Going beyond 'Tadhana': UDD, now a trio, find their playground in a fresh but familiar electronic sound

Going beyond 'Tadhana': UDD, now a trio, find their playground in a fresh but familiar electronic sound

ESTIMATED 

It’s just like any other Wednesday night in January. Traffic is bad everywhere (a Metro Manila trait not exclusive to Wednesday nights) and the weather has been unusually warm. UDD have to be at Wonder Collab Studios by 6 p.m. for their weekly night sessions, where they turn the studio into their domain. It’s where their fifth full-length album—their first as a trio—is slowly breathing life. Everything's coming together nicely, and it won’t be long before they’ll finally get to share it with the world.

The only difference tonight is that it’s Ean Mayor’s birthday. Oh, and it’s Paul Yap’s birthday tomorrow.

Carlos Tañada had been at the studio since morning. It’s where he works his day job as an audio producer and sound engineer after all. It has been since before the pandemic happened, when cities were put on lockdown and work-from-home setups were established everywhere. In that time, he even had his first kid, Pilar, who will be turning three soon. (Speaking of birthdays, Carlos won’t be turning another year older until June.)

Paul, who’s been keeping himself busy as a digital producer, came in almost an hour late due to traffic and Ean arrived shortly after from his pakain at home. Getting stuck on the road didn’t seem to bother Ean though; he had been sidelining as a Lalamove driver (among many things) during the lockdowns, so heavy traffic simply didn’t faze him anymore.

BANDWAGON TV

Carlos, Paul, and Ean are collectively known as UDD (formerly Up Dharma Down). They’re a Filipino band that is known for manipulating synthpop, indietronica, and rock across four albums, and have been doing so for a good 20 years now. That’s literally half their life, but the band appear to be eager to let their listeners finally turn the page to their next chapter as a trio.

Isipin mo yun, monthly [nasa] Saguijo kami since day one,” Ean smiles at the realization, “Naging tradition.” The band’s former label Terno Recordings would hold Terno Inferno, a monthly showcase at Saguijo, featuring the likes of Giniling Festival, Maude, Lenses, AOUI, and of course UDD as the headlining act. But Terno Inferno was a thing of pre-pandemic days, when over a hundred fans would fill the floor, while the rest who couldn’t enter due to max capacity would pour into the graveled parking lot or onto the street.

For their next record, UDD are exploring a more electronic route, ready to deliver their take on House, disco, and indie electronic tunes. Ean confesses, “We might surprise fans of 'Tadhana' and 'Oo' kasi iba na yung tunog namin, but we're also excited to share this with a whole new audience.”

Apart from Paul now offering his mellow vocals to their new material, their geeky urge to tinker with synthesizers, drum machines, and patches led them to a direction that requires a whole new setup—even more complex than it already was before. They’ve been rehearsing their next single ‘Run Deep’ at NoKal, a club hidden beneath Makati Cinema Square (tip: order the steak rice to know what heaven tastes like), where they, together with their live sound engineer Sho Hikino, figured out how many lines and channels they’ll require. Now that they know what they need, they’re on to fixing their setup all over again, and that includes figuring out if they’ll still use guitars and live drums moving forward.

It was also at NoKal where they planned the music video for ‘Run Deep’ with director and frequent visual collaborator Nic Reyes. Creative team Everywhere We Shoot was also there to take photos and plan the album launch. Just as it is at the studio, the energy at NoKal was as relaxed. UDD are very familiar with Nic, having worked with him in the past on their music videos for ‘Luna’, 'Taya', ‘Tambalan’, and the Mizuki Shida-starring visual ‘Sigurado’. It’s always a good idea to be amongst friends after all. “We rehearsed for about five hours for one song,” Paul says, recounting their past few run-throughs. He says, “Mas complicated yung patching, pero masaya!

Carlos hints that fans will get a glimpse of what their live setup would be like once the video comes out sometime in February or March. “That’s why we’re releasing a live performance music video, para the people have an idea of what they can expect,” he says.

