band life

[Rambles] Routes Less Traveled, or, Five Things I Learned On My First Friday Out

Tonight is a kind of highschool throwback.

At midnight the fact that you’re playing THE Route 196…is still pretty darn awesome. Except for some glaring truths:

1. You know no one. Your bandmates do. They bum cigs and bump fists and work the room like old hands. You stand up against the wall, like a girl who hasn’t been picked to dance.

2. When you do manage the whole “Congratulate the band!” strat that your functional frontman taught you to master as the actual frontwoman, it’s obvious you’re doing this from memory, rather than muscle. Your smile is a matinee bit player’s, bright and gleaming and devoid of the swagger that makes these seemingly mere mortals indie rock gods. You look like a creeper, a stalker, an innocent in a place where innocence should have been lost long ago. You want desperately to make a connection, and it shows.

3. It always shows. That you’re excited, that you’re young and green. That you’re saying words that sound like you don’t mean them because you desperately want to get to the real thing: “Tell me the songs that follow you like old ghosts. Tell me the lines you wish you’d written down when you lay awake at night. Tell me about life on the road, the hope and the insecurity.” You’d listen but everyone and no one is talking, and you lack the easy grace to ease your way into conversation.

4. Totally sober, banned from caffeine, you are the sleepy, high-strung queen of wanting more than you can handle. You want these people to smile at you with recognition, a sign that you belong to this community. A sign that this is destiny and not some fool’s errand you’ll one day surrender in favor of the more adult demands of decks due and campaigns launched. You want to tell these people they are wonderful and have them believe you. You want to tell these people that when you grow up you hope you’d be as brave as they are being. No irony. No subtext. No malice.

5. In theater, you were taught to be family. The boys you’re with have zipped up your dresses, held you when you cried, been subject to angry phone calls and bitter arguments. You come home some nights smelling of one’s aftershave and another one’s cigarettes. And so maybe that means you’re family, or at least, something like it. So you wait. You sit down on the couch. You stare at the faces swimming through this series of packed rooms. And you wait for them to come to you.

In the end, at least, they always do.


We Are Like Young Volcanoes, or, Fall Out Boy Saved My Rock and Roll

Over a year ago, I published “Patrick Stump Knows What Songs I Sing In The Dark,” a blog openly admitting the absolute terror I felt while “living the dream” that is Stories Told, set to the soundtrack of Fall Out Boy‘s “comeback” album, Save Rock and Roll.  That year, FOB was on my Spotify “Year In Music, and I looped Young Volcanoes endlessly, clinging to the desperate, hard-won optimism in Stump’s voice like a life-raft in a sea I hadn’t yet learned to navigate.

A lot’s happened since then.  For one thing–and ST‘s none to shy about admitting this to international press–the band nearly broke up. We hit a rough patch near the one year mark of the band, a point when I think all of us weren’t satisfied with the sound we had–“prog-rock fusion” we called it, but honestly it was sort of that cliché loud guitar-driven madness you hear everywhere–but were sort of stubborn and trying to stick with it while not being honest about what we really enjoyed (especially me, as I was reluctant to make waves and risk losing my dream).  By that point, I’d sunk into a deep depression, with Stories Told feeling more like a job than a genuine expression of myself artistically.  I started dabbling in side projects, frantically trying to build for myself the same network ST had so I could work up the courage to cut myself loose from the band and go off on my own.

As fate would have it, none of those efforts panned out, and Jian preempted my “resignation speech” by admitting what I’d felt all along–the band had lost its center, and needed to regroup.  So we did. We made the executive decision to ditch nearly all the songs we’d written that year–except for Surprise Me–then took a break over the holidays, intending to start fresh in 2015.  In January, we took on two new members–alternate bassist Yogi, and rhythm guitarist Aned–managed to crack the code of Surprise Me, and resumed operations with a bang by taking on the battle of the bands circuit.  Somewhere in between, we’d managed to find our sound: a mix of mine and Aned’s shared emocore/pop-punk roots with my Broadway/Bareilles vocals (and confessional poetry), wrapped in Jian and Jedd’s slick decade-spanning pop-rock influence.  It’s not a stretch to say we emerged a completely different band from where we started, and while it wasn’t the band any of us had said we wanted, it was the sort of compromise that left everyone feeling extremely excited instead of upset.

