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Getting back to songwriting, 20 years since

"I feel like I'm stupid when I'm with you, 'cos there's nothing to say..."

These were the first lines I ever wrote for a song back in 2001. (that was 20 years ago! whew!). I started with a C chord just because I didn't want to use the G chord, which almost all songs I knew was using, though C was also part of the G family. Plus, I wanted a song that somehow sounds like Oasis but still corny enough for my friends to say that it's good. I never forgot that song. That song is called 'Thanks in a Box' (whatttt??!!!).

About seven years later, I wrote some six songs (including a reggae version of 'Thanks in a Box' and a Tool-inspired song I wrote in 2004 called 'Bulletproof') for an eight-song demo for my band. We did that because we were asked to submit a demo to an A&R person who promised to bring us forth to the entertainment industry (that was so naive of us though). That demo just got us playing in Olongapo City with about Php1500.00 each plus travel and accommodation only once, plus some local gigs in Baguio City and guesting in one radio station as well as a handful events.

But my songs were not pop enough to break charts and win hearts (compared to the single written by our then vocalist). So I abandoned that direction and just tried listening to more blues records instead. Then in 2009, my big brother and I were inspired by a Liverpool band called Hot Club De Paris, aliens and DIY ethos. We recorded 5 songs as Aliens Killed the Beef Killed the President. The songs were recorded using a virus-infested Windows 98 laptop, electric guitar and counterfeit mic hooked to a faulty multieffects straight to the laptop, and some lyrics that won't make sense to a pop listener. We pressed about 10 CDs and launched it through a gig during my birthday that year. During that gig, I also played with a band called Repolyo Revolution, which had two semi-complete original songs I arranged and co-wrote. I also composed a random song called 'Baguio Girl', a favourite of my friends because of its funny-sounding country-esque vibe and lyrics.

"All the pluriverses are trying to conspire as I explore and get closer to Filipino musicians..."

After that, I never wrote complete songs again. I had some ideas here and there. Riffs and beats suddenly popping out of my head and just making that sound verbally. The situation even worsened because all my former bandmates were either living their lives outside music or outside the country. I felt alone even though I surrounded myself with gear and induced my self to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Around 2014, I played some improv music with a bassist for a short period until he went to Manila, just like any other people I met who only considered Baguio as their second home. Plus, there was the expectation to get some 'decent job' not only for me but everybody else.

Fast forward 2020, I came over to Australia for my PhD (cultural sociology of music) and a different scenario is in front of me now. Although most people are still trying to enslave themselves to work and tend to forget music and generally the hobbies that used to make them happy, here I am combining music and research. I'm absolutely having the time of my life and loving it. But can I really call myself a musician if I haven't had written new songs that I could say are my own? I once turned down an offer to play with a showband overseas, which also actually inspired me to do my current research on Filipino musicians in Australia.

So I decided to get some online courses from Coursera, Futurelearn and Udemy to reignite my desire to write songs and produce my own materials since I knew that I have all the time in the world to do this now. I completed some courses and decided to give it a go. I also started listening to new music to get more inspiration rather than be stuck with what I'm already familiar with.

By the end of 2019, I have written two drafts of a song. But I abandoned it (or just put it to rest for a while to incubate) because I thought it wasn't good enough or it was too complicated. While those are parked, other ideas just get in and out of me. I embraced them and started writing words, sentences, phrases, verses as well as chords and beats.

I joined a community radio station in Brisbane involving Filipino broadcasters in November 2019 (again, because I knew I needed it for my research). In one instance, a co-broadcaster and I were just brainstorming about what I can do and what activities can I join in as part of the community. That's when I thought of producing TunogLokal Radio AU, a program that aims to showcase indie music from Filipinos worldwide.

In order for me to source music for the program though, I needed to search and join online groups where Filipino indie music is shared. By doing this, I realised that there are so many music and musicians out there who write their songs, and not to mention many of these songs are so good that they deserve to be heard globally. But that's not just what hit me in terms of how this benefits my radio program. Hearing these songs and knowing this niche market also reawakened the songwriter in me.

I went back to my old song drafts and tried to complete them. I set a goal for myself that when my birthdate hits this year, I'll have something to release. And release a song I did. I originally planned to release a whole EP to really mark this a milestone but time, skills and confidence got the best of me. Nonetheless, I was able to write 4 songs to date. Two have been released and the other two are still being recorded and polished. There's still another one with some verse and chorus already but is not even halfway through yet. Again, time and skills and confidence always hinder me; plus pluriverses conspire because as soon as I plan to sit down and finish the song, someone calls me to discuss or work on something else.

Listen to my latest release called 'Just Say', which is inspired by and made for people who experience depression and suicidal ideation (some of whom I personally know).

The thing is, I am becoming more and more inspired to write songs and explore music every day. All the pluriverses are trying to conspire as I explore and get closer to Filipino musicians in Australia and the independent songwriters in the Philippines (though mostly online). I could say, we need an enabling community and platforms (media and events) to continuously enable musicians, artists and songwriters to hone their craft.

I guess, if you used to have a creative hobby before, I'd encourage you not to lose it because that might save you from adversity. Don't lose your creative side, I must say.

So what creative stuff have you done while staying at home?

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