The pandemic has not stopped the Itchyworms from making music
From left: Jazz Nicolas, Kelvin Yu, Jugs Jugueta and Chino Singson of OPM hit-making Itchyworms release a quarantine album titled Waiting For The End To Start under Sony Music Philippines

The pandemic has not stopped the Itchyworms from making music

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2020 - 12:00am

In this time of pandemic, the music scene may be down but not out. It appears that the coronavirus quarantine has even driven our artists to get more creative just to keep on playing. The show must go on, bumps and all, and the country’s top acts like the Itchyworms are no exception.

The band wants fans to know that “we’re here and not going away”, even releasing their fifth full-length album titled Waiting For The End To Start, written and recorded entirely during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Before dropping the nine-track album in digital platforms last Tuesday, The STAR had a Zoom chat with the members of the four-piece band — Jazz Nicolas, Jugs Jugueta, Kelvin Yu and Chino Singson — where they bared how they managed to pull off the making of the pandemic album.

With recording studios shuttered, movements restricted and the beauty and energy of jamming together not plausible, they were left to their own devices to make things work. Then, there was the reality of COVID-19 to deal with.

Jugs shared, “There are good days, there are bad days, there are frustrating days, just like everyone else,” adding that he once experienced a panic attack weeks into the quarantine. “Nung umpisa ng ECQ sabi nila, siguro hanggang May lang ito, OA na siguro kapag hanggang June or July. But one day, I read this article that said it’s possible this will last until 2021. Biglang nag-panic ako, nag-text ako sa kanila, ‘Paano to?’ Paano yung life natin, livelihood natin? Paano yung crew namin, family namin, alam mo yun?

“The shit hit the fan right? But after that, we realized that somehow, kahit papaano, may (mga) mas matindi pang pinagdadaanan kaysa amin so we should count our blessings as well.”

Jazz agreed, “We’re trying to count our blessings because of the many bad things happening and if you dwell on those things, baka masiraan ka ng ulo.”

Indeed, for the group, keeping the music juices flowing helped them cope with the situation. Jazz said, “It was also a way to keep busy, to keep sane. We’re creative people so whether you like it or not, whether kumita or not, we will create, that’s how (our brains) are wired. Even before, di kami kumikita, nagsusulat pa rin kami ng songs, so why not now?”

Initially, the plan was to release a single or two just like what they’ve been doing in recent years. Their fourth and last album was done back in 2014. Prior to the lockdown, they were always on the road for gigs and never really had the time to sit down and write.

Jugs recalled: “When the ECQ started... at first, we enjoyed the ‘vacation’. Sabi namin, o basa tayo ng libro, maglinis tayo sa bahay, and then after a while, we realized tatagal to, so sabi namin, kailangan nating gumawa ng something, ng mga kanta. Originally, one, two or three songs only, then siguro dahil marami kaming time madami kaming nasulat.”

Before they knew it, they were able to come up with a total of eight songs. They included a track that they made back in 2005 but was bumped off from the second album.

The band members thanked their recording label Sony Music Philippines for throwing its full support behind Waiting For The End To Start as they decided to do an all-English album and record it in their respective homes. Despite the limitations, they figured out how to make music with what’s available to them.

Chino said, “Yung pinaka compromise dun is we had to use the things that are available at home. So if headset mic lang ang meron kami, yun ang gagamitin namin. As to the quality, hanggang dun lang yun. Kumbaga we’re used to the controlled, studio environment. Ngayon na nawala yun, gagamitin namin ang tools na meron kami, like practice app ko, headset mic ni Jugs and Jazz.

“With Jazz, yung pinaka limitation niya, wala siyang totoong drum kit sa bahay, ang ginagamit niya sequencer sampler para maglagay ng drums. But I think magaling pa rin nagawa nila Jazz despite the limitations kasi tunog studio quality pa rin yung sound as much as we can make because we’re pro that way (laughs).”

There are other “trade secrets” Itchyworms revealed in making an at-home recording work, but what we can only say here is that there’s wisdom in the old saying, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

Jazz summed up the experience: “Challenging and kakaibang style than what we’re used to, but doable with a little ingenuity.”

Meanwhile, the band was asked about the stories behind the first two singles off the album — Armageddon Blues and Silence.

They mused that the former is their “Nostradamus-ish” song, some doomsday thoughts articulated, would you believe, 15 years ago. It never made it into their album at that time because it ultimately didn’t fit in terms of concept. Apparently, now is the time for it to be released.

Jazz said, “When the quarantine started, yung feeling namin parang mag-e-end of the world. Ito na ba yun, pupula na ba ang langit (laughs)? At first, parang joke lang. Tapos biglang parang totoo na to ha — parang may limang tornado na sa Laguna de Bay, nagra-riot na kung saan saan, parang di ba sign of the end of the days? Iniisip ko nga baka rapture ‘tong COVID, di naman natin alam kung anong form mangyayari yun, so ayun.

“Pero yung mga ganyang thoughts hindi naman namin ngayon lang naisip yan. We even wrote it back in 2005. Ganyan talaga kami mag-isip (laughs). Matindi lang kami mag-imagine. Actually, we already forgot about the demo. Then Jugs remembered it, di ba may song tayo na Armageddon Blues, parang swak ngayon ah. It was an old demo na kailangan lang tapusin, so tinapos lang namin.”

In retrospect, they couldn’t recall an incident that directly inspired the song but clarified that this is just how their thoughts flow on a lot of things, from the existential to the seemingly mundane, so please indulge them, they said.

Silence, on the other hand, was brought about by pandemic as lives and jobs were put on hold by the lockdown. “We were all caught by surprise by the ECQ. From a  very, very busy life for everyone, especially for us, it was a very loud life, and especially for me, sa Showtime maingay, sa banda maingay, lahat maingay, di ba nag-ko-complain tayo sa traffic, nag-ko-complain tayo sa mahal ng gas, and in one instant, the world stopped and we had to stay at home. Walang mga kotse sa kalye, wala kang marinig na tricyle. Actually, nakaka-praning…,” Jugs shared.

“My point is — from a life of loudness, we had to adjust abruptly to a life of silence, and I guess that’s what the song is all about. We had to adjust to the silence and the silence is very deafening,” he added.

Asked about the choice of album title, they admitted it could be interpreted in different ways. Are you a pessimist or an optimist, are you seeing things half-full or half-empty? They asked and they’re leaving it up to their listeners to decode for themselves its meaning.

One thing is for sure, Waiting For The End To Start is a “good documentation of their work” and a proud addition to their music catalogue after years of just releasing singles, stressed Kelvin.

And of course, it’s a “collection of thoughts, not just worries, during this time,” Jazz noted.

“I think, it’s a picture of what happened or what’s happening in this time of pandemic. A snapshot. I think maganda siyang project,” Jugs also said. “Hindi kami anthemic magsulat. We can be inspirational but we’re not We Are the World or Magkaisa. But our experiences are real and I think, people will be able to relate to those experiences.”

(Itchyworms’ latest record is now available on all digital platforms worldwide.)

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