In celebration of Sandwich's 20th anniversary, Bandwagon sat down with the members of the band - Myrene Academia, Mong Alcaraz, Diego Castillo, Mike Dizon, and Raymund Marasigan, for an interview that will take them back to their beginnings, through their eight albums, and their very storied lives as musicians. Sandwich: This Band's A Party is a feature in 3 parts. You can read the first part, Chapter 1: Return To Start, here.
CHAPTER II: Her Favorite Band
Both Grip Stand Throw and 4-Track Mind were recorded in Tracks Studio, and were successes critically. A distinction, however, between the two as Mike would point out, is that the latter was thematically and sonically moodier. “Generally, naalala ko nung 4-Track Mind medyo darker siya than the first album, kahit nung songwriting sessions natin non,” ("Generally, I remember 4-Track Mind to be a bit darker than the first album, even during the songwriting sessions.") he would direct towards his bandmates. About the band’s former vocalist, “Yung mga songs na ginawa ni Marc medyo mabigat nung time na yon." ("The songs that Marc wrote at that time were heavy.")
Diego was on board on this ride down memory lane as he brings up ‘Hairpin,’ a song that knocked on the door of his confidence as a songwriter. It was the first time he’s ever written a song on his own he’d reveal, “Demo ko yun, lyrics ko-- which is very rare.” ("My demo, my lyrics-- that's very rare.")
“Yung song mo, Diegs, yun yung minority don yung medyo happy happy kasi,” Mike contrasting this particular track against the darker hue of the album.
Diego would reply in jest, “Indie pop, eh!”
‘Hairpin’ would, as a matter of fact, make the 20-song setlist of the band for the 20th Anniversary Concert on April 13th; not due to Diego’s persistence but surprisingly, through another band member's. “Of all people, si Mong ang naglaban ng 'Hairpin',” ("Mong really fought for it.") he punctuates.
I ask Rayms if he recalls anything during the sophomore album’s making. “Right now, I don't remember anything,” and he would stress this last bit, “at all.”
Despite this claim, he went straight to sharing how their version of a group chat, then, was a 4-track recorder. The album title, 4-Track Mind, is a clear reference to the band’s habit of passing around tapes to one another during the process of writing. "Before the internet, we were exchanging 4-track cassettes or demos," elucidating the reference.
Rayms sold his 4-track recorder to the brother of Cynthia Bauzon-Arre but got it back very recently. “I gave her brother a call and bought it back,” Rayms would share as, I suppose, an exercise on sentimentality. “I have it in my house.”
Cynthia Bauzon-Arre is a visual artist who worked on the art of Sandwich's first two albums; and also had an extensive working relationship with Eraserheads, having illustrated the art for the Fruitcake album and children’s book; and the band’s last three releases Aloha Milkyway, Natin99 and Carbon Stereoxide.
If Tracks Studio was the womb in which Grip Stand Throw and 4-Track Mind was created, their third LP was an entirely different story.
Myrene would return just in time to tell the story of how getting dropped by BMG Records before the release of Thanks To The Moon's Gravitational's Pull prompted them to go indie.
“Myrene, we’re on the second album,” Rayms notes to her. “Sit down.”
I correct him and say that we’re on the third already.
“Mahabang inuman to,” Mike would matter-of-factly say.
Going independent, of course, was a harder task back then than it is today; a fact corroborated by Rayms when he shared that it would cost 200,000 Php to record an entire album on analog. Those numbers were more than a decade ago. I probe the idea of closing shop after being dropped by the label.
“We finished [writing] that album by that time and we were dropped after,” pointing out that there was already finished material when they were let go. “We really believed in that album. We thought [hey] this is our chance, we can be indie lets do it ourselves.” Myrene shares.
But there was a problem: "I didn't know how to mix music then," Rayms confessed. By some happenstance, they figured it out and the band recorded almost entirely everything in Raymund’s rented apartment. The tasks were divided among them: Mike’s was the printing presses, CD placement, and duplication; Rayms and Myrene’s were dropping it off at the record bars and warehouses; Diego’s would be rounding the radio stations and distributing the CDs for airplay. “All the things that a record label would do,” Myrene circled it all in.
“We were really stoked.”
The music video for ‘Two Trick Pony’ would also imbibe their band’s DIY approach with them, having the help of friends. Diego, who directed the video, called out to would-be Pedicab member RA Rivera who was seated at the next table. “Two Trick was possibly your first cinematography job, ano?” ("Two Trick might have been your first cinematography gig, yes?") It was.