Fast forward to now.  We’ve signed with Amplify, released two singles, shot a music video, and have an EP launch scheduled for January 2016.  The trajectory at which we’d managed to go from struggling posers to something resembling an actual band has surprised us all, and no one more than me.

Back then, as the face of a band whose genre I did not even listen to outside of band rehearsals, I was constantly afraid of being unmasked as a farce–a singer for hire made to play the part of frontwoman. I went through the motions, aping the bravado–sometimes outright arrogance–that Jian, Jedd, and Dan seemed to exude as they chugged away at their instruments, but deep inside I felt compelled to hide behind the mic instead of own it. It all felt wrong, and I knew it felt wrong precisely because of Fall Out Boy.


To help me with my stage fright, Jian had given me the “assignment” of watching other frontmen take the stage, so I could learn by example.  After running through his list of suggestions, I’d landed on Live in London video of Patrick joyfully sing-howling the opening to “Young Volcanoes,” and stayed there, “like a moth getting trapped in the light by fixation.”

(Sorry, the opportunity was Irresistible.)

(Okay, okay, I’ll stop.)

I couldn’t help it. As I said in my blog last year, they looked so happy.

As I looped the video over and over and over had only one thought: this is exactly how being in the band should feel like.  I wanted to crawl into the screen and jump and and stomp and clap and spin and shout along with the sweaty masses in front of the stage, as Patrick and Pete and Andy and Joe led us through that reckless, beautiful cry of  “We are wild!  We are like young volcanoes!” It didn’t look like a performance–it looked like a party, like a present, like a bunch of people swept up together in a wave of relief and euphoria and joy that “We’ve already won.”

All of that was a far cry from what performances looked looked and felt for me–nervous posturing around a mic stand that always seemed to be in some form of disrepair, microphone cord wound too tightly around a microphone that always felt awkward and heavy in my hand.  What Live in London looked like was a bunch of guys who no longer cared if they looked “right” or “cool”–all that mattered was that they were in this adventure together, a single unit revelling in the experience, the joy of declaring “In poisoned places, we’re antivenom!

Try as I might, though, I could not bring myself to stop caring.  Not then, at least.  But the seed was planted. Every time I doubted myself I turned to it to remind me of what right would feel like: raw giving, without self-consciousness.  We are stupid and young and taking a trust fall into the music.

It took more gigs singing songs I probably had no business doing (and, honestly, should have admitted instead of powering through, too proud and too scared to be honest about my limitations), tons of passive-aggressive SMS/FB message battles, and one dramatic band confrontation that turned out to be our best decision ever before I could take that trust fall, but in the end, we made it out alive.  And part of the reason is because of that song, that feeling that remains burned into my brain as THE GOAL.  I won’t pretend I’m there yet–my band’s pretty close, but I’ve always been a little ways behind them–but together we’re closer.  When I’m standing on that stage I don’t feel like an antelope facing a pride of lions–I know, can physically feel, that I’m part of a unit and we’re in this together.  And that makes me less afraid, more willing to play.  I dance onstage when I want to.  I run around Aned to try to force a reaction out of him.  One time, during a battle of the bands, my wireless mic cut out (which is probably why Jian still favors wired ones), and I didn’t feel panic.  Instead, backed by nods from my bandmates, I marched into the crowd (it was a small venue) and sang at the top of my lungs–recalling every single choir director who’d screamed at me to “PROJECT!”–until someone finally handed me a working microphone.

