Pupil: Always willing to start from scratch
Singer and guitarist Ely Buendia has had his big moments in the limelight, first with the Eraserheads and then with the short-lived Mongols, but he's never been afraid to start from scratch, even if it's for the third time.
That's exactly what he's doing with third band Pupil, where he teams up with bassist Dok Sergio (formerly of Teeth), guitarist Yan Yuzon, and drummer Bogs Jugo.
“I’d rather lose all things and start all over again," Ely said in an interview conducted by GMANews.TV before and after a guest performance by Pupil in GMA's SOP. “Yung pinakamasayang part talaga ng pagbabanda, ‘yung wala pa kayong masyadong alam, ‘yung wala pa kayong success. Yung talagang the hungry years, ’yun ‘yung glory years."
For Ely, it's not being there but getting there that's exciting, no matter how many times he tries to get there.
“Pangatlong start from scratch ko na ito," he says. "Kumbaga pag nakuha mo na kasi yung success kasi parang what’s left, di ba?" he said.
After all, both The Eraserheads and The Mongols, Buendia said, started from scratch. The short-lived Mongols had to disband — and reincarnate as Pupil — because guitarist Jerome Velasco decided to pursue another career. But Ely feels lucky now to have found new bandmates.
“Sobrang swerte ko talaga at this age and stage in my career nakahanap pa ako ng mga tao na makaka-jam ko," he said. “Mahirap maghanap ng musikerong magaling. Lalo namang mahirap maghanap ng ka-level mo, ka-frequency mo in terms of music."
Discarding old labels
Ely's bandmates share his matter-of-course attitude to starting over again. In fact, they're trying to shake off past impressions some fans have formed of them, particularly Ely Buendia.
“May mga tao na pag nakita nila si Ely may bias na sila," guitarist Yan Yuzon explained. "Pero meron ding mga tao na talagang parang ‘bagong banda ito — bagong mga kanta, pakinggan natin, and then we’ll see’. We’re really thankful for that. It’s great to start from scratch. And it’s great when people give you a chance to start from scratch."
“We’re a new band," Yan added. "We’re a new name, and if people ask me where I play, sinasabi ko: ‘I play with Pupil.’ And they're like: ‘What’s that?’ I tell them: ‘It’s a band.’ They will ask: ‘How come I don’t know about it?’ I tell them: ‘Well, you’ll know about it soon’."
Yan would rather put it that way than resort to namedropping: “Ayokong sabihin na Pupil — alam mo ‘yon? Yung singer naming si Ely dating E-heads, yung bassist namin si Dok dating Teeth. Ayoko nang ganun."
Forging a fresh sound
To get away from old labels, the band therefore has to try hard to achieve their own distinct sound. And without former guitarist Jerome Velasco, they do have a different sound.
“Kasi si Jerome yung gitarista ng Mongols. Talagang may distinctive style siya," Ely explained.
Another big difference is the subject matter of their songs: Pupil songs are lighter than those of The Mongols.
“Mas madaling sakyan ang mga pinag-uusapan dito — like relationships," Ely said.
The band members have also taken advantage of their differences in musical exposure.
“Mas nakatutulong pa nga iyon kasi exposed ka sa ibang sounds, like sila — electronica nadadala nila sa Pupil, naa-apply nila. So all in all advantageous talaga," he said.
Drummer Bogs Jugo agreed: “Coming from a different band you have a fresh look at music. Di ba kasi hindi ka all-out rock. Kasi it’s so typical for rockers to do this, to do that. Pero if you came from a show band, or if you came from ibang klaseng alternative band, talagang fresh na fresh yung outlook mo."
Learning to be a team
Yan, who happens to be a theater actor and Ateneo professor, considers being with Pupil an exciting learning experience.
"Sa tingin ko mas importante yun eh, kesa sa ano pang award, kasi kung wala ka nang matututunan parang ginagawa mo na lang yung alam mo," Yan said. "Hindi ka na nage-expand as a person. I’m not just talking about yung pagsusulat ng music o pagtugtog ng music, dahil ang pagiging musician pagiging part din ng isang team. Isang banda kami."
Yan admitted he committed mistakes in the past, and like his bandmates, he was glad to have learned from all of it. And that, he said, is the reason Pupil is so "dynamic."
“It’s a continuous learning process, so I’m glad for everything I’ve experienced as a musician. Nakatulong siya, not just with the musicianship, not just with the songwriting, arrangement, but also with the whole idea of existing within a band," he said.
Ely admitted that his former Eraserheads bandmates were a bit egoistic: “Medyo talagang may pagka-egotistic yung mga members. Gusto namin noon parang: 'Eto style ko 'to."
