Re-Turning Japanese

About two weeks ago,  my cousin posted some links on Facebook because he had nothing better to do. One was to a video of a song from the anime Bleach, another one was to a song from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and the third was another song from the same band. About a week ago, I clicked on the links. Not that I had nothing better to do, I was merely putting them off. I got the those things done, eventually, and the Scandal that I found turned out to be a pleasant surprise.”””

It’s not the first time I’ve listened to Japanese rock ‘n’ roll. When my friends and I were in Inhaler, we listened to a good bit of Japanese rock. We even played some of the songs in our weekly practice sessions. Here are some of my favorites from that time.””””””


Twenty Years With the Lights Out

Our little group has always been and always will be till the end.

Today marks the 20th birthday of Nirvana’s seminal album, Nevermind. This album is a landmark in my appreciation of music. Of course, my real introduction to rock music happened by way of glam metal. Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, to be exact. However, 1991 brought a slew of great albums, as this freshly-pressed blog here reminded me. The Use Your Illusion double album was amazing! It even had its share of Satanic back-masked message urban legends. And the Black Album is still my favorite Metallica album. But Nirvana’s Nevermind was the gateway that led me to discover so many great acts from that year until the turn of the millennium, just before the rich diversity of rock music was killed by the proliferation of rap metal and pop-punk. No offense to those rock sub-genres and their legion of fans, but yes, those killed it for me. But that’s a rant for another day.

Life changer.

And so… Today, after three weeks of not featuring any music, let’s revisit Nirvana’s Nevermind. The whole album is so great, I’ll give you the first half! Enjoy!

1. Smells Like Teen Spirit”

2. In Bloom”

3. Come as You Are”

4. Breed”

5. Lithium”

6. Polly”

If you’re wondering what that baby on the album cover looks like, now that he’s 20, check this out.

The Factors of My Age

It’s the last ninety minutes of thirty-three.

Thirty-three is three times eleven.

I don’t remember much about what it was like when I was three. But I have pictures of me wearing an army helmet and these round yellow (I think) swimming goggles. I carried a wooden pole that was about as tall as me, probably my rifle. And I rode this thing that I can only describe as an ATV-type of trike. It was blue and yellow (again, I think), and it had bike-type handlebars but it had four wheels. Now that I think about it, I think that toy was way ahead of it’s time. I have vague memories of being in an accident on that ATV-trike. I think I lost control as I rode it down the sloping walkway of my father’s ancestral house. I remember crashing at the gate. There is also this vague memory of me sitting on that ATV-trike bawling as I watched my mother walk out the gate. I don’t remember if I was crying because I didn’t want her to leave or because I wanted to go with her. But I remember the crying being intense.

I have other pictures of me when I was three. There are several of me and my cousin, who is my age, hanging out in the town plaza. We wore denim overalls. My hair was still pretty much a light shade of brown then. Back then, we also had this vinyl record of Battlestar Galactica. When ever my aunt would play it, my cousin and I would always pretend to be Apollo and Starbuck. I was always Starbuck. I don’t know if it was to match the hair color of the characters or something, but I was always Starbuck. We also had these cassette tapes different children’s songs. But my favorite cassette tape then was the one with opening and ending themes of Japanese animated series, most notably the big mecha series like Voltes V and Mazinger Z. I guess, you could say that was the first sign that I would grow up to be an anime freak…

When I turned eleven, I was attending fifth grade in a public school in Pampanga. Our school competed in inter-school competitions pretty frequently. Nerdy stuff like Math, Science, and Spelling. I remember representing our school for Math competitions several times. But I never got to compete in the regional level because I always just got second place in the division level. Public schooling ain’t what it used to be, I guess. Back then one took pride in attending a public school, and private schools had the reputation of catering to rich-not-so-bright kids, who could only do well with the help of a tutor.

During those days, I watched a lot of afternoon TV. Those time slots were reserved for cartoon series. I watched M.A.S.K., Thundercats, Silver Hawks, and Comic Strip every afternoon. I no longer remember what was on on which day. My favorite toy at that time were G.I. Joes. I still played with my Legos, but only when I was in my father’s ancestral house, which was located in another town. On some Saturdays, I would go to a classmate’s house to play on his Nintendo Famicom. He was one of the two kids in our class who owned the consoles. We played a lot of Spartan X and Super Mario Bros. I can’t remember if he had any other games. But during that time, the 8-bit graphics blew us away! They were amazing compared to the graphics of Atari games (which he also had, which we went to his house to play before he got the Famicom). But most of my free time was spent outdoors, playing basketball, hide and seek, different versions of tag, climbing trees, climbing fences, and jumping down from what ever I climbed.