There are a lot of new changes for the group, changes that may alienate some listeners, but the absence of former vocalist Armi Millare shouldn’t deter loyal fans from finding that comfortable spark they want to hear from UDD. With Paul acting as the trio's lyricist, there will still be that hint of familiarity despite their new direction. In fact, Paul has always been writing lyrics and recording demos with him singing since day one. “Meron kaming mga demos ng mga songs like ‘Luna’ and ‘Unti-Unti’ na si Paul yung kumanta,” Ean says. “Nasanay na ako na may kumakantang lalaki sa UDD.”

Carlos calls Paul the band’s chief songwriter, but Paul doesn’t want to be labelled as such. “We all contribute to songwriting, it’s not just about the words,” he says softly.

“Since dati si Paul naman talaga nagsusulat din,” Ean shares. "Malalaman niyo na siya yung nagsulat kung mukhang tula or sobrang sadboi. From the first album–’Lazy Daisy’, ‘The World is Our Playground’, ‘Layag’, second album ‘Sugarcoats and Heartbeats’, ‘All Year Round’, third album ‘Luna’, ‘Kulang’. So makikita niyo ‘yon.”

Paul’s excited about the new album. He says, “It’s familiar, but different. A little close to ‘Night Drops’ and ‘Turn It Well’, pero 'di kapatid, mas pinsan.”

“We’re so grateful to our listeners who have stuck with us,” Carlos says, “They watched us evolve with every album, so they’ll know that we want to release something different palagi. I hope they’ll enjoy this new album too.”

Besides the direction they’re going with their sound for their new songs, they might not even play their old catalogue live anymore, at least not how they previously did it. “Yan pa rin iniisip namin, paano namin mapeplay yung mga ibang songs with the new setup,” Ean says. But the old stuff isn’t their focus right now. It’s the new album. Paul adds, “I think one year din kami nag-soul searching. But now we’re back in the studio and we can’t wait for people to hear what we’ve come up with.”

Ean is in awe of how many great bands have sprouted in just a few years. “Napansin ko rin in the span of nung nag-stop kami mag-gig hanggang ngayon, ang dami nang bigla na bago na sobrang magaling live, recording, release, gimmick, package,” he says, name checking Dilaw, Lola Amour, Blaster, and Zild, and praising how tech riders these days are on a whole other level. “I think it’s good na gano'n na yung standard,” he adds.

Viva Records handles their catalogue now, and with their two-record deal, they've been given creative free rein. “We’re glad we had the time to play around and experiment,” Paul says. “What we’re grateful for din is that we still have the freedom to do what we want.“

UDD have been working with Francis “The Ringmaster” Lorenzo, who won Best Engineered Recording for Clara Benin’s ‘Blink’ at the 2022 Awit Awards and co-produced Gabba's critically acclaimed 2023 debut album Recollections. “He also gives his insights as a producer,” Carlos says. “We’re collaborating on how to attack a song. Laking tulong.” The Ringmaster’s involvement on the album has helped the band translate words or instruments in ways they couldn’t do themselves. It also helps that he works with Carlos at Wonder Collab Studios, making him available to the band should they ever need him at a moment's notice. Besides The Ringmaster, in-demand sound engineer and producer Emil Dela Rosa contributed to one song on the album. “Si Emil kasi sobrang in demand, ang hirap i-schedule,” Ean says, laughing.

In terms of collaboration and remixes, UDD have a few fresh local artists and producers they want to work with down the pipeline. Who exactly, they’re not ready to share yet.

“Less than ten, above five,” Paul answers, when asked how many tracks they’re looking at for the album, which has yet to be blessed with a name. Ean says, “We also plan on releasing it on vinyl.”

The Makati streets purr below as ambulance sirens wail into the night multiple times in the hour we spend talking. It’s almost time to wrap things up and for the band to head into the recording booth with one of the artists who'll be appearing on the album. “I don’t feel like it’s our twentieth year,” Carlos opens up candidly, “I feel like we’re gonna start from scratch, which makes it more exciting.”

The three nod at each other, smiling. Ean says, “Half ng buhay natin eh. Forty ako eh. Half ng existence ko.” Paul adds, “In terms of marking our twentieth year, it’s starting again. Starting fresh.”

While the unknown may be a scary thing, UDD appear to be the farthest thing from afraid. They’re ready to finally get their fifth studio album out there and celebrate 20 years as a band. After all, the present time is fleeting, the past is unchangeable, and the future is uncertain. What kind of life are you living if you’re not doing what you really want to do?