No push-over why singer-actor Markki Stroem would rather do it his way
Vanessa Balbuena, Rocky Roska (The Freeman) - March 3, 2013 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - He spent the recent Valentine’s Day working instead of enjoying a romantic date like many of his peers were up to. But Markki Stroem didn’t mind one bit.

“It’s so much fun because I get to do what I love to do. I think that outweighs the benefits of having your so-called free time, since as a musician, I love performing in front of other people, making them happy and creating songs that tell stories,” said the singer-actor, who headlined a Feb. 14 mall gig at the Ayala Activity Centre.

Yet even if he was not booked for Valentine month shows and had the luxury of time, Markki would still probably not be found seriously sweeping a girl off her feet. Thing is, he has not been in an amorous mood since a string of failed relationships.

“I’m not saying I don’t go out on dates. I do. But I don’t do the whole relationship thing,” began his explanation. “I was in a relationship with a girl for three years during college. She’s Italian-Swedish, and she’s not in the Philippines anymore. She cheated on me. I found out so it kind of hurt. I found someone else but it didn’t last either. And then the first one wanted to come back to me so I was confused. I don’t know if you can call it jaded, but since then, I kind of built a wall, like an iron curtain around myself. I know it’s a very showbiz answer, but now I’m just really focusing on my music and my acting.”

That experience became the inspiration behind Kung Pwede Lang Ibalik, one of the 10 songs in his first album “Thousands of Pieces.” A line in the self-penned song says ‘Hindi ko siya maiiwan, pero ikaw ang gusto ko,’ which Markki shared pretty much sums up what he was going through that time. A description of the present state of his passive heart also spawned the composition Iron Curtain.

Asked what he can impart to those going through the same scenario, the 25-year-old crooner said, “Have your own life. Love yourself in a sense that you don’t compromise the person you are for the one you love because if you do that, chances are you lose self-respect.”

Going indie

Love woes notwithstanding, Markki has much reason to feel giddy. His debut effort, released two months ago and produced by Cornerstone Music, is nearing gold status. He is particularly proud of this, because the album is not under a mainstream record label capable of mounting an expensive marketing campaign. “I think the key is, if you love what you’re doing, you can find a way even online to promote your songs and it will eventually sell enough.”

Markki wrote and arranged these six other jazzy tracks in his album: Exchanging Glances, Steal Your Soul featuring a duet with Zia Quizon, Thousands of Pieces, Illicit Activities, Fall From Grace and Cradle. Two tracks are jazzed-up covers of Carley Rae Jepsen’s campy Call Me Maybe and Britney Spear’s Toxic.

“It was released back in December but I wasn’t able to promote it because I was busy with a play and an indie film. So now I’m working on promoting it before I start shooting for another movie,” Markki said. “The album is different because it talks about some controversial topics. There’s one about a stalker called ‘Steal Your Soul,’ there’s also a song about politics in show business called ‘Illicit Activities.’ The songs aren’t only about me, but about people I’ve met and had conversations with who’ve inspired me.”

The Fil-Norwegian, with his dashing looks and height, naturally received many offers from major labels to be the next pop sensation. While that promised a quicker road to fame, it did not jive with the musical path he wished to pursue.

“I’ve loved singing since I was a child, so I know exactly what musical direction I want to take. The mainstream labels were pulling me towards the pop genre, which I have nothing against because I also listen to a lot of pop, but it’s just not me. I don’t like singing covers. Or if I had to do a cover, I like to recreate them my way. I don’t want to sing them the same way. You need to find that balance between what is sellable and what is your passion. It’s hard, but I’m glad that I’ve been doing musical theater and indie films because in that way, I am exposed to both the mainstream and unconventional market.”

Markki was under a mainstream label before but said they “didn’t really appreciate the songs, so I left.” Told by the company that his songs were for a higher-end market, he was advised to try to come up with songs that had mass appeal if he wanted to break into the Philippine music industry.

“The reason people go to labels is for the marketing. But we now have the Internet. It’s also to get better acquainted with the showbiz industry, which I think I got a little bit of from ‘Pilipinas Got Talent.’ For the arrangement, I can do that myself. So for as long as I get to control my music, I’d rather go independent.”

Aside from songwriting and arranging, Markki flexes his creative muscles through a production company he is part of called Generation M. Here, they create music videos, not only for himself, but also for other artists, “so we can showcase a different perspective,” he said. Some of the singers they’ve crafted videos for are Christian Bautista, Noel Cabangon and Rachelle Ann Go.

Globe-trotter

Markki grew up in the Philippines, but had the privilege of living in other countries because of his father’s career as a banker. His global forays made him multi-lingual, as he speaks German, French, Spanish, English, Norwegian and Filipino.

He was first exposed to theater at 8 years old, acting in such plays as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “Babes in Toyland.” He was part of every choir group there was, and his inclination to soul and jazz manifested when he started his own jazz choir in high school.

For college, Markki moved to Switzerland to get a degree in Hospitality and Marketing Management at the Glion Institute of Higher Education, said to be one of the top three hospitality management schools in the world. Proof that he’s not just another pretty face, Markki graduated with honors and received job offers from renowned hotels in London and Moscow.

Markki knew a career as a hotelier would always be there to fall back on, but he only had one shot to fulfill his dreams as a musician. He returned to the Philippines then and joined the first season of ABS-CBN’s “Pilipinas Got Talent.” While Jovit Baldivino emerged the grand champion, Markki’s performances on the show made a mark among viewers.

Unconventional

He later on bagged the lead roles in Atlantis Productions' version of the acclaimed Broadway musical “Next to Normal” and Repertory Philippines’ “Camp Rock: The Musical.” Late last year, he was seen in his first film via the Cinema One Originals Film Festival entry “Slumber Party” where Markki played a gay pageant enthusiast.

Like his music, unconventional is what Markki goes for in his acting roles. So while he’s not closing doors for the cookie-cutter matinee idol offers, Markki doesn’t think he’ll be good at it, because he prefers dark themes.

“I like, not necessarily the dark side of life, but the unconventional. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, after all.”

He is in fact, working on another indie movie of the dark inclination for this year’s Cinemalaya Directors Showcase, titled “Amor Y Muerte” and directed by Ces Evangelista. In this 16th century Spanish period film starring Althea Vega, Markki plays an abusive Spanish conquistador.

He reveals, “It’s the story of a Tagalog lady who doesn’t know if she wants to stay a Christian or if she wants to go back to her roots as a babaylan. It is a daring film in a sense that the female lead character is a nymphomaniac. I would say it’s a very well-written piece. It’s a challenge for me because not only is the Tagalog and Spanish 16th century, the dialogue needs to be verbatim. Usually, with other movies you can come up with different lines or adlibs.”

Such is the extent of Markki’s dedication to nail his role, that he went all the way to Bulacan just to find a capable 16th century Spanish language coach.

He also has a supporting role in Viva Films’ upcoming “Raketero” starring Ogie Alcasid and Herbert Bautista. “It’s a ‘Hangover’ kind of film, but toned-down of course,” Markki described. To top off what looks to be a productive year for him, he is likewise doing another play, this time a horror-musical based on Stephen King’s “Carrie.”

All these Markki does while working part-time for the marketing department of a chemical laboratory. He’s just a hunk of surprises, isn’t he?

ALTHEA VEGA AMOR Y MUERTE ATLANTIS PRODUCTIONS AYALA ACTIVITY CENTRE ILLICIT ACTIVITIES MARKKI ONE PILIPINAS GOT TALENT STEAL YOUR SOUL THOUSANDS OF PIECES
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