When I turned twenty-two, I was teaching part time in a private school in Quezon City that catered specifically to children with dyslexia and other learning needs. I was the Art and Music teacher from the first grade all the way to the sixth. It was my first job. I was still finishing college then. I worked so I could pay for my tuition and living expenses. It was while teaching there that I realized that I, in all probability, have ADHD. That was where I met the missus too. My first taste of Starbucks coffee was her treat because I helped her finish preparing materials for her class. I was appalled that someone would charge close to one hundred pesos for coffee! I never became a fan of Starbucks. It’s just wrong.

I wasn’t used to being a teacher then. I was also a little different from what I am like now. I hated being hugged. One of the teachers there would sometimes hug me out of the blue just to see my discomfort. And on my 22nd birthday, she told the first graders to greet me happy birthday and give me a group hug. It was the longest 1 minute of my life. I also remember getting birthday presents! The missus got me some hair care products. That was the first time I grew my hair long. And CS gave me a Parker ball pen with my name engraved on it. If I’m not mistaken, I still have that pen somewhere in my disorganized clutter of things from the past, along with the cards that came with them.

Back then, I lived with my friends. We were renting a room in Loyola Heights in Quezon City. The staple food was fast food. It was a rotating menu of McDonald’s, KFC, and Tapa King. Rock radio was a staple then too. The rock scene was very much alive then, and rock music was very diverse. We listened to a lot of stuff, but I was already a shameless fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters,  the Lemonheads, the Ersaerheads, and Rivermaya then. I had also started dabbling in song-writing during that time. But trying to form a band would not happen until the following year.

Recreation during those days was a mix of run-of-the-mill college-type activities and nerdy activities. I played pool, got drunk, gambled, and many times, all three on the same night. As for the nerdy activities, there was Starcraft and Counterstrike. My friends and I probably played a minimum of six hours a week. It was a lot of fun because our group was big, sometimes we would gather enough people to have teams of eight. Back then, the Missus couldn’t understand why we would play a game for two to three hours, andthen spend another hour just talking about what happened in those two to three hours. But that was before she met Diablo II and the Sims.

Then there was also the Sony Playstation. Tekken 3 was THE game. Everybody had their favorites. We would all hang out in my friend’s condo unit and play for hours on end. I mostly played Paul (of course!), Lei, and Julia. But I wasn’t the best. The guy to beat in our group used Yoshimitsu and Brian. To this day, (to quote Etlevs) I still call hacks. We also played RPGs. The most memorable ones were Final Fantasy VII and the Playstation port of Diablo because my friends and I did marathons playing those games. We did it in shifts, some people playing while the others slept. And again, many a time, the nerdy activities and the colleg-type activities would all happen on the same night.

Writing about this now, I wonder how I got to hold a job and finish college amidst all that recreation… Now kids, don’t try those things at home. Those awe-inspiring feats were done by trained professionals.

Last time I checked I was three times eleven. Thrity-three. Now, I’m thrity-four, for all of thirty minutes. I wonder what thirty-four will be like. I’ll start finding out when I wake up later. But right now, all I can tell you is that it’s two times seventeen.

Memories of My First Breath (Keepsakes and What Comes After)

Cynical Forces, Gusto Pa, Stargaze, Mahalin

2nd Moon, , Snapshots 1×1, Beautiful Dream, Moon Rocket*

Sandal E, Obstructed View, Bitwin at Lihim, Never Ending Now

Out of those twelve that Inhaler completed, we were only able to record half; five home recordings and one studio recording. I’d really love to finish recording all twelve properly (read: future sound plans).

*This is the Gonz’s song. It’s wicked cool. Trust me.

For the five we recorded at home (the Gonz’s home, not mine), we used the Gonz’s laptop with older versions of Cakewalk and Sound Forge for recording, Leafdrums for the drum tracks, a Creative Extigy external sound card, and the Gonz’s Tascam 4-Track as our preamp. Byugi98 served as our sound engineer. They are far from pro quality, but good first recording attempts nonetheless.

Cynical Forces

This is the first song Inhaler completed. Uptempo, short, sweet, but still loud enough. This recording’s pretty clean, and the mixing turned out quite well too.


This is one of the first songs I wrote. My friend JusTech was the one who came up with the melody for this one. It wasn’t what I imagined it would be, but I like how it turned out. The drums in this recording probably need a redo, so does my singing. LOLz.

2nd Moon

This song came from a poem I wrote. I don’t know if I still have a copy of it. I’m also not sure if the song title came from the first Keepres of the Maser graphic novel by Frezzato, which I read in Heavy Metal magazine. This was #1 fan’s favorite (at least for some time), but this recording just doesn’t show why. When we played this live, it was very loud and heavy. I’d really love to record this song again, especially because I couldn’t get the damn opening right.

Beautiful Dream

This is probably the penultimate Inhaler love song. Lolz. I like this recording. It came out clean and balanced, my singing turned out okay, and the lead had just enough dirt in it to dispel total sap. And once more, credit to JusTech for refining the riff on this one.

