When you see artistas at a shoot, they’re normally surrounded by their pit crew — handlers, makeup artists, and personal assistants, all working at a frantic pace so that the stars can face the cameras, pack up, and move on to their next photoshoot, taping, or guesting. This glam team is the foundation of respectable industry of show business, but they do tend to put artistas on pedestals, intimidating us common folk by creating a physical barrier between us and them.
So you’d understand why it was surreal for this author to come to this particular Supreme shoot. It was early in the afternoon at a classic-looking yellow house in Quezon City, and James Reid came in, knocking nonchalantly on the front door. He had driven himself here in a dusty sedan, and he was accompanied only by his friends and collaborators, Paulo Tiongson (@poor.taste on Instagram), and international fashion editor Danyl Geneciran. That’s it — no glam squad, no team, no handlers. Zero frills, 100% chill.
James came to Supreme under a new kind of circumstance. He didn’t ask us to promote a new movie or teleserye. He and his friends came to discuss something that you wouldn’t expect from one of showbiz’ biggest stars: a rebranding. In the publishing industry, the word “rebranding” is an ominous thing (see: Poise magazine in 13 Going on 30). But given that James is currently at the top of his game and seemingly enjoying the benefits of his fame, our question was: Why?
The emancipation of james
James’ answer was Palm Dreams, a forthcoming self-produced album, in which James sings about getting away from it all. James wrore the lyrics for the songs and did the vocals. He and Paulo, a rapper and music producer, worked on the songs on an old beaten-up laptop, in their homes in Australia and the Philippines. Danyl, meanwhile, is an New York-based fashion editor who has worked with EXO’s Sehun, Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha, and more, and he’s came on board to help James build his image and style (hopefully, Danyl says, to the K-Pop star G-Dragon-like levels).
Hearing James and his collaborators talk about their new project is like a shot of adrenaline. They sound ambitious, yes, with big dreams of taking the local culture scene to the global stage. But then again, it’s James Reid we were talking about, and his massive following — combined with his talent — could actually make those dreams a reality. (We’ve heard the tracks, and they are legit.)
Here is our conversation with James, Paulo, and Danyl. We talk about their new work, their long journey towards starting a revolution in the local music industry, and the transformation of James Reid, Filipino heartthrob, into James Reid, global star.
On ‘palm dreams’
SUPREME: What are the songs generally about?
JAMES REID: I’ve decided to call [the album] Palm Dreams. It’s about really escaping the city life and getting away from problems, getting away from stress and just being my paradise. And also trying to get out of something that’s so controlled. Something that’s more liberating, I guess. And that’s the whole idea with the album. I wanted to make something that’s different from my last album. Something that Filipinos can be proud of. And I want to bring it to the international level—the sounds, the image, the style, and the fashion (everything I’m wearing). You know, bring it to the next level. Because people deserve it.
When did the idea to make the album come to you?
JAMES: It really just started when I met Paulo. I’ve always wanted to make music and I met Paulo in 2014 and I heard he makes music and I like to sing. I thought, let’s make an album together, and let’s make some music. I heard his sound, which is an R&B, hip-hop vibe. It’s the sound that I like. So it started a really long time ago, we made a couple of tracks that really were not to be released, they were really for fun. And I thought as I kept writing more songs, I thought, “it’s really possible.” Then we started on some tracks. Early this year, I got to record all of them.
What was the process of recording this album like?
James Reid and his friends, Paulo Tiongson and Danyl Geneciran came to discuss something you wouldn’t expect from one of showbiz’ biggest stars: a rebranding.
JAMES: It was funny. Paulo and I recorded on his computer. He has a really old interface because he’s not the richest guy. So we’re just in his apartment with a sock over the microphone so it wouldn’t pop and the software was really old so you’d have to drop it to stop the cracking noise.
PAULO: Funny thing about this project is that you’d think it was a really big budget, like an extravagant, crazy thing. But I think 80% of the project was just done by James and I shirtless with broken aircons in a one-bedroom apartment on a really dirty, broken laptop where the screen wasn’t even functioning. We’d have to plug the HDMI cable into the TV. I didn’t even have a mouse back then. You can have that type of ear and that type of sound, but if you’ve got the talent, you can make it happen.
Pretty much the whole album was made on really cheap Windows laptops with occasional guitar parts for me. And sometimes I’d take James’s voice and put it into programs so it would sound like instruments.
A lot of the electronic music scene is really DIY. There’s no big studios.
PAULO: There’s no division between us and them. We’re the same guys doing the same thing. And what James and I wanna do is build some bridges and create infrastructure for the indie scene to make it to the world market. Because James has the spotlight. He has the capacity to make everyone drink Milo everyday. Why not use that capacity to make the Philippines prosper artistically? I mean you got good hands, put music in good hands, and let that spread, mga bes.
Seeds Of Disruption
How did you approach your label [Viva] with the idea?
JAMES: I just talked to boss Vic [del Rosario, Jr.] and said I wanted to make my own album with my own producer, and he said go for it. He was completely okay with it. He let me do my own thing with this album. He just has a lot of faith in me.
Did anything trigger your decision to do something different?
JAMES: Everyone feels the same. They feel like it’s so hard for someone to make it big in the music scene and release music that’s artistic, that’s real, that’s not “manufactured” for the masa. I wanted this [album] to be something that people could relate to because it’s cool. Ever since I started making music, it’s a known fact by everyone that the industry constantly needs change.
PAULO: We’re not even just trying to educate the Filipino masa. We’re trying to let them have what they want.
JAMES: What they deserve.
PAULO: Because when you sit down in a jeepney or something, they’re playing really nice English-speaking pop music. They’re listening to Drake, they’re listening to The Weeknd—all the stuff that apparently the market’s not ready for. But they’re absorbing it. So why not let a Filipino face carry that flag and just go, I can do what they’re doing and make it just as good, if not better and say I’m still a Filipino, I belong to you guys. So we’re just letting them have what they always needed.
Danyl, what’s this we hear about a new image for James?
DANYL GENECIRAN: I think 2017 is the year for change. James has a really good image and branding right now, and he has a loyal following. So, in terms of the branding and the styling, I think the way I would style him would be dressing with creativity and freedom with a hint of adventure. Dressing with individuality. He’s doing really good music right now, and I wanna help him go beyond that. My plan is to bring this guy to Europe, to fashion week, give him a character in the fashion scene.
Like a K-Pop star. Like G-Dragon.
DANYL: G-Dragon is a good reference. Like A$AP Rocky, Pharell Williams.
James Reid: There’s been several times where, especially for magazine shoots where my styling has been very adventurous, like the last shoot I did with BJ [Pascual]. It was quite androgynous. I think I pulled it off. It grabbed peoples’ attention, it hasn’t been done yet in the Philippines where they have an artist with my kind of following be that adventurous, but I like the idea of going beyond walls. Danyl wants to bring me on an international level. Like designer brands, high fashion, but also street.
What will the fans think?
How do you think the JaDine fans will react to it?
JAMES: I like acting, I do. A lot of it I do for the Jadine fans because they’ve done so much for me. Everything that I do is all for them. Even this music. I know they’re gonna love the music as well. I want to be true to my self. Especially with the songs and the music videos, it’s my story. With the videos, I expect people to have positive and negative feedback. But I’m really telling the story of my life that happened in the last two, three years. The start of my year, to when I got in the love team, to when me and Nadine got together.
How did Nadine react to the album?
JAMES: She loves it. It’s called I Love to Love You. A lot of the songs are actually directed at Nadine, but a lot of them were also written before then.