TONEEJAY on making music: ‘When you know what you exist for, you just keep going’

Amanda T. Lago
TONEEJAY on making music: ‘When you know what you exist for, you just keep going’

TONEEJAY. The former Munimuni vocalist launches his solo career.

Courtesy of Marilag Records

The former vocalist of Munimuni shares his thoughts on being a solo artist

MANILA, Philippines – In June 2021, Munimuni’s then-vocalist TJ de Ocampo surprised the band’s very involved fan base when he announced that he would be leaving the group.

At the time, the band had just returned from hiatus, and avid listeners were excited for what was in store from a newly-rested Munimuni. His departure was met with sadness, with fans wishing him well and saying they’d miss him.

They didn’t have to miss him for very long, though. After a few months, TJ was back, reintroducing himself as TONEEJAY with a brand-new album to boot. 

Beginning/End is a nine-track album written mostly in English, save for the last track, “Lenggwahe.” The language choice alone already pushes TONEEJAY out from under the shadow of his former band, known for their poetic use of Tagalog.

The music sets him apart even further. This is TJ as we’ve never heard him before. Beginning/End is haunting from beginning to end, psychedelic, verging on avant-garde. For TJ, the album paints a kind of dystopia, inspired by the times.

“I think the picture I had at that time was a dystopian world,” he said on Rappler Live Jam.

TONEEJAY on making music: ‘When you know what you exist for, you just keep going’

“A lot of the songs deal with loneliness, the theme of loneliness and finding your place in this world. In a lot of dystopian literature, that’s kind of like the theme, being the last person on earth, finding your way, trying to find your way home. So that’s the idea,” he said.

As a solo artist, he drew inspiration from artists like Norwegian singer-songwriter AURORA and American rapper Kendrick Lamar. Oddly enough, he also found inspiration in video games like Last of Us and The Witcher 3. 

The album title reflects his own journey as an artist, going from fronting a band to striking out on his own. 

“Sometimes you don’t know if things are already ending or if it’s just the beginning of something else. Sometimes it’s both. Something ends and something naturally begins,” he said. 

“I would use the term ‘liminal’…. You’re no longer where you used to be but you’re also not yet fully there, the place that you’re going to. That’s the whole theme for the album.”

Beginning/End was released in January 2022, fulfilling TJ’s New Year’s Day wish.

“I remember thinking ‘I wish this year would end good for me. I wish this takes me somewhere, this album.’ That’s what I was hoping for. It really did take me someplace else, it taught me a lot of things. I wouldn’t have learned all those things if not for this album,” he said.

In making the album, TJ has had to upskill, learning everything from new music techniques, to familiarizing himself with production software.

He’s also had to learn to trust himself more.

“There are times when you doubt yourself. No one gives that much feedback, unlike when you’re in a band, feedback is everywhere. You argue about it, you discuss it. If you made a bad take while recording, someone will call you out, unlike if you’re dolng it on your own,” he said.

Now that the album is out, TJ is feeling “peace and freedom.”

“I really just wanted to tell my story. Of course I want people to listen and I want to suceeed, like any normal artist would. But then at the end, I just felt like having this sense of peace and freedom that it’s finally out. I guess that’s what matters more than anything else,” he said.

Now that TJ’s solo debut album is out, he’s setting his sights on making even more music, if only to keep his newfound skills in practice,.

“I don’t want to forget the things that I’ve learned. This album was nice, it was a learning curve, a learning experience for me,” he said.

There’s also so much more he wants to say.  

“Not because I think people need to hear me but because it’s just part of my existence, what I want to do – wow, we’re getting to really deep, profound areas,” he laughed. “But when you know what you exist for, you just keep going.”

Listen to Beginning/End here:

Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.