Snapshots 1×1

Up until a month ago, I had totally forgotten that we were able to make a home recording of this one. This is from the first batch of respectable songs I wrote in Filipino. This is a lot like Cynical forces in the sense that it’s uptempo and short, with the right amount of loud.

Sandal E

Also from the first batch of good-enough Filipino songs I wrote, this is the only song we were able to record in a studio. We chose this as our first (and only) track for studio recording because it had a enough pop appeal and still rocked. Though in hindsight, I would probably choose Cynical Forces or Snapshots 1×1 over it.

We were able to save up some money and recorded this at DBR Studios in Teacher’s Village, Quezon City. The owner, Billy Reyes (guitarist of Kiko Machine), engineered the recording, the mixing, and the mastering of the track. It took us several days to complete it. We could have probably done a better job with more takes, but we ran out of funds. Lolz yet again.

Hmmm… I think we should really get around to recording the whole dozen properly. (Could you say I’m pretty hell bent?)

After Inhaler broke up, I stopped making music. I even pretty much stopped listening to music. But in 2009, I got to watch the TV airing of the second installment of the Eraserheads’ reunion concert. Those guys have been my heroes ever since their first album came out. And even after they broke up, even if they just got together for one last jam, they’re still the heroes of old. Watching that concert finally made me get over Inhaler’s dissolution. I figured out that there’s no point in not making music. I figured out that there’s more than one way to get my music out there. That’s when Tandem was born.

Just like Dave Grohl, I’ll keep trying to sing. Just like Kurt Cobain, I’ll keep it simple. And just like the students in my classes, I’ll keep learning. That’s what Tandem’s going to be.

Memories of My First Breath (Dreams and Endings)

Neo Jam at Xtudio (2006)

Some dreams came true in the three-or-so years that Inhaler was active. For one, we got to play at the UP fair; every college band’s dream… even post-college bands. If I recall correctly, it was past three in the morning, but there was still a sizable crowd watching the bands. That was pretty cool. We got a significant volume of applause, from strangers to boot!

We also got to front for big local bands. We were in the lineup of front acts for a gig of Urbandub in Freedom Bar in Quezon City (2005, I think). But our biggest break as an upstart band was our very first gig. By some stroke of luck (luck = Byugi98’s brother was in the UP organization that was sponsoring the event), we got the slot to be THE front act of Sandwich and Sugarfree in the UP leg of Sugarfree’s Dramachine campus tour. That was late September of 2004. I’ll never forget how stoked we were about it. And who wouldn’t be? First gig, and already playing with the big boys! But looking back, I find it a bit ironic really… and somewhat a wasted opportunity. I mean, we played that gig okay, but I still wonder to this day how much better it would have been if we got that gig a year later. We’d have had a better set list, and we’d have played better too. But despite it being a year too early, I’d have to say that it is still a gig to remember.

And so it ends.

The band broke up in 2007. Byugi98 quit, and the rest just decided to not go on. I still believe it was just a case of us forgetting why we started the band in the first place: because it was fun. It’s not about going for a record deal or becoming a virtuoso in the instrument you play. I mean, those are good things, but you can still make good music without those. I guess we just got caught up in the details and technicalities and lost sight of the core reason for being. I think our last gig was in Purple Haze. I’m not sure. But what I remember for sure was that the good feeling after playing a set was absent. We were just tired, and some even pissed. And that was that.

I really felt bad about Inhaler’s dissolution. I love making music, and the twelve songs that we collaborated on shows that we can really make it happen. It felt even worse because we were long-time friends. Heck, I have been friends with Byugi98 since freshman year (read: 1994)! And it never sits well with me if there’s unresolved issues between friends.

After the break up, Nil and I were okay. We stayed in touch, seeing each other in Itlugan gatherings. He was the only member of Inhaler that I had contact with after the band broke up. I just didn’t want to see Byugi98 or the Gonz, and maybe they felt the same. What ever that feeling was.

But on my daughter’s second birthday a few months after, Byugi98 showed up at my door unannounced. I knew it was a something good because he showed up while the sun was still up (he’s nocturnal)! And good it was. Itlugan friendship trumped over the disagreement between band mates. He apologized, I said no worries, and things went back to normal. Two minutes, no drama. He even attended Rune’s birthday party that weekend. My friends, being my friends, had a lot of fun at the expense of Byugi98 and I. Ah, friends.

I lost all contact with the Gonz for years. Not a word. It was only in 2010 that we saw each other again. As chance would have it, our kids went to the same preschool. The first time we saw each other again, all was good. We were all smiles, and it was just like old times. The Gonz and I hung out almost daily during the school year. We’d even hang out at their place sometimes while waiting for the kids to get dismissed. (Maybe now is a good time to point out that I met the Gonz through Mrs. Gonz, who is a good friend of mine from college.) They even drive Rune and I and/or my wife home after school. And our house is not even on the way to theirs. We even went out for dim-sum all-you-can-eat a couple of times.

