“I feel a surge of creativity. I’d been meeting a lot of very interesting, talented people in the course of a decade; and there’s a possibility of doing something new with everyone I meet. They inspire me to be creative.” – Ely Buendia
“I am a fan of vinyl,” vocalist, guitarist and composer Ely Buendia says.
The cracking and popping noise of analog notwithstanding – Buendia loves the distinct sound that one hears when he listens to a vinyl record, as against those from tapes or CDs. It took a while for him to catch on with the public’s renewed interest in vinyl though when it became vogue again.
Just right above the Buendia residence in the middle of Sucat and Alabang is Crow’s Nest, a music studio. It had hitherto been known as “The Bunker.”
“I used it mainly for my own amusement; and whenever my band had rehearsals. It only became a full-fledged recording studio when I started recording the first album of (my band) Apartel in 2016,” recalls Buendia.
He found himself investing in his “first legit Hi-Fi system” two years ago, and started collecting vinyl records in earnest, too. It was something that couldn’t be helped, especially after he started hanging out with audiophiles and serious vinyl collectors.
In an interview in his residence-cum-studio, Buendia shared that two years ago, six professionals — including two full-time musicians – became partners at Offshore Music, an independent record label. He is now the label’s Chair, and invariably takes on the role of sound engineer or executive producer during recordings.
After all, he once was a label manager of the defunct BMG Records; the recording outfit that also signed his band Eraserheads, and released their most successful records to date, including the now 25-year-old debut album ultraelectromagneticpop!, as well as Circus, Cutterpillow, among others.
“When Offshore Music became official — and we started signing bands — all Offshore artists began recording here (at Crow’s Nest),” he adds. And since the partners are audiophiles and vinyl collectors, they are keen on the quality of releases of local artists.
Buendia thinks that the market for independent music is growing due to renewed interest in bands of late. There’s still much to be improved on though, he opines.
Everything, he says, has been a learning curve, and “It has been kind of rough because we’re coming in at a bad time in the industry.”
They remain optimistic, however, due to the surge of talent in the local music scene — and strides in technology that in a sense — makes managing a label so much easier.
“We actually have a very small stable so far. We either met the artists organically, or through friends. (It’s not as if) we heard about them, went to their shows, then signed them,” he says.
Also, “We pick the ones that we believe in, and whose music we like. We don’t sign anyone we know we can’t support – as we have limited resources – and have a small budget to work with.”
As far as the business model is concerned, “We’re pretty much old school,” Buendia says. He notes how some things don’t work anymore, like consignment and selling of records in stores “because there are no more stores.”
Some things stay the same though. Bands and new artists still want to be signed to a label which is “part of a musician’s journey.” Marketing, he adds, “is pretty much the same; although it’s heavier now.”
So what are the metrics for success in this age? “Streams. Sales. You can track that because of the digital downloads. Then there are the charts. That’s what I meant when I said that there are things that stay the same. That’s how you gauge an artist’s success,” he says.
Buendia says that it helps that he and one of the Offshore partners (Apartel drummer Pat Sarabia) are musicians themselves. “We also produce music; so it makes sense that we would like to collaborate with our artists. The best way to do that is have them record in my studio. Since I know its ins and outs, and I know how to get the sound we want.”
The musician-partners appreciate being part of this process as “it kind of ensures that Offshore has its own identity, and sound.”
Among the artists in Offshore’s stable are The Late Isabel, Jun Lopito, One Click Straight and Eyedress; Ely’s band Apartel, and collab with Itchyworms: EB X IW.
All the albums Offshore has released so far were all on vinyl. But since the cost of manufacturing and distributing vinyl can be quite prohibitive, Offshore partners are looking into the lowering the costs of the albums so younger people could afford them. Succeeding releases of Offshore artists will thus be via the digital route first; vinyl release would be the second or last option.
Offshore will have a “coming out party” of sorts on 4 October at EL CALLE, RESORTS WORLD MANILA. Check it out!
The Late Isabel
Ely Buendia bumped into Wawi Navarroza — a photographer and vocalist of band The Late Isabel – in Hong Kong a few years ago. Navarroza’s band had been dormant for a decade already, and that’s when Buendia offered to sign them.