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I’ve also learned how to bury bodies. The boys don’t exactly know how to feel about that.  (Photo (c) Jemimah Hope)

These were things I would never have managed to do before, if not for the lessons I picked up from that one live recording, a year and eternity ago:  You don’t need to care if they liked you better fat or thin.  You don’t need to worry if you’re cool or not.  Give what you’ve come to give, then let yourself go.  The music, if you’ve learned to trust it, will catch you.  And never forget that you’re in this together.


Last night, our office had our annual Christmas party.  The theme this year was AMAs, so obviously we were all asked to dress up as musicians and perform.  After looping Carly Rae Jepsen‘s E•MO•TION (a vastly underrated pop album, IMHO) four or five thousand times, I’d resolved to go as the Run Away With Me singer.  But, at the last minute, I changed my mind.  Instead, I nipped out, bought a fedora and some light-brown hairspray-paint, threw on some hipster glasses and a leather jacket, and with my very best chest voice belted out the official national anthem of every millennial raised on the very best pop-punk/emocore: Sugar We’re Going Down.  I hit about a gazillion wrong notes–headbanging while trying to keep all your hair stuffed into your hat on can do that–and possibly looked like I was having an epileptic episode, but I didn’t care. I closed my eyes, pretend it was ST behind me, and let go.  And, for a few glorious minutes, it felt like I was living that Live In London video.

I went to bed thinking of one thing: I can’t wait until the EP launch gig.


I Will Never Be a Model (or, why there is no “Friday Currently” this week).

Band life: ten percent gigging, forty percent studio, and fifty percent not knowing what to do in photoshoots.

– Jian Manjares

Today was Stories Told‘s first ever full-production photoshoot, in light of the single release and other things that I’m not completely comfortable discussing yet (until things have crystallized, anyway).  Having experienced “photoshoots” as part of my life as an MScM student (usually in conjunction with Marketing pitches), I thought it was going to be a ton of fun.  And it was.

But nothing prepared me for how exhausting it would be.


My expression, 75% of the shoot.

We started shooting at 9:30am, because Jian had to pick up Dan beforehand, and ended up wrapping past-3pm.  With two locations, three costume changes, the erratic weather, and a dizzying amount of poses (I’ve never been good at posing, TBH–my face is too unpredictable.), that meant six hours of madness.  I can only imagine how tired our (amazing!) photographer, Jemimah Hope, was by the end of it.


BTS collage (c) Jemimah Hope and Judith Manjares.  Note my really strange expression in the middle photo (NOT MY INTENTION!)–I’ve never been good at holding a smile. Yes, that is a shovel in one of the shots.  And yes, I climb onto Aned’s back a lot.


Me with my “closet.”  Shirt by Elysian Manila.


Aned and Jedd having a “therapy session.”  Location: Ateneo High School


Jian does not know how to pose.  Location: Casa Manjares


Jedd plays dead while repping UA&P Merch Comm swag.

Even though I got home with sore legs (like I’d run a marathon), messy hair, and a suitcase full of sweaty clothes, being able to shoot with the band was more fun than I’d expected.  There was less pressure to be “attractive” (thank you, Photoshop!) and more opportunity to just act like the crazy people we are.  So while I don’t think I’ll be pursuing a career in modelling any time soon (like I’d pass, really–at 5’3.5” I’m a little too…little.), six hours with the band on a Saturday…wasn’t so bad.

…And now for the sneak peeks!  All photos (c) Jemimah Hope.  You can check out her work (Book her! She’s amazing!) here.


This pose was entirely Jedd’s idea and I was terrified the whole time.

The highschool band that went the distance” shooting in a highschool that technically doesn’t accept girls yet.


I have no idea what is going on here, but it looks funny.

Stay tuned for “leaks” of the official photos (probably coming from me, because I’m vain like that and I really really really like my solo shots), as well as the official release on the Stories Told Facebook page!  Also, you can check out our single on Spotify: just hit the web-player in my blog sidebar.

That’s all for now!  I’ll see you when my body stops aching.  #SoOutOfShape