Now that school’s out, the Gonz and I don’t see each other often. My family still sees his family from time to time, when we order stuff from them (they sell all organic stuff). We’re both looking forward to the rest of 2011 because the Foo Fighters have a lot of stuff coming out. Nil is getting married soon. My wife and I have pledged to take care of the bridal bouquet (wifey is good at flowers). So I know we’ll see him soon enough. And Byugi98? We haven’t heard from him in years. We have no idea where he is or what he’s up to. But that’s normal Byugi98. No doubt he’ll show up at my door again one day, unannounced. He has always had a bedroom in my dream house after all. He’s got to check if it’s been built some time.

Memories of My First Breath (Beginnings and Graces)

Breathe in, rock out.

In May of 2004, my friends and I formed the band Inhaler. We got the name from the asthma medicine. We couldn’t come up with a band name for days, so we just went with what was on the table, literally. I can’t recall whose it was, but Inhaler we became, with the Gonz on lead guitar, Byugi98 on bass, Nil on drums, and myself on rhythm guitar and vocals.

(edit: I was reprimanded by wifey for forgetting the inhaler on the table was hers and for getting the year wrong)

Now, I don’t really sing, much less sing well. But I guess the chore of singing fell on my shoulders (or windpipe) because we were going to play stuff I had written. As early as then, we were dead set that we’d take the hard road of original music and not be a cover band.

Our sound in the first few jamming sessions was all over the place. But to me, it was great to hear the songs I had written come to life. I mean, Arrogant I already thought they were pretty good. But to hear them played with all the instruments, with effects, and with improvements in the arrangement and instrumentation that I never would have thought of, that was truly great.

Short respite from making music. (L to R: Joey Tandem, the Gonz, Byugi98, Nil)

For three years, Inhaler would practice twice weekly for two hours at a time. We were able to complete a dozen songs and played gigs in different clubs across the metro at least twice a month. The club gigs started with the guidance and opportunities given to us by Sir Noel Viola and the awesome dudes of Purple Haze Bar. Sir Dax and Sir Bito gave us our first club gig at Purple Haze, which was then located in Marikina City. They (with JP and Jeff) literally gave Inhaler a home, including us in their monthly lineup.  Purple Haze moved to Tomas Morato in Quezon City a year later, continuing to give us a venue for our music. The bar closed on March 8, 2008, on its fifth anniversary. I wish Inhaler was there to play, or even just to say thank yous one last time. But the band had broken up by then and, I didn’t know about the closing till much later.

Around 2006, we got more opportunities through Mr. Bobby G’s Neo Jam series of gigs for underground bands. Our first gig with Bobby was at the opening of a new commercial building in Quezon City. That gig was surreal. We played our set well and the crowd liked our music, which was great. But we were totally shocked when a group of teenagers met us backstage and had us sign their jackets and shirts! Who’dathunk? They’re probably grown up now and know that the guys who signed their clothes weren’t big and never became big. But it doesn’t matter, it’s all good. You don’t get that everyday.

And let’s not forget the undying support of friends (Itlugan and Pisay ’94, most notably). Friends who showed up time and again to watch us play. It didn’t matter where we played, at least a handful would be there. Our friends even had their personal favorites among our songs, and there was even a running joke on who was #1 fan and who was #2. Some of my friends from high school who came to our gigs eventually formed Sajama (Lodvig Vancouver, Miggy Pop, JV, Janstiff, and Bridge). Sajama also became regulars at the Haze, playing on the same nights as Inhaler quite a few times. Truly, no man is an island, and a band is not so different.

In all the gigs that we played, we never made any money (just free drinks and food). In fact, we had to spend money to go to the venues, and we lost a lot of sleep (remember that we had jobs to keep during the day). But we kept practicing, we kept showing up and playing, because getting up on stage and playing a set was an exhilarating experience every time (maybe except for that UP College of Fine Arts gig and the Sisig Festival, those just totally blew). Plus we got to listen to a lot of good indie rock! Sandbox, Oremus, Sajama, to name a few.

Saguijo (2005)

On a side note, I feel bad for not having photos of most of our gigs. I also have just one video. It’s of the Saguijo gig in 2005, and the audio is not good. Digital cameras weren’t as good and as cheap back then, and my paycheck was much smaller too. Ho hum. But some is better than none, so I’m still grateful.

Sketchpad (5 of 6)

I used this sketchpad from 2002-2005. The contents vary. There are a lot of drawings of shirt design ideas and drawings of friends of mine sporting them. There are also drawings of characters for my would-be graphic novel.

When I drew the elemental sisters (there are supposed to be 12), I tried out a manga drawing style. I think I was looking through some work by Masamune Shirow during that time.

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