Rappler Live Jam diaries: The unbearable lightness of Ben&Ben
On Live Jam diaries, we give you a glimpse into the fun and occassional madness that happens behind-the-scenes of a Rappler live jam. We kick it off with a feature on Ben&Ben, who paid their third visit to the Rappler HQ just a day before they launched their debut album.
The odds are (unless you’ve been hiding in a cave), you’ve heard at least one Ben&Ben song in the past few weeks. It’s pretty hard to avoid them – their songs, after all, are mostly about the magic, mystery, and malady that is love.
It turns out, the process of writing songs that resonate and, sometimes, hit you right in the gut (think, the lyrics to “Kathang Isip” – Sumabay sa agos na isinulat ng tadhana / Na minsan siya'y para sa iyo / Pero minsan siya'y paasa / Tatakbo papalayo / Kakalimutan ang lahat) is both easy and difficult.
No, it's not because they stalk fans on social media (although that's not an option they've shut down, noted Miguel). The secret? Living life.
“Usually it starts with experiencing life in all of its joys and heartbreaks,” said Miguel, one of the band’s main vocalists, during a Rappler Live Jam session on May 9 – a day before the 9-person collective launched their debut album, Limasawa Street.
“When you write songs, the first step is mabuhay ka at masaktan ka at umibig ka – experience life. Kung baga parang… meron sinabing advice si Jazz Nicholas na dumikit talaga ever since na pag sa songs kasi, the more personal a song is, the more universal,” added Paolo.
(The first step is to live, to get hurt, to love, to experience life. Jazz Nicholas [of The Itchyworms] gave us advice that still sticks. He said that when it comes to the songs, the more personal, the more universal it is.)
Putting yourself out there, in your performances and lyrics, of course, isn’t uniquely Ben&Ben. Most, if not all artists do it. To some, it’s cathartic. To others, it’s an exercise in facing your fear.
I asked them if they ever had second thoughts about putting everything out there – “life in all of its joys and heartbreaks.” Miguel’s response came swiftly. “Na realize namin, nasimulan na namin (When we realized it, it was too late),” he said, chuckling.
“In a way, nakakatakot rin talaga siya pero at the same time sobrang nabubuhayan kami ng solid bilang mga artists (It’s daunting but at the same time, it fuels you as an artist),” he added.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” added Keifer (whom we have to thank for the suave violin-playing skills).
What a year it was
Their third Rappler Live Jam was decidedly much grander than the previous sessions – the full-band set-up and the crates of equipment don’t lie. Paolo specifically wanted this sort of set-up for the May 9 live jam, their mother had said.
Perhaps, the group figured that the stakes were higher now.
Which is why it’s almost strange to think about how Limasawa Street is just Ben&Ben’s debut album. 2018 had been a huge year for the band – at least two of their songs were in the soundtracks of two highly-anticipated movies.
In between the endless possibilities of media consumption via streaming services, Ben&Ben amassed a huge following online. “Maybe the Night,” the song that served as my (and many others’) intro to the band, has been streamed at least 57 million times on Spotify.
The previously mentioned “Kathang Isip,” a sad hello and goodbye to a love that could have been, has been streamed at least 75 million times on the same platform. Early in 2019, they were among a handful of artists that the streaming platform tapped to cover classic Filipino love songs.
It was only fitting that the folk-pop group chose and were allowed to cover Jose Mari Chan’s “Beautiful Girl” (which, during the Spotify event for the project’s launch, they dedicated to their mom.)
When I ask them if it’s all sunk in, Miguel flippantly jokes: “Well, yes.”
Turning a little more serious, he added: “Last year was crazy. I think we haven’t even fully processed what happened last year.”
If 2018 was about collaborations, 2019 was about buckling down for around 3 to 4 months and working together to finish Limasawa Street – from Jam’s attic, to Pat’s house, to the recording studio.
The album title, just like their songs, started out as something very personal. It’s the name of the street where Paolo’s girlfriend lives. “When you’re in love, lights turn into fireflies, trees turn into lights. It was a magical place…it is a magical place, still. A lot of songs in the album were created there,” said Paolo.
Limasawa Street was officially launched on May 10 but will only be sold to those who preordered the album. By the end of May, it will be available to everyone else.
Two tracks – the already-released Araw-Araw” and another track called “Godsent” – are dedicated to fans. Paolo also said that one track was done in collaboration with another near-legendary Filipino songwriter, Ebe Dancel.
Limasawa also happens to come from the Butanon word masawa, which refers to light. And as cheesy as it sounds, light and lightness is what the group wants to bring to its listeners – both devoted and casual.
And in that lightness is clearly, gratitude and a burning passion to, well, perform. It’s a joy to watch Paolo, Miguel, Poch, Andrew, Keifer, Agnes, Patricia, Jam, and Toni perform live. Their chemistry is undeniable and their enthusiasm, contagious.
So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that after performing their fourth song for the night (“Kathang Isip”) before a very passionate and admittedly hugot-filled Rappler live audience, Ben&Ben decided on an encore for the hell of it.
“Ride Home,” another popular song of theirs, might have been the perfect way to end that night, their last public performance before they officially launched Limasawa Street.
So as Miguel and Paolo sang (“So many questions, I've thrown to the skies / All of the answers, I've found in your eyes / When I'm with you home is never too far”), it only became clear that it’s in performing and singing and pouring their hearts out that Ben&Ben is most at home. – Rappler.com