The Late Isabel started out “as an old-school goth rock experiment” among four friends in 2000. They have since released their debut album Doll’s Head in 2004, EP Lackadaisical in 2011; and their second album Imperial under Offshore Music. The band’s members are Allan Hernandez on guitars, Rudolf Bacale on bass, JP Agcaoili on drums, Ted Baula on percussions, and Navarroza on vocals.
Hailed as one of the Philippines’ best rock guitarists, Jun Lopito released his first album Bodhisattvas in 1995, which journalist David Gonzales said was “worthy of international recognition;” and where he was joined by some of the Philippines’ best musicians: ethnic vocalist Grace Nono, keyboardist Tateng Katindig, and The Jerks’ vocalist/guitarist Chickoy Pura. In this album, Lopito didn’t just play guitar. He also showed his mettle in composing and singing some of the cuts. Lopito is releasing an Offshore album soon.
One Click Straight
Lead vocalist and bassist Toffer Marquez, guitarist and percussionist Joel Cartera, drummer and songwriter Tim Marquez and guitarist and songwriter Sam Marquez are members of One Click Straight, whose sound has been described as “a fusion of melodic pop, indie rock and synth pop.” The band started jamming and writing original material in 2014, started doing gigs in 2015, released their debut EP “Nostalgic” in 2016, and joined Offshore Music just this year. After the release of their singles “She” and “Honey,” they are poised to issue their full-length debut album this month.
Touted by British publication The Guardian as “the one to watch,” indie musician and producer Eyedress released his first Tagalog album via Offshore featuring “Gwapo Ko Galing Sa ‘Yo,” which harks back to the Manila Sound, albeit seen through a kaleidoscope that leaves one in a dreamlike haze, and “Bolero Lang Sila” which defies labels altogether. Check him out on Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music.
EB X IW
On their own, both Ely Buendia and the Itchyworms are among the country’s most prolific and successful OPM artists. Buendia’s band Eraserheads blazed the trail for other bands in the 1990s and beyond; he went on to create more hits with his other groups Pupil, Oktaves and Apartel. Meantime, Itchyworms has carved its own trail with hits like “Beer” and “Akin Ka na Lang.” It was only a matter of time till Ely and the Itchyworms collaborated on songs, thus, EB X IW.
That Buendia and the ‘Worms as EB X IW “is a match made in heaven” is an understatement. It’s as though IW were his original band, so they’ve collaborated on two cuts so far: “Pariwara” and “Lutang” which were released via a 45 RPM vinyl record. Fans are agog over what comes next after their successful collabs, with excellent music videos to match.
“I had always wanted to be in a big band with a brass section and backup singers. It’s the kind of spectacle I had not been seeing anymore, but wanted to do. I wanted to get back to music that’s not sampled — or electronic — but really played by musicians. Soul was the perfect sound for that, kind of the same ballpark as R & B,” he said.
He reveals that prior to Apartel, he first tried the “big band formula” for his solo gigs, “because I wanted to put a twist on the old songs. I finally was able to afford these musicians like the horn players. I’m pretty proud of the production because there’s nothing like it in the mainstream.”
Supergroup Apartel – Offshore’s flagship band — holds the distinction of being:
- the first Filipino artist mastered by legendary engineer Bernie Grundman (Michael Jackson, Prince, Steely Dan)
- the first OPM band whose album is available on Hi Resolution audio format
- the first OPM artist to release a high-quality, double 45 rpm (Inner Play) on vinyl, and have it pressed in Japan
The band fuses soul, funk, blues and rock and roll. Fronted by Buendia, it boasts of a stellar cast of musicians: Ryan G on keyboards, Coco Coo and Redge Concepcion on guitars, Jun Lazo on bass, Pat Sarabia on drums, Deej Rodriguez on percussion, Brass Pas Pas Pas on horns, and Telay Robles on backup vocals. Remaining inventory of the vinyl album is still available online, but Offshore Music is looking into having it distributed in Japan as well.
The Ransom Collective
While they’d been around for five years now, the 6-piece indie folk band The Ransom Collective recently partnered with Offshore Music which released their 11-track debut album Traces on vinyl. This freshman outing showcases “lively and mellow sounds that narrate real-life stories of growing up and making discoveries.” The members have since explored “more complex transitions, rhythms, and fusion of other genres.”