When it comes to Indie Original Pinoy Music, Baguio has a relatively saturated, yet highly appreciative audience, which is why quite a number of Indie bands come to Baguio to spread their music. And Munimuni, hailing from Manila, is one of the most recent bands to come up and play their tunes among these forested mountains as part of their Simula EP Tour.
It was our first time to hear the band play live at Old Baguio Boys, Nevada Square. But before their performance, two local bands, Camel Hump and Turncoats, opened the show. Camel Hump set the mood with chill, Baguio-vile, gypsy-like music, and Turncoats pumped the crowd with their hard rock.
As soon as Munimuni hit the stage, the room was filled with all the feels! Munimuni’s songs overflow with incredibly poetic lyrics and melodies that aim for the heart, both blended with spiritual undertones. Though they sing about their personal experiences, the emotions are raw and relatable that it didn’t take long before the audience sang and swayed along to their songs of time, hope, and love
Munimuni is composed of AJ Jiao, TJ de Ocampo, John Owen Castro, and Red Calayan, and we got to interview Adj and TJ to share some insights on their music.
1. What is the story of your humble beginnings as a band?
TJ: We formed in UP Diliman. I think it was around 2012 or 2013 when we started. I’d just transferred from UPLB, and I met Adj who was, at that time, doing a musical project with Red. We figured out that we had similar tastes in music, so we started writing and arranging songs together. Then after two years maybe we met Owen and began collaborating with him. And then just very recently we added Jolo to our lineup. So that’s how we started.
Adj: A year after we started, TJ went to Japan as an exchange student, but we kept on doing gigs to keep the momentum. We added Owen first as a session keyboardist. Later on, when TJ came back from Japan we welcomed Owen as an offical member. Instead of having him play the keyboard we had him play the flute, which we thought would compliment our songs better. Then, we just continued doing gigs until last year we finally got to start recording the EP that we just launched last March.
2. How would you describe your musical style?
TJ: I guess it’s hard to put our sound in one category only, since we all have different influences. But maybe the easiest way to describe it is “indie folk.” We also sometimes call our music “makata pop,” but that one started out as a joke which eventually stuck. Because, you know, we like singing in “poetic tagalog,” for lack of a better term.
Adj: I think “makata pop” stuck because it somehow captured some aspects of our songwriting and musical arrangement. Our songs are quite simple, and we prefer to keep a raw feel to it. The melodies are not too hard to grasp, and the lyrics are basically poetry. Combine those elements and you have a song with a certain story to tell, which we hope relates to people and at the same time impacts them deeply.
3. What message do you want to send through your songs and image as an indie band?
TJ: Well, we like writing about our experiences. We’ve never really written about anything we haven’t gone through personally… and though we experience these things as individuals, we know for a fact that our experiences aren’t really that unique. As in, we aren’t the first ones to feel happy, or sad, or broken. So I guess with regards to message, we kind of want people to be comforted with the fact that they aren’t alone in facing whatever they’re facing.
Adj: That being said, we want to communicate the truth that hope is not invalidated by how honest we are with our thoughts and emotions. We want people to know that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging our pains and our weaknesses, and at the same time, we want them to see hope in the midst of all these.
4. What’s your creative process when you make music?
TJ: Usually one person will write a song, for example in Simula EP, majority of the music was written by Adj and I. But when we rehearse the songs together, everyone has the freedom to throw in ideas on how the song should be arranged. But of course the principal songwriter has the final say on how the song should be.
Adj: In arranging a song, the goal is to come up with parts that compliment and further the message of the lyrics. So when the song is taken in by a listener as a whole, the impact would be deep.
5. Who are your major musical influences? How do they influence you?
TJ: That’s a tough one. I’d say for me, The Strokes, Sigur Ros, and The Beatles. Those bands really influenced how I write my songs melody and lyrics-wise.
AJ: I’d say Local Natives, Dry the River, High Highs, and a lot more. Mostly indie-folk and post-rock.
6. What events inspired your songs, “Marilag”, “Sa’yo”, and “Sa Hindi Pag-alala”?
TJ: “Sa’yo” was written when I was 18. And for most 18 year olds, I think it was normal to be in love and to have highly romantic views bordering on the unrealistic. Hahaha. To be honest, I initially disliked that song and thought of putting it away, but then people told me they liked it, and the song kind of grew on me. “Sa Hindi Pag-alala” was written when I was in Japan for a student exchange program. I stayed there for a year, met a lot of people, and suffice it to say that lots of stuff happened during that time. Hahaha.
Adj: We always tell the story of “Marilag” because I guess it is still one of the most memorable songwriting experiences for me personally. I was with TJ and a bunch of friends after UP fair, and we decided to spend the night at TJ’s house. TJ and I couldn’t sleep so we decided to write a song. The first thing we noticed was that it was almost sunrise, so we decided to write about the sunrise. We were really just writing about what we see, like the colors of the sky and the street lamps on the street, but in the middle of writing we would find ourselves sort of transcending reality. Hahaha. We were in “the zone”, that particular place you go too when you lack sleep and your mind is at a different plane of consciousness. So we wrote that song in a span of 30 minutes, just as the sun was rising.
7. Among these songs, which one is your most favorite and why?
TJ: “Bukang-Liwayway”! It’s one of those songs that genuinely make me feel happy. Plus I love playing it live.
Adj: “Marilag” because it does not fail to give me hope whenever I sing it, or whenever I hear people being moved by it.
8. What do you want the audience to feel when you’re playing?
TJ: Personally, I’ve never really thought about this. But maybe we just want them to listen, even to understand. We want them to feel comfortable, maybe? Hopeful?
Adj: To feel completely human and hopeful at the same time.
9. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a band?
TJ: Being in a band with four other people, in itself, is a struggle. The fact that we don’t usually know where things will end up… and there are times when we can’t agree on something. It’s normal to feel tension… but at the end of the day we’re like brothers, and it’s cool.
Adj: For me, it really is about trying to make my schedule work out. You only have so much time (and energy) in a day. All of us have several other responsibilities like day jobs and studies. We don’t really ditch those and go full rockstar, so we do music together while being aware of these constraints.
10. Why did you choose Baguio as part of your Simula: EP Tour?
TJ: Because Baguio!
Adj: It was 2008 when I was last in Baguio, so I miss the place. But of course, who wouldn’t want to play a gig on high altitude!
11. What are your big plans for Munimuni?
TJ: Like I said, we don’t really know where things will end up, so we can’t say for sure. But for now, we have plans to write more music and release an album maybe. We don’t know when, but soon!