Club Dredd. They put together a jam for him. But I didn’t see it!
Who else have I talked to? Hmmm… of course, all the local guys - Rivermaya, Eraserheads, Razorback, Wolfgang…
What were your favorite songs on rotation?
Back then? It was a lot. I liked a lot of Nirvana. We were still playing U2 -- they were still coming out with stuff back then. Nirvana was new. Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, stuff like that. A lot of grunge stuff, I guess. I liked a lot of Sonic Youth.
Everything on your show, Not Radio, was personally curated by you?
Yeah, but I had parameters naman. It wasn’t on the radio [yet], we couldn’t really put it on heavy rotation. Cause it was maybe newer sounding and the stuff wasn’t mainstream enough. I also liked a lot of Pixies. So stuff like that, but if it broke into the mainstream… no. It was mostly showcasing stuff that was like, “Oh, meron palang ganito!” Because we didn’t have the internet back then.
So it was a discovery platform?
Yeah, more discovery stuff. I played a lot of riot grrrl things there. College radio stuff from the US. Sometimes, I would get demos from bands in Iloilo or Bacolod. Because most of the OPM stuff naman, local bands, would go to In The Raw. So we really didn’t overlap.
How did you get the music from other regions? The ones from outside the Philippines?
I would research it and I would order it from people coming home from everywhere else. [It was more difficult then] but you finally work out a network, and then there used to be a magazine… CMJ. I don’t know if it’s still around, they had a monthly magazine back then, it would have a CD on it. With the stuff inside, so I would get that. It was 7 USD a pop. Lucky for us, one of our ex-jocks was a flight attendant! So it worked out that way, you put up your own network, and then you meet people and then they’ll send you stuff. It was great!
Do you think everyone has it easier now that everything’s digital?
In a sense, yes. But… there’s so much now though. Now, you need a lot more time to sift through things, to find stuff that maybe you like. I’m not gonna say good, because it’s a personal thing. So it also helps din to have that network of people na, “Uy, there’s this new band.” But it’s easier now to look for them on Spotify or maybe Soundcloud. Pero dati, “There’s this new band, you gotta listen to them.” Either they give you a mixtape or you wait for someone to go abroad or to the province or wherever that thing is and get it for you. But now, it’s [just] there. It still works to have stuff be suggested for you or to have that network of people to talk to. You can sift through it on your own, which is what a lot of us did also. But it’s great to find your peeps, your group.
ON MYRENE ROTATING BANDS
Being part of the two most influential and enduring bands in the local industry, Imago and Sandwich have been together for two decades, and Myrene’s longevity is something aspired by young musicians. Myrene was also the bassist for the Aga Muhlach Experience and Duster; and while both acts aren’t active anymore, the two are etched in local music history. When she talks about the secret behind juggling multiple bands, she throws all recognition behind her managers who have made multitasking easy. And true to the spirit of a bass player, Myrene centers on the joy of being surrounded by spontaneity as she keeps things steady.
Let’s talk about your bands. What was your first band?
My first band… my high school friends, when we were in college, we played maybe 2 or 3 gigs… as The Dead Fingers. (laughs) [It was] punk rock. We covered The Clash and… it was a cover band. Mostly a lot of punk rock and for some reason, Dean’s December as well.
And you played bass?
Yeah, I learned stuff on guitar, but whenever we’d perform, I’d play bass for some reason. I don’t know, I guess I liked making noise.
After that, Aga Muhlach Experience. With Diego and then Toti Dalmacion was our first drummer. And Mike [Dizon], eventually played drums after Toti. And then a couple of other guys who are not in the country anymore, sila Lexi [Zulueta] and Mario [Muhlach].
Diego was working at BMG Records and that’s where he met Raymund [Marasigan] who was with the Heads, that’s why he was in BMG. And then Diego and Mike were college friends in San Beda Alabang. And then I knew Diego and Mike, so that’s how the four of us got together. Si Marc [Abaya], Marc was in Ateneo and I think he was batchmates with Marie Jamora. That’s how they got together in one of Marie’s parties at her house. That’s how Raymund met Marc. “Oh there’s this really good kid, so I asked him to join us.” So that’s how the five of us got together. That was the beginning.