Pupil, he said, is stronger because the music they create is more important than the individual parts they play. That makes for better collaboration and exploration.
“Mas open kami sa isa’t isa — mas open sa suggestions, mas iniisip yung kabuuan instead of the parts. Parang mas collaborative talaga. I mean, medyo cliché, pero ganun talaga ang difference niya (with my former band)," Ely said.
Younger, unbiased fans
Barely a year since the release of their debut CD, Beautiful Machines, Pupil has steadily gained popularity — from teenagers, surprising in that its members, for this youth-oriented industry, can already be considered veterans.
A check on the band's Internet mailing list, email@example.com, showed that many of its members were aged 10 to 15. Those 16 and up were already considered as the older sisters and brothers. In fact, the kids outnumbered those aged 20 to 30, people who grew up listening to the E-heads and Teeth.
Ely, though, would like to believe that these kids really grew up listening mostly to the music of Pupil, without being much aware of two older bands.
“May mga taong magugustuhan yung sounds mo kasi parang pareho kayo," Ely said. "May nakikita sila sa inyo o sa sounds n’yo. Mas open lang siguro yung mga bata, at syempre yung mga parents."
And Yan is glad that the younger fans don't need to compare Pupil to the E-heads and Teeth, unlike the older fans: “Etong mga taong ito (who compare Pupil with Ely’s and Dok’s former bands) missed out on the whole thing. Nakakatuwang isipin na on its own our music is fulfilling for younger listeners who are free of any sorts of preconceived notions of who we are and what we are."
Dok and Bogs agree, pointing out that the younger fans still have time for music.
“At least yung mga batang yun magiging fans namin for at least five more years, which is good for us. Eh kung medyo college na yan, after ng college iba na ang iniisip niyan — trabaho na," Dok said.
This former Teeth bassist still hopes, though, that Pupil will also be able to capture the older rocker audience: “Nasanay kasi ko dati sa Teeth na kapag tumutugtog kami nag-iislaman sila. High energy dati. Yun ‘yung hinahanap ko na sana one day mangyari yun: Nag-slam sila — lakas talaga, pero walang suntukan."
Aware of how young their fans are, Dok said he is careful with what he writes in the mailing list: “Sa mailing list hindi ko alam kung gaano kabata yung nakaka-chat ko, pero I guess mas maingat na ako. Eksakto lang yung sinasabi ko sa kanila — mga safe lang."
Also surprising is that Pupil has also managed to get the attention of the younger fans' parents. During Pupil gigs at music clubs, you can't help but notice that many tables are occupied by teenagers and their parents, and even their uncles and aunts.
“I think it’s great, kasi usually yung music gusto lang ng magulang o gusto lang ng bata," Yan said. "Pero kung gusto siya ng pareho, maganda yung sinasabi tungkol sa music na tinutugtog."
Ely is also grateful for the older attention: “Pati yung parents na-appreciate nila yung music na naa-appreciate ng anak nila. Parang wala silang biases about rock music o anuman. They are totally open-minded. Talagang ini-enjoy lang nila yung music."
To show their appreciation, the band members talk with the fans who go to their gigs, pose with them for pictures, and sign autographs. All a fan has to do is to approach them. The band members also greet the members of the mailing list (as of this writing, numbering 2,434), during their gigs.
Despite their very busy schedule, three of the four Pupil members manage to answer e-mails, no matter how trivial the subject is, and read every post in the mailing list. They also find time to post and update their fans of their gigs and other schedules.
Aside from their official mailing list, Ely, Yan, Dok, and Bogs also have their individual mailing lists. Fans can also visit their website www.pupilopolis.com.
Yan said he cannot understand the reason other bands refuse to answer fan mail: “People are trying to reach out to you. I don’t see what makes you so special so as not to reach out to them. They’re people just like you, just like everyone else. I always believed that the people are the most important thing. Real persons."
Not surprisingly, Yan added does not consider CD sales a mark of popularity: “Naniniwala ko sa me lalapit sa ‘yo tapos kukuwentuhan ka niya kung ano yung nangyari sa buhay niya at kung paano naging bahagi ng pangyayari na yun yung music mo. And that’s like a kind of connection na hindi mo in-imagine nung sinulat mo yung kanta. Na-appreciate ko yun ng buong-buo."
Achieving “glory" for Pupil, Ely said, is not a primary goal. But he certainly wouldn't take it for granted when they do finally get it. After all, he did enjoy the glory years of the E-heads.
“I certainly did not take it for granted, pero nagkataon na hindi na talaga siya maganda, so eto na yun," he said.
[Photos by MITCH MAURICIO, iGMA.TV]