They shot the video in a friend’s house who was also at saGuijo that evening.
“Black shirt?" I’d make sure.
“Green shirt,” Mong answers me.
I remember the guy in green. His name was Nix Puno, and he had passed by the table earlier that night to say hi to the band.
“Mong was there! He plays a cameo,” Diego adds to the bigger picture. “We borrowed cameras from NU (107), we used the Sandwich Listers,” sloughing through the ways they managed to get the music video produced.
“Yahoo groups?,” I’d clarify to make sure I was thinking of the same thing.
“Yahoo groups!” Diego excited by the recognition of the reference gave me my second, “very good," of the night. He really does talk this way, with sheer positivism.
“Were you ever in a Yahoo Group?" Myrene was curious.
“Yes, I was.”
She turns to me in disbelief; but here's the thing I didn't say out loud: when you’re in high school and your parents won’t let you go out after 9 PM, signing up on your favorite band’s Yahoo Groups was all you could do to connect to your heroes.
Thanks To The Moons Gravitational's Pull would be the only independently released album of Sandwich; although, the band would eventually get a distribution contract halfway through promoting the album. Aside from the shifting industry weather, it was also at this point that Marc Abaya’s attendance started to waver due to conflicting responsibilities. Cue: Mong Alcaraz. The line-up shift, having Mong on board was not much of a decision as it was a natural progression. He had already been filling in as a sessionist; even recalling Ultrasound, a song from the second album, as the first Sandwich song he had to learn for the band.
Diego and Mong, as housemates, would bond over basketball mostly; but this kinship truly manifests in the guitar-playing in Five On the Floor and its subsequent albums. With Diego’s strong sense of rhythm and Mong’s unassailable access to harmonies, there’s an audible dueling in their playing. Both are self-aware as when to hold back and let the other step forward that their playing almost tethers into a dance.
This, however, was ironically precursed by an awkward encounter between the two. During one of Chicosci’s recording sessions for the song ‘The Dance Of Ones And Zeros,’ Diego would end up breaking Mong’s guitar strings he had specifically bought from the States. “Sinave ko ng 2 years tapos naputol ni Diego bago mag take!,” Mong proclaims exasperated by the memory.
“Nanliit ako, eh,” Diego would admit.
As if a foreshadowing, Method of Breathing (which had ‘The Dance Of Ones And Zeros’ in it) would end up winning “Best Produced Album" at the 2002 NU Rock Awards. No special strings needed.
A pair of bottles clink. Miggy, the vocalist of Chicosci, had made a quick detour to our table to exchange hellos.
“We’re getting interviewed,” Mong tells him.
Miggy draws his head closer to the recorder, “Hi. Hello.”
Sandwich was ready to record the next album the way they did Thanks to The Moons Gravitational's Pull, independently; but by some twist of fate Five on the Floor became a game changer, propelling their career into the direction of massive radio and television airplays, nationwide tours, and even international concerts. Here, the band recognizes that if without the song 'Sugod' and it's accompanying music video, Sandwich would not be at the same place they are now.
I ask Rayms if there was anything notable he remembers about recording their fourth album. Instead of telling me he doesn’t remember anything, he found another gag to throw at me.
“Uy, hindi tumingin ng notes! (Hey, you didn't look at your notes!) You really did your homework!”
“Well, I have a copy,” was what I said due to lack of a wittier response to his curveball of a remark.
I also say that in truth because Five On The Floor was one of the first albums I bought with my allowance when I was sixteen. I had my copy signed during our annual February high school fairs. Only four of them got to sign it; Mong had to go play with Chicosci before I had the chance to bother him. In that red CD, Rayms wrote, “Isa, Dalawa, Tatlo” -- a pun to my name. There was always a joke to be told with him.
“Are we on the last album?" he asked me, probably oscillating between impatience and restlessness.
"Nope," I answered. Sandwich still has a long way to go.
Read the next chapter: Sandwich: This Band's A Party, Part III
Sandwich’s Under The Glow of the Satellite: The 20th Anniversary Concert is happening on April 13, 2018 at Metrotent. Tickets priced at 900 PHP (VIP) and 1,500 PHP (<S>VIP) are now on sale via SM Tickets. <S>VIP ticket-holders each get a limited edition 7" vinyl record of the band's new songs, 'Time Lapse' and 'Parang Walang Nangyari'.