What’s your favorite Sandwich moment?
Depends on what I remember. My memory is so bad! Always the travel, I think. Traveling with your best buds talaga eh. Traveling is so fun! Somebody brings you to a place and you get to sample all the local stuff… halimbawa, if it’s a beach, you can sample the sights, the beaches, all the local food and then you play at the end of the night. I can’t imagine anything [better], with your friends! It’s my favorite thing, traveling with the band.
So we were on tour with a popular rhum brand for about three years. That was great. I loved it because I would get to places I would never be… have gotten to in the first place. Sometimes, we’d do two shows in a weekend. Fly in Friday, play this town and Saturday morning, we’d take a road trip to the next town then play there. Even that road trip, we’re tracing roads in the Philippines that you would never go on otherwise or I would never get to and see things and to stop along the way and eat stuff.
[It’s really the] food and then listening to stuff in the van. It’s great! And then you get there, either you can go to the market, see what’s up locally. Or go for a swim and then at night, play again! Then fly home the next day. So it’s just so much fun.
Any favorite places?
They were all fun! All the cities - Naga, Davao, Baguio, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cebu… they’re all fun. Bukidnon.
What was the experience travelling to all these places? I bet it was very tiring.
Yeah, but I’m just really… I like road trips kasi eh. Cause my dad is from Cagayan sa north. Near Aparri actually yung town nya. So bata palang ako… sanay na ako. So if you have a van… really, you can’t complain. It’s either a van or a plane. They'd take us to Quezon for the port. Masaya din yung ro-ro to Marinduque.
Where is Sandwich now?
Oh, we’re in this really great place where I think we really know each other very well. We can think of anything and just try it out. We’re at that point. We’re always excited to do things. And there are so much more things to do now. Like Raymund is doing videos for us, yung Cold Cuts. And Mong [Alcaraz] is mostly helping out with D&D guitars. He’s in charge of that mostly. It’s very exciting pa din. Cause there’s still so many things you really wanna do and so much to listen to, so many things you wanna watch. All these kids coming up. I think it’s a great time.
What’s it like for you onstage? Like at Wanderland, you guys were really good and the crowd was dancing along…
That was fun! Like, siguro kasi mga thirty percent of the stuff onstage is coming from the audience eh. That’s part of the whole experience. They were all really hyped up and just happy to be there and we were happy to play.
Si Enzo and Eco, I hadn’t known that Raymund had asked them to come up onstage. He just mentioned it right before [the show], “Oh, I asked the guys to go up onstage later.” And I was like, “Oh that’s gonna be fun!” and then they come up and then they were wearing the same thing pa halos. It’s always great! Pag ganyan, anything can happen pag Sandwich eh.
Yeah, your shows are always spontaneous.
Yeah, it’s the guys. Just keeping it steady back here. It’s getting the groove going lang under all that. So yun, they’re in charge of the mayhem.
How did it start?
Si Zach [Lucero] and I were officemates at NU 107. Zach was a DJ also and he was newer than I was. Right after I started Sandwich, he went and formed Imago. By the second album, they had just finished recording. Then they needed a bass player. So they asked me and I had time, so there. I recorded just one song for that second album. Everything else was done. Dadgdag lang siya. That’s when I came in.
What’s your favorite Imago moment?
Ganun din eh! Mostly travel also, getting to play with your friends. It’s different, because iba naman yung chemistry ng bands eh. The people you’re with, it’s a different set of people. And a lot of them [live] nearby. So we get to hang with them outside the band, more often than I do with Sandwich nowadays.
Where is Imago now?
We have a new singer. In fact, after I finish this interview, I’m going to go and shoot the video for a new song. Zach has been traveling a lot recently because of Makina, so he’s just in and out of the country. So while he’s here, we do stuff. We have the new song, we just finished the vocals [on] Monday - with Nick Lazaro. I’m so excited about that! I’m very excited about Imago recording with Nick. I can’t wait to hear what he’s done to the song.
How did it start?
I’ve always wanted an all-girl band kasi na Duster. I had the concept in my head. Daster yun talaga eh. It’s such a Pinoy thing yung daster eh! Although if you look it up, parang cowboy thing siya. Yung pants na sumasayad sa lupa kaya dusters. Pero dito, daster yun. Mas cool eh, flowery. All girls wear it - diba, mula bata hanggang matanda. So yun, yun yung concept nun. I also had the title for the album - Sweetheart Snack Bar. Then these women I just met along the way, si Kris [Dancel] was with Fatal Posporos. I’ve known her since the ’90s with her old band. Then she sang for Cambio with Raymund and she’s great. Si Katwo [Puertollano]... I don’t quite remember how I met her anymore, but sometimes Raymund would get her to sing for stuff like soundtracks… yung Super Noypi, she sang something for that soundtrack when Quark [Henares] was making the movie.
That’s usually how we end up working with people. Like, “Oooh, I wanna work with her! I wanna get her for the group, so Duster yun. Then the drummer was a little more difficult because we couldn’t find one na off the top of our heads. So nag-send out ng feelers si Raymund, then finally this little girl [Ristalle Bautista] comes up to the door one day and says “Hello po.” And we’re like, “Oh God, can she play???” And then she started playing… like a man. Panalo.
And then Donna [Macalino], who was also a guitar player for Fatal Posporos, we asked her [to join]. But then, I was little busy na with my two bands, so Donna would sometimes sub for bass. And then a little later on, when Katwo was busy moving to the States, Saab [Magalona - Baccaro] helped us out. They’re both on the second album.
Waiiit! I remember now. The first album, all the lyrics were by Lourd De Veyra. Yun yung concept pala nun eh. Spoken word, siya nagsulat ng lahat ng lyrics na yun. And then Katwo came in. So it has to be mentioned that Lourd was part of Duster at some point. Although he never really appeared onstage or anything. He just helped write the lyrics.
Since you had three bands, how did you manage your time with everything?
Great management always. Sa Soupstar, sina Darwin, sila Jamie, Third Line also. Everyone that managed us was pretty much great and besides, I’m not the vocalist, I’m not the front [woman] of the band, so payag naman sila sa sub. And all the guys who sub for me are always tops, so it all works out. Everyone’s cool about it.
Where’s Duster now?
Well, Duster is not really active anymore, because Katwo’s not around…
...But you had a recent show?
Yeah, because Katwo came back and it was the anniversary of Mich Dulce's The Male Gaze so she said, “You better play for me!” and so we did!
ON THE HISTORY BEHIND THE BASS GUITARS
The stories behind her bass guitars are all seemingly romantic; it involves finding a perfect match and stubbornly sticking to it, much like how you would a lifetime companion. Harking back to her experience with her first bass guitar, a Yamaha, the Procrastinator was something that mirrored her experience with her first guitar. Named after the debut single off the 2009 Sandwich album S Marks The Spot, the Procrastinator bass guitar was released in December last year just in time for Sandwich’s 20th anniversary. Just like the song, the Myrene Academia’s signature bass guitar under D&D has a lot of bite. Behind its gorgeous maple finish is a philosophy that reflects Myrene’s gear preferences and values. Myrene wanted to create an instrument that’s uncomplicated enough for any kid to learn with and whose quality you can grow with as a musician.
Let’s talk about your D&D signature bass, the Procrastinator.
It started out when Diego, Mong, and Raymund met Daren Lim and the guys from D&D Guitars. They’re a company that really wanted to make local stuff. Before us, Manuel from Wolfgang and the guys from UDD had their own signature guitars. So Sandwich naman yung next, nauna yung guitars. We launched theirs already and then they told me “Oh, we’re gonna do your bass next!” and I’m like, “Oh cool.” To tell you the truth, I’m not a big gearhead. So that’s why I use the same bass guitar… once I find something I like, I just stick to that. Yun yung Yamaha ko, diba? But I feel really lucky that, you know, somebody asked to make a bass for me! And then we’re selling it to the kids.
Yung D&D muna wala pa dito yun eh. Cause it wasn’t done by that time. Oh wait, here it is! This is the colorway of the 20th-anniversary edition. When I started out I had a beginner’s Yamaha bass. So I wanted something like that for the kids. Something that they could learn on and something that wasn’t too expensive. And they could still use it later on, when they got better or if they wanted to go professional about it. Ganun yung quality nya, you can carry it on. So that’s what I really wanted, cause that’s what I appreciated about the Yamaha. Easy to play, I learned on it, I grew with it, and I still use it.
When Atari was 5 years old, she kept drawing those. It’s my tattoos! And she was 5 years old and I was like, it’s a heart with horns. I was like… who draws that???
Then I got my first guitar when I was 18. Acoustic na Yamaha na classical guitar. My mom gave it to me for my 18th birthday. That’s where I learned most of the things earlier on. You know, you do the 12 lessons in Yamaha. I did classical guitar for 12 lessons.
Did you enjoy it?
Yeah, I still play… I’m more used to nylon strings now on acoustic. Than metal ones pa din. Up until now.
Let's talk about your Yamaha bass.
It's kinda like an RBX, but it’s not a real RBX. When this came out, we were playing [as] Aga Muhlach Experience already, I just kept borrowing bass guitars all around. But some of them were so difficult to play, it’s like wrestling with something. So I was like, I gotta get my own guitar. And then the shop was open in Robinsons Galleria, because NU 107 was in Ortigas diba? To get home to commute, I’d walk through the mall to get to EDSA. Tapos lagi ko nadadaanan to. “That looks nice.” I really liked it. Maasahan mo yung brand, Yamaha eh. Kasi I really wasn’t a gearhead and then I could afford it. It used to be 9,000 pesos when it came out. My dad got it for me.. He was in town and I was like, “Hey, I need a bass…”
Can you show us the Samurai?
This is a Samurai. Oh si Bijan [Gorospe]! I met him he was playing with... Kasama siya sa mga collab ni Diego. His band with the kids (Perfect Sound Forever), yung kasama nya sila Mariah [Reodica]. And then I saw this, and I’m like, “Oh my God!” Love at first sight talaga. “Dibs yan ah! If ever you sell it.” And a couple of years later, he sold it and then I bought it. And it’s miiine!
What about your Fender bass?
I’m a big Deftones fan. And although their bass player’s gone… I got this because of him.
Tell us about the Thunderbird bass.
Eto, favorite ko din to. I call it my push gift kasi Raymund was in the States right before I gave birth and he brought this home for me. I first saw it sa Sonic Youth and then sa The Cure. It’s big, it’s a little more difficult to play, it’s huge, but I love it. It sounds great.
What about your real Yamaha RBX?
This is a real RBX. I got it from Berns [Cuevas], he plays with a lot of Soupstar bands like Banda ni Kleggy and sometimes subs for me. You know how in Japan, people just leave stuff on the road? That’s where he got it. That’s where he learned to play also. So I’m so glad he sold it to me. He actually swapped it for a guitar. Yung guitar na yun, I bought it from Zach.
Lahat ng gamit namin, may history. May soul.
ON RAISING A DAUGHTER, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF FANGIRLING
After sharing with us the stories behind her guitars, Myrene revealed a love for the visual arts. It comes as no surprise then that Myrene, as someone who has a relationship with drawing and reading, raised her daughter, Atari, in a household that encouraged creativity. Atari's interest in music as a fan is something that Myrene shares with her daughter. Having grown up as a music fan herself, Myrene asserts the validity of teen girls' preferences. "The feeling is real," she pins against the naysayers of female fans.
Did you draw all [of] this? (referring to all drawings from the zine)
So do you really enjoy drawing also?
Yeah, I try. I don’t have much time to do it. I should practice more siguro.
Growing up, it was a part of you…?
Yeah, it was.
So that’s where Atari got it from!
Yeah, I guess. She’s always been a very visual kid. Now, not so much kasi busy siya with college stuff.She discovered staplers and Scotch tape around the same time and then she started tearing up newspapers and started forming it into things. If you go through my Instagram, nandun eh, she formed a bass guitar out of newspaper - she crumpled stuff, puro stapler and Scotch tape. And then there’s this one that we didn’t get to keep anymore, she called it Ursula - after she saw The Little Mermaid.
When she was into [the TV show] Community, she did that thing in the beginning. She did exactly the same thing. She just went home and did it. She was around 9 yata yun She felt like doing it talaga eh. Nakita ko eh. Walang nagpapagawa, hindi naman assignment.
So do you think your involvement in music and art really inspired her?
I wanna make things available for her lang. And then if she’s attracted to something, she’ll get into it, if she wants to. Or she’d get into it for a certain number of years and drop it, it’s fine also. Because may ma-pipickup ka na nun eh. It’s already part of you. So it’s fine with me. Like, we gave her an Instamatic digital camera when she was younger, kasi it’s available and she got into it. Now, she discovered film. Tamang-tama, I have boxes of old 35mm film cameras. The expired stuff. “Oh there’s a whole drawer here!” Tapos di pa nya alam nung umpisa na expired na eh. Pag nag-research siya ma-rerealize niya na okay, okay pala yun! So that’s what she’s into now. She found an Olympus na range slider, yung nag-sslide yung harap. That’s her stuff now.
What’s it like having a college kid who’s into music?
It’s great! We can talk about things and we listen to a lot of her stuff. You’ll never like your parents’ things. Pero I like Troye Sivan because of her. I like those kids. I love his songs! He’s great!
She’s older now, she’s [in] college. But we used to watch concerts together. I watched The 1975 with her. And I watched Harry Styles with her.
Oh yeah, actually, I was gonna ask, because I saw a tweet of yours before when you were looking for Harry Styles tickets.
Dito, parang 2 minutes gone right? And then, after 6 months, I was just online tapos pag kita ko, ang dami pang tickets sa Hong Kong! Sabi ko, Okay, I have some money and it’s going to be her birthday, so yun nalang yung gift nya.
So you watched in Hong Kong, how was it? Did you like it?
Yeah! I loved it! You know, I think people don’t know that I like pop music a lot.
What are the music that she likes that you’re also into?
The 1975, Troye. I found out about Honne from her. Ano pa ba? Ariana Grande!
Would you say that the kind of music she listens to inspires the kind of music you now write?
I guess in a way that pop music is all around me also. That’s part of it.
What’s it like being a mom?
The younger years are a little more difficult because you really have to watch over them. You have to be around them all the time. And then she’s my first kid and right now, my only kid. Pero first baby, you’ll always be worried about stuff and then school and food, and making sure… Make sure she reads. I want her to really read kasi eh. And also to like it, which she does. Stuff like that. You’re always, nakatutok ka parati eh when they’re growing up and it just gets easier. I tell all my friends who have new kids, “Oh, you really just have to relax, because you’re not gonna enjoy it, if you’re just worried all the time.” When you guys have babies, try to relax. When you’re getting overwhelmed, just remember what Myrene said - “Relaaaaaax.” Matibay yang mga yan. Matigas yung bunbunan nyan. You don’t have to worry, but it’s better if you’re around for them.
Did you bring her to tours and shows?
Sa tours, hindi masyado. But yeah, we would bring her to shows. But if it’s Boracay or may beach involved, we try to bring her and stay a few more days.
You mentioned, she’s a not a fan of your music…
I mean, she’s not gonna listen to the same stuff we listen to but… I think, alam naman nya cause I play a lot of stuff in the car, right. So if I’m not playing stuff, she’s playing stuff. She can sing to a lot of it as well. She can sing to The Cure, Vampire Weekend, more recent stuff. She knows.
And she enjoys the music that you write?
Yeah, I think so, I hope so. She’s in the shows… cause we don’t play Sandwich naman at home (laughs) so I can’t tell. I can’t say for sure, but I hope so!
What were you a fan of when you were younger?
Growing up, new wave. When I started buying records, Michael Jackson, B52s. I’m a big Journey fan. '80s stuff, then new wave came along. The Cure, U2, New Order. Super big New Order fan. I saw them a few years ago in Singapore, so that was fun. New wave, grunge din. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains, Nirvana siguro. Sonic Youth, Pixies. It’s weird na pala when you’re older and you went through a lot of things… and you have to enumerate.
How has your taste in music evolved throughout the years?
I think if you ’re a big fan of music, you just keep the stuff that you like close. You know what that is already. But you’re really always looking for something new to listen to. So even if it’s old music, but you didn’t listen to it before, you kinda start going back to that. Right now, I find myself listening to a lot of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Because I never knew them.
The Beatles. My mom said the first thing I used to sing was 'Hey, Jude'. And McCartney was my favorite daw when I was younger.
I’m a big Sesame Street fan also. Can’t take that out of me. That’s part of me.
What can you say about fangirling?
Siguro kasi may napapagusapan lang ngayon because there’s social media. But it’s been there since The Beatles, Elvis Presley.The Beatles stopped playing live because they couldn’t hear themselves anymore. And the sound system wasn’t great back then. They were probably playing stadiums with speakers like that. (points to speakers in studio)
What do you think about the toxic stigma revolving around things girls like not exactly being great?
NO. We all go through that stage. Dadaan tayo lahat dun na you’re really into something and who’s to say if it’s valid or how important it is or not. But the feeling is real. Your admiration for that band, for that artist, is real. The feelings are real and they’re valid. It’s going to be different every generation. There’s Elvis, there’s The Beatles. It was boy bands in the '90a And now it’s K-Pop. Girls are human and you’re looking for something to connect with. When I was 16… the bands… you always carry that with you because you have an attachment to that. It carried you through a lot of things. If you’re into music that way, or maybe a movie, or a book. When you ’re a teenager, magulo lahat eh. And your feelings are very strong.
I tell all my friends na, shoot me if I say na “Nobody’s coming out with good stuff anymore. It used to be better in the day.” It’s not true! We’re all fucked if that’s true.
ON CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION THROUGH MUSIC CRITICISM, CREATING SAFE SPACES, AND POLITICAL ART
Moving forward, Myrene looks forward to playing more shows and discovering new music. But at the heart of it is being part of a community— the music community and an even larger community, which we call our country. As we tread towards end the interview, we asked Myrene the hard questions, from the necessity of music criticism to creating spaces for women, and the importance of staying political. She sums the conversation up with a quote from female civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer— “Nobody's free until everybody's free.”
How important is music criticism in this day and age?
I read those, growing up, it was Jingle Magazine. After that siguro, PULP. May ratings talaga diba? If it’s done right, why not? It’s valid. There’s an informed discussion, pero kailangan talaga tama yung… how do I explain it.
Kasi I would read those things, but I still kept my own opinion. Pero example, like movies, for example art films, the older things. If I was just getting into that, in the beginning, maybe I would read to get a feel of the thing, before you find out for yourself.
Ultimately, it’s really who’s taking it in. You make that final decision on what you like and what you don’t. But when you’re starting out and you’re still exploring things, it would be nice to get some informed opinions about form, about music, or maybe paintings.
Isa pa yun, like if you ask me right now, I know what I like, but I wouldn’t be able to say if it’s good or bad or whatever. Is it good for us? Is it good for the art? Is it good for the scene? How progressive is it? How important is it? I wouldn’t be able to say. So it helps if there are signposts along the way. Helps guide lang naman.
Pero if it goes down to yung biglang away na, I don’t know what to say about that. Kasi ang liit kasi dito eh, kita mo lahat. You see them at the gigs and people don’t know how to feel about it.
I’ve never really thought about it. I guess, cause it was always just there and I took it for granted. I also didn’t take it personally, cause there were some really good ones who write really well and maalala mo pa din and you’re like, "Oh my God, he got it!"
Kasi when you put out an album, wala ka na dun eh. How people receive it, it’s out of your hands. It’s a full grown adult na you’re not in charge of anymore. You raised them, you molded them and then you send them out to the world. And that’s it. How people perceive a song, what they even think is the main message of the song, na hindi pala yun. I’m not gonna correct them if they feel that way about a song and then they like it that way. I’m like, okay. That’s cool. For me, at least. I can’t be precious about that anymore.
I mean, I’m human, sometimes, I’m like, that’s not right. But I’ll just keep it to myself, I won’t say that na in an interview. If it was big enough a problem, siguro I would go online. Pero I’ve never had that thing.
How can we make the music scene and industry a safer place for women?
We have to inform people, I guess. Educate people. Maybe a lot of people still don’t know what women are going through.
Recently, I was having a conversation with Tim [Cacho] and Zach. I was telling them that "You don’t know what it’s like and you will never know what it’s like to be a woman". Like, when you plan a weekend, when you plan a night out. Girls will always plan as far as how they’re going to get home, what time, who they’re going to go with. We don’t really talk about it, but there’s always a threat. But since we were born into it, alam na natin. Part and parcel na yun. That’s life nalang for us. Tapos sabi ko, "Ay hindi pala nila alam yun." Like, when I think about it, when we plan travel abroad. Am I going alone? Is it a safe place? Ano yung norms nila for clothes and stuff like that. Because we were talking about travel at one point and I was like, “Oh, you don’t have to think of security and safety issues.” So, stuff like that. More information. So that people know what’s allowed and what’s not.
Growing up, I told my daughter, “Hey, make a stink. Don’t be shy to speak up when you feel that something is wrong, even if you’re not quite sure. Because, probably, just follow your instinct, if something feels weird, it probably is. Like, if you’re on a bus, make noise, mag-ano ka, when some guy is being a creep. Mag-ingay ka!”
Yun, more information. More outlets for girls to look out for each other.
You’re one of the more vocal musicians on Twitter when it comes to current events. Do you think that musicians should be political?
Personal thing naman yun eh. If you wanna be vocal about stuff and promote what you think, then it’s up to the person. But I think that sana may civic duty ka din. If you see something wrong and you feel strongly about it, go ahead and talk about it. Or try to influence or inform as much as you can. Maybe not online. It doesn’t have to be [online]. Around you. People you talk to.
I would never write a protest song. That’s not our forte, but I would listen to U2, Asin, Cynthia Alexander, Joey Ayala, it makes sense to me.
Pero minsan, separate talaga yung work mo sa personal things, your beliefs. But everybody I think has a civic duty to this society. To try to do something for it. Like, we went as far as having a voter registration party last year, you helped us out with that. Thank you! That’s important for me, kasi kids can do that. I’m not trying to influence them who to vote for, I wouldn’t go that far yet, but if asked, I would say who I’m voting for. Halimbawa, in the coming elections, I would say why. Kailangan gawin patas yung nangyari satin, kasi hindi talaga patas. No one is free, until everyone is free.
Unless equal kayong lahat, it’s not gonna work talaga eh.
Imago, we have a new singer so I’m looking forward to watching her grow.
For Sandwich, making more music talaga eh. I have no concrete plans at all. I find that in my life, I like to get surprised and things fall into my lap and I work with that.
I just wanna make more music. Recently lang, everytime we’re onstage like at Wanderland, I was like, “Oh my God! I wanna do this forever!” It was so much fun! I just want to play forever.
Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives with parents who aren't as supportive?
Up until a certain point, you’re beholden to your folks when you’re still living under their roof, I guess. And then they’re paying for your college education. You might not have so much of a choice, but you can do it on the side, I think. Until you’re free to follow [your dreams]. You will be naman.
Like this guy I knew, [took up] business, worked a corporate job. But after college, after he took his Master’s Degree, he went back to school and studied Fine Arts. Cause that’s what he really wanted to do. So you can do that. It [just] takes a little more time.
Kasi I don’t have that experience… cause my folks let me do what I want. And then our new singer, she’s young, she’s 21. Her folks are at all our gigs. Her mom and dad, they’re always there. I see that side na supportive talaga. Tapos may mga kilala ako na hindi din, so sabay nila ginagawa. On the side talaga.
What’s on your playlist?
The new Solange. New Guided by Voices. Diego told me about it last night, so I’m listening to that. So many songs in that album. Those two things are what I’m listening to.
Do you still listen to albums in full or do you stick to playlists?
It depends. Ariana’s is a full length album and so is Solange's, so I would listen to those straight. Because of Spotify, I listen to a lot of playlists. I’m listening to a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane now, trumpet and sax things. So I just listen to a playlist because I’m not familiar with the albums yet. I’ll find out later which ones I like. I love the new Ariana album, although my favorite is still 'Love Me Harder', yun yung favorite song ko. It’s my driving song. I love that song. I like the new stuff, but I’m not so familiar with it yet.
What was your first concert?
Leif Garrett (Dec 1979). I was 7 or 8 I think.
What are your Top 3 concerts?
The Cure in Hong Kong that was awesome.
The one with the Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth and Foo Fighters here. That’s when I interviewed Dave Grohl. ‘Tas ‘Heads opened for them. I think they called it [the] Alternative Nation tour.
For some reason, I saw Pearl Jam here and then I can’t remember anything. I remember lining up and then… wala na. Everything was a blur, I was super excited pero di ko masabi ano nangyari kasi I can’t remember. I had fun! 1996 or 1997 siguro yun. But we were lucky na they came over when they were new, kasi before that we would only see bands when they were old na and touring the world.
I saw Bjork in Hong Kong too. A solo show! That was nice.
I’m still looking forward to seeing LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire. I really want to see them next.
I’m going to see John Mayer in April, [in] Tokyo! I didn’t see him when he was here. I wasn’t here and then the thing with John Mayer kasi is I used to not like him. Oh, he’s just some cute guy na may guitar…
So when did you start to like him?
This last album. Oh, he’s older, he has a sense of humor about himself. And he’s really, hindi na siya yung pogi na superego. I’m like, I know you’re good, but I don’t like you. Para kaming, pag nasa rom-com kami, magkaway kami pero ngayon okay na kami. So now I’m excited to see him. And I was so happy that I have maybe 8 or 9 albums and maybe 5 live albums to go back to and discover, that’s great. So I’m excited to see him for the first time. Now I love him, he’s great. He’s funny, I like watching his Instagram stuff, and he’s very smart. [Before] hindi naman yun yung contention or his skill.
Who else are you looking forward to see?
Fuji Rock, I just saw the lineup! Pero di ko alam kung kaya ko pa, charge around there in the heat. It’s gonna be summer, heat in Japan is dry, mahapdi talaga. Tapos camping, tapos Portalet. (screams) Although, we were at a festival in Malaysia. Future Music? When it was still on. And it was like walking down a street of portalets. Ganun kadami so it’s not difficult. Not like here... Im thinking na Japan yun so better pa pero sabi ko eeehhh it’s gonna walking around and sitting around and if it’s one of those years na it’s raining, like last year apparently. So, I’m thinking about that pero not so sure. But The Cure are there. James Blake, I love him. He played Hong Kong, I didn’t know! I would’ve gone if I had known. Sana yung mga mag-Fuji Rock mag-Asia pa.
Mitski! She’s new to me. I love it. I love that album. I will recommend that. I wish I could see her live. When she was in Japan, I was in the States, so [it's] not meant to be yet.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Introduction by Isa Almazan
Interview by Kara Bodegon and Camille Castillo
Portrait Photography by Iya Forbes
Additional Photos from Diego Castillo, Nick Lazaro, and Myrene Academia
Special thanks to Soupstar Management and Velvet